On October 30th, 1974, Muhammed Ali and George Foreman engaged in a fight that was dubbed “The Rumble in the Jungle”. Ali was arguably the greatest heavyweight fighter of his era and Foreman was the heavyweight champion, having just pummeled Ali’s greatest rival at that time, Joe Frazier, knocking him down six times in two rounds. Ali was an underdog, with no one thinking he had a chance to win and for the first few rounds that appeared to be the case, as Foreman punished Ali over and over again. What Foreman didn’t understand was that Ali was using a tactic, using the ropes of the ring to steady him as Foreman pounded him with blow after blow, with the plan to wear down Foreman, which eventually occurred. In the eighth round, despite by his own admission being knocked out several times, with only the ropes to hold him up, Ali finished off Foreman with a five punch combo and a left hook that sent the giant man to the floor. The fight has been dubbed as one of the greatest tactical battles in boxing history.

Baseball is akin to a boxing match. No matter what an organization’s plan is entering a season, the sheer length of it leads to moments in which the very fabric of that concept is challenged, and sometimes pounded upon.

The Mets got off to a great start. On June 1st, the Mets lead the division rival and defending world series champion Atlanta Braves by 10.5 games. Since then, the Mets have gone 13 and 13 and the Braves have gone 22 and 6, shrinking the division lead to 2.5 games. The Mets are in the midst of the 2nd and 3rd rounds of Ali’s fight with Foreman. Whether the team falters like Frazier did or stands up to the punishment like Ali did will dictate whether they walk into the playoffs as division champions or have to fight it out in the wild card round.

These are the moments where managers carry the most importance. Experts argue all the time over the relevance of managers in professional Baseball and that is understandable with the more recent trends for front office staff to be more involved than ever in the minutiae of a team, even down to starting lineups and pitching changes. But there is a definitive difference in how this team is managing this challenge and how it has done so in the past. That’s Buck Showalter.

Showalter has now managed 3147 games in his career. No one manages that long without an understanding of players and the ups and downs of a major league season. No one wins more than half of the games they manage in that time without weathering the storm more times than not. The Braves won 15 games in a row during that 22 and 6 stretch. A streak like that could totally upend a season. In 2021, the Mets also led the division and when the Braves found their groove, the season collapsed in on itself. That’s not happening this year, despite the fact that the Braves are doing their best Foreman impersonation right now, pummeling the Mets against the ropes. But Showalter is Ali. He’s holding fast and waiting for that eighth round combination.

If anyone doubts how Showlater has led this team, consider what the Mets have gone through. The team thought it was going to have one of the greatest one two pitching punches in recent history in Max Scherzer and Jacob deGrom and has gotten eight starts total out of the two. The Mets have gotten almost no production out of two of the nine spots in their lineup (DH and Catcher) and have had an inconsistent bullpen at best. Yet the team endures. The Mets continue to win series, play strong defense and never seem to lose control. They beat the teams they are supposed to beat and hold their own against the better teams in the league (with the exception of Astros). All of this is being done with a roster that isn’t all that different from last year and hasn’t seen the production expected from the additions made during the offseason.

So has Showalter had an impact? Definitely. It’s his steady hand that has kept the Mets moving forward, despite the pounding the team’s lead has taken from the Braves. It was his battling, yet cool nature that told the players he had their backs when they were and are getting hit by pitches at a historic rate. Has he made every decision perfectly? Of course not, but unlike other managers who have less experience, Showalter hasn’t let those mistakes cause him to deviate from the plan or doubt his convictions. He has led and molded the Mets in his image. He has weathered the storm and his team is still on top.

2.5 games is not an insurmountable lead, but it is representative of something. It represents that the Mets are strong. The season could have fallen as last year did, but it has not. The team has endured. Its leader, Showalter, has kept them moving forward. He and his players have weathered the strongest punch they could take, that 15 game winning streak, and they are still on top. Showalter the pugilist reigns. We are in the middle rounds now and it’s starting to feel like the Mets will overcome. In fact, that five punch combo might be coming soon, hopefully followed by an uppercut that will send the Braves staggering to the floor and allow the Mets to walk into the playoffs as they should, division champions.

3 comments on “Buck Showalter, pugilist

  • Mike W

    Rope a dope was a great strategy by Ali, but it won’t work in baseball. When you score less than two runs a game and pitchers like Carrasco implodes, yourself game and go on a bad streak.

    It will be great when Scherzer and deGrom come back, but that probably means a lower pitch count. Can we count on them for five innings a game? But we still need four innings out of the bullpen. So, we need to beef up the bullpen.

    Lindor has done great with driving runs in, but Alonso is our only real power hitter. Where we have felt this the most is at DH. Maybe we can add Josh Bell or Nelson Cruz.

    Last year ripe a dope didn’t work. Let’s hope we get out if the doldrums. All of the games against the Braves are going to mean everything.

  • BoomBoom

    this analogy doesn’t work until the Mets and Braves play each other directly. If the play to a season series split, the Mets will win the division.

  • NYM6986

    Thanks for the fun analogy. We hope the Mets will take the pounding and last into the later rounds. Buck makes a huge difference every game with attitude and preparation. LGM

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