Stars may be aligning for Mets manager Buck Showalter to finally win a World Series in New York

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Buck Showalter jersey swap Mets jacket and hat fully visible in dugout
Buck Showalter jersey swap Mets jacket and hat fully visible in dugout

If the baseball gods have a heart, there is only one way this can end for Buck Showalter. All these years after setting the table for Joe Torre’s dynasty in the Bronx, the veteran manager returns to New York for one last shot -- presumably -- at the championship that has eluded him throughout his career.

As such it would be poetic indeed if Showalter could end the long title drought in Queens as manager of the Mets, practically a lifetime after George Steinbrenner fired him for losing a playoff series in 1995 -- never mind that it was the Yankees’ first postseason appearance in 14 years.

Suffice it to say that three Manager of the Year awards -- in 1994, 2004, and 2014 -- with three different teams has always been small consolation for Showalter, compared to the four championships he watched Torre win in the five years after taking over as Yankee manager in ’96.

Of course, nobody can say for sure that Buck would have had Torre’s golden touch in the postseason, but there’s no denying he helped turn those early-90s Yankees from losers to winners, and, in fact, had the best record in the American League in 1994 when the infamous players’ strike robbed him of his first shot at a championship.

People who would know say the sting of being fired by the Yankees, the only organization he’d known as a career minor league player and manager, has always stayed with Showalter to at least some degree.

“He’ll never admit how much it hurt him,” says one person close to him. “He’d be mad if he heard me say it. But winning it all with the Mets in New York might be the closest he could ever get to closing that wound.”

So perhaps the stars are aligning finally for Showalter as he takes over a team with high expectations, plenty of talent, and an owner seemingly committed to doing whatever it takes to win a championship.

Time will tell, but for now Steve Cohen, Billy Eppler, and Sandy Alderson deserve kudos for making the right call. They didn’t try to overthink the obvious, that Showalter was the best fit for what is now a veteran, win-now team that will benefit from the new manager’s renowned attention to detail and proven ability as an in-game strategist.

Brodie Van Wagenen had the same opportunity two years ago and wouldn’t even consider Showalter because he was so determined to have heavy front-office involvement that would dictate lineup, bullpen, and strategic decisions based on analytics -- and hired Carlos Beltran and then Luis Rojas instead.

Not that Rojas didn’t show potential to be a solid big-league manager, if and when he gets another shot, but his inexperience showed in his lack of awareness of what was going on in his own clubhouse at times, particularly the thumbs-down gesturing aimed at the fans. Some poor strategic decisions, especially down the stretch in 2021, proved costly.

In addition, players such as Jeff McNeil and J.D. Davis were quoted at the end of the season indicating the underachieving 2021 Mets needed Rojas to be less of a buddy and more of a leader who would push players to be better.

Of course, Van Wagenen wasn’t the only GM to pass on Showalter since his last managerial tenure ended in 2018 with the Baltimore Orioles. That’s mostly the result of today’s GMs wanting a manager who will willingly collaborate on decision-making with the front office.

And while it’s silly to think Showalter won’t gladly use any and all analytic information to his advantage, it’s certainly true that the old-school manager in him is going to want more control in implementing such info than many GMs are comfortable giving these days.

“He’s always wanted any statistical edge he can get his hands on because nobody is ever more prepared,” says someone who has worked with Showalter. “But it’s always been his position that the front office doesn’t know as much about his players on a day-to-day human level as he does.

“So he’ll take the information but don’t tell him how to make out the lineup card or which reliever to pitch when. And he may not agree to sit a hot hitter just because the sports science people tell him the guy is due for a day off. I have to believe Billy is OK with giving Buck that kind of control.”

As long as the control issue was discussed and agreed upon during the interview process, there’s no reason to think Showalter won’t be the right manager for a team that has underachieved badly the last two seasons.

Baltimore Orioles manager Buck Showalter (26) walks off the field after speaking with an umpire in the third inning against the Houston Astros at Oriole Park at Camden Yards.
Baltimore Orioles manager Buck Showalter (26) walks off the field after speaking with an umpire in the third inning against the Houston Astros at Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

He’ll be more demanding than Rojas, for starters, but Showalter isn’t simply a do-it-my-way disciplinarian. He’s smart enough to involve his key players in setting a standard for playing the game the right way, whether it’s simply running hard to first base or adhering to fundamentals such as hitting the cut-off man on throws from the outfield.

Early in his tenure in Baltimore with the Orioles, for example, star center fielder Adam Jones was regularly dogging it down the line on routine ground balls. Rather than embarrass him publicly, Showalter called him in to his office and explained how his lack of hustle looked and how it sent the wrong message to teammates.

“He did it in a way that Jones appreciated,” says a reporter who covered Showalter in Baltimore, “and Adam bought in and became a real leader for Buck.”

In that sense Showalter has evolved over the years, managing the Diamondbacks and Rangers as well as the Yankees and Orioles, learning not to obsess over every little detail to the point where he could wear players out mentally.

Case in point: In the notorious Baltimore summer heat with the Orioles, he allowed his players to take batting practice in shorts and T-shirts, which may not sound like a big deal but would have been an unthinkable breach of protocol for much of his career.

It doesn’t mean he’s as loose as Joe Maddon, but it’s evidence that Showalter won’t allow small details to get in the way of the big picture.

“It might still make him a little crazy if someone is wearing their hat backwards in BP,” says someone close to Showalter, “but he’s smart enough that he’s learned to adapt and have more patience with players.”

Above all, Showalter has a track record of success, at least to some degree, in all four places he’s managed. He’s just never won a championship or gotten his teams to a World Series.

Somewhat like his Yankee experience, in fact, Showalter was fired in Arizona after leading the expansion Diamondbacks to winning records the previous two seasons, only to watch them win it all the very next season, in 2001, under Bob Brenly.

Now, at 65, Showalter gets another shot with a team that should have a legitimate shot at a championship. He certainly seems due one.