by Deb Seymour
When hedge fund mogul Steve Cohen acquired the New York Mets, expectations for the team by both the fan base and the baseball world in general shifted considerably from where they were entrenched during the regime of the previous ownership. Cohen is a baseball fan, and a Mets fan, in particular; and he pledged to upgrade the team and to pay attention to its fans from day one of his tenure as owner — at all levels.
CitiField is already a beautiful ballpark with rather appealing amenities, so not much was required there (although a special sensory nook has just been added to help those with ADHD, autism, and dyslexia escape from the overstimulation that can occur at a baseball game). This season’s home opener was accompanied by the installation of a statue of Tom Seaver just outside CitiField, along with a special celebration to honor Seaver’s memory. Steve Cohen and the Mets’ front office also decided last season to revive the home black uniform jerseys that were worn during the Mike Piazza era (and somewhat beyond, specifically from 1998-2012), a controversial but ultimately popular move with the team’s fan base.
The major league team has already received a roster upgrade; some of the front office and coaching staff have been replaced; and a new manager was hired: veteran baseball man Buck Showalter, who previously managed the NY Yankees, the Arizona Diamondbacks, the Texas Rangers, and the Baltimore Orioles. In the case of the Yankees and the Diamondbacks, both won the World Series the year after Showalter’s tenure with the team ended. How much impact he may have had in each case on their ensuing championship run will always remain a question; but there’s little doubt in the baseball world that he has the knack to bring out the best in his teams and to build contenders in a short period of time.
Showalter’s also been a television analyst for both ESPN and the YES (the Yankee Entertainment and Sports) Network, and was a college player and minor leaguer during his playing days. He specifically is not one of those managers about whom it’s said, “oh, he never played in the majors — so he shouldn’t be coaching or managing there, either.” Showalter’s gained the respect of the North American baseball community through both hard work and hard earned results. Though he’s developed more of a sense of humor over the years, he’s certainly not one to trifle with. He has a reputation for doing things his own way; but he’s managed teams that were rather mediocre to various modicums of success, and it’s been hard to ignore.
So who is this Buck Showalter, Met manager, these days? Well, one story from this past week provided a peek into his approach to the game and his management style. During their current homestand, and for the CitiField opening series, the Diamondbacks came into town to play the Mets. And in Sunday’s game, when the Diamondbacks believed Dominic Smith left third base early on a sixth-inning sacrifice fly, Showalter called a play from the dugout to prevent Arizona from appealing the play at third base.
Showalter had Met third baseman J.D. Davis leave first base with Diamondbacks’ reliever Oliver Perez still on the rubber, causing Perez to step off the rubber and make a move toward second base before throwing to third to appeal the previous play. The problem for Perez was that once the pitcher steps off the rubber and puts the ball in play, there’s no longer an option to appeal the previous play. So, not only did Smith’s run stand, but the Davis stolen base held up.
Here’s what Showalter had to say about the play from first base: “It’s something we talked about in the spring. We go over a couple of rules every day. We couldn’t get the phone call quite in time to make sure we hadn’t left early. So it’s something we talked about. I gave the sign to [third-base coach] Joey [Cora], and we took off from first base so we could get the run; I’ll trade the out for the run every time.” Of course, Davis happened not to be thrown out — but Showalter would still have been satisfied with his play calling even if he had.
“We’re trying to play with a high baseball IQ,” said Davis after the game, and he attributed that to Showalter’s management style and the standards he’s set for the team. Less than two weeks into the season, we’re still a long way from knowing how successful the Mets will be this year — though if their first ten games are any indication, they’ll have a better season in 2022 than they have in a number of years. Either way, with a smart, seasoned manager at the helm, they’re liable to play differently than they have in quite some time. And New York’s crosstown Bombers could sure use a little competition — and a revitalized rivalry once again.