Buck goes full circle, brings pedigree to Mets

December 19th, 2021

Before he had even interviewed for the Mets' managerial job, Buck Showalter was talking one day about how he got a good laugh every time he’d hear that somehow he was opposed to analytics in the modern age of baseball.

“Are you kidding me?” Buck said. “If you’ve got something that is going to help us win the game, bring it on. Bring. It. On. But just make sure you understand how important it is to combine the numbers with boots on the ground.”

Showalter, announced by owner Steve Cohen as the new Mets manager via Twitter Saturday afternoon, first put boots on the ground in the big leagues as manager of the Yankees, hand-picked by the great Gene Michael, in 1992, managing his first game a month or so before his 35th birthday. Every Yankees fan knows that it was a rare rebuilding period in the club’s history, and that Michael and Showalter, working as a team, didn’t just begin to reshape the roster, but reimagine the culture of the Yankees as well.

The Yankees, believe it or not, had the No. 1 pick in the 1991 Draft after losing 95 games in 1990. Then they went 71-91 in 1991, the season before Buck took over. Two years later they were 70-43 and looking every inch a World Series contender before the season was called off because of a labor dispute in August. In Buck’s first full season managing Baltimore, the Orioles finished with a 69-93 record in 2011. The next season, they went 93-69, and after so many lost seasons for the O's you lost count, they were suddenly going toe-to-toe with the big boys in the American League East.

In Buck’s first full season with the Rangers, 2003, they were 71-91. The next season they were 89-73. You are probably detecting a trend.

Now Buck is back in New York, the fifth man to manage both New York teams in the same career. He is back in New York with the most impressive managerial resume a Mets skipper has had since the first one they hired, which means Casey Stengel. This means that in the same offseason, Steve Cohen has signed the best pitcher out there in Max Scherzer and the best manager out there in Buck Showalter.

In the end, and despite some hand-wringing in the media about Buck’s age and how it was somehow supposed to impact his relatability with younger players, Cohen did go for the best man available. Cohen is likely aware that the manager who just won the World Series with the Braves, Brian Snitker, is seven months older than Buck is, and the losing manager in the Fall Classic, Dusty Baker, is seven years older.

“The one thing I can’t be,” Buck joked a couple of weeks ago, “is 40 years old again.”

It’s a good thing, as Cohen makes the most important managerial hire for the Mets since Frank Cashen hired Davey Johnson, who had no experience, in the 1980s, and Johnson went on to win one of the two World Series the Mets have won in their 60 years of existence. A lot is made of the fact that Showalter has never managed a single World Series game in his career. He hasn’t. And before Gil Hodges, the most important Mets manager of them all, got to old Shea Stadium, he’d never had a single winning season with the Washington Senators. Hodges’ overall record in Washington was 321-444. Then in his second year in New York, the 1969 Miracle Mets went 100-62 and won the World Series.

Now Showalter comes back to New York City, where it all began for him. The place where he heard as big a cheer as any Yankees manager had ever heard at the old Yankee Stadium when he was introduced to the crowd before New York took on Seattle in Game 1 of the 1995 ALDS. Yankee fans liked him an awful lot. After everything that has happened with the Mets over the past few years, there is an excellent chance that Mets fans are going to love him.

“It would bring things full circle,” was something else Buck said before the interview process with the Mets even began, talking about the prospect of returning to New York.

I asked Marlins manager Don Mattingly, who was so close with Buck when they were together with the Yankees, if he was happy that Buck is back in the game.

“Absolutely happy for him,” Mattingly said. “Not so happy to have him in the division!"

There is this notion that the Mets, because of Scherzer and because of Buck, are suddenly a division favorite. They might be by the time the regular season starts. But they sure aren’t now, and it starts with them being in the same division with the Braves, who just became world champs even without Ronald Acuña Jr.

There are still holes all over the field that need to be addressed for the Mets. There is still no way of knowing if Jacob deGrom, who was finally shut down last season, can return to the form that made him look like the best pitcher on the planet when he was at his very best. And on top of that, Buck and Mets GM Billy Eppler need to build a culture with the Mets the way Buck and Stick Michael did with the Yankees. The Mets need to have an identity again that involves something more than players like Francisco Lindor and Jeff McNeil getting into it in the tunnel and then lying about what really happened afterward, and ex-Mets like Javier Báez giving a thumbs down to the fans.

Buck isn’t a perfect manager, by any means. There aren’t any. He is just the best manager for the Mets. They didn’t win anything on Saturday. Mets fans sure felt as if their team did.