Last week, with the National League East title — the Atlanta Braves’ sixth consecutive division-winning season — locked up, seasoned pitching coach Rick Kranitz laughed when talk turned to how old Braves manager Brian Snitker’s staff was.
“I thought this was supposed to be a copycat league?” Kranitz said.
In a sport where playing and big-league coaching or managing experience is becoming less valued, Atlanta’s success and the group in the dugout — they have, combined, more than 200 years in the game — stands out. Experience matters. Baseball acumen matters. Well, depending on who you ask.
The New York Mets fired veteran manager Buck Showalter Sunday following a nightmare season that saw a team with a record-setting payroll miss the playoffs. Technically they let Showalter decide to resign or be fired, a move that was meant to be an olive branch delivered by general manager Billy Eppler but that just came across as awkward for everyone. Showalter, who was fired by the Yankees decades ago after refusing to fire his hitting coach, wanted to be honest. So he fumbled through some prepared notes during a news conference before getting too emotional to read off them, as Eppler listened in the back of the room. David Stearns, the team president as of Monday, was not officially in the organization yet but made it clear that he did not want Showalter to continue as manager. He had no interaction, not a phone call or text message, with Showalter before asking Eppler to carry out his plan following Saturday’s doubleheader.
Showalter, a four-time Manager of the Year, was fired for the fourth time in his career, leaving a complicated managerial legacy and an uncertain future. He excelled at motivating young teams, building groups with the Diamondbacks and Yankees that would win the World Series after he left. In Baltimore, Showalter revamped the culture and got a young, relatively unproven group to eliminate a stretch of 14 consecutive losing seasons in 2012.
The Orioles made the playoffs three times in four years before relationships soured and both Showalter and general manager Dan Duquette didn’t have their contracts renewed following a 115-loss season in 2018. He was the perfect choice initially in New York, adding an air of accountability and, along with the splashy signing of starter Max Scherzer, a message that this wasn’t the same old Mets.
The 67-year-old has been in dugouts as a coach or manager since 1990, with brief broadcast breaks. Some will say the modern game has passed him by. Atlanta’s coaching staff is proof that’s not necessarily true. Two league sources who know Stearns say the Mets’ new president would not have signed on without full control over the big-league operation and Showalter’s chatty personality would not have meshed with Stearns’ buttoned-up approach. League sources who know Showalter bristled at the fact that someone of Showalter’s stature didn’t warrant at least a courtesy call from the new guy in charge.
Stearns said in his introductory press conference on Monday afternoon he was still under contract with the Brewers and unable to talk to Showalter over the weekend, but he did reach out on Monday morning and hopes they can connect.
“I have a tremendous amount of respect for Buck, what he’s accomplished globally in his career and specifically in this town,” Stearns said. “Unquestionably the organization is in a better spot for him having been there.”
Buck Showalter shares what went through his mind after having a conversation with Billy Eppler last night:
“I had some things to contemplate, he gave me a couple of options. I know the players know I would never quit or resign.” pic.twitter.com/34cGD0RuKh
— SNY (@SNYtv) October 1, 2023
How it all went down is ultimately inconsequential. It also may not have mattered if the Mets won this year, as owner Steven Cohen told reporters once he hired Stearns last month that the president should decide who manages. (That was part of the logic in letting Showalter go now, since if he redeemed himself in his final contract year, it would have been a tougher sell: Do you stick Stearns with a guy he doesn’t want for another year?)
Whether you believe Showalter or Eppler or a combination of the two is to blame for the Mets’ underperformance, it’s tough to see where Showalter goes from here, if anywhere. Showalter has managed 3,393 games, with a .509 winning percentage over 22 seasons. Only Gene Mauch managed and won more MLB games (1,902) without winning a pennant. Showalter won his only postseason series with the Orioles, a three-game sweep against the Detroit Tigers in 2014. (The Orioles also won the 2012 wild-card game against Texas.)
When he was hired by the Mets, it seemed like the best chance for Showalter to finally win deep into October, maybe help solidify his Hall of Fame managerial case with a World Series ring. But the Mets lost too many games down the stretch last year, ceding the division to the Braves and losing as a wild card to the San Diego Padres. The Mets went 175-148 in Showalter’s two seasons.
It’s early, and things can change, but he’s not expected to be a candidate for the Cleveland Guardians or San Francisco Giants openings, the first of several expected manager positions that will need to be filled. Should Bob Melvin leave San Diego, which is a possibility, there could be a ripple effect. Brewers manager Craig Counsell is heavily rumored to be one of Stearns’ top choices to be the Mets’ new manager, which would be their fifth since 2017.
Whoever takes over after Showalter will inherit most of his staff as third-base coach Joey Cora and first-base coach Wayne Kirby are the only known coaches who were on expiring two-year contracts. Counsell may not want to leave his family in the Midwest, as he’s the rare manager who lives in Milwaukee year-round. The Angels — another disappointing team that failed to make the playoffs — could part with manager Phil Nevin, and Showalter has a good relationship with general manager Perry Minasian. But it’s not certain Minasian will return to Anaheim, either.
Showalter reiterated to reporters in announcing his resignation that he wanted to manage again, saying that last year was “as much fun as I’ve ever had in the game. It reminded me why I’ve always loved this kind of work.” It seems like a long shot he will get another chance.
If not, where does that leave his Cooperstown case? Only Tony La Russa and Bobby Cox have won four Manager of the Year Awards and they’re both Hall of Famers. Showalter has done it with four different teams, bringing four of the five he managed — including the Yankees and Diamondbacks — to the postseason. But his lack of playoff success could be a deterrent.
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So Showalter teared up in front of the media on Sunday and, hours later, received an ovation from the home crowd and his own dugout, and there is a very real chance it was for the last time in uniform. Maybe he will go back to broadcasting or go home to Texas and be a full-time grandpa. Showalter said Sunday, with the finishing touches on a 75-87 season complete, that he’s not bitter about any of it.
“I try not to dwell on stuff like that and live in it,” he said about his dismissal. “Baseball’s been very fair to me, all things considered.”
Like players, managers don’t often get to write the script for their careers. For every Terry Francona retirement ceremony, there are dozens of other managers who simply get passed over and passed on enough to send them home.
“The game comes for all of us,” as Showalter likes to say.
It may have finally come for William Nathaniel Showalter III.
(Photo: Tim Nwachukwu / Getty Images)