NEW YORK -- The first hint of emotion betrayed Buck Showalter as he revealed the news, in his own way, that he would not be returning to the Mets.
“I want to make sure I get this right,” Showalter said early Sunday afternoon, his voice catching, before revealing that his tenure was coming to an end. He read a prepared note he had written on a piece of paper.
About an hour later, as Showalter approached home plate to exchange his lineup card for the final time as Mets manager, dozens of his players and staff members spilled out of the dugout to applaud him. The Citi Field crowd followed suit, offering Showalter a standing ovation. Showalter exchanged the card then turned, put his head down and walked quietly back to the dugout, where he watched the Mets lose 9-1 to the Phillies in their season finale.
That dugout office, where Showalter has spent more time than all but 18 men in history, is no longer his home. Following Saturday’s penultimate game of the season, Mets general manager Billy Eppler informed Showalter that he could either resign or be fired. Showalter, who had one year left on his contract, chose the latter route.
“I think the players know I would never quit or resign,” Showalter said.
Owner Steve Cohen considered the move necessary out of fairness to David Stearns, whose hiring as president of baseball operations will become official on Monday. The Mets' owner did not want to disempower Stearns by forcing him to keep an incumbent manager, regardless of how popular that manager may have been.
“Buck did everything we wanted him to do,” Cohen said. “Not everything went right this year, and yet he kept an even-keel. The players loved him. These are always hard things to do.”
“I can’t tell you right now if it’s the right or wrong decision,” shortstop Francisco Lindor added. “Do I like it? No. It doesn’t feel good to have a man that I love, that my family loves, be without a job.”
As a manager, Showalter’s legacy is complicated. Of the 838 men to manage in the Major Leagues, only 18 of them won more games than him. But only 16 lost more games than Showalter, whose managerial career began in 1992 at the helm of a rebuilding Yankees team. Following a disappointing playoff performance in 1995, Showalter was dismissed, only to watch the Yankees win the World Series four times under Joe Torre. He moved onto a D-backs team that also won its first title a year after Showalter left.
Brought back to New York years later to resurrect the Mets, Showalter lasted two seasons, going 175-148.
Overall, he has produced a .509 winning percentage over 22 years and 3,393 games as a manager. Showalter has won just one postseason series, plus a Wild Card Game with the Orioles. Only Gene Mauch managed and won more MLB games without a pennant, which does not leave Showalter with a bitter taste.
“Baseball has been very fair to me, all things considered,” he said.
One of Showalter’s best chances to break through occurred last year, when he guided the Mets to a 101-win season but saw the NL East title slip out of his grasp with days to go. Rather than enjoy a bye, the Mets lost in the Wild Card Series to the Padres before faltering again this summer. They produced a sub-.500 record despite the largest payroll in Major League history.
“When things aren’t going well in New York, things happen,” outfielder Brandon Nimmo said. “And they happen quickly. It’s just our job as players to try and not let these things happen again.”
What the future looks like for Showalter remains to be seen. At 67, Showalter was already one of the game’s oldest managers, but he indicated he has a desire to remain in the dugout if another team will have him. Before joining the Mets, he spent time as a broadcaster, which could call to him again. Or, Showalter could simply retire home to Dallas, where he and his wife Angela have lived for years.
As for the Mets, managerial possibilities abound. Stearns, who is set to be introduced at a noon press conference Monday, has a close relationship with Brewers manager Craig Counsell. The longtime Milwaukee manager is only under contract through this postseason, making him an obvious candidate to take over in New York. Others exist throughout the industry.
“Somebody’s walking into a great situation here,” Showalter said. “I’ll be pulling for them, I can tell you that.”