Buck Showalter has been Manny Machado's manager since the time Machado played his first big league game for the Orioles in 2012. And Showalter knows, the way even people in outer space know, that free-agent-to-be Machado will almost certainly play his last game for Showalter's Orioles this season, in Spring
Buck Showalter has been Manny Machado's manager since the time Machado played his first big league game for the Orioles in 2012. And Showalter knows, the way even people in outer space know, that free-agent-to-be Machado will almost certainly play his last game for Showalter's Orioles this season, in Spring Training, or at the non-waiver Trade Deadline, or when the Orioles season likely ends at the end of September.
Buck is J.K. Simmons in that Farmers Insurance commercial: When it comes to Machado, he knows a thing or two because he's seen a thing or two. Has seen Machado do things at third base that Buck believes no third baseman, including an honorable Oriole named Brooks Robinson, has ever done. Has seen him hit. Buck Showalter will move Machado to shortstop this season, and watch him be a bit of a wonder there.
But for as long as he has Machado, he will appreciate the sheer joy that Manny Machado brings and has always brought to playing baseball.
"I plan to appreciate him every day," Buck is saying on Friday morning. "Maybe it's a by-product of having turned 60. But he makes me young."
I ask him if Machado is as good as anybody he has ever managed, in his own honorable career, in New York and Texas and Arizona and now in Baltimore, where he came along in 2010 and changed the culture at Camden Yards and made the Orioles matter again, whether they ever made it to the World Series or not.
"I don't get into the greatest this or the greatest that," Buck says. "I don't ever talk about the greatest player I ever saw or the greatest game. But is he as good as anybody I've ever had? He's as good as anybody I've ever had. The things he's done, the things he does, on a ballfield are just at a whole different level. I've talked to Brooks [Robinson] about him and Brooks has said, 'Buck, he does things I never could.'
"I'm always aware of cameras being on us in the dugout, just because there can always be a camera on us. So I'm pretty good about how I react to what is happening on the field. But our coaches know. We'll lock eyes when he'll do something, and just kind of smile at each other, and nod, and that's our way of communicating the 'wow' factor. Because that's what this kid really is. He's the wow factor."
There were trade rumors all across baseball this winter about Machado. There are even trade rumors now that pitchers and catchers are about to report. One of the ones making the rounds again is about the Indians, who actually match up pretty well with the Orioles as a trade partner. So, Showalter really does not know how much longer he will be Machado's manager.
"You just have to see him on a daily basis, how much imagination he has when he's in the field," Buck says. "One of the things that separates him from everybody else, at least in my opinion, is how loose-jointed he is, arms and shoulders and knees, and how being that loose-jointed enables him to generate the kind of velocity he has, from just about every possible arm angle.
"He'll make a play on the backhand with a guy on first, all of his momentum carrying him into the third-base coaching box. The first thing you thought when the ball was hit is that it's about to get past him, and that it's going to be first and second, nobody out, or whatever. But it doesn't get past him. Then, somehow he's turning his body and creating the arm angle he needs, and then just throwing a seed to second base to start a double play.
"I had told Roger [McDowell, Buck's pitching coach] last spring that he was going to see things he'd never seen before. Manny made a play like that. Roger turned to me and said, 'Are you kidding me?' I just told him, 'You haven't seen anything yet.' And he hadn't."
Then Buck is talking about a three-game series between the Orioles and the Rockies last season, with Nolan Arenado at third for the Rockies and Manny at third for the Orioles, and how you could see that each of them wanted to dial things up in that series, just because of the other third baseman in the house.
"Trust me, this is nothing against Nolan, who I think is a great baseball player," Buck says. "But if you watched those games closely, you knew the deal about Manny and that whole other level."
Buck Showalter, who has seen a thing or two, talks about how, after his own long baseball life, how excited he is at the prospect of watching Machado -- again, for as long as he has him -- play a full season at shortstop. He laughs and says he can't wait to see Machado just make relay throws. He has seen the whole show from the kid in Baltimore, and fully intends to appreciate it for as long as it lasts.
A new season is about to begin for Buck Showalter and his team in Sarasota. His last with Manny Machado.
"You don't have guys like him pass your way very often," Buck says.
He sounded happy and sad at the same time. Sports can do that to you sometimes. Sometimes with the same player.
Mike Lupica is a columnist for MLB.com. He also writes for the New York Daily News.