Just like lots of fans across the sport I’ve got a reaction to the Mets hiring veteran Buck Showalter to manage the team. My feelings on Buck and baseball are most certainly mixed.
As an O’s supporter, I could easily note how his tenure ended without crossing that crucial line into the deep postseason as it seemed was destined to happen around 2012-2014. It would be just as easy to say that despite those significant shortcomings Buck brought the organization back to legitimacy after years of subpar play and laughable front office decisions preceded him. Both perspectives matter because both are right. Fans of the Diamondbacks, Rangers, and Yankees; all Buck’s previous stops on the resumè could have similar sentiments.
Evaluating a baseball lifer like Buck is wasted if you only look at his wins or losses or numbers in general. In fact, his pattern of doing well but not winning it all is so clearly defined now that what is apparent is that his best role is not a manager.
Issues with Buck
Buck’s reluctance to understand and adapt to analytics is somewhat overblown. He’s a strategist so he’ll use any tool or method that can put him in an advantageous position, that’s not in question as much as it appears. I think when Buck looks at a player, he can size up that player’s game and future abilities as well as anyone ever has or will. Almost like a master scout. That’s his separating skill and that’s the best element he brings to the table.
Shifting to 2021 and beyond in New York I don’t see the situation shaping up as an ideal fit for someone who is aging away from the players. Buck’s an excellent motivator and a stubborn yet effective communicator. I’d guess he could get his message across to a dugout full of players decades younger than him.
The Mets roster is built to win now. It looks on paper that it could no matter who’s starting the pitchers and making double shifts. I liked how Buck gave crucial roles to vets and let them lead on and off the field. Way back when outfielder Adam Jones combined winning momentum and a bunch of pies to the face of his teammates to run into the spotlight because Showalter gave him that opportunity. Long term he could see who needed to be shouldering the load. In today’s baseball, I think those role recognition skills fit best in a skybox watching and brainstorming much more than on a top step giving take signs.
The Infamous Decision
Getting past his shortcomings requires looking at them in-depth. The decision to not utilize closer Zach Britton against Toronto will forever bother Oriole fans. It should, it was boneheaded. But it doesn’t pass the smell test for unforgivable. To me even then it wasn’t shocking because I had come to expect ‘unconventional’ attempts at trying to gain that upper hand.
Years ago, a clear indicator that dugout decision maker wasn’t the best use of his skills. The game moves fast, and I’m saying it implies that he can’t keep up. That’s not how I feel. What I do think is that he gains more data and has the skills to effectively utilize that data over time instead of pitch to pitch. It shouldn’t be an insult for a baseball genius to be considered potentially the league’s best scouting director or consultant. But it doesn’t mean his unique skills translate to what a winning manager is in 2021.
As a leader and a positive baseball guy, you can make a case for him as a Hall of Famer. There are countless times where he showed inspiration and thoughtfulness that radiates how someone with a major public voice is supposed to use it. That type of mentality is needed in any field, any environment, any era.
Thinking up a prototype skipper for a win-now club you’d want a lot of energy and passion mixed with equal amounts of intellect and experience. Maybe a voice a bit louder than Buck. Maybe a more spotless resume. You could look a year or two younger too. But he’s checking those boxes.
Over the next 3 seasons, Buck Showalter now older and marked by decisions that held him and his teams back will determine the fate of the New York Mets. It seems like a less-than-perfect fit no matter how you look at it. Yet very difficult to make a case for a better candidate. Another chance for Buck to do some good. But who really has a reason to think he’ll be great?
Main image credit Embed from Getty Images