On Sunday afternoon at 12 p.m., the visiting Mets will take on the Miami Marlins in a game that will be streamed live on Peacock. And that means Mets manager Buck Showalter will be in his visiting manager’s office even earlier than usual. How early is unclear, but highly likely he’ll be getting up in the morning before a large segment of South Beach partiers have ended their Saturday night.
This isn’t Buck’s first rodeo. He became a Major League manager 30 years ago, when George Steinbrenner hired him to manage the Yankees in 1992. At the age of 36, Showalter was only five years older than his first baseman Don Mattingly.
Oh yeah, on Sunday, Showalter will be managing against Mattingly, who played for Buck from 1992-95, the last four seasons of Donnie Baseball’s career. It seems that Showalter has managed a good segment of MLB’s active skippers.
Phil Nevin is the Angels manager. In 2005, a trade deadline deal sent Nevin to Texas, where he played for Showalter until May of 2006. Nevin only batted .182 with Texas in 2005, and just .216 in 46 games before being traded to the Cubs for Jerry Hairston.
Like Mattingly, Nevin was at the end of his career when he played for Showalter.
Bob Melvin is the Padres manager. In 1994, at the very end of Melvin’s 10-year playing career, he played for Showalter (even if it was only for nine games and 14 plate appearances).
Torey Luvullo manages the Diamondbacks. In 1991, he played for the Yankees for 22 games and 59 plate appearances. And if he had scored a run that season, the third-base coach waving him in would have been — you guessed it — Buck Showalter.
Craig Counsell is the Brewers manager. In 2000, he played for Showalter when they were together with the Arizona Diamondbacks. Counsell was part of a World Series-winning team before playing for Buck (with the 1997 Marlins) and after playing for him (with the 2001 Diamondbacks).
What Showalter imparts on his players about leadership, strategy and motivation extends to other sports. I’ll never forget a conversation a few years ago with Baltimore Ravens head coach John Harbaugh, telling me how much he admires and learns from Showalter. Harbaugh got to pick Buck’s brain when Showalter managed the Baltimore Orioles.
But back to Mattingly.
Showalter was originally drafted by the Yankees in the fifth round of the 1977 Draft. He played in the Yankees’ Minor League system from 1977-1983. In fact, Showalter and Mattingly were teammates in Nashville in 1981. Mattingly, one of the nation’s top high-school prospects, was drafted in the 19th round by the Yankees in the 1979 Draft.
Will this Mets team be enough for a Showalter championship?
The Mets were 77-85 a year ago. The team is projected to win 97 games this year, according to Fangraphs. Yes, the front office made some key additions in the offseason, adding pitchers Max Scherzer and Chris Bassitt. But Scherzer hasn’t pitched in a month, since May 18. And Bassitt in his last six starts is 1-2, with an ERA of 6.09.
Jacob deGrom hasn’t pitched yet in 2022.
And the Mets are contending for supremacy in the National League.
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Showalter inherited talent, more talent than he usually inherits. He took over the Yankees in 1992, following a 71-91 season. By 1993, the Yankees won 88 games and finished second in the division.
Showalter was the first manager ever for the expansion Diamondbacks. In 1998, the team finished 65-97 in their first year. Buck guided them to 100 victories the very next year.
The 2002 Texas Rangers were 72-90 when turning over the managerial reigns to Showalter. By Buck’s second year, the Rangers were 89-73 in 2004.
And the 2010 Orioles were 32-73 when Showalter was hired. The Orioles went 34-23 the last two months of the season.
All of these turnarounds — and the three Manager of the Year trophies — are nice. But Showalter still chases the elusive championship.
Sunday will be the Mets’ 74th game of the season, nearly halfway through the 2022 campaign. Here are Buck’s three best squads ever through 74 games:
1994 Yankees 47-27 first place by 4.5 games
2000 D-Backs 43-31 first place by 2.0 games
2016 Orioles 44-30 first place by 3.0 games
Here’s how those three great starts ended:
1994 was heartbreaking for Yankee fans, as the players’ strike caused the postponement of the season and there was no postseason.
In 2000, the Diamondbacks were in first place for 125 days including off-days. But the team lost 24 of its final 39 games and fell to third place.
In 2016, Showalter’s Orioles lost a Wild Card game in 11 innings to the Blue Jays. Buck used seven pitchers in the contest, but not his best one. After the Orioles failed to score in the top of the 11th, Buck inserted Ubaldo Jimenez, who posted a 5.44 ERA that season for the Orioles in 29 games (25 starts). If the Orioles had a lead, he would have brought in Zack Britton. Britton had a 0.54 ERA that season with 47 saves. Some people, make that many people, and myself included think that Britton should have pitching in the elimination game, even without a save situation presenting itself.
Over thirty years and more than 3,100 games managed, some decisions become magnified and unforgettable.
Enough about Britton, let’s talk about France
Seattle’s Ty France has been hit by 14 pitches, which is tied for the Major League lead with Willson Contreras. France and Contreras are on pace for more than 33 HBP this season.
France started slowly, but has been hit by eight pitches in the last 25 games, since May 24.
Most HBP in a season since 1900
- 50 Ron Hunt, 1971
- 35 Don Baylor, 1986
- 34 Craig Biggio, 1997
Those are the only three players with more than 31 HBP in a season in the last 120+ years.
Just 10 years ago, NO ONE was hit more than 17 times in the entire season. Prince Fielder, Carlos Quentin, and Kevin Youkilis tied for the Major League lead with 17.
France, who tied for the Major League lead with Mark Canha (27 HBP) a year ago, is a real threat to reach the mid-30s. So is Contreras, who was hit by 14 pitches in 2020 in a 60-game season.
Even Anthony Rizzo, the active leader with 188 HBP, has never been hit more than 30 times in a season (and that was 2017, when he had more 701 plate appearances).
Many pitchers think that Major League Baseball’s crackdown on sticky substances like pine tar and spider tack (which hurlers used for grip enhancement and competitive advantage) are the reason for more hit batters.
Showalter thinks a trend in baseball are more batters are getting hit with breaking balls in the dirt. Hey, the Mets do lead the majors in getting hit-by-pitch.
But, Buck, maybe some hitters just have a knack for it, a real skill. There are players that show up on the HBP leaderboard year-after-year.
- When: Sunday, June 26
- Where: loanDepot Park in Miami, Florida
- Time: 12:00 p.m ET (live coverage begins at 11:30)
- Live Stream: Watch live on Peacock