The New York Yankees need a new voice in the locker room when the 2021 season wraps — unless, by some miracle, the Bombers make a World Series run.
Based on their uncontrollable roller coaster season, that might actually be just as likely as a 12-0 Wild Card Game defeat, though it definitely doesn’t feel like it.
Whether it’s fair or not is for you to judge, but Aaron Boone’s shortcomings as a “friend to players” in this modern Yankees locker room have turned many fans off from hiring a younger manager if and when Boone is handed his walking papers.
This is where we step in to clarify: Analytics are good. Using the information gleaned from analytics incorrectly is bad. Rigidity, and managing without a feel for the moment, is also bad.
Something is inherently wrong with Boone, stylistically, whether the incorrect information comes from the higher-ups or not. Whereas Alex Cora seems to be able to perfectly blend his hunches with measured thought (again, if the data you’re reading is good, that makes it much easier), Boone seems lost as soon as his pregame plan goes off course.
In theory, a baseball lifer like Buck Showalter should be able to fix something like that.
Is it too late for such a move, though? Is it a pointless overreaction in the other direction, a coup staged exclusively by fans who would just as soon take 81-year-old Joe Torre back (and who filleted him for his bullpen management on the way out, too)?
In an effort to analyze a potential Showalter hire, we figured it would at least be valuable to dive in on some commonly-held criticisms of his work to see if they hold enough water to disqualify him.
Commonly Held Belief No. 1: Buck Showalter’s teams got better after he left.
On the surface, it’s easy to refute this one with recency bias; potentially the best managerial job of Showalter’s entire career came with the Baltimore Orioles from 2010-2018, a job he took at 54 and left in shambles at 62. By the time his tenure in orange and black had ended, the team had moved past winning, and realized it was time to usher in a new era without any of the star power he had previously coached — except Chris Davis!
Some Yankee fans have difficulty ignoring what Torre was able to do with the dynastic Yankees immediately after Showalter was out of the picture — and, yes, a gassed bullpen and mojo on the other side led to a 2-0 blown ALDS lead that ended his tenure (thanks to George Steinbrenner’s bluster).
Prior to that season, though, he had overseen a 76-win Yankee team in 1992 that became an 88-win team the very next year, followed by two special shortened seasons in 1994 and 1995. Impressively in ’95, he rallied the team from a midseason rut; 54-59 on Aug. 28, they ended 79-65 and in the Wild Card picture. It’s like a Reverse Boone! It’s all timing. If Boone had begun his 13-game winning streak on Aug. 28 instead of Aug. 12, he might not have had enough time to blow his own progress.
“Timing” is important in this conversation, but again neglects all the good Showalter did. Yes, as the first manager of the Diamondbacks, they didn’t win the World Series until the year after he left. But in Year 1, he had a 97-loss team. Year 2? They won 100 games! Randy Johnson makes one hell of a difference there, but Curt Schilling hadn’t joined yet. Add one starter and win 35 extra games. Seems managerially based, at least a little bit. Schilling and Johnson led the ’01 team to the title nearly by themselves — well, them and Luis Gonzalez’s discovery of the needle. Think Showalter might’ve enjoyed Schilling during that 100-win ’99 season?
Between 2003 and 2004 in Texas, he lost Alex Rodriguez and gained 18 wins (71 to 89). Clearly, based on the jettisoning of the A-Rod deal, that was an organization that also cared more about their bottom line than piling up victories.
Then you have Baltimore, where he overcame stingy ownership and a bottomed-out culture to turn a 69-win team in 2011 (that kicked the Red Sox out of the playoffs in Game 162) to a 93-win team the very next year.
Criticize Showalter all you want for being at least 10 years past these great successes, but getting unlucky with the timing of titles should not overshadow the incredible turnarounds he’s authored in four separate cities.
Commonly Held Belief No. 2: Buck Showalter should’ve used Zack Britton in the 2016 Wild Card Game.
This one is true. Next.
Commonly Held Belief No. 3: The game has passed Buck Showalter by.
With all due respect, we’d like to politely disagree. Anyone watching the nightly YES Network postgame show could tell you his commentary has largely been insightful, and his personality has also been the right amount of affable.
There’s nothing to dislike about Buck on the surface, entirely separate from any evaluation of his management qualifications. He’s a fun dude to listen to on the subject of baseball.
Here’s the reality of New York City baseball, though. The margins are razor thin. Aaron Boone won 103 games in 2019 and is respected by nearly no one. Just one “Britton in the Bullpen” moment and Showalter would be instantly finished here, too.
Hiring the extremely experienced Showalter (euphemism) would be a massive risk, one the Yankees will likely be unwilling to take — if they wouldn’t hire David Cone, they probably won’t consider a less-analytically-reliant announcer.
However, painting Showalter as completely dazed and as someone who could only facilitate winning to a certain point and whose messes were cleaned up after he left is disingenuous. He pulled off complete about-faces in some of the league’s losingest cities after bringing the Yankees back to the playoffs for the first time since 1981 back in ’95.
Showalter was a wonderful manager, and he’s someone New York’s higher-ups liked enough to bring back into the commentary booth as soon as he became a free agent. Don’t expect the Yanks to pivot so strongly in the managerial market, but don’t laugh at people who suggest it, either. A lot of what you believe about Showalter isn’t true.