Buck Showalter Pulls a Rex Ryan in Taking Shots at Derek Jeter and Theo Epstein
It’s on. In an interview for the April issue of Men’s Journal magazine, Baltimore Orioles manager Buck Showalter took shots at not one but two American League East sacred cows — New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter, and Boston Red Sox General Manager Theo Epstein. It was a move straight out of the Rex Ryan playbook, although today might be the first time Showalter and the New York Jets head coach have been mentioned in the same breath.
In the article, entitled “Is This Man Too Smart for Baseball?,” writer Paul Solotaroff recounts what happened when Showalter took over the O’s in August. The first two sentences of this passage haven’t been quoted in most of the articles about what Showalter said, but they give context as to what he was trying to do:
After instilling a healthy fear of God in them, he told them to stop playing scared. Don’t give the other team that much credit: Screw the Yankees, screw the Red Sox, he said. “The first time we went to Yankee Stadium, I screamed at Derek Jeter from the dugout. Our young guys are thinking, ‘Wow, he’s screaming at Derek Jeter’ — well, he’s always jumping back from balls just off the plate. I know how many calls that team gets — and yes, he pisses me off.”
Then Showalter went after an icon connected with the other big AL East rival, the Boston Red Sox. He attacked Theo Epstein, perhaps the most beloved figure in Boston, the way Jeter is the most beloved sportsman in New York:
…Showalter’s fine with an uphill fight; in fact, he seems to prefer it. Without him, the Birds were 8–16 against the Yankees and Red Sox; with him, they served notice, going 6–6 against their longtime tormentors. “I’d like to see how smart Theo Epstein is with the Tampa Bay payroll,” he jeers. “You got Carl Crawford ’cause you paid more than anyone else, and that’s what makes you smarter? That’s why I like whipping their asses: It’s great, knowing those guys with the $205 million payroll are saying, ‘How the hell are they beating us?’ ”
I think he’s directly slamming Epstein in that passage, and indirectly slamming the Yankees as well; after all, the Yanks, not the Sox, were the ones with the $205 million 2010 budget. But Boston is second in MLB payroll. And I can’t remember the last time anybody insulted Theo.
Bergen Record columnist Bob Klapisch wrote about some of the more provocative quotes in an article last Saturday (Klapsich is one of the writers quoted in the piece) but the story didn’t pick up steam until ESPN New York wrote about it Thursday. Thousands of readers have commented on it so far, many angry at the perceived disrespect given to Jeter and Epstein.
Even though I’m a Yankee fan, I thought Showalter was brilliant in what he said. He doesn’t have a $200 million payroll, or a team of superstars ready to take it to the next level. What he does have is a Rex Ryan-like ability to talk trash and motivate his team. The Orioles finished 66-96 last year, but they went 34-23 under Showalter.
Besides, how can any Yankee fan disagree with Showalter’s characterization that Jeter is a bit melodramatic at some pitches and gets the umpires’ calls, especially given the way Jeter faked being hit by a pitch last year against the Tampa Bay Rays when the ball never touched him? Heck, Jeter even called the trainer out that time to make it look real, then fessed up afterwards. I get that this gamesmanship is considered part of baseball, but I also don’t see what’s wrong with Showalter noting the gamesmanship. Also, the Red Sox’s payroll does make a difference, too, as it does with the Yankees.
I believe a crucial first step in turning around a team is being audacious. Rex Ryan swaggered into Jets Nation and turned around a woeful franchise in no small part because of the sheer force of his personality, and his ability to get his team to believe they can win. Players like Curt Schilling and Kevin Millar refused to believe in the Yankees’ mystique and aura, and that sort of attitude helped the 2004 Red Sox beat the Yankees.
Ryan criticized Tom Brady for going to a Broadway show instead of watching the Jets in the playoffs, something that put the New England Patriots quarterback on the defensive before the Patriots/Jets playoff game. Showalter is trying to do the same sort of thing.
Klapisch wrote that “Showalter admitted he could’ve and perhaps should’ve tempered his remarks — but he nevertheless owned up to them.” But I kind of doubt Showalter really wants to take anything back. And so far, he’s not going as far as Rex Ryan did with his Super Bowl talk in saying his team was going to the big game. Yes, in his criticism he could be writing a check his mouth — or his team — won’t be able to cash. But that’s the risk he takes in getting his team ready for the next level.
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