Here's why Buck should top Astros' list

January 16th, 2020

By all accounts, Buck Showalter was in a room with Astros owner Jim Crane on Wednesday, talking about the manager’s job vacated by AJ Hinch in the shadow of the electronic sign-stealing scandal. If Crane gets Showalter in the room again, he shouldn’t let him out. Showalter is exactly what Crane and the Astros need right now, and not just because Showalter has been one of the best managers of his time in baseball, with or without a World Series title.

When it comes to baseball, and its values, Buck Showalter is the Last Boy Scout.

When Showalter got to the Orioles in 2010, he presided over one of the great culture changes in recent baseball history. The Orioles had been without a winning season since 1997. They had lost 90 or more games in seven of the previous 10 seasons. By the way? They were 32-73 when Showalter got the job. Forty-one games under .500. They went from that to being 34-23 the rest of the way. You bet the Orioles went back to losing 93 the next year. But even then, they were learning how to win again, beating the Red Sox five out of seven in September and doing as much as anybody to help the Red Sox blow what had been a nine-game lead in the AL East.

After that, the Orioles just happened to go five years winning more games than anybody, including the Yankees and Red Sox, in the AL East. For those five years -- and keeping in mind what the Orioles had been for a decade before Showalter took over -- here are the win totals in the division:

Orioles, 444
Yankees, 435
Blue Jays, 412
Red Sox, 408
Rays, 407

Showalter’s Orioles never won it all. When they looked like they might in 2014, they ran into the same kind of buzz saw in the ALCS -- getting swept by the Royals -- that the Cardinals ran into against the Nationals in the NLCS this past October. But what had really happened in Baltimore, under Showalter’s watch, is that the Orioles mattered again, at least before they decided to tear things down again.

I’m on record as saying the Mets should have hired him; I still think the Mets should hire him, but wonder how that happens now that they didn’t even interview him after they dismissed Mickey Callaway and ended up hiring Carlos Beltrán, with whom they parted ways on Thursday. Showalter lost out to Joe Girardi with the Phillies and Joe Maddon with the Angels. No shame to any of that.

Showalter never did. It’s on his permanent record. Do I think the Yankees would have beaten the Expos and won in ’94 if the season hadn’t been called off in August that year? Yeah, I do. I’ve known him since he was a Yankees coach. I know how he was the late Gene Michael’s top sergeant when the Yankees were coming back in the ‘90s. I saw the culture change there. And even without a World Series, he has still been Manager of the Year with three different teams.

Showalter is exactly what the Astros need right now. He happens to be exactly what the Red Sox need now that they have parted ways with Alex Cora. Both organizations need to bring in somebody from the outside.

Hiring Showalter doesn’t make the charges or the conclusions go away. It doesn’t change how people will look at what the Astros did and what the Red Sox might have done (the investigation into their alleged illegal sign-stealing in 2018 is ongoing). But for the Astros in particular, as talented as they are, to move forward, they need someone new. They need a veteran baseball presence like Showalter. It’s no surprise that Showalter and Mike Rizzo, the Nationals’ general manager, are friends. They are both old-school baseball guys who are able to assimilate all the new-age numbers. But not live and die with them.

It was Showalter who kept telling me last summer, as the Nats began to come back from 19-31, to look out for them, because he could see them figuring it out. He kept talking about Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg and Patrick Corbin.

“Get back to me the next time they lose three in a row,” Showalter said at the end of July; then that only happened one time the rest of the way, when the Nationals lost four in a row -- one to the Mets and then three straight to the Braves -- in the first week of September.

He was not looking for a job before the sanctions came down in Houston.

“I’m at peace,” Showalter said.

But he ought to end up in Houston. He can’t fix things. Just change the culture. He’s done that sort of work before. Why the Astros shouldn’t pass on Buck.