In a recent sit-down with MLB.com at Citi Field, Mets manager Buck Showalter answered questions on a wide range of topics from why his team is in first place in the National League East to his love for Gene Michael.
MLB.com: As we are doing this interview, the Mets have a winning percentage over .600 and are ahead of the Braves in the NL East standings. What are you most proud of regarding the Mets?
Buck Showalter: I’m proud of the way the players have embraced a team concept. Nobody is more important than somebody else. We all have to do our part. I’ve had some good teams and some good people. I don’t think I’ve had so many people you like to hang out with. There are a lot of guys I sincerely like. We have a lot of guys with a pure heart. They want to win. They want to do the right thing. They worry about the weight their words carry. They are constantly trying to help each other.
MLB.com: Not only that, the players tease you at times. They playfully try to rub your baseball jacket.
Showalter: They were just messing around. I feel like one of those gnomes that’s like a good-luck charm or something. They feel they have to rub it or something. I go out on the mound and they are like -- I don’t know -- I’m like a crazy old uncle or something. We all have somebody like that in our families. They enjoy it and I enjoy it. I don’t take myself nearly as seriously as a lot of people think I do. … It’s a group I enjoy being around. It’s not because we won some games. They are easy to trust. I think they care about doing the right thing.
MLB.com: Do you consider yourself an uncle to those players?
Showalter: I consider myself kind of a caretaker. Every situation I’ve been in, there is a different need -- assessing what the need of the players and (what) you need to bring (to him). There are certain things you don’t stray from. There are adjustments you make to what their needs are. … I learned a long time ago, if it’s important to the players, it better be important to you, regardless if you think it’s trivial.
[For example], there was a big glare out in center field. It’s been there forever during 4 p.m. games. We put stuff on that glass where it wouldn’t reflect so brightly. You don’t talk about it. You just do it. I get support from ownership. [Owners] Steve and Alex Cohen -- they didn’t want [just] a good family room. They wanted the best in sports. We may have that now. That means something to players.
MLB.com: What is the most pleasant surprise regarding this team?
MLB.com: Looking forward, what do you want the team to improve on?
Showalter: I would be pretty picky [to mention it]. I’m proud of them. They [haven’t had] self pity if something didn't go their way. If we stay in the same operation, we are going to be in good shape.
I think improvement [would come from] not [falling] in the traps. We haven’t yet.
MLB.com: Like what?
Showalter: We live in a “what have you done for me lately” world. I keep telling them to stay together. There are so many things out there. Stay off the Twitter [accounts]. I don’t have one. I know what they are exposed to. It is the voice of the fan.
I don’t read anything. I don’t listen to anything. If you come [into my office] and the game is on, the sound will be off. As I walk [in the clubhouse], I ask [public relations], “Is there anything I need to know?” It’s out there. I might get ambushed about it. I just want to know. But I’m not seeking it out. I think the players have fed off that. Let’s eliminate the noise.
I told them all the time, "You control this." You really do, whether you go to Triple A -- Smitty [Dominic Smith] went down to the Minor Leagues and tore it up. Our theme is to play better. You eliminate the sympathetic ears to it. It’s kind of New York. The fans are waiting to embrace you. If they are booing a little bit now and then, it’s because they care. It's up to you to give them something to embrace you about. Don’t get caught up in the negative. You control that. It will spin very quickly. It’s a huge snowball. When things are going well, it snowballs real positively. … You have to shorten the bad times and stretch out the good times. But they are both going to happen.
MLB.com: The Braves are catching up in the race. How good are they?
Showalter: It’s a given. Gosh, they won 13, 14 [straight] games [in June]. I don’t [know] what it was. I wasn’t paying attention to it. There are four teams we are trying to be better than. We have to be better than the next four teams [in the National League East]. It’s going to be hard because Philly is good. The Marlins can shut you out three days in a row and Washington might get better.
The Braves, it’s a given. They won the World Series last year. Why wouldn’t you think they [could] compete with us all year? It’s like Captain Obvious is what’s going on.
Buck Showalter: You know what usually happens, you learn when you plug a missing piece, another one appears. Obviously, because they have a track record and are successful Major League pitchers, that makes it attractive. But it doesn’t mean it’s going to happen again. … I don’t look at anything ever as a given. That’s the mistake [people] make. We live in a world that wants to know about something before it happens. I’m OK with finding out at the appropriate time.
MLB.com: What’s the biggest thing you learned since you became manager of the Mets?
Showalter: There is a lot of the stuff that’s going on right now analytically. There are just better ways to quantify it. It was stuff we used to get with our eyes and ears. Everybody is trying to predict where you are going to hit a ball, what pitch you are going to throw, when are you going to run. When are you going to bunt. Everybody is into predictions. It’s getting harder and harder being spontaneous and [fooling] people.
MLB.com: I thought you were an excellent broadcaster and thought your future was in that field. What is it about managing that you love so much?
Showalter: Being here with Billy and Steve Cohen, I just thought this is my last rodeo. We are not getting out of this alive. If I was going to do it one more time, I was at peace either way. I was with really good people at the MLB Network and YES Network. … I was at peace with everything. I think the ability to work with Billy and Steve, knowing what they wanted to be about, It was a good fit for me.
MLB.com: Does Eppler remind you of working with [former Yankees executive] Gene Michael?
Showalter: Oh, yeah. Billy is cut out of the same cloth. He basically followed Gene around scouting all the time. They were very close. You could see a lot of it. We will laugh about some of Gene’s stories.
I wouldn’t say that Steve has a lot in common with Mr. [George] Steinbrenner, with [the exception] that he wants to win. Steve’s passion to win is the same.
MLB.com: I want to go back to Gene Michael. He is the one that gave you your first managerial job in the big leagues before the 1992 season. Could you tell me what he meant to you?
Showalter: Gene always told me the right things instead of telling me what I wanted to hear. There was some tough love along the way. I don’t think I was his original choice, but as we got into it, I remember he said, “OK, you can do this. I won’t be around as often.” That gave me great confidence. I had a one-year contract for $175,000. I was stealing money. I was almost breaking even in New York City. Trust me, it’s hard. It was a great opportunity and I ran with it.
I knew he was taking some stuff upstairs that he deflected. But he had a backbone. He said, “Pick the battles worth fighting. Always remember that.”
MLB.com: People look at you as an old-school manager.
Showalter: What does that mean?
MLB.com: It basically means you are looking at things through the eye test. How do you feel when you hear that? How do you feel about analytics?
Showalter: My wife used to keep pitching charts [in the '80s]. She had different colors. I would bring home a chart. She would put [the colors] in my book. Red was for one pitcher. Blue was for another. Green was for another. Humpbacks was for ground balls. Straight lines were for line drives. Big arcs were for curveballs. We played our defense accordingly. Now we have more information, logging of it. It’s only better. Exit velocity -- I used to listen to it and watch it. But now, it verifies your gut feeling and your feel. … There is a heartbeat in the game that will never go away. You not only have to know the game analytically, but you have to know it emotionally or mentally, the things that challenge players every day.
MLB.com: You are one of the best managers in the game. Are you surprised you haven’t stayed in one place for a long time except the Orioles?
Showalter: No, not at all. I understand the shelf life of managers. There is the outhouse to the penthouse and the penthouse to the flavor of the month. It’s all about the game. It’s about the players and the fans. That’s what I always remind myself. I’m a ship passing through the night. … The shelf life has changed. I was in Baltimore nine or 10 years. That’s not going to happen anywhere. That doesn’t happen. Every place I’ve been, it’s been an honor to be there as long as I have. I left New York on my own accord. I could have stayed. [The Yankees] wanted to fire four coaches. There was nothing else.
My dad told me a long time ago, “At some point in your life, you have to plant your feet and take a stand. It will be uncomfortable and it will come back to you twofold.” That was one of them. That was tough. I didn’t have a job. I didn’t have anything. My wife wasn’t too happy. It worked out great for Mr. [Joe] Torre. It worked out great for me and my life. We’ll see where this one [with the Mets] takes me. I’m OK. I’m at peace with it.
MLB.com: But the thing is, though, the Yankees didn’t forget you. You have been on the YES Network. You are one of the reasons the Yankees became a contending team again starting in 1993.
Showalter: I don’t know. I had a lot of help. I had a good farm system. Mr. Steinbrenner was on probation, which allowed us to keep Bernie Williams, Mariano Rivera, Jorge Posada, Andy Pettitte [and] Gerald Williams, who was underrated. We gave them an opportunity to grow a little bit and got rewarded for it.
MLB.com: What would it mean to win the World Series?
Showalter: For me, personally, it doesn’t stamp or verify anything. Am I driven to win for us and the fans? Without a doubt. Every day, I wake up trying to get better. It’s like I told [David] Peterson [recently] -- he was on his way to the airport and I said, “The greatest thing you are going to do in your life is be a good father and husband. Pitching last night is just fleeting.” At the end of the day, I try to keep those things in order. But to have my life verified by winning [the World Series]? I’ve had a great life and an honored life. Every day, I pinch myself getting to do this. That doesn’t mean I ain’t driving hard every day -- to a fault almost.
MLB.com: How long do you have in this game?
Showalter: I don’t know. [The Mets] will tell me. I grind each day and see where it takes me. If I make it through the year, I’ll see if they want me to continue and then I will sit down with my family and see what they think.
MLB.com: You have done one heck of a job this year.
Showalter: Well, we have a long way to go. We knew everybody was going to make a run at us. We’ll have some lulls along the way. This 16-game span [before the All-Star Break] will be a challenge for us physically. We need to get these guys back like Trevor May and Travis Jankowski. Scherzer, deGrom, everybody wants to talk about that. I’m more about the Trevor Mays, the Jankowskis, Megills -- those type of people. No what-ifs.
MLB.com: In fact, you recently said you can’t win without players like Luis Guillorme.
Showalter: He should be on the All-Star team. Nobody has done the job better than him. You cannot win without guys like him. You can make a case where you ask, "Who is the one guy you can’t afford to lose?" It might be him. Nobody does what he does. He’s a regular irregular. That’s what he is.