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Mickey Callaway Is Already Fired

You know the story of Scheherazade, right? The Persian Empire’s ruler, angry to discover his wife had been unfaithful, decided to safeguard what he regarded as his royal prerogative by taking a virgin bride each night, beheading her in the morning, and replacing her with a new spouse. One imagine he would have run out of candidates in short order, but just go with it, OK? It’s the first paragraph; don’t be that guy.

One bride, Scheherazade, told the king a story, and it was so good that he was still listening in awe when dawn came. He spared her life for one more night so the story could continue — a high-wire act Scheherazade continued for 1,001 nights, until she finally she couldn’t wring anything more out of the story she’d been spinning and had to fashion a conclusion. But there was a happy ending, or at least the best outcome one could wring out of this literally medieval premise: The king had fallen in love with Scheherazade, so she became queen. The executioner’s ax never fell.

Occasionally, a major-league manager reaches the end of his contractual tenure and is not renewed rather than being fired. Very occasionally, this really is a mutual decision. Very, very occasionally, a manager steps down of his own accord amid handshakes and hugs and backslaps and general amity.

The safe assumption, though, is that every manager arrives pre-fired, with only the date of early termination to be filled in. Managers ostensibly get fired for various shopworn reasons: losing the clubhouse, underperforming players, questionable tactics, young players failing to develop, etc. But these reasons are all pretty vague and interchangeable — “losing the clubhouse” is baseball’s equivalent of loitering, a catch-all offense to sweep up undesirables. More basically, the manager’s story stops being interesting to the monarch. There are royal grimaces and sighs and yawns, courtiers whisper and avert their eyes, and then one morning the executioner is there, putting the whetstone aside and limbering up his shoulders.

I watched Sunday afternoon’s game with about three-quarters attention, which was about a quarter more than the Mets were paying. Noah Syndergaard [1] was wonderful to no particular purpose, Robinson Cano [2] gave baseball’s ever-vigilant Gossage wing more ammunition for a fusillade of Back in My Days, and in less than two hours the Mets had turned Sandy Alcantara [3] into Sandy Koufax [4] and the Marlins into world-beaters, or whatever you are after you’ve swept Brodie Van Wagenen and the Come Get Us Kids.

I was doing post-party chores throughout, looking over as I finished mopping or returned from taking out trash to see if anything good had happened down in Miami. (Spoiler: no [5]. Heck, this one was a stinker from the second the Mets took the field in gray pants, blue tops and camo hats, a combination that in the civilian world would have a million significant others coming to a shocked halt and finally managing to say, “Oh honey no.”)

Sometimes a certain distance can be informative. For instance, on Sunday many Mets failures, whether big, medium or small, were followed by a shot of Mickey Callaway [6] in the dugout, looking a) grim; b) glum; c) determined; d) some combination of the above. Most of the time I couldn’t hear the conversation, but honestly I didn’t need to. When the story’s going well and the monarch is pleased, you don’t need a million shots of Scheherazade describing the adornments of the summer palace of the emir of Whatsistan. When that starts being the focus … well, yeah.

Wow, I thought, that man is so fired.

I think Callaway thoroughly deserves to be fired. I also don’t think it will change a damn thing.

Baseball people sometimes talk about the game speeding up for a young player promoted above what he’s ready to do; I’ve always thought that applies to Callaway. All that happy talk about him as a communicator and thinker was at press conferences and during spring training; during and after games, when it’s more difficult, Mickey is either letting guys rot in the bullpen or on the bench, dry-humping relievers, making substitutions he shouldn’t and not making ones he should, or issuing stubborn one-size-fits-all pronouncements about roles. These failings are shared to a certain degree by many or even most managers — go find a fanbase whose collective opinion is “our manager’s bullpen management is exactly what it should be” — but Callaway has always managed to dig the hole deeper by following some dopey but unchallengeable baseball truism with unwise stabs at specificity. Saying you have faith, in say, Jason Vargas [7] is dumb but straightforward; offering reasons why you have faith in Jason Vargas allows people to examine those reasons, which you don’t want.

But what would firing Callaway change? Will it make the Mets’ starters stop exploring peaks and valleys around sea-level mediocrity, teach Brandon Nimmo [8] and Wilson Ramos [9] to hit again, stop Michael Conforto [10] from being dizzy, teach the Mets to play competent defense, cause Dallas Keuchel [11] to show up and offer to play for free because he loves the game that much, or inspire Cano to run fast enough to satisfy the guy in the Promenade screaming about how Wally Backman [12] would run hard even when he was just going to the kitchen to make microwave pizza?

Is there any chance that it will solve the actual problem? Will it cause the Wilpons to stop interfering in every damn thing, from who plays to what excuses are made? Hell, will it cause the Wilpons to sell the team and assume their proper station of moldering at some awful country club, tipping poorly and giving the gardeners hell about the pachysandra looking ragged?

I’m guessing it won’t solve that problem, which is the only one that really matters. I’m also guessing it won’t solve any of those other cosmetic problems that ultimately don’t.

When our latest Scheherazade is finally told that the story he’s been telling doesn’t need an ending, the Mets will turn to some rock-ribbed lifer, someone who in time-honored baseball tradition will be a steady, unimaginative hand on the tiller and not kick up a fuss about the boat having been holed below the waterline before he was given command. You’ll find that person standing next to Callaway during games, in fact — sometimes the foreshadowing’s downright hamhanded.

If you think Jim Riggleman [13]‘s the answer to the Mets’ problems, I don’t know what to tell you, OK, I suppose that’s fine. When/if that day comes, I’ll even try to convince myself that it’s true. Because what choice will I have?