Spring training was the best time of the year for Buck Showalter. He’d be all over the Orioles’ complex, hitting ground balls and instructing during infield drills, hopping in his golf cart to make sure he watched bullpen sessions.
Once games began, he’d be sure to arrive at road games as late as he possibly could so he could stay behind to watch more bullpen sessions. But he’d get there in time to meet with the writers and drop some news or observations.
Showalter, who signed a three-year deal to manage the New York Mets on Saturday, will quickly learn his way around the Mets’ complex in Port St. Lucie, suggesting changes that no one else has thought about.
That’s the key to his success, seeing something no one else does.
Once in spring training, Showalter was watching pitchers field ground balls, walked up to me and, unprompted, pointed out why Wei-Yin Chen was fielding them improperly and Zack Britton was fielding them properly.
Everyone has a story like that with Buck.
Showalter was always involved with the game. He’d insist on managing both halves of a split-squad game and, in the ninth inning of a late-spring night game in Port Charlotte against the Rays, he was signaling first baseman Christian Walker, who wasn’t going to make the team, about where he should be playing each batter.
That came after managing 18 innings in Fort Myers and Port Charlotte on an empty stomach.
Showalter would never eat before a game. When he was a boy, his father told him never to eat before a game, and he never did.
After another split-squad day, he came into the press room, tired and hungry. The Orioles’ dining room had saved some yellowfin tuna for him. All of us would probably have loved some yellowfin tuna at that point, but Showalter probably wanted a couple of hot dogs instead.
Everyone knows the Showalter record and the criticisms, and if they watched his postgame press conferences or excerpts from his pregame conferences on television, they may have gained some insight.
He was demanding on his players, and the people who covered him, asking us questions, sometimes wanting our opinions on potential moves. He wasn’t going to consider what we said because he already had taken every possible angle into consideration, but it was fun to be asked.
As Mets’ manager, Showalter will have a much larger analytics department than he had with the Orioles, and he’ll read what they send him and listen to what they tell him, but still go his own way. In his mind, the analytics should reinforce what he’s thinking.
If they can show him a piece of information that he hasn’t considered, he’ll use it, and he’ll relish the opportunity to teach them what he’s looking for so they can give him relevant information.
It will be fascinating to see who Showalter brings to coach and assist him in the front office.
Former Orioles coaches John Russell (catching and bench), Wayne Kirby (outfield and first base) and Alan Mills (bullpen) seem to be possibilities. So does Brian Butterfield, who coached for Showalter with the Yankees and Arizona Diamondbacks.
We’ll see if any of his heady players from the Orioles years — J.J. Hardy, Adam Jones, Nick Markakis and Matt Wieters join him.
Showalter had close relationships with all of those, but if you were a less talented but smart player, he found a way to use you. Ryan Flaherty, now a coach with San Diego, was a Showalter favorite, and two others, outfielder Craig Gentry and infielder Paul Janish, had their careers extended because Showalter thought they had a special skill.
Janish, who’s now the associate head coach at Rice University, could be an asset to any big league staff. He extended his major league career by three partial seasons because Showalter liked the way he fielded and his intelligence.
Could there be places with the Mets for Brady Anderson or Brian Graham? Anderson, who worked in the Orioles’ front office during Showalter’s time with the Orioles, has been out of baseball since the end of the 2019 season. Graham, a close associate of Showalter, was let go as Orioles’ farm director after Mike Elias took over.
Showalter admired clubhouse manger Chris Guth and strength and conditioning coach Ryo Naito, both of whom left the Orioles after the 2021 season. Perhaps they’ll join him, too.
Showalter will have a much larger press corps to deal with than he did in Baltimore. If the pandemic persists, a Zoom-era Showalter wouldn’t be nearly as entertaining and informative as the up close and personal one.
Watching him on MLB Network was always fun because there would be familiar stories, and the people covering the Mets will get familiar with them, too.
Thirty years after he became the youngest manager in baseball for one New York team, he’s now the fourth oldest for another New York team. (I know that because each year he’d ask me to give him a list of big league managers and their ages.)
The hope here is that he gets to fulfill his dream and finally makes it to the World Series, winning it, and a few years later, gets to take a trip a little farther north, to Cooperstown, to take his rightful place among the game’s greats.