As a baseball lifer, with two decades as an MLB manager, Buck Showalter tends to repeat some of his favorite lines. We heard a number of them at his other stops, and a few popped up again during Tuesday’s hour-long Zoom intro.
One that’s new to Flushing, however -- and long overdue around Citi Field -- should be posted on the clubhouse wall once the Mets get to Port St. Lucie for spring training:
With Showalter’s hiring, and Steve Cohen’s billions, there’s no more passing the Buck when it comes to this team’s performance. You won’t be told that someone/something is too expensive or a game-costing decision is chalked up to a rookie manager’s growing pains.
Also, Showalter did not say he’s going to love the players more than anyone has before, as you may remember from the kickoff to the Callaway Era. Quite the opposite. The ’22 Mets have a job to do -- "to be the last team standing," Buck emphasized -- and everything else is secondary to that goal.
We’ve listened to variations of that tune in the past. But with Showalter, at age 65, operating under a pleasantly-vengeful owner in Cohen, it carries more heft. Buck has the full weight of a deeply-resourced front office behind him, and you get the idea the nonsense is over. That the big-market Mets are going to play up to those expectations, on a New York stage that’s been forced to endure second-rate performances for too long.
"There’s no place like it when you get it right," Showalter said. "There’s a lot of people living and dying with what you’re trying to do every day, so there’s an accountability, a responsibility to that. "It’s not for everybody. We’re going to try to find out who it’s for. Who’s in and who ain’t."
Consider Showalter the new spearhead of that accountability. Like every other 21st century manager, Buck will be a dugout executive, the on-field extension of front-office policy. But he’s no mindless button-pusher, and he’s not in the business of handing out hugs. It’s clear by his hiring that the people upstairs weren’t looking for a data processor.
As much as GM Billy Eppler talked about Showalter’s seamless breakout sessions with the Mets’ various departments -- analytics, scouting, health and performance -- the front office also recognized the need for culture change downstairs. That comes standard with someone of Showalter’s pedigree, and it’s not learned by studying a spreadsheet.
When it was brought up Tuesday that the Mets pledged to find a managerial candidate with a perfect score, a 10 out of 10 qualifications-wise, club president Sandy Alderson jumped in after Eppler to drive that point home. Alderson revealed that his A’s tried to hire Showalter back in the late 90s before Buck joined the expansion Diamondbacks, and all these years later, he’s even better now.
"Given what Buck has done in the past, relied on as much information as has been available to him, and as adaptable as he’s been to the way the game has changed over time, and still be curious and energetic and motivated by the task at hand here in New York," Alderson said, "he has come as close to 10 out of 10 as anybody possibly can."
Showalter understands what’s at stake here. He’s not a bench coach elevated for a first crack at the big chair. There’s no learning curve in Flushing now. He doesn’t need to adjust to the speed of the big leagues, or wrestle with the mental bandwidth necessary to deftly handle two-a-day grilling sessions by the media. And for all of Tuesday’s probing about his competency with analytics, that’s only one part of the job for a Mets’ manager, a title that remains one of the toughest gigs in pro sports.
Showalter is 65, not 90. He can use an iPad. And as Buck said himself, in deploying one of his more colorful words Tuesday, he’s "spongeful" when it comes to absorbing information. As for the data race dominating today’s game, Showalter did point out that it’s still about attacking those 90 feet between the bases, along with playing the percentages generated by each team’s own proprietary algorithms.
It’s been three years since Showalter last patrolled a dugout for the 115-loss Orioles, a long-sinking ship that kept Buck strapped to the bow. He’s managed over 3,000 games without making the World Series, and arrives in Flushing for what certainly feels like his last chance at a ring.
Neither Showalter nor the Mets are waiting around for a championship to happen. They don’t have time for excuses. And that’s one of the biggest reasons why they’re the perfect match.