Sherman: What Buck Showalter has to prove in interview with Mets job no lock

The Mets are hiring a manager and an important part of their past is vying for a shot yet again.

Gene Michael (L) and Buck Showalter (R) with the Yankees in 1992. Picture: Getty Images
Gene Michael (L) and Buck Showalter (R) with the Yankees in 1992. Picture: Getty Images

It was New York. It was a demanding ownership. It was big expectations.

Yet, the Yankees hired the youngest manager in the majors after the 1991 season, the untested Buck Showalter, just weeks after then GM Gene Michael had fired Showalter as part of manager Stump Merrill’s staff and stated he wanted experience in the next Yankee skipper. Michael insisted he mulled the experienced candidates, notably Hal Lanier and Doug Rader, didn’t like the fits and organically circled back to Showalter.

No one really bought it then. The belief was that George Steinbrenner, despite having been banished from the day-to-day operations of the Yankees by then commissioner Fay Vincent, had influenced the decision, having taken a liking to Showalter during his successful tenure managing in the Yankee minor leagues.

Showalter (full disclosure: we are colleagues at MLB Network) turned out to be exactly what the Yankees needed, a detail-oriented obsessive who — in tandem with Michael — helped professionalise a dishevelled, dysfunctional clubhouse. In Year 2 on the job, Showalter’s Yankees challenged the eventual champion Blue Jays into September. The organisation has not had a losing record since, in part, building on the bedrock that Showalter helped create.

It is New York again. It is a demanding owner. It is big expectations. The GM in this case considers Michael a mentor and already has interviewed Showalter once when it was time to replace Brad Ausmus in Anaheim. Billy Eppler was said to have been blown away by Showalter then and recommended him for the job, but was overruled by owner Arte Moreno, who had pretty much preordained that Joe Maddon would be the Angels manager.

Showalter was in front of Eppler again on Wednesday, part of a multi-interview process that the Mets have devised for all the candidates that also includes Zoom sessions with player development, amateur scouting and sports sciences and lasts about five hours. The Mets hope to pare a group of six publicly known candidates down to two or three and conduct face-to-face interviews in New York next week that will include their demanding owner, Steve Cohen.

Three decades later, Showalter is far from untested — among active managers only Tony La Russa, Dusty Baker, Maddon and Brian Snitker are older. He is interviewing to replace the manager who had been the youngest in the National League, Luis Rojas, recently hired as Yankee third base coach — or the job Showalter had when he was fired by Michael before ultimately being hired as manager by Michael.

In the full circle, he offers now what Michael wanted (experience) and what the Yankees needed (someone to fix a broken culture). In other words, he also fits what the Mets need. Will he be what Eppler wants? Let’s presuppose that Cohen is not Steinbenner and is going to let his new GM make this call.

If so, that would have made the Wednesday interviews vital. Because Eppler knows Showalter can manage. He knows he can manage in New York. He knows that Showalter’s history in his previous four managerial jobs is to improve results quickly. But he also knows Showalter can be polarising; that he did not leave previous manager jobs universally beloved. That he is strong-minded. That his words can be biting and lack a filter at times.

Billy Eppler (L) wanted to hire Buck Showalter as Angels GM but owner Arte Moreno (R) wanted Joe Maddon (C). Picture: Getty Images
Billy Eppler (L) wanted to hire Buck Showalter as Angels GM but owner Arte Moreno (R) wanted Joe Maddon (C). Picture: Getty Images

Eppler believes strongly in analytics and he is going to want to know his manager is not just going to give a cursory look at what is presented or distance himself from that group. He will want to know that Showalter, 66 in May, will continue to relate to today’s players; though that La Russa’s White Sox made the playoffs and Snitker’s Braves beat Baker’s Astros in the World Series is quite an endorsement that the elder set can still do this job at a high level.

Those doing the hiring tend to have bias toward candidates with whom they have pre-existing relationships. Eppler has that with Astros bench coach Joe Espada and Ausmus. Eppler has heard strong endorsements for Pirates bench coach Don Kelly and Rays bench coach Matt Quatraro. Dodgers bench coach Bob Geren played for the Yankees, was Terry Collins’ bench coach for four years in Flushing and currently works for the organisation that Cohen would most like to emulate (Geren also interviewed on Wednesday). So even if Showalter is the most credentialed and the frontrunner, he is not a layup.

He needs not only to win the job in the interviews, but not to lose it. Showalter was cutting edge and razor sharp in the off-season of 1991. Michael hired him and together they helped form the winning DNA that still pulses through the Yankees. Thirty years later can a Michael protégé still be cutting edge and razor sharp; will Eppler pick this version of Showalter to fix a New York team that has been dishevelled and dysfunctional?

-The New York Post

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