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All the Way with Callaway

Well, I’m stoked for Mickey Callaway. I was prepared to be stoked to varying degrees for Joe McEwing, Manny Acta, Alex Cora or Kevin Long had any of them been named the next manager of the New York Mets [1], but I’m probably a little extra excited about Callaway getting the job. Judging from his introductory press conference, Callaway’s a lot extra excited about getting the job. His enthusiasm is infectious, and not in the way you worried what would happen had Ray Ramirez treated the infection.

There was no reason not to welcome any of those whose names were bandied about as serious candidates. None of them had proven they couldn’t be trusted managing the Mets and, besides, there are few marquee managerial brands anymore, no broad contemporary menu of Billys, Whiteys and Weavers to lust after. Theoretically, anybody given the chance could have made the most of it. Callaway’s hiring, however, has proven a negative the least — that is, we really have no reason not to trust him. Not only hasn’t he managed, few of us were familiar with him. He hadn’t played for the Mets or coached for the Mets. We had no storehouse of vague impressions to fall back on, no easy references to that time in 2000 or 2005 or 2010 or 2015 when he did or didn’t do this or that. In context, Callaway’s tabula was as rasa as it got.

Except for word on the street, which was as positive as could be imagined. Everybody loves Mickey Callaway. They love him in Cleveland. They love him wherever baseball people gather to offer endorsements. When they don’t like you in this game, they whisper unattributed. When they think you’re awesome, they put their name to it. The industry signed off en masse on Callaway.

The Mets interviewed him and became convinced everybody wasn’t pulling a fast one on them, signing the former Indians pitching coach and prospective managerial prodigy to helm our team through the rest of this decade and into the next. As such, he looms as an outsize figure in our daily lives as fans. We may never meet him, but he’ll be with us if we’re with the Mets. We’ll see and hear him on pre- and postgame shows. Our eyes will follow him from the dugout to the mound and back. His strategy will indirectly dictate our mood. Before we know it, we’ll be all “Mickey this” and “Mickey that,” just as we threw around “Terry” and, before him, “Jerry”. Managers manage, we react. Mickey may not be experienced, but we know how this works.

We also know that many managers will never look better than on the day their hiring is announced. I tracked down some quotes from some other days in Mets history like Monday, fall days when satisfied general managers heartily endorsed their brand new field managers.

• Joe Frazier “has shown us over the years he can handle men,” according to Joe McDonald in 1975 [2]. “He has shown us he can win.”

• George Bamberger “has a deep, abiding knowledge about baseball,” per Frank Cashen in 1981 [3] “and he can communicate it simply and directly. He has an easy but firm manner. He knows what he’s doing.”

• Among myriad qualities considered critical to managing the Mets, Jeff Torborg “knew how to win,” Al Harazin testified in 1991 [4].

• “I truly believe he is exactly the type of person and personality to lead this organization right now” was Steve Phillps’s 2002 assessment [5] of Art Howe. (Add Fred Wilpon’s incandescent “lit up a room” reference to taste.)

A little foreboding there, but to be fair, you wouldn’t expect “eh, we’ll see” to be the company line between grips and grins…though that was pretty much Sandy Alderson’s take seven years ago [6] when he handed the managerial reins to Terry Collins. Different guy, different times (which applies to every manager and every season). For what it’s worth, Alderson didn’t seem merely resigned to Mickey Callaway. He seemed stoked — or as stoked as Sandy gets in public. He pointed to Mickey’s “professional competence” and “personal excellence,” praising Callaway as a “hard worker,” “collaborative,” “patient but decisive,” and “structural but adaptable”. I’m not sure if this fella is a baseball manager or one of those smart fridges that knows when it’s supposed to order more milk.

By all accounts, Mickey knows how to stock a pitching staff and how to keep it running at the proper temperature. A former pitcher and pitching coach as manager? Revolutionary! Granted, Bamberger was a former pitcher and pitching coach who managed (he was better at the latter in Milwaukee than he was in New York), but it’s still something of a novelty. Keith Hernandez has reinforced the ancient notion night after night that pitchers aren’t really baseball players and barely qualify as human beings [7]. Callaway appears poised to upend that notion. Apparently his personal touch will extend past the rotation and the bullpen. He’s ready to embrace an entire roster of Mets.

In Tennessee tones reminiscent of R.A. Dickey and Tim McCarver, Memphis-born Mickey stressed “care” and “love” regarding how he will relate to his charges. Never mind home runs; HR might now stand for human resources in the Mets clubhouse. The 21st manager the franchise has known may be its first truly 21st-century manager in terms of approach. Analytics are a given. Communications are a priority. Age differences have been collapsed. Mickey is 42. He may be way older than Amed Rosario, but he’s way younger than Terry Collins, plus way determined that the Mets will outstrive their competitors. Nobody won’t believe he doesn’t know from what he speaks when it comes to a winning background. During five years as Indians pitching coach, he helped Terry Francona guide the Tribe into the playoffs three times. They almost won the World Series in 2016. They almost knocked off the Yankees in 2017. Perhaps Callaway has been saving successful completion of those vital tasks for us.

Oh, he already loves us. Mets fans, he told the assembled media at Citi Field, are “the best fans in the world”. The Mets are “one of the greatest baseball organizations in the world”. He’s anointed New York “the greatest city in the world” (deal with it, Cleveland). And while he’s chosen to wear Jerry Koosman’s 36, he paid homage to No. 37, Casey Stengel, for good and personal reason. His brother was named for his earliest predecessor, our first skipper. It’s as if the Callaways were planning for this moment all along. Mickey himself was named after Casey’s center fielder from his previous posting, but we won’t hold that parental impulse against him. We had Willie and the Duke toward the end of their playing careers. We have Mickey beginning something altogether new. May it be Amazin’, Amazin’, Amazin’ for him and for us.