Thursday, June 23, 2011

Cousin Buck, or the Showalters at Milligan College, part 3

            Are there any baseball fans among my readers? If so, you will already know that “Buck” Showalter is currently manager of the Baltimore Orioles. He has also managed the New York Yankees (1992–1995), Arizona Diamondbacks (1998–2000), and Texas Rangers (2003–2006). Back in the 1990s, when I lived in the New York area, strangers used to ask me quite often if I was related to Buck Showalter. I assume that all Showalters are related one way or another, but I really didn’t know the answer. Elaine suggested I say, “When he’s winning,” and everyone thought that was a very clever response.

Buck Showalter
Photo by Keith Allison from Wikimedia Commons

            Now I know the answer, and thought I would share it with you. Furthermore, Buck is usually winning, so we can all proudly claim him as a cousin. Over the eleven and a fraction seasons he has managed, his teams have a collective record of 916 wins, 856 losses, or .517. That would not be a brilliant record for a team in a given year, good enough usually for third or fourth place in the division, occasionally squeaking into second against weak competition. But one has to remember that Buck took over teams with a collective 175-254 record the previous year or in the unfinished part of the current year. The Diamondbacks had no previous record, because they were an expansion team in 1998, and expansion teams are notoriously weak. With the Orioles in 2010, he was the first manager in twenty years to take over a team in August and have a winning record. When he became manager, the Orioles were 32-73; they finished with a 34-23 run, or .600. If  they had played that well all season, they would have had the best record in the major leagues. Buck was named manager of the year for turning around the Yankees in 1994, and for a similar feat with the Rangers in 2004. In short, Buck is a really good manager.
            His real name is William Nathaniel Showalter III. His great great grandfather was David Showalter, who is also my great great grandfather. We are therefore third cousins. Here is the chart:
David Showalter b. 31 Dec 1801, d. 12 Apr 1877
Nathaniel Pryor Showalter                                          Josiah Thomas Showalter
b. 4 Oct 1848, d. 10 Dec 1935                                   b. 24 Jul 1839, d. 25 Sep 1915
William Nathaniel Showalter I                                   C. D. M. Showalter
b. 4 Jun 1886, d. 5 Oct 1980                                      b. 17 Feb 1866, d. 7 Jan 1948
William Nathaniel Showalter II                                  English Showalter
b. 23 Sep 1919, d. 15 Nov 1991                                 b. 15 Oct 1897, d. 4 Mar 1986
William Nathaniel Showalter III (“Buck”)                 English Showalter Jr
b. 23 May 1956                                                           b. 14 May 1935

William Nathaniel Showalter I

            If you know how many generations down the line you are located, you can determine what cousin you are to Buck.
            Buck did not attend Milligan College, but his father did. He came as a freshman in the fall of 1939, in the class of 1943, and quickly became a star fullback on the football team. The semi-monthly campus newspaper, The Stampede, mentioned him often, usually as “Big Bill” Showalter. In 1940, the team went undefeated, and Big Bill was one of two Milligan players named to the A.P. Little All America team. They lost a heart-breaker late in the 1941 season, but for these three years Milligan was a powerhouse in the small-college league where it competed.

Big Bill Showalter
 “The Buffalo” (Milligan College yearbook), 1942

            The year 1941 was, however, one of the most fateful in history to be a young man in America. Pearl Harbor was bombed on December 7, 1941, and immediately men like Bill Showalter were drafted. Bill himself was called up in Virginia on January 19, 1942. From that date until August 15, 1945, he had no furloughs and did not see his family. He took part in the U. S. Army’s campaign in North Africa, in the invasion of Sicily, then in the D-Day landing in Normandy, and in the Battle of the Bulge. He was one of the thousands of Americans who risked their lives in the Second World War and to whom all Americans today must be grateful.
            Bill had two brothers who also served in the military, and one of them also attended Milligan. Donald Pryor Showalter was born in 1921; he served in the Air Force, as a flight engineer in the Pacific theater. Robert Henry “Bob” Showalter was born in 1923; he was also in the Air Force, as a turret gunner on a Flying Fortress bomber, carrying out missions over Germany. Before entering the Army Air Corps in 1943, Bob had attended Milligan and played on the tennis team. After he was discharged in October 1945, he returned to Milligan in January 1946 and was a stalwart of the tennis team until his graduation in 1947. Milligan itself had been taken over for war service in the intervening years by the Navy. Malinda Showalter, their younger sister, also went to Milligan before the war; she is mentioned in The Stampede in the fall of 1942, when she played Miss Willoughby in J. M. Barrie’s play Quality Street.

Robert Henry Showalter
“The Buffalo” (Milligan College yearbook), 1947

Malinda Showalter
“The Buffalo” (Milligan College yearbook), 1943

            Bill also returned to Milligan in 1946, and was once again a stand-out football player. He also played on the baseball team, was president of the Physical Education Club, and was included in Who’s Who in American College and Universities in 1947. He graduated on May 21, 1948, with a major in physical education. He considered a career as a professional football player, but elected instead to become an educator, as many Showalters who went to Milligan had done before him. He went first to Pensacola, Florida, as a high school baseball coach and biology teacher. He later earned a degree in educational administration at Peabody College, and spent most of his life as a coach, teacher and principal in Century, Florida, at the western tip of the panhandle. And he raised a son whom I greatly admire.

William Nathaniel Showalter II
“The Buffalo” (Milligan College yearbook), 1948

Marginalia and afterthoughts

Who is the most famous Showalter?

            I thought Buck Showalter was probably the most famous Showalter, so I did some scientific research, which consisted of searching for “[firstname] showalter” on Google and noting the number of hits. Buck returned an impressive 347,000, but he’s not number 1. That honor goes to Gena Showalter, who racked up an astonishing 688,000 hits.
            Gena writes best-selling paranormal romance novels. She has a blog, which includes pictures of the covers of her books; many of them feature very hot beefcake. According to Wikipedia, she was born in Oklahoma in 1975, published her first novel when she was 27, and has by now published more than 25 books. Are we related? I suppose so, but I don’t yet know how.

cover of The Vampire’s Bride, by Gena Showalter

Why has Buck Showalter changed jobs so often?

            Wikipedia raises this question, and quotes as an explanation the opinion that Buck micromanages. If I owned a team and my manager produced the results Buck has had, I would tell him to micromanage all he wanted. But that’s me.
            In fact, Buck has not changed jobs more often than most baseball managers. According to an article by Lynn Zinser, “One Loss Away From a Dismissal”, in the New York Times of December 20, 2008, the average tenure of a manager in professional baseball is 3.78 seasons, but that figure is skewed upward by a tiny number of managers who have lasted a long time. The median figure is 2 seasons; in other words, half of all managers are fired at the end of their second season.

Buck as a Yankee, a Diamondback, a Ranger

Can you trust Wikipedia?

            From time to time I cite Wikipedia. Is it a trustworthy source? No. So why do I use it? Because it is convenient. For very contemporary subjects, like Buck Showalter, it’s the likeliest place to find a succinct summary of key information. If you don’t have the reference room of a big research library handy, Wikipedia combines the contents of many shelves of almanacs, bibliographies, dictionaries, encyclopedias, gazetteers, and the like.
            Wikipedia is written by amateurs, however, and the content is unedited. When I looked up Buck Showalter, I found a flagrantly implausible passage about his family. I won’t repeat it, lest it find its way back into circulation. It involved a confusion between his father and his grandfather, and some exaggeration of the facts. The Wikipedia entry cited a source, which was a newspaper story written by a free-lance sportswriter, whose memory had clearly played some tricks on him. And like Wikipedia, his newspaper had no fact-checker. The entry has now been corrected, but many entries containing similar errors have not been corrected.
            So I use Wikipedia, but I try to check the sources, and the sources’ sources. For those who are wondering, most of my information on Buck Showalter comes from members of his branch of the family. I would like to take this opportunity to thank them, especially Marina and Kathy.

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