Buck Showalter held back tears as he dropped the bomb at the end of a nearly 20-minute pregame talk with the media that that Sunday afternoon’s regular-season finale against the Philadelphia Phillies would be his final game as New York Mets manager.
The 67-year-old was honest about how things went down. Mets general manager Billy Eppler approached him in his office and told him he had two options with new president of baseball operations David Stearns entering the fray: Resign or be fired.
“I just had some things to contemplate,” Showalter said, admitting he has never spoken to Stearns. “He gave me a couple of options and the players know I would never quit or resign. I had four or five of them in my office and they said ‘We would’ve seen through that in about 30 seconds.'”
The terms of his departure are semantics at this point. It doesn’t really matter. That elusive World Series ring continues to be just that for the veteran skipper completing his 22nd season in his fourth-different decade at the helm of a ballclub. Whether he gets another shot at winning that championship obviously remains to be seen, though he already admitted that he wants to jump right back into it.
“I feel great physically,” he said.
Showalter enters the winter as the No. 19 ranked manager in MLB history with 1,726 victories having led four different franchises to the postseason — only Billy Martin and Davey Johnson have led four different teams to the playoffs.
He led the Mets to their second-best regular season ever in his first season with the team in 2022, winning 101 games and Manager of the Year honors before they ran out of gas and were bounced out of the Wild Card Series by the San Diego Padres.
With a roster built on aging arms and paper-thin depth in 2023, things went south quickly and the Mets posted their third losing season in the last four years. However, Showalter himself didn’t have much to work with as soon as a mountain of problems started building.
There was never a legitimate backup plan to fill the holes created by Edwin Diaz’s injury.
The team continued to go to Daniel Vogelbach as its primary designated hitter until it was too late for the season to be salvageable.
Kodai Senga couldn’t keep the rotation afloat by himself as Justin Verlander began the season hurt and Max Scherzer never found it in 2023 — ultimately leading to the two future Hall-of-Famers to be dealt at the trade deadline to officially signal the Mets waving the white flag.
“Actually, I’ve been really proud to hold this together this year in the clubhouse,” Showalter said. “This had been one of the bigger challenges of my career to really stay on top of things.”
The Mets finished 75-82 for a third losing season in four years while Showalter — who continued to take the high road — failed to win 75 games as a manager for just the sixth time in 22 years.
“I know the players will give the next manager the same respect and chance and honor,” Showalter said. “It’s not always fair, but we should have played better. Simple as that.”
In reality, Eppler should shoulder more of the blame than Showalter for giving the manager a roster full of holes. But the skipper normally is the scapegoat — he had his fair share of questionable decisions while managing the bullpen or the playing time of young prospects arriving to the majors — but it appears he never had a chance with Stearns coming in to take over the front office.
“This is not a reflection on Buck,” Mets owner Steve Cohen said while explaining the decision was sparked by Stearns’ arrival. “Buck did everything we wanted him to do. The season was a disappointment but it’s not Buck’s fault. It’s spread across the organization.
All the while, though, he never lost the clubhouse and was always considered a staunch advocate for his players. He was always willing to offer insights into the game that other managers around the league weren’t so willing to discuss.
In between the pauses, there were debates with the media about superheroes, tales of ballplayers of yesteryear, or brawls in the minor leagues in Columbia County, GA. Concerned about the number of times his players were being hit, he got his hands on baseballs used in the pro leagues of Japan and South Korea to show just how much more grip was on them compared to the slick major-league baseballs used here in the United States.
And when things did eventually get back on track, he’d always keep the attention off himself — and make sure not too much was being put on one player in particular. If he was asked about Pete Alonso, he’d find a way to include Francisco Lindor. If there were talks about Francisco Alvarez, other youngsters like Brett Baty or Mark Vientos, or Ronny Mauricio weren’t too far behind.
“I was really upset,” Alonso said when Showalter told him he was being forced out. “He’s an unbelievable manager, he’s a great mentor, and I think he does a great job of understanding his personnel. Not just their talents and what they do day to day on the field, but he understands how each guy ticks as an individual… I think he’s a Hall-of-Fame manager.
“He’s had a tremendous impact… it’s something completely out of my control.”
When he was given a standing ovation in his very last game as Mets manager by his team, which came out of the dugout to do so, and the crowd at Citi Field while exchanging the lineup cards, he hurried off the field with his head down and a quick wave — though he admitted that it was “special.”
“Somebody made them do that, I’m sure,” Showalter joked. “[Bench coach Eric Chavez] probably had a cattle prod or something to get them out of there… The fans were outstanding today as always.”
When he entered his final press conference as Mets manager, having already announced that he was shown the door, he didn’t let a reporter ask the first question. Instead, he spoke about Jose Butto’s quality outing, Alvarez’s ankle after taking a foul tip off it, and remorse about Lindor falling just short of 100 RBI.
“I appreciate him. I love him,” Lindor said of Showalter. “I was surprised. There’s nothing wrong with him… He did a really good job. He was a true professional, a true leader, he held us accountable, he held himself accountable, and I learned a lot from him.”
There’s a way to keep things even-keeled, but most of the time you’ll see managers simply shrug off questions or opportunities for comments with short, terse answers. Showalter was in a class all his own, showing respect and patience to everyone he came in contact with.
The game of baseball is better when Buck Showalter is in it. So, hopefully, he doesn’t go too far away.