The Flying Buck-man

One of my favorite nautical legends is that of "The Flying Dutchman," the story of a Dutch sea captain who, for some ill-defined offense of the ever-touchy juju gods or their ilk, was damned to circumnavigate the world forever in his 17th-century East Indiaman.

For many years, this ghost ship, glowing with an unworldly light, would be sighted by other navigators, who saw it as a sign of approaching doom. 

The legend is so alluring that it became a Wagner opera—not to mention the inspiration of many, truly awful Hollywood movies, stills or posters from which can be seen here. For years, Hofstra even called its teams, "The Flying Dutchmen," an all-time great team nickname, which they changed to "Pride" a few years ago, the previous moniker no doubt having been too Dutch and too men.  

Instead, they went with the sin that preceedeth a fall. Sounds like another curse in the offing. 

But I digress. 

It strikes me that Buck Showalter is the Flying Dutchman of our time, a brilliant, defiant mind, forced to wander the baseball world because he played fast and loose with the fates.

What was Buck's fatal flaw? His failure to bring Mariano Rivera into the awful Game 5 of the 1995 ALDS. 

It was during that series, you'll recall, that Mariano first emerged, hurling 5 1/3 scoreless innings and striking out 8. With an overworked David Cone flailing in the 8th inning of that fateful last game, Buck chose to let him pitch to Doug Strange with the bases loaded and two out. Cone walked in the tying run.

Contrary to popular belief, Buck did NOT bring in Black Jack McDowell then. Instead, he went with The Great One, who struck out Mike Blowers to end the inning. But as with many cursed characters in history, it was too late. The Yanks went on to lose in 11—and Buck was forced to move on by Mad King George.

Some have looked at Buck's not-overly-impressive managerial record—1,551-1,517—and sneered that this was no great loss. And it is true that Showalter, a man as testy and tightly wrapped as your average Dutch sea captain from the Golden Age of Sail, tends to alienate all around him in the clubhouse.

But his real value is as a baseball mind. On leaving the Yankees after 1995, he was immediately snatched up by the still a-borning Arizona franchise. There, he won 100 games in the Snakes' second season and had 2 winning seasons out of 3—for an expansion team.

Nobody had ever done anything like that. But Buck was forced to move on, thereby missing his team's win in the 2001 World Series over you-know-who—a Series in which Buck was even responsible for the dirt path to the pitcher's mound that would play such a tragic role in Game 7.

On to Texas, where Buck reorganized the team and directed the Rangers to their first winning season in 5 years. 

Not good enough. Always the juju gods pushed him on, on, for his one, terrible mistake! 

After Texas it was Baltimore, where Buck turned around an awful Orioles team. He led the O's to 3 playoff appearances in 5 years, including the Birds' one and only first-place finish since 1997—scaring the hell out of our boys in the 2012 ALDS.

It wasn't enough to placate the furies. Even worse—again, like so many cursed characters in classical literature, such as Gene Mauch—Buck repeated his original sin, losing the 2016 Wild Card play-in game when he refused to bring in his ace closer, the Britton then known as Zack, saving him—saving him for what???—while the Orioles lost in 11.

Now this briny old salt has washed up on the shores of Flushing Bay. What doom does this portend?

Only in New York, of course, would a pro franchise take a man whose greatest successes were in the front office and make him...a field manager. 

(See Knicks, NY, who decided that the NBA's all-time best floor coach should be...a general manager.)

The Mets, being Mets, are classically underutilizing Buck. But if the history of four, very different franchises is any indication, just having Showalter in the mix of decision-making should mean a dramatic, positive turn in the team's fortunes.  

And what will that mean for your New York Yankees, the nemesis he hates above 

The Flying Buck-man has come home. Be afraid. Be very afraid.

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