Buck Showalter and Bob Melvin face off in Mets-Padres series

SAN DIEGO — They were hired to great fanfare during the offseason and received rave reviews in Major League Baseball for their early wor...


SAN DIEGO — They were hired to great fanfare during the offseason and received rave reviews in Major League Baseball for their early work with their new teams. Both have won three Manager of the Year awards and, if things continue, they would also be strong contenders for this year’s vote.

But before they became dugout peers and quick friends, Mets manager Buck Showalter and his San Diego Padres counterpart Bob Melvin shared a moment together under different circumstances. He arrived at Yankee Stadium in 1994, when Showalter, then 37, was a third-year manager guiding the Yankees under owner George Steinbrenner. Melvin, who was 32 at the time, was an aging receiver in his final season.

“Bobby saved my job,” Showalter said, explaining that he had three catchers on the roster at the time and was looking for an extra right-handed bat to tackle a tough southpaw for a game in May. He came up with the unorthodox idea of ​​using light hitter Melvin as his designated hitter. “Mr. Steinbrenner was ready to kill me.

Melvin responded to the unusual assignment by hitting a three-run home run against Baltimore’s Arthur Rhodes late in the first inning of his first match at the Stadium that yearsetting the tone in a 5-4 victory.

“When he got hit, I said, ‘Oh, thank you, Bobby,'” Showalter said.

Standing on the Petco Park field here Monday before the Mets-Padres series opener – a meeting of teams with the first and third-best records in the National League, which the Mets won, 11-5 — Melvin laughed at the hyperbole and said he didn’t think what turned out to be the last of his 35 big-league homers saved any jobs. However, he remembers it for another reason.

Showalter, Melvin said, “used to explain to me why I was playing certain guys; this is the first time a manager has done this.

Also, Melvin added, Showalter first approached him that day with the idea of ​​playing him at first base. But Melvin’s eyes told the manager that his backup receiver wasn’t comfortable with it – Showalter still uses what he calls “talking with the eyes” today – and so Showalter used him as designated hitter instead.

“Which was probably a harder sell, to DH someone like me, to the front office, or whoever he had to answer to,” Melvin said.

But their conversation boosted Melvin’s confidence, allowed him to fully prepare, and the circuit also became part of a reward for Showalter.

Moments like this have always been part of Showalter’s methodology. And over 19 seasons managing Seattle, Arizona, Oakland and, now, San Diego, Melvin has never forgotten that lesson. These days, he also regularly implements it.

“Even though he’s the manager and there’s a clear distinction, it felt like he was with us,” said Mets outfielder Mark Canha, who played for Melvin during seven years in Oakland before signing a two-year free agent contract with the Mets this winter. “It’s very much the same with Buck too. We are together, we are all looking for the same thing. There doesn’t seem to be any motivation for him other than how we are winning today.

Showalter’s attention to detail is unmatched, and with first-year Met general manager Billy Eppler, some of that former Yankees’ lineage is evident. Even though Showalter, 66, is 20 years older than Eppler, their baseball base in many ways was picked from the same program. Gene Michael was the general manager and Bill Livesey the scouting director during the Yankees years of Showalter. Brian Cashman was the assistant general manager. Eppler then worked in the Yankees’ scouting department and eventually became an assistant general manager under Cashman.

Because of that, Eppler said, Showalter’s fixation on the finer details was familiar.

“I’m aware of, ‘How long is the bus ride to the ballpark? What kind of water is on the plane?'” Eppler said. “So is he. It’s like, whoa. J Got a kick out of it. Someone else thinks that way too!”

Showalter said he knew it was going to work with Eppler because he’s a follower of Michael and a “type of guy who picks up the phone on the first ring.”

“We share the same passion,” Showalter said.

Part of that passion led Showalter to make a phone call one evening this spring as he was driving home from the Mets resort in Florida. In the parking lot outside a Subway sandwich shop, he said he sat in his car in the dark for about an hour, using the jet lag to catch up with Melvin, who was in Arizona. Three Mets players — Canha, pitcher Chris Bassitt and outfielder Starling Marte — had played for Melvin in Oakland, and Showalter had questions.

“The timing was perfect, because I was going to call him and ask him about Manny as well,” Melvin, 60, said of the slugger. Manny Machado, who played for Showalter in Baltimore. “It was a long conversation. And I think we’ve probably spoken a few more times this spring as well.

Information is key to building relationships. And with spring training shortened by the lockout, Showalter and Melvin were seek information as quickly and from as many different sources as possible.

“Mark Canha is a left-to-left hippie,” Showalter said. “Chris Bassitt is right. Not the right of the right, but the right. Still, they’re best friends. It’s a great story. Bob said they were sitting on the plane and talking politics and other things. I told Bob that I wish this was how our country would go – you think this, I think that, let’s talk about it, civilly. He’s painting a picture. You’re trying to take advance on the guys.

Melvin, Showalter said, “looks at players and things very similarly to how I do.

“We don’t have all the answers,” he said. “We always have to keep the end of the game in mind. You can’t put your best foot forward tonight so you can win the next three games.

That the Padres were able to poach the career leader from Oakland in managerial wins was a thunderbolt last October, and the first signal that the A’s were about to embark on yet another rebuilding project. Melvin is a Bay Area native, graduated from California and wore No. 6 in Oakland as a tribute to Sal Bando. It was much more emotional for him to leave than most thought. But with his coaches Ryan Christenson, Matt Williams and Bryan Price, he quickly settled in San Diego. The only bump was a six-game absence for prostate surgery last month, but Melvin is back and healthy now.

“His communication is some of the best I’ve ever had in letting us know where we are at and what the expectations are, even things like coming to see us and explaining why he made some of the moves he made. “said Joe Musgrove, the Padres’ rotation ace.

In other words, much like what the former Melvin skipper once did for him — and still does today with his Mets.

“I consider him a true friend,” Melvin said of Showalter. “There are acquaintances in baseball, there are friends in baseball. But he’s a guy who, off the field, we talk to each other in the offseason, we call each other, even when he was doing ESPN stuff he was calling me. We never had dinner together, but I consider him a friend. In the game of baseball, it’s more than someone you admire on the field.

Not that there aren’t differences. Recently, Showalter said, his little sister Melanie scolded him, saying “the organization and details are great, but you know what, once in a while I really like spontaneity. Once in a while it’s good to be spontaneous.

Showalter told that story with a knowing smile and a shrug during a weekend conversation in the tour director’s office at Dodger Stadium. What are you going to do?, he seemed to say. A tiger cannot change its stripes.

Melvin, meanwhile, was able to change his. He has long been a connoisseur of hard candy during games, but only in the first, third, fifth, seventh and ninth innings. And over 11 years in Oakland, the ninth candy had to be green.

Now? It’s just root beer kegs at Padres Brown in the ninth inning.

“And we had two or three starts,” he said. “So it worked.”

The Padres have actually had four, but like the old Manager of the Year awards once the season kicks off, who counts?

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Newsrust - US Top News: Buck Showalter and Bob Melvin face off in Mets-Padres series
Buck Showalter and Bob Melvin face off in Mets-Padres series
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