Mets’ Buck Showalter and his kids open up about their dads’ impact on them
Mets manager Buck Showalter reminisces about his late father, and his daughter, Allie, and son, Nathan, reflect on his influence and impact on their lives in this special Father’s Day Q&A with The Post’s Steve Serby.
Q: What does Father’s Day mean to you?
Buck: I tell the players all the time the two hardest and most rewarding things you’re ever gonna do in your life is be a good father and be a good husband and they’ve heard that from me a lot. My father wanted to be my father, not my pal. Try going to school where your dad’s the principal.
Q: Did he ever discipline you at school?
Buck: Yeah enough, but I knew there was another dose coming back home. … He would drive to [Century, Fla., High School] and make me walk [three-quarters of a mile]. I was thinking about him the other day when we had a little skirmish on the field. You know how dad used to handle when guys or girls wanted to fight? He had these huge boxing gloves, and he would take ’em into a back room at the office and he’d close the door and go, “Y’all have at it. Get it out of your system.” And after about five minutes, you realize you weren’t as mad as you thought you were (laugh).
My dad, I think about D-Day. I think about Normandy. He didn’t talk about it ’til the last year of his life much. He said, “I had a huge breakfast that morning,” ’cause they didn’t know when they’d eat again. A lot of guys with the waves were throwing up with the boats going in, you drew basically three straws — if you’re in the first wave, you didn’t like your chances; second wave, you had a shot; third wave was kinda equipment stuff, but he was in the second wave, thank goodness.
I took my son over to Normandy with my family. I wanted to see where he had landed and all the stuff. I remember sitting on the beachhead with Nathan looking up … how they ever got up that f–king hill, I don’t know. We got a great picture of he and I on the beachhead.
He gave me and my three sisters a book his last Christmas with us called “A Soldier’s Story” by Omar Bradley. About six months after he passed I went out in the backyard, I had a big hammock back there when I’d go to contemplate life. I opened it up and then there was a big map in there. And he had written everywhere he had been, dates, the paths that he went on over there. You should see this.
Q: How did you feel going to school where your dad was principal?
Buck: I got caught pitching pennies one time in art class. That was a long trip to the principal’s office (laugh). The look I got as I walked in the door …
Q: Did he go to your games?
Buck: Yeah. Dad was the type of guy that would pull the truck up in right field and watch the game and then go home. Some nights you wouldn’t even know he was there. … I remember when I signed professionally I had to sign two contracts — one with the Yankees and one with my parents that I would go back and finish up my degree. And I did. My signing bonus is still in a savings account, I never touched it, I took the interest out a few times — it was $13,000. It’s still there.
Allie: As a little girl, I would always, always want to be in the [Yankees] clubhouse. I was the oldest, and I never understood why I couldn’t go in the clubhouse. I petitioned and petitioned and my dad listened to me and respected my opinion even as a little kid. He started a day once in a year where the players kind of agreed not to get undressed and showered right away, and all of the daughters got to spend postgame in the locker room with their dads and got to hang out. I thought that was really special ’cause he’s very inclusive and very aware of what’s going on, and that little detail really made a big difference to a lot of people.
I also remember like it was yesterday — a very, very, very quiet airplane ride from Seattle back to New York. I remember my mom saying, “Allie, don’t say a word. Please be quiet” (laugh) after they lost the [1995 ALDS] game. And I also remember the Seattle wives cutting up confetti and throwing it in the air and it hitting us right when they [Mariners] won the game.
Nathan: I know for a fact that he brought me on a lot more road trips than I’d say probably any other son in baseball got to go on. I got to batboy games and all that stuff. Roy D. Mercer was a disc jockey from Tulsa, Oklahoma, he would just call people’s friends as a joke. He would do these crank call albums. I don’t know why, we thought that was the funniest thing in the world, we’d listen to that driving back from Arkansas to go duck hunting just about every winter. That would sustain us for about seven hours in the car. He loves to laugh and make people laugh.
I can give you a comedic story that I told at his 60th birthday (laugh). We were going duck hunting in Arkansas, one of his college teammates from Mississippi State had a place. We went to go get jackets ’cause it was supposed to be real cold or something like that. With all his college teammates, it’s very macho and everything. Halfway through our trip I looked and I noticed and I said, “Dad, my jacket says Redhead for Women.” And then he went and looked in his jacket and he goes, “My jacket says Redhead for Women.” And we got so nervous and like looked at each other and we were like, “I did notice it is kinda a little more slim in the middle” and went, “We don’t say a word to anyone because we will get made fun of and never come back here again by all his college teammates if word gets out of it.” The rest of the weekend he kept asking like, “Do I have any tags hanging out that shows it? Can you tell that this is not a men’s jacket?” Nobody caught on the whole weekend.
Q: Best piece of advice your father ever gave you?
Buck: I don’t know if it’s advice as much as examples he gave me. I remember he said, “There’ll come a time when you’re gonna have to plant your feet and make a stand, it won’t be comfortable and it may not be good for you initially.” I thought about that with the Yankees when I had to leave over those coaches. “Make sure it’s a just cause.” (Showalter left the Yankees when his contract ended after the 1995 season, partially because of a dispute with George Steinbrenner over his coaching staff)
Q: Best piece of advice your father gave you?
Allie: “You’ll be best at something you enjoy and love and respect. … Be nice to everybody, because you’re gonna need help in this world, and you never know where you’re gonna need it from.” He always taught us to be respectful, and pay attention to people’s names and all the details, because those are the little things that always come back.
Q: The biggest lesson he taught you about being a father?
Buck: My dad was so far ahead of his time racially, the way he treated women. He wasn’t led around by one political party. It was like, “I kinda like that, I like that, I don’t like that, I don’t like that.” He led our city through the integration of the high schools. We got some phone calls at night. An example he set — he stood like an oak through it all. Dad took over the middle school over in the black community, and that Sunday we all loaded up the car and went over to the black church. And I remember opening those doors and walking through, me and my three sisters, and going, “OK. My dad’s got a set!” And watching him get up in front of that church and talk, I was like, “Wow!” I remember at our supper table, if you said anything insensitive to another human being, man, it was a short conversation.
He said, “When you’re in a foxhole, and you see everybody’s blood’s the same, that stuff goes out the window in a hurry.”
He was tough now. I remember a guy came up on the front porch one time, actually blew the horn to date one of my sisters. Then he gets out of the car, shirttail out, no socks, uncombed hair, and I said, “Oh my God, this is gonna be good.” Put it this way — they didn’t go on a date that night.
He was always there. He might give me a $10 bill and say, “Make it last.” He didn’t yell at umpires. I never heard him say a negative word about a coach that I had. He had a lot of respect for authority figures. It was tough love, man. There were like three men I’ve feared in my life. My dad was one of ’em.
Q: Who were the others?
Buck: A couple of coaches, probably.
Q: Did your dad play catch with you?
Buck: Yeah, until he got to the point where he couldn’t do it anymore. because I was throwing too hard, he said, “That’s it.”
Q: Did your dad play catch with you?
Nathan: Whether it was throwing a football, whether it was playing catch, whether it was shooting hoops, anytime I asked.
Buck: I’ll never forget we had a pecan tree in right-center field, we had no fence, and I hit a ball that hit the pecan tree that might have been a home run. And dad said, “That won’t happen again.” That offseason, we cut that pecan tree down and dug underneath the root system, set a fire underneath — that’s why they used to have to burn stumps out. When I look back on it, it was kind of a way to spend time with me. We’d go up there every weekend and work on that tree and stump. The next year I hit a ball out in right-center — it would have hit that tree and it was a home run.
Q: Nathan played high school baseball?
Buck: He was in the state playoffs. Played center field. He was a good high school player. Great bunter, walked, put it in play, great teammate, played good defense. He played football, everybody plays football in Texas. First time he got smoked on a kickoff return. That wasn’t much fun. My wife almost came out of the stands, I had to grab her.
Q: What was it like for you watching him play baseball?
Buck: I was at peace because I knew he was happy. But having that conversation with him was tough.
Q: That conversation?
Buck: “Hey dad, can I play professionally?” He started asking me, I knew it was coming. Some people have that sex talk, I knew that talk was coming.
Q: What did you tell him?
Buck: I just said, “It’s probably not there for you. Probably better to spend your time on something else. But if you want to try it, you’re welcome to do it and I’ll support you.”
Q: What was his reaction?
Buck: I think he knew. I’ve always tried to look through realistic lenses at everything.
Nathan: I said, “Dad, do you think I could play Division I baseball?” and he said, “No.” it was soul-crushing, and I know it was hard for him to tell me that, but you know what? Had it not been for that, I wouldn’t have done internships that I did with Under Armour, and I wouldn’t have gone to scout school. … Looking back I’m so grateful because it allowed me to propel myself forward and do other things. That’s what being a parent is about, knowing when to be honest with your kids, I guess.
He never once pushed me to be in baseball or do anything. My one memory of him growing up in Little League would be he would stand way out in the outfield, where nobody’s hitting the ball out there. He’s standing behind the fence, and whatever position I’d be playing, I’d turn around and I’d see him there. I was very interested in ceramics and art work, he would come to art shows … he was a loving father. He was proud of his kids no matter what they were doing.
Q: Your father passed away when?
Buck: Two weeks after I got the job managing the Yankees. And then two weeks later, William Nathaniel IV was born.
Q: How did he feel about you working for The Boss?
Buck: One piece of advice — “You know the job description going in. You’ve been there 15 years. No one wants to hear you complain about it. Nothing that he’s gonna do is gonna catch you by surprise. Just go win. Win games.” He said, “You got a [one-year] contract. Let it rip.”
Q: Your father had been ailing?
Buck: He went in for a second heart procedure, because he just didn’t like the quality of life he had from the first one. They thought they could really get a different blood flow, and he never made it off the table. I’ll never forget that guy walking down the hall from the surgery, I knew it had gone about an hour longer than it was supposed to. You’ve got certain images in your life that you remember. It’s funny, I didn’t dream for a long time after he died. Out of the blue, I started dreaming again.
Q: Your father as a grandfather?
Allie: The things those kids (Winston, 4; Noah, 3; William, 2; Charlie, 9 months) can get him to do is un-believable. They can get him to turn off an Alabama, SEC or Mississippi State football game to watch cartoons. They can get him to stop any TV to watch whatever they want and sit on his lap and eat a bowl of ice cream. My dad is a big softy in a tough outer shell.
Q: Your son, William Nathaniel V, is 2.
Nathan: Topps makes custom baseball cards, and I gave him a baseball card with his grandson on it a couple of weeks ago. I put on there, “William Showalter beat his grandfather’s batting average record at Mississippi State by one point,” and he got a laugh out of that. But then he’s looking at it, he goes, “Left-handed shortstop?” That’s the attention to detail that he has.
Q: What does Father’s Day mean to you?
Allie: It gave us a chance to celebrate my dad. He’s very humble, and never likes to be made a big fuss over. It just was always a special time assuming they were on the road and we weren’t with him to just kinda stop and say thank you. It was just always nice to have a day dedicated to spending time with him and celebrating the great influence he had, and continues to have on our life.
Nathan: He always went out of his way to make up for lost time, and I try to do the same with my son.
Q: Why are you proud of your father?
Allie: My dad has taught me, one, the importance of being true to who you are; two, the value of hard work and consistency; and three, a strong love for family. My dad has missed very few games in his long career. I can proudly say he flew across the country very early after a night game on two separate occasions: to be present for my graduation from law school and the birth of his first [of four] grandson. Now that I have children of my own I have nothing but complete awe and respect for the hard work my parents put into raising us with the demands, heartbreak and pressure of the baseball profession. My mom is the glue that holds the family together. For all the long road trips, moves to new cities and the ups and downs of any baseball life, she has been there with a smile, hug, positive attitude and done it all with grace.
Q: What are you most proud of about Allie and Nathan?
Buck: I’m proud of the way they treat their fellow human beings. They’re both honest. They have a good worth ethic, but they don’t take themselves too seriously, they can laugh easily. I talk to ’em every day.