Buck Showalter would have every right to accept some of the plaudits that have come his and his team’s way over the past six months.
The veteran manager has set a franchise record for most wins by a first-year skipped with 93 entering Monday’s series opener with the Milwaukee Brewers and has his New York Mets on the precipice of their first playoff berth since 2016.
His arrival, ushered in by Steve Cohen and general manager Billy Eppler, has ushered in a new age for a Mets team that won just 77 games last year before bulking up its roster with big-time signings ranging from Max Scherzer to Starling Marte, to Mark Canha.
Those new arrivals have made a world of difference, undoubtedly, as Showalter has helped build a close-knit clubhouse alongside pre-existing fixtures in Francisco Lindor, Pete Alonso, and Jacob deGrom.
“You have a perception of what’s needed or what needs to be brought and you get there and it’s a little bit different,” Showalter said. “One of the biggest mistakes people make is when they come in these situations is think that everything is bad. What a mistake. It’s awful for morale.
“There were a lot of great things in place when I got here. A lot of it was not trying to mess it up.”
So instead of ripping apart what once was in place, Showalter tweaked the atmosphere in the clubhouse by doing what he’s always done over his last three decades in baseball: Manage for the players and keep the spotlight off of them.
The 66-year-old can charm even the most curmudgeonly members of the New York sports media, regaling in old war stories from his days with the Yankees or Baltimore Orioles while taking the occasional parting shot at some aspects of the game in 2022.
He can’t wait for the pitch clock and robo-umps. He’s not a fan of the three-batter rule. He seemingly has a mantra for every scenario you can think of.
“If you want to make the baseball gods laugh, tell them your plans.”
“Nobody cares about your problems.”
“This is not, ‘Woe is me.’ It’s just the opposite.”
Each quip seems like a veteran manager pulling out the old cliches, dusting them off, and putting them back out in the universe to remind you of how the game was looked upon a decade or two ago. Ultimately, it’s to absorb most of the pressure that comes with working with the smaller baseball club in the largest sports market on the planet that had been mired in dysfunction more often than not over its first 59 years as a franchise.
“Sometimes there’s a narrative that’s been driven by a lot of things that you can’t change,” Showalter said. “It’s a shut up and show me thing… Just win.”
So far his Mets are doing just that. They need to play .500 ball over their last 14 games to become just the fourth team in franchise history to win 100 or more games. They’re also very much in a rock fight with the Atlanta Braves to win their seventh-ever division title.
Throw all those team records and historical notions out the window.
“I have expectations of the Mets being the last team standing,” Showalter said. “That’s why we get up in the morning every day. That’s the job description for all of us… It’s kind of cold, kind of cruel, but I’d rather know it upfront what the end game is supposed to be.
“Some people go through their whole life not knowing exactly what success is supposed to be. The only thing telling me how we’re doing is the scoreboard and standings.”