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The odd couple

Tuesday, May 16, 2000, 13:14 ET

Paul White, Baseball Weekly

Can an offbeat left-hander and a straight-laced manager help Arizona win the pennant without driving each other crazy?

It was pretty much what you'd expect to see at Brian Anderson's locker. The big tattoo grabbed your attention right away; the T-shirt with the sleeves torn off (more comfortable that way, you know); a goatee, of course.

But wait, this wasn't Anderson, the fresh-faced, tattooed, hard-rockin' Arizona Diamondbacks pitcher.

It was his spit-and-polish, no-nonsense manager. "I couldn't find an earring," Buck Showalter says.

Anderson was there, in the early going this spring.

What he saw did resemble his manager, sort of.

But the look was vintage "B.A." - Anderson's nickname.

"You win," Showalter said to his dumbfounded pitcher. "He thought I'd lost my mind," Showalter says. "I came in that day and the coaches were just looking at me. I had to explain. I got one of those two-week tattoos. I had three or four days' worth of goatee. I couldn't keep it though; it was all gray."

Anderson's reaction? "I'm honored he's making fun of me. I mean, there's (a lot of) guys in here, and he picked me."

From all outward appearances, Anderson was the most unlikely choice.

Anderson's current tattoo count is seven. His speech is peppered with enough "mans" and "dudes" to make Keanu Reeves proud. Teammates are genuinely amused that his strongest expletive is "cheese and rice" because his mother always demanded respect, especially for religion. He's simply having fun and perpetuating the baseball notion that lefties tend to be, well, slightly off-center.

The other half of this apparent manager-player odd couple is the son of a high school principal who got a lot of his ideas about coaching demeanor when he and his dad watched Bear Bryant handle the Alabama football team.

"We were big 'Bama fans," Showalter says of his days growing up in the Florida panhandle.

Showalter probably has received more notoriety for his meticulous attention to detail or for when he chastised Ken Griffey Jr. for wearing his cap backward. More so at least than for his first-place Yankees and Diamondbacks teams.

Showalter and Anderson: oil and water? Fire and ice? Try grit and determination. Heart and desire. Those are the common denominators that form a respectful but playful relationship both obviously enjoy more than they let on - at least to each other.

"He brings it every day," Showalter says of the 28-year-old Anderson. "He's a pleasure to be around. He comes through the door with a smile on his face. He's never down in the mouth. I told him, 'I love what you bring to the team.' "

Anderson is clear about what he wants to bring.

"I've never really had a problem with a manager," he says. "I like to talk, but I basically keep my mouth shut. I take pride in my work ethic."

Anderson admits to being more upset if he doesn't get a bunt down than if he allows a homer. "I want to be one less guy they have to worry about," he says. "There are so many guys that need to be coddled. Managing used to be filling out the lineup card. Now they have to do things like stroke egos. My one goal, the only thing I want to be remembered for, is being a team guy."

Now, that's the way to Showalter's heart. "I like looking at him every fifth day," the manager says. "He's a great athlete. He throws strikes, he works fast, he fields his position, he runs the bases well. He keeps himself in such great shape that, in the sixth, seventh, eighth innings, he has a little edge. I like athletic pitchers, especially starters. I think they can be worth a half a run a game.

"Remember, the good Lord didn't intend for you to put your arm over your head and jerk it down 120 times every fifth day."

But this isn't your run-of-the-mill mutual admiration society. Take the day before Anderson's Game Four start in last year's Division Series against the Mets. The pitcher was beginning a news conference and the first question came from the back of the crowded room.

"Brian, what will you do if Buck comes to take you out tomorrow and you don't think you should come out?"

Anderson contemplated the choice between what he really felt and what he knew he should say. Suddenly, he spotted the questioner. It was Showalter, hiding behind the mass of bodies. Anderson laughed.

"Well?" Showalter asked. "What's your answer?"

When Anderson - smiling - said Showalter wasn't likely to be handed the ball, the manager grinned, nodded and left the room.

Not quite the manager you expected when they took you in the expansion draft, eh, Brian?

"People just see his dugout demeanor," Anderson says. "He has a light side, too. Lots of guys ask me what it's like playing for Buck. I tell them, 'It's not what you think. I like it fine. You would too.'

"Some people make it sound like Buck said he's reinventing the wheel," Anderson says. "I think it's more a belief system. You know, like somebody says Alabama football and the first thing you think about is 16-13 scores."

Back up a minute, B.A. Aren't you a big Nebraska football fan, and a Cleveland Browns season ticketholder? 'Bama is Buck's team.

"See," Anderson says, "2½ years in and he already has me brainwashed."

Showalter says: "I don't take things near as serious as people think. I've gotten some of the best belly laughs of my life the last three years here.

"Hey, I used to wear bell-bottoms, those big stacked heels," the 43-year-old Showalter says. "I had long hair. I probably still have a leisure suit somewhere. Times change, people change, but the heart and gut don't change - who they are, how they treat people."

"Yeah, I've seen pictures of his hair when he was with the Yankees," Anderson says of his manager. "Man, he could have done a ponytail."

Showalter and Anderson both admit to changing and even being affected by the other.

"He's taught me a little," Showalter says. "He critiques movies for me. I like talking politics with him. B.A. is a lot more conservative than he'll let on. I'm probably more liberal than I used to be."

"Oh, nooooo," Anderson says. "I'm way right-wing. I love politics, especially in an election year. I can't wait to pick up the paper every day. And I'm definitely not a liberal Democrat."

"He's a piece of work," Showalter says. "The word to describe him is fresh."

Anderson's not planning on changing

Tuesday, May 16, 2000, 13:12 ET

The little games they play other than baseball remain a sparring match. "I don't get too much of a rise out of him," Anderson says of joking with his manager. "His reaction is basically to blow me off. He's not too much fun to play with. I think that's his way of toying with me."

Indeed.

"He's always coming up with something," Showalter says. "I just say, 'Yeah, whatever, B.A.' I don't let him see a reaction."

Anderson isn't likely to give up. In fact, he might just be beginning.

"I haven't done anything real big yet," Anderson says. "I don't feel that comfortable - yet. I don't want him to come across the table at me. I don't know quite how far to push - yet."

But, Brian, there must be something you'd like to pull.

He won't get specific, but admits: "I'd like to get Jerry (Colangelo, Diamondbacks owner). If we're fortunate enough to be celebrating in October, I'm going to be looking for something - a big something - more than Buck."

Anderson will work up to that one, though.

"This year is the first time I feel like I can mess around with (Showalter) a little," Anderson says. "The first year, not at all. I screwed with him a little last year. But it was a tough year for my role. It wasn't a good time to be playing with the manager."

Anderson was relegated to the bullpen, even to the minors, mainly because Arizona had added veterans Randy Johnson and Todd Stottlemyre to its rotation.

"I had 208 innings pitched, double-digits in victories for an expansion team (12-13 record in 1998)," Anderson says. "And now I was out of the rotation. But I knew what was happening. That's a time you could say, 'What about me?' But it never crossed my mind."

Anderson came to camp this spring with a spot in the rotation and Showalter's first-day appearance made a difference.

"After that, the gloves were off," Anderson says. "This year, I figured what's he going to do, send me down? He's done that. Besides, I'm out of options."

Remember, as with everything Anderson, it's all said with a smile.

Don't think for a minute Showalter didn't know what he was getting when the Diamondbacks chose Anderson with their first pick in the 1997 expansion draft from Cleveland. Part of Showalter's painstaking preparation included checking into players' personalities. That Anderson and several others from that draft are still in Arizona is a compliment, especially considering Showalter's view of expansion draft talent. "You want to (trade them)," Showalter says, "before everybody else finds out what their original clubs already knew, the reason they weren't protected."

Anderson was different. Cleveland was caught in a numbers crunch and had to leave unprotected a 25-year-old hometown lefty who had allowed just two runs in 10 innings over six postseason appearances in 1997. The Diamondbacks noticed.

Anderson remains different, arguably the most talkative member of the Arizona clubhouse. Showalter has noticed. And Anderson is aware his manager is taking note of his candidness with the media.

"He'll ask me," Anderson says, laughing, " 'Do you actually think about what you're going to say?' He'll just walk by and say, 'Why do I always have to worry about what you'll say?' It's the look he gives me. That's all he does. That's all he has to do."

Part of the major league growing-up process, Anderson figures.

"Being with all the veterans here helped with my maturity," the pitcher says. "I figured I can't act like a clown around these guys."

And he's convinced his manager he's not a clown.

"We in this business are at the mercy of the mothers and fathers of the world," says Showalter, who has a 13-year-old daughter, Allie, and an 8-year-old son, Nathaniel. "He's the kind of guy you'd love to see your daughter walk through the door with. I mean it."

That's been done, early last year, when Brian and wife Anna were married. She's actually aiding Showalter's cause.

"She's a feisty little Italian," Anderson says. "She lets me know. She'll see something I said and tell me, 'Honey, people might think the wrong thing.' She's a piece of work."

In fact, when he first met Anna, Anderson got less response than he does from Showalter.

"She wasn't the least bit impressed that I was a baseball player,"

Anderson says. "In fact, it probably worked against me. I'm going full A-game for a month, and I'm getting not even the time of day from her. If I had taken the hint, we probably wouldn't be married. It was a battle of attrition. I don't know if I finally won her over or just wore her down."

Now, the Anderson household also includes a Rottweiler.

"I don't want some cat running around," Anderson says. "If I'm going to get a dog, I'm going to get a dog."

A dog named ...?

"Lexi," he says.

A Rottweiler named Lexi?

"Yeah, I know," Anderson says sheepishly of his pet. "She's a pansy. The guy comes to clean the pool, and she just wags her tail. I say, 'Lexi, that could be a guy with a gun.' Oh, well."

Anna also might have taken some of the bark out of Anderson.

The seventh tattoo likely will be his last.

"I snuck out before we were married," he says. "Anna wasn't too pleased about that," especially because Brian's left bicep now is decorated with the emblem of his father's military unit, the Navy's VF-101 Grim Reapers. The insignia is the Grim Reaper in a headlong dive, its scythe ready to strike.

"I even went to the library and researched it," Brian says. "Right after that I was doing a program at the library for kids and the librarian said I should tell the kids about my experiences using the library. Yeah, right. I can see it now. 'Hi, kids, Brian wanted this big tattoo. So, he came to the library.' "

As he matures into a solid major league pitcher, Anderson also is having fun delving back into his own life.

"I was back in Cleveland over the winter, and I found two of my old hoop earrings," he says. "I felt like an idiot. I can't believe I did that. I thought it was cool. And I actually took that act out in public."

Good thing Buck couldn't find an earring in spring training. It would have been the wrong look.

Paul White can be reached via email at pwhite@usatoday.com.

© Copyright 2000 Baseball Weekly, a division of Gannett Co. Inc. and Total Sports Inc

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