Is This Man Too Smart for Baseball?
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Showalter concedes he can be a load, even on a so-called off-night. "My wife will come out, 1:30 in the morning, and say, 'Really, Buck? Still?'" he says, frowning. But she doesn't get it; no one does. There's always much more to be done. Take the spring-training park in Sarasota, Florida, that's being remodeled, on his orders, to the specs at Camden Yards; that way his fielders will know it backward and forward before they break north for Opening Day. Or the clubhouse he's having reduced by a quarter so his players can't hide after a loss. That's another virtue Showalter brings: He'll make a dozen subtle decisions to improve a team before he even deals for a star. With the Yankees, for instance, he changed the infield sod, which was dreadful and produced bad hops, then turned the indoor batting cage from a sty to a shrine so his players were proud to hit there. "I mean, who else studies umpires' schedules and plans his rotation around them?" says Sherman of the New York Post. "The guy just has no off switch."

He'll need more than home improvements, though, to make the O's contenders in the big-dog AL East. He certainly can't match the Maybach budgets in Boston and the Bronx, and for now must get the most out of midlist players who come with gaping flaws. His GM, Andy MacPhail, traded this winter for a thumping third baseman in Mark Reynolds, who'll hit 40 homers in that bandbox stadium – and shatter the AL record for striking out. He brought in vets Derrek Lee and Vlad Guerrero, who'll either be anchors or dead weight. And aside from Brian Matusz, the O's don't have a starter or a closer they can count on. But 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?'"