For Buck Showalter, Mariners represent all that could have been

Buck Showalter was carrying a fungo bat as he walked with an urgency in his step and a Do Not Disturb look in his eye, heading for the dugout tunnel that would take him to an another meeting in advance of another series. 

Yes, it was a just another game with an American League team in a National League park on a foggy Friday night in May and, ultimately, a fairly meaningless 2-1 loss, even with Max Scherzer on the hill. The Mets are still dominating their division, and are still the only team in baseball yet to lose a series. 

But to their leader, Seattle can never truly be a nondescript team on the other side of the field. In a different New York time and place, the Mariners were the opponents that changed Buck Showalter’s life. 

So after stopping and maintaining that he no longer thought much about the epic best-of-five AL Division Series his Yankees lost to the Mariners in 1995, that he didn’t have enough time on a series-opening day (and after losing catcher James McCann to injury) to ponder a long-ago playoff defeat, the memories overtook him. Had his Yankees won that Game 5 in the Kingdome and advanced to the ALCS, Showalter might not have been pushed out of his job by George Steinbrenner. 

Showalter might have won two or three of those four championships that his successor, Joe Torre, won over the next five years. 

“It broke my heart; believe me, I didn’t want to leave,” the Mets’ manager told The Post. “I was there 19 years, but I remembered one thing my dad said to me over the years. He told me, ‘There will come a time in your life when you’ve got to plant your feet and make a stand, and it’s going to be real painful.’ ” 

Buck Showalter, right, and George Steinbrenner
Buck Showalter, right, and George Steinbrenner
AP

Showalter made that painful stand on behalf of some coaches Steinbrenner wanted removed. The Yankees’ owner offered his manager a two-year contract to return, but the deal was contingent on the firings of those Showalter loyalists, including Glenn Sherlock, now the Mets’ bench coach. 

Buck wasn’t about to sacrifice his friends to keep his dream job. 

“I remember my wife going, ‘What are you doing? Are you sure about this?’ ” Showalter recalled. “We didn’t have anything. I said, ‘Hey, were we happy when I was managing in Albany? Were we paying the bills? Were we breaking even?’ I was refereeing six nights a week and I said, ‘We’ll be all right.’ ” 

Sherlock followed Showalter to Arizona to work for the expansion Diamondbacks, who didn’t take the field until 1998. He also left Pittsburgh four months ago to follow Showalter again, this time to Queens. Sherlock first worked for Showalter in the Yankees’ system in 1989, as a player/coach in Albany. When he was done throwing batting practice Friday, Sherlock recalled that he wanted to learn from a master strategist whose command of the fundamentals earned the players’ respect. 

“Buck is always thinking about the players’ perspective, and what’s best for them,” Sherlock said. “Even in spring training when we’re doing the schedule, he’s thinking about the best way to rotate, and what’s going to be best for the players as we move from field to field. 

“He always pays attention to details, and he’s very defense-oriented. … When we were in Washington [on Thursday] and we got those two outs at third base, Buck immediately says to me, ‘What stood out about that play for you?’ And I know he’s thinking about Starling Marte backing up the play. … That’s important to Buck, and since it’s important to him, it’s important to our players.” 

Buck Showalter
Buck Showalter
AP

Sherlock said his boss separates himself from the majority of his peers on that particular side of the ball. 

“On a lot of teams I’ve been on, there will be a designated coach who runs the team defenses,” he said. “In our situation, Buck runs all the team defenses. He’s on the field, he’s directing it. I think the players see that and they know he knows where they’re supposed to be at all times, and it rubs off on them.” 

All these years later, after things ended badly in the Bronx, Sherlock said it “meant a lot that Buck had our backs” when Steinbrenner was demanding change. 

“For him to be back in New York and to win [a championship] to come full circle, that would be unbelievable,” Sherlock said. “I don’t think you can write it any better, and that’s what we’re all striving to do.” 

Showalter’s first-place Yankees were robbed of a shot at a title in 1994 when the World Series was canceled on account of labor strife. The following year, he led the Yankees to their first postseason appearance in 14 years, only to be denied by a Seattle team that included Joe Cora, now his third-base coach, who homered and started the winning 11th-inning rally in Game 5. 

“His name was Joey Blankin’ Cora back then,” Showalter said Friday. “He reminds me all the time, so I let him show it one time in the spring just to make him feel good. 

“But what I took most out of that series was the fact that people said it rekindled their love of the game. That’s a proud moment for me. I try to dwell on that.” 

Especially with the Mariners in town, reminding Showalter of what might have been.