With Mets opening, could Buck return to NY?

October 3rd, 2019

Somebody is going to hire Buck Showalter to manage their team next season. If you’re a Mets fan, you ought to be hoping it’s your team.

There are a lot of top managerial candidates out there, and a lot of jobs, with the Mets joining the list after dismissing Mickey Callaway on Thursday. Joe Girardi managed in New York the way Buck did and he won the World Series that Showalter is still chasing, following stints with the Yankees, D-backs, Rangers and Orioles. Of course there is a fast-track trend in baseball for the general managers --  especially younger general managers -- to be the faces of these franchises as much as their managers are, and sometimes even more. And with that trend has come another one that has more and more younger guys sitting in the dugout, willing to make even the in-game decisions that their GM’s want them to make.

But Joe Maddon, who everybody thinks is going to get the Angels job now that he’s parting ways with Chicago, did all right with the 2016 Cubs. He’s 65. Bruce Bochy, who just retired with the Giants, is 64 now, and has been one of the best managers of his time. And whether Showalter, 63, has won a World Series (yet) or not, the culture change he brought to the Orioles when he got there is one of the most impressive in recent baseball history.

In the meat grinder that’s the American League East, in a division that includes the big bad Yankees and the big bad Boston Red Sox, there was a five-year period, in this decade, when the Orioles won more games than either one of them. By the way? If the baseball season hadn’t been cancelled back in 1994 when Showalter was managing the Yankees, there wouldn’t be any kind of World Series hole in his resume.

Showalter was dismissed after the Yankees lost the last three games of their series to the Mariners in 1995, when a Hall of Famer named Edgar Martinez knocked in another Hall of Famer named Ken Griffey Jr. with the winning run in Game 5. Even then, George Steinbrenner had second thoughts and tried to bring Buck back. He politely declined. He went to Arizona instead, and basically was put in charge of shaping a baseball franchise there.

Showalter finally ended in Baltimore, at a time when a once-proud franchise had become a perennial basement-dweller. And slowly he watched the Orioles get back up, the way he watched the Yankees do that when he was their 30-something manager in the ‘90s. It looked like the Orioles might win it all in 2014, but they ran into the Royals at a time when the Royals were turning themselves into a team of destiny. You never want to run into one of those in the month of October in baseball.

In the end, everything fell apart in Baltimore, and Showalter was gone. Now the Orioles have torn the whole thing down, hoping to rebuild themselves as something of an Astros east, including hiring former members of Houston’s front office to run their team.

When Showalter left the Orioles, I asked him if he had one more run in him. He laughed.

“I might end up somewhere,” he said. “But it won’t be just anywhere.”

If Showalter is on the Mets’ list, they’re going to have competition for him, because theirs isn’t the only job open. It might not even be the only one open in their own division if the Phillies decide to let Gabe Kapler go. The Mets were better than the Phillies this season, even after Philadelphia went out and spent $330 million on Bryce Harper. The people in charge of both teams thought they were supposed to be better than third and fourth in the National League East.

The Mets had a rookie general manager in Brodie Van Wagenen, a former CAA agent. He took a big swing when he made a big trade for Robinson Canó and Edwin Díaz. For now, the deal looks like a rookie mistake. It wouldn’t hurt Van Wagenen, not even a little bit, to have someone with Showalter’s knowledge and experience running the 2020 Mets. But if the Mets do hire Showalter, they need to know that he’s not someone you just tell to go sit in the corner of the dugout and manage his team.

Showalter has worked in New York. Knows the city. He can handle the city better now than he did a quarter-century ago. He is currently working in New York for the YES network on Yankees playoff games. It would be a pretty neat thing for him to end his managing career where it started for him. He said it himself. He’s going to end up somewhere. Somewhere ought to be Citi Field. If the Mets don’t get this guy, somebody else will.