MLB.com Columnist

Marty Noble

Showalter might as well be from Mayberry

O's manager has encyclopedic knowledge of baseball -- and 'The Andy Griffith Show'

Showalter might as well be from Mayberry

NEW YORK -- The smartphone on the desk in the visiting manager's office at Yankee Stadium dinged, a short, hardly invasive sound that Buck Showalter recognized as notice that his wife, Angela, had something to share. He responded. A photo of Angela atop a tractor in the middle of a 10-acre parcel of land outside Baltimore appeared. The Showalters had purchased the land adjacent to their existing property shortly before the All-Star break. Grass grows in the summer, and the Orioles don't play all home games. Somebody has to cut the lawn.

Her husband had heard some time ago that land developers had their eyes on the property, as well as plans to subdivide and develop it. And what a revolting development that would have been in the eyes of the manager who brought the second-place team in the American League East to the Stadium on Tuesday night.

Showalter didn't want to be fenced in by other folks and their brick and mortar. Give him land, lots of land, under starry skies above. For him, those 10 acres made for a field of dreams of a different sort.

Showalter proudly acknowledges that he has a strong farmer presence in his DNA. He accepted the adjective "hayseed" as an appropriate modifier. He clearly is more Buck than William Nathaniel. "I'm from Mayberry, [N.C.,]" he says. Not geographically, but, without question, spiritually and fundamentally.

In that way, Showalter seemingly would be better suited to manage the Royals than the Orioles. When he managed the Rangers, he seemed most at home. It's sometimes hard to imagine that he spent the first four summers of his big league career in the Bronx, taking his obsessive preparedness and baseball acumen to the desert thereafter. Not much grass to cut in either setting.

But Showalter carries his peace with him -- DVDs of "The Andy Griffith Show." Go ahead, whistle the theme to the beloved sitcom and envision Sherriff Andy Taylor and his boy, Opie, en route to their fishing hole outside Mayberry.

Showalter's affection for the series is well documented, and his knowledge of it is beyond staggering -- though he was unaware that Tuesday would have been the 91st birthday of Don Knotts, more readily recognized as Sherriff Taylor's deputy, Barney Fife. His whiff on that factoid was forgiven, though, when he notes that Andy and Barney played cousins in the earliest episode.

Had Barney's, not Knotts' birthday, been on Tuesday, "I would have had it," Showalter says.

Give Showalter a brief and bare-bones description of an "Andy Griffith Show" plot, and he'll give you the title of the episode, maybe even the number, the synopsis and more details than Ron Howard, who played Opie, can provide. He carries in his head more information about the show than former O's manager Earl Weaver had about baseball on his famous index cards.

Showalter recalls spending $349 on a VCR during his instructional league years, before he was appointed Yankees manager, and years before he could easily afford such expense. He watched videos of players, and also built a library of "Andy Griffith Show" episodes. He appreciates how the show "slowed you down."

"And each show had a moral," Showalter says, "and told you not to take yourself too seriously." Deputy Fife was routinely guilty of that indiscretion.

"That show's beyond passion with Buck," Orioles TV man Gary Thorne says. "It's obsession. It's the same as it is with baseball. He remembers every detail."

Showalter and Thorne are, well, birds of a feather. Thorne also owns a copy of the "Best of Andy Griffith" DVD. (Go ahead, whistle again.)

Before the phone first dinged Tuesday afternoon, Showalter was repeating dialogue from "Man in a Hurry," the 79th episode, a testament to unhurried living. As intense as Showalter was and, to a lesser degree, still is in his chosen field, he prefers to keep the pedal far from the metal. He smiles and freely swaps anecdotes three hours before the first game of a series that could put his O's on the heels of the first-place Yankees.

Such pregame frivolity was uncommon when Showalter managed the Yankees and worked for George Steinbrenner. But Showalter had tales to tell Tuesday, and he told them expertly, speaking through hearty laughter as he reached the good parts.

The phone dings again. It isn't Angela. After Showalter hangs up, a guest in his office asks, "Can you imagine how it would have been if you had a cell when you worked for George [from 1992-95]?" Showalter winces and tells of the nine holes he and former Yankees vice president Gene Michael used to sneak in during the pre-cell-phone Spring Training days, when they carried pagers seemingly tethered to Boss Steinbrenner. The percentage of pages unanswered remains top-secret information.

The topic changes to baseball, of all things. "The company line is 'parity'," Showalter says about the current state of the big leagues. "Parity stinks."

He speaks of pitchers: "Relievers who can handle right-handed and left-handed hitters are called starters." Casey Stengel would have embraced that grand and twisted logic.

He goes on: "The hardest thing to do is win [championships] when you're expected to." A salute to Joe Torre, Bobby Cox and Tony La Russa?

And then William Nathaniel slides back into Mayberry, saying, "Whenever I want to see my father, I watch an episode. My father wanted to be more of a father than a pal. He was an authority figure who had the guts to say 'no' to his son. He did what needed to be done."

And Showalter recalls episode No. 193 of the 249 he so covets, called "The Ball Game."

"Andy's the umpire, and he calls Opie out at the plate. All of Mayberry turns against him. Nobody would talk to him. Floyd [the barber] wouldn't cut his hair. That kind of thing.

"Then some photographer develops a picture that shows Opie was out. He tells Andy, but Andy doesn't gloat. There's a moral to that."

Buck recalls that Nathaniel Williams II saw Nathaniel Willam III introduced as the new Yankees manager on Oct. 23, 1991. The father died two weeks later. Nathaniel Williams IV was born two weeks after that painful day. He thinks of Andy and Opie.

The newly-minted manager had remained in New York to do what new Yankees managers did then. His father became ill. "I drove like hell to get to northern Florida before his surgery," he says. "I got there just before they wheeled him in [for surgery]. I never saw him again."

By that point, William Nathaniel already had learned to do what needed to be done. The grass will be maintained, no question. And he'll whistle while he works.

Buck's five favorite "Andy Griffith Show" episodes:

  • "The New Housekeeper," Season 1, Episode 1
  • "Man in a Hurry," Season 3, Episode 16
  • "Opie The Birdman," Season 4, Episode 1
  • "Barney's Sidecar," Season 4, Episode 16
  • "The Ball Game," Season 7, Episode 4

Marty Noble is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.