Buck Showalter talked for close to 17 minutes before Sunday’s season finale at Citi Field as if he were going to be the Mets’ manager for the next decade.
It was the standard Game No. 162 stuff. Thoughts on the coming winter. Looking ahead to next year. How far away the Mets might be from contending for a championship.
There was a pause at the end of the Q&A session, and then this from Showalter: “Are we good?”
But he wasn’t done. Showalter had pledged to address his job status when the topic was brought up earlier, and that’s exactly what he proceeded to do, occasionally glancing down at a sheet of paper on the table.
Showalter’s voice grew shaky as he plowed through the awkward details, telling us how general manager Billy Eppler came to his office after Saturday night’s doubleheader sweep of the Phillies for a difficult conversation. Once Showalter compared their chat to Max Scherzer’s pre-trade briefing at the deadline, everyone in the room knew where this was headed.
One minute, Showalter was still the manager of the Mets, going through his usual pregame routine. The next? He was finished in Flushing, one season removed from winning 101 games and his fourth Manager of the Year award.
“In fairness to me, they gave me the option of, you know, stepping aside or either — I don’t know what else,” Showalter said. “I appreciate that. But the new leadership, they’re gonna go in a different direction with the manager next year, so just wanted to let you all know that.”
My first thought? There had to be a better way.
The firing itself wasn’t shocking. As soon as David Stearns was confirmed as the Mets’ first-ever president of baseball operations, the clock was ticking on Showalter. At best, maybe he had a coin-flip shot at returning to fulfill the final season of his three-year, $11 million contract, but only if Cohen pushed for him to remain. Stearns figured to want a fresh start, with his own hand-picked candidate, and his vision for the Mets turned out to be curtains for Showalter.
But to have Showalter sit up there on stage and essentially deliver the news of his own firing? Later, he was a Dead Manager Walking, perched on the dugout’s top step only hours after his own funeral. That just felt unbecoming for someone of Showalter’s stature, who has spent three decades as a big-league manager.
Maybe the blow was softened some by the Citi Field reception, a fond farewell made possible by Showalter accepting the previous night’s offer he couldn’t refuse: a coerced resignation. When he took the lineup card to home plate, he was greeted by a standing ovation from the crowd and the Mets’ dugout emptied onto the field to applaud him. The massive scoreboard flashed, “Thank You Buck.”
The whole thing was surreal. Not to mention owner Steve Cohen bending over backward to explain that this “parting of ways” with Showalter was not the manager’s fault. Once Stearns came on board, he was just in the wrong place at the wrong time.
“It’s no different than when a CEO comes into a new company, right?” Cohen said during his own impromptu news conference. “They bring in some of their own people. This is not a reflection of Buck. Buck did everything we wanted him to do. Obviously, this season was a disappointment, but it’s not Buck’s fault, OK? It’s spread across the organization.”
Yet it was only Showalter up on the guillotine Sunday, and by all accounts, he was undeserving of his fate. He arrived two years ago as the Adult in the Room, bringing stability to a manager’s office with a revolving door, then immediately guided the Mets to the playoffs.
What happened this season, as Cohen mentioned, seemed beyond Showalter’s control.
The WBC injury to Edwin Diaz. Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander both getting hurt early on. The annual June collapse followed by the Aug. 1 trade deadline “re-purposing” that neutered the Mets for the final two months. None of that was Showalter’s doing. He just became the custodian of this Flushing mess, and now Showalter gets swept out after Game 162 like a crumpled beer can in the bleachers.
“It doesn’t seem real,” Brandon Nimmo said. “I don’t really feel like Buck was the problem. But I’ve been around this business long enough . . . to know that sometimes people just end up going. There might not be a real hardcore reason behind it, but people have to fall, and that’s the unfortunate part of this business.”
Cohen said there had been “high-level” discussions regarding Showalter’s dismissal as far back as mid-September, shortly after Stearns agreed to come to the Mets. But the dirty task itself ultimately fell to Eppler, who after only two seasons had to fire the guy he hired. That wasn’t much of a chance, not for a 67-year-old baseball lifer who cherished this as his last, best shot to get to the World Series.
“I’m sad,” Francisco Lindor said. “I’m too emotional right now to tell you if it’s right or wrong.”
The ever-stoic Showalter tried his best Sunday to bury those feelings beneath his dad humor and folksy manner through two news conferences sandwiched around a 9-1 loss to the Phillies. But some cracks in that armor showed through.
“There’s better things ahead for the Mets,” Showalter said.
And they chose to leave him behind.