Buck Showalter was between appearances on the YES Network as a pre and postgame analyst for Game 1 of the Yankees-Rays ALDS on Monday night when his gaze drifted to the mantel in his Texas home.
"And there’s that wild-card hat from 1995," he said on Tuesday. "I thought, you know, that’s really the only thing I’ve got to show from that year is that hat.
"And it’s probably the ugliest hat you’ve ever seen . . . I remember Mr. [George] Steinbrenner putting that hat on for a second before he caught himself."
Forgive Showalter the nostalgia, but it was timely given what was on his schedule for Wednesday: his first television gig as a playoff game analyst, for Game 2 of an NLDS between Miami and Atlanta on MLB Network.
That 1995 wild card for the Yankees was the first in the American League under an expanded playoff system and led to a classic five-game ALDS in which the Mariners beat the Yankees, helping validate the new format.
It was Showalter’s only postseason berth in four seasons as the Yankees manager and the only postseason berth in Don Mattingly’s 14-year playing career.
Mattingly now manages the Marlins, whom he has in the playoffs for the first time in his five seasons in Miami. And Jim Kaat, who worked that ALDS as a TV analyst in 1995, will be Showalter’s fellow analyst on Wednesday.
Showalter likes what he has seen from the Marlins – "They’ve got a great little-engine-that-could mentality going now" – and from their manager, whom he always figured could do that job if he wanted to.
"Donnie’s got a pure heart; he’s such a sincere man," Showalter said. "When he talks to you it’s like E.F. Hutton, but he understands the weight of his words and he doesn’t use them callously. He did that as a leader as a player.
"Donnie’s going to simplify things for players. But one of the biggest things he brings is that he’s not afraid to like players. Good managers have to like players. He likes baseball players . . . Guys who sit in meetings always tell you about what a player can’t do. Donnie’s more about, tell me what he can do."
As for Kaat, a Yankees analyst for MSG and YES from 1995 to 2006, Showalter said, "He’s a very modern older guy. That’s what I like about Jim, and I try to think of myself as that, somewhat. We’ve embraced all the new things."
Showalter said he always tried to learn from baseball people-turned-broadcasters who came to his office to talk after games. He mentioned Bobby Murcer, Tony Kubek, Tom Seaver and Kaat.
"Sometimes I couldn’t wait ‘til the game was over so I could sit down and listen to them talk," he said. "I’m still listening to them talk."
Now Showalter is one of them.
At age 64 and with his future as a manager uncertain, he tries to focus on telling fans things they might not know – "Like, what do you actually say on the phone in the bullpen?" – while being open to new concepts, just as he was as an innovative manager in his mid-30s.
This COVID-19-altered season has been a goldmine for experimentation, and Showalter is up for considering all of it for future use, from seven-inning doubleheader games to the universal to DH and beyond.
One thing he likes about these playoffs is that with no travel days needed, series are taking no days off this week.
"I’m big on having the postseason reflect what the regular season is about," he said. "The regular season you have to have five starters. You have to have a deep bullpen. There are teams that are built for the regular season and teams that do better in the playoffs.
"Some of these 110-win teams can’t get out of the first round because they’re not built for that two- or three-game season. I like the idea that you have to do the same things that allowed you get through the season."
In theory, the Yankees could suffer from the lack of off days, given that it limits the number of starts for their ace, Gerrit Cole, who won Game 1, 9-3.
"We act like there’s a given that he’s going to win the games he pitches," Showalter said. "I’m sure that Tampa thought it was a given that [Blake] Snell might. These games, regardless of how good your front pitcher is, the depth of your pitching staff is going to show up.
"I remember in spring training thinking, oh, are we going to take nine or 10 pitchers? Now it’s 13 or 14. As long as you’re chasing velocity the way they are, you’re going to have more injuries. There’s not as much of a craft of pitching; it’s more brute velocity."
The Orioles fired Showalter after the 2018 season, and he has worked with YES the past two years.
After his MLBN game, he plans to rejoin YES through the ALCS if the Yankees make it there, then work as a studio analyst for MLBN during the World Series.
Did he think after Game 1 that the Yankees might be peaking at the right time?
"It’s the old saying, momentum’s your next starting pitcher," he said. "[Tyler] Glasnow could pitch seven shutout innings [for the Rays in Game 2], then what happens?"
After 20 seasons as a big-league manager with the Yankees, Diamondbacks, Rangers and Orioles, does Showalter want another crack at it?
"I’ve always beared down on the job at hand and seen where it took me," he said. "Whether it’s managing, continuing to broadcast or none of the above, I’m at peace with it.
"Do I have a drive? Yeah, in a perfect world I’d like to do it one more time. But if it doesn’t happen, it doesn’t happen."