Former Orioles Manager Buck Showalter On Second Spring Training, Fanless Games

Former Orioles manager Buck Showalter says two of the difficulties MLB teams will face as part of a potential 2020 season will be the rush to get pitchers ready during a second spring training and the lack of an emotional lift from fans due to empty ballparks.

Showalter compared what teams may be asked to do in the weeks ahead to the 1995 season after the strike was settled. Showalter, then the manager of the New York Yankees, recalled putting on spring training for replacement players, which he called “probably the low part of my career,” and traveling to Denver for a March 31 exhibition in what was the first game ever at Coors Field.

Showalter headed back to Florida for a second spring training once news broke about the players and owners coming to an agreement; the strike officially ended April 2. The Yankees had a few short weeks to get ready for the season with a new April 26 opening day date looming. Showalter said one of the issues he ran into was a shorter-than-usual prep time for pitchers.

“I was talking to [Yankees manager] Aaron Boone the other day about it,” Showalter said on Glenn Clark Radio May 4. “He was asking some questions about different things. I said, ‘Aaron, one of the mistakes people are going to make is they’re going to try to go too fast. They’re going to try to get their pitchers ready too quick.’

“We found that we really backed off our guys early because they’re such creatures of habit, and if you try to go too fast to get them ready for the season, you’re going to pay the price with some injuries. Nobody can withstand that. I’m sure they’ll have bigger rosters for the pitchers.”

Showalter opined that active rosters will expand from 26 to 30 for this season so pitching staffs can be larger. If there is a season played this year, it’ll very likely be without fans in the stands due to the coronavirus pandemic. Showalter’s Orioles hosted the Chicago White Sox in a fanless game April 29, 2015 amid unrest in Baltimore related to the death of Freddie Gray.

The Orioles beat the White Sox that day, 8-2, with Baltimore scoring six runs in the first inning and Ubaldo Jimenez throwing seven innings of two-run ball. Showalter said the game marked one of the more meaningful moments of his nine-year run as manager in Baltimore because of how ready his team was to play in less-than-ideal circumstances.

“I don’t know what that means to some people, but I could tell there was such a workmanlike [attitude], such a confidence in the method that we were all being asked to use to win,” Showalter said. “It was almost like they went into overdrive and got into their element. The other team kind of went through the motions a little bit and our guys were locked and loaded, ready to go.”

The latest reported proposal for a 2020 season has teams playing games in their home ballparks without fans and the league being split into three 10-team divisions based on geography. The report indicated it is unclear whether teams would have to start the season at their spring training facilities but that the intention is to play a 100-110 game regular season.

Though Showalter is one of the few who have prior experience competing in the type of environment that may become the new normal, he says he’s not sure how players would react to it throughout an entire season.

“Who knows? I’ve always said I’m not going to smugly sit here and talk about uncharted territories that everybody just doesn’t know,” Showalter said. “I just know when you’re playing seven days a week for seven or eight months in a row from February in spring training to hopefully the end of October, there’s days when you need that lift emotionally to know that you’re doing something that’s very important.”

The owners and players are highly motivated to find a workable solution to get the season off the ground — a canceled season hurts both parties enormously — but a wide variety of uncertainties are at play, including the availability of tests and the track of the virus throughout the next several months.

And that’s not lost on Showalter.

“Let’s face it, the TV contracts drive a lot of the payrolls,” Showalter said. “They’ve got to get the game on the field to make sure they live up to their end of the contract. I worry sometimes, what do you do if you start and have to stop?”

For more from Showalter, listen to the full interview here:

Photo Credit: Kenya Allen/PressBox

Luke Jackson

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