FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Well, now. That's one way to liven up spring training, an impolitic Buck Showalter speaking to truth and people making it sound like he's picking fights with Red Sox GM Theo Epstein and Yankees captain Derek Jeter.
Showalter, the manager of the Baltimore Orioles, gave an interview with Men's Journal, according to the Bergen Record, in which he voiced a complaint about Epstein that is startling only in the fact that Showalter put his name to something many others just grumble about privately.
"I'd like to see how smart Theo Epstein is with the Tampa Bay [Rays'] payroll," Showalter told the magazine, according to the Record. "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 butt. It's great, knowing those guys with the $205 million payroll are saying, 'How the hell are they beating us?'"
This kind of talk is hardly new to Epstein. As recently as last weekend, he addressed such perceptions with Ron Borges of the Boston Herald and said, absolutely, "it's definitely easier the more money you have.
“It’s easy to get defensive when people attribute a lot of our success to our payroll,’’ Epstein told Borges. “To a degree they’re right, but it’s still a challenge. It’s definitely easier the more money you have, but I’m justifiably proud of what our organization has done in the draft, in scouting, in player development. The core of our roster is 26 years old, and most of them came up through the organization.”
And here, Epstein speaks to the truth, too, noting that Dustin Pedroia, Jacoby Ellsbury, Kevin Youkilis, Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, Jonathan Papelbon, Daniel Bard and Jed Lowrie were all home-grown, while the Sox were able to deal for Adrian Gonzalez because they had prospects like Casey Kelly, Anthony Rizzo and Reymond Fuentes to give for him.
And guess what -- Epstein has often mused about what it would be like to do it without John W. Henry's checkbook. He cut his teeth in the game with Kevin Towers and the San Diego Padres, who went to the World Series in 1998 without deep pockets. As he said to Borges, “Deep down every big-market GM would like to go to a smaller market and do it. It’s just a little bit purer. I know I have the best job in baseball, but you wonder sometimes.”
What goes unsaid, however, by Buck, who may not be PC but is smart enough not to bite the hand that pays him, is that the Orioles have had 13 straight losing seasons not because of their unwillingness to spend money, but because of ownership meddling, unstable management (because of owner meddling), bad drafts, bad trades and bad free-agent signings, all of which has created an environment toxic to the top-shelf free agents, many of whom have been pursued by the Orioles but have said no thanks. All of that has led to a precipitous decline by one of baseball's proudest franchises. Showalter and Andy MacPhail may succeed in turning things around in Charm City, but let's be clear about one thing: If Epstein, who launched his baseball career as an intern in the Orioles' media relations department, had been running things in Baltimore, they would have been winning again long before this.
As for Showalter's comment about Jeter, c'mon. He didn't exactly throw dirt on the Yankees icon, he said he yelled at him from the opposing dugout. Actually, the way I read it, his yelling was directed as much at the umpires as at Jeter. Here's what he said:
“The first time we went to Yankee Stadium, I screamed at Derek Jeter from the dugout. Our guys are thinking, ‘Wow, he’s screaming at Jeter.’ Well, he’s always jumping back from balls just off the plate. I know how many calls that team gets – and yes, he [ticks] me off.”
Buck did leave me wondering this, though: He managed the Orioles 57 games last season, just over a third of the season. In that time, the Orioles and Red Sox split six games, each team winning three. Might be a little soon for Buck to be gloating about whipping anybody's butts.