As a diversion from the Cliff Lee speculation, why don't we discuss something totally off topic?
This stems from a conversation I had with my father-in-law about what Buck Showalter did with the Orioles this season. He took over the manager's job in July and led Baltimore to the best record in the division from that point on, 34-23. The question we pondered was: How would the Yankees have fared if Showalter didn't leave after 1995?
Obviously there are no hard and fast answers to a hypothetical question, but it's fun to discuss nonetheless.
We can say, right off the bat, that Torre did better with the Yankees than Showalter did. Torre's winning percentage over 12 years was .605 (in the regular season), including six pennants and four titles. Showalter managed a .539 WP in four seasons in New York but lost in his only playoff appearance: The '95 Wild Card against Seattle. On the surface, Torre appears to have been the far superior manager, but we must dig deeper.
Showalter took over a re-building Yankee team in 1992 and led them to a 76-86 record, five wins better than in '91. The team improved by 12 wins the following year (the third best record in the AL), and in 1994 had the best record in the AL at the time of the strike (70-43, on pace for 100 wins). The Showalter Yankees took a slight step back in 1995 with a 79-65 record, and as the first Wild Card team, eventually lost to Seattle in five games. A contract dispute that winter led to Showalter leaving for the Arizona Diamondbacks, two years before they would even begin playing.
In his place came Joe Torre, an unusual signing considering his .470 career WP to that point in stints with the Mets, Braves and Cardinals. His hiring looked brilliant a year later after he'd led the Yankees to a (division and) world title for the first time in 18 years. The Torre Yankees won three of the next four World Series until losing to the Showalter-built D'backs in 2001. In six more seasons under Torre, the Yankees won one pennant and no titles.
Just like in New York, Showalter took a young, (re)building Arizona team to impressive heights (100 wins in 1999, second in MLB), but was gone after a sub-par 2000 season (85 wins). He was replaced by Bob Brenly, who took Showalter's team to the pinnacle of baseball. Sound familiar?
You've got to feel for Buck considering what happened in 1995-96 and 2000-01. He had a significant hand in building each of those teams but never got to see them personally fulfill their potential. He worked his way up the Yankees' minor league coaching system, from the Short-Season Oneonta Yankees in 1985 to the Low-A Fort Lauderdale Yankees in '87 to the Double-A Albany Yankees in '89 until finally joining the major league coaching staff in 1990.
Some of the players Showalter managed in his Yankee tenure included Bernie Williams, Paul O'Neill, David Cone and, of course, the Core Four, who were all stalwarts in the dynasty of the late '90s. And lest we forget that Showalter handled George Steinbrenner better than any previous manager, lasting all of four seasons (the most before Torre).
With Arizona, Showalter was integral in building the team from scratch, and even helped bring in aces in the midst of their careers: Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling. In Texas, he suffered mixed success (partially due to A-Rod's crippling contract), guiding the Rangers to a .492 WP in four seasons. Then in Baltimore this year, he took a young, inexperienced team (29 players aged 26 or younger) and guided them to a better record than any other division team during the last two months of the season.
It's pretty clear that Showalter excels with younger teams, which brings us back to the original question: How would he have fared with the '96 (and beyond) Yankees?
One part of the equation we can take a reasonable stab at is 2001: Maybe the Yanks win that World Series if Showalter hasn't built the D'Backs so strong.
You obviously can't argue with the results Torre got in 12 years in New York. I only want to entertain discussion about Buck Showalter: If/how his managing might have resulted in more or less success for the Yankees and what can be expected from Baltimore in 2011. Is he the kind of guy that can manage an 'already built' team, or does he only excel in building teams from the ground up?
Conversely, is Joe Torre capable of building a team the way Showalter did twice? His career winning percentage outside the Bronx is .483 (Showalter's is .506). Whether he can't or never tried, he hasn't done it.
Their most recent moves say something about them: Whereas Showalter decided to manage a young, underachieving Orioles team, Torre chose the L.A. Dodgers, a club already rife with talent. Is that a knock against Torre? Not necessarily; I sure as hell would choose the Dodgers over the O's, but let's be honest, it's the easier job. Showalter has his work cut out for him if he wants to become a contender in the AL East, and he knew that going in. He must take pride in building a team from the ground up. If he takes Baltimore to the playoffs, it should be considered a wild success, considering the state of the team and division at the time of his takeover.
Like I said, Buck's O's had the best record in the division from the day he took over. They went 6-6 vs. New York and Boston and 5-4 vs. Tampa Bay. I don't think they'll be a pushover next year.
I leave you with the following questions:
- Does Showalter deserve more credit for the Dynasty Yankees?
- Does Torre get too much credit for those teams?
- Does Buck helming the O's, and how they did in August and September, give you concern about them next year?