'Spongeful' Buck ready to absorb Mets' info

December 21st, 2021

NEW YORK -- When Buck Showalter was a fledgling manager in the Class A Florida State League in the late 1980s, his wife, Angela, used to chart batted balls for him using different colored pencils. Showalter joked Tuesday that he and Angela could not only still name the starting rotations from those teams, but also which colored pencil corresponded to which pitcher.

It was an example Showalter mentioned to combat the perception that, at age 65, he might struggle to adapt to baseball’s cutting-edge developments now that he is the Mets’ manager. Over more than an hour of questions and answers at his introductory press conference, Showalter, Mets president Sandy Alderson and general manager Billy Eppler took turns insisting that nothing could be further from the truth.

In Showalter, the three said, the Mets have hired not just one of the most experienced managers in baseball, but one of the sharpest -- a man who can seamlessly integrate front-office analytic advice with his own understanding of how to influence players four decades younger than him.

“I’ll know what music they’re listening to,” Showalter said. “You might be surprised [by] some of the songs I’ll be humming around the locker room.”

Unlike with previous Mets managers Mickey Callaway and Luis Rojas, both first-timers who had to learn certain nuances of the job on the fly, the Mets don’t believe they need to teach Showalter anything -- not analytics, not modern game theory and certainly not how to interact with players. Alderson called him “as close as anybody in baseball can get to 10 out of 10,” adding that he tried to hire Showalter with the A’s in the late 1990s. Eppler attempted the same with the Angels a few seasons ago and, while Showalter ultimately did not receive that job, the new Mets skipper believes his three years out of the dugout -- he hasn’t managed since the Orioles parted ways with him in 2018 -- did nothing to dull his baseball sense.

It was clear on Tuesday’s call that the Mets were attempting to advertise Showalter as someone well-versed in the modern game. It was likewise clear that Showalter probably doesn’t need the help.

“If somebody thinks that I’m going to go back to the hotel or the house and think that maybe we got beat because someone else had better [information], or used information better than we did … then you don’t know me very well,” Showalter said. “I’ve always been very spongeful, to a fault.”

Already, that process has begun for Showalter in Queens. During the interview process, in which he beat out fellow finalists Joe Espada and Matt Quatraro, Showalter met with various members of the team’s analytics, scouting and performance staffs so that Alderson and Eppler could gauge his synergic abilities. The manager’s job has changed a great deal since Showalter first led a big league dugout in 1992, and even since he began his last job with the Orioles more than a decade ago. Front-office input is at an all-time high, with executives exerting influence on everything from defensive positioning to daily lineup cards.

Showalter understands all that, noting that “'collaboration’ is a great word.” He’s open to whatever information the front office will provide. And the Mets, who have spent the past three years building up their analytics department in unprecedented ways, intend to provide quite a bit of it.

“A lot of these issues about analytics and so forth, to me, are interesting topics,” Alderson said. “But given what Buck has done in the past, relied on as much information as has been available to him, and as adaptable as he has been to the way the game has changed over time -- and still be curious and energetic and motivated by the task at hand here in New York -- he has come as close to 10 out of 10 as anybody possibly can.”

“The old expression is, ‘adapt or die,’” Showalter added. “Shame on us if we’ve got some stubborn, ‘This is my way [attitude].' There are different ways to do it.”