NEW YORK – The first hint of emotion betrayed Buck Showalter when he broke the news, in his own way, that he would not be returning to the Mets.
“I want to make sure I do this right,” Showalter said early Sunday afternoon, his voice clear, before revealing that his term 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 members of his staff came out of the dugout to applaud him. The Citi Field crowd followed suit, giving Showalter a standing ovation. Showalter exchanged the card, then turned around, put his head down, and calmly walked back to the dugout, where he watched the Mets lose 9-1 to the Phillies in the season finale.
That hidden office, where Showalter has spent more time than all but 18 men in history, is no longer his home. After the penultimate game of the season on Saturday, Mets general manager Billy Eppler informed Showalter that he could either resign or be fired. Showalter, who had one year remaining on his contract, chose the latter route.
“I think the players know I would never quit or quit,” Showalter said.
Owner Steve Cohen deemed the move necessary in fairness to David Stearns, whose appointment as president of baseball operations will become official on Monday. The Mets owner did not want to weaken Stearns by forcing him to keep the current manager, no matter how popular that manager was.
“Buck did everything we wanted him to do,” Cohen said. “Things didn’t go well this year, yet he kept his balance. The players loved him. These are always difficult things to do.”
“I can’t tell you right now whether that decision was right or wrong,” added midfielder Francisco Lindor. “Do I like it? No, it’s not good to have a man I love, and my family loves, without a job.”
As a director, Showalter’s legacy is complex. Of the 838 men he coached in the major leagues, only 18 won more games than him. But only 16 lost more games than Showalter, whose coaching career began in 1992 at the helm of the rebuilding Yankees. After a disappointing playoff performance in 1995, Showalter was fired, only to watch the Yankees win the World Series four times under Joe Torre. He moved to the D-backs, who also won their first title a year after Showalter left.
Showalter returned to New York years later to revive the Mets, and lasted two seasons, going 175-148.
Overall, he had 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 has managed to win more MLB games without a pennant, which doesn’t 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 led the Mets to a 101-win season, but saw the NL East title slip from his grasp with days remaining. Instead of enjoying 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 don’t go well in New York, things happen,” outfielder Brandon Nimmo said. “And it happens quickly. It’s just our job as players to try not to let these things happen again.
It remains to be seen what the future looks like for Showalter. Showalter, 67, was one of the game’s longest-serving coaches, but indicated he had a desire to remain coaching if another team acquired him. Before joining the Mets, he spent some time as a broadcaster, which is what he might call home again. Or Showalter could simply retire to his home in Dallas, where he and his wife, Angela, have lived for years.
As for the Mets, the managerial possibilities abound. Stearns, who is scheduled to be introduced at a news conference Monday afternoon, has a close relationship with Brewers manager Craig Counsell. The longtime Milwaukee manager is only under contract through the postseason, making him an obvious candidate to take over in New York. Others exist throughout the industry.
“Someone is going great here,” Showalter said. “I’ll pull them out, I can tell you that.”
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