When he was dunking basketballs at 5-feet-10-inches at Germantown High School and on his way toward collegiate pitching success at Ole Miss, there was little reason to expect Mickey Callaway would become the subject of a major storyline in New York City.
But then he is named for Mickey Mantle, and his younger brother, Casey, is named for Casey Stengel. Their father was a baseball fan, although not especially a Yankee fan.
So baseball has a way of taking strange twists, and Callaway has been a subject of one of the strangest twists in all of baseball in the last two weeks.
If you take a casual glance at the National League East standings, you see the New York Mets sitting in third place only 4 1/2 games behind the division-leading Philadelphia Phillies. Callaway is the Mets’ manager.
But the pride of Germantown has been part of a wild ride in New York, and it simply seems a given that if you’re a major-league manager in New York, a wild ride is basically part of the job description, win or lose. And the Mets’ winning and losing is, of course, driving the story.
Callaway’s Mets were swept last weekend by the Miami Marlins, and the reaction was such you would think the United States had put Barney Fife in charge of the Pentagon. At last check, the Marlins are not very good, but they are not as bad as the Baltimore Orioles, and they are almost on a level with the Kansas City Royals, a franchise that won the World Series only four years ago.
But for the Mets to lose three straight games to the Marlins, well that was treated like the Vanderbilt football team had just clobbered Alabama.
So there was all this drama about Callaway, and surely the world could not turn another day if he weren’t fired, because clearly the manager was responsible for every single pitch, every single play, every single hot dog that caused indigestion in the stands.
If the Mets were swept by the Marlins, of course that meant that Callaway himself had colluded with the Russians, consulted with the Cuban regime and secretly must have told every Marlins batter which pitches were coming. Maybe Callaway was secretly a fan of Miami manager Don Mattingly and Marlins CEO Derek Jeter. Or maybe he just didn’t know the difference between a home run and a bunt. Whatever awful things the manager had done, he had to go.
The Mets’ general manager, Brodie Van Wagenen, came out and made some feeble suggestion that the manager of the Mets was the manager of the Mets, which was of course earth-shattering news that reverberated throughout all of New York City and surely had North Korea on high alert.
So then the Mets swept four games from the Washington Nationals.
And amid all the cheering in Mets World, the Callaway critics were left to say something like, “Oh. Well. How about that Tiger Woods winning the Masters?”
The Mets just took two out of three games against the Detroit Tigers. The National League East race has become basically what everybody thought it would be. The Mets aren’t in first place, but they’re in the mix, and the world did indeed make another turn yesterday.
It wasn’t just that the wolves were howling. Take the matter of Mets hitter Robinson Cano not running out ground balls. Cano thought a ball was foul. But it went fair, and he didn’t run to first base, which is sort of fundamental. Cano didn’t exactly run to third base, like a 3-year-old would do, but he didn’t run to first. And this was obviously the fault of Mickey Callaway.
Worse than that, Callaway was ridiculed for not ripping Cano publicly. Cano suddenly had nothing to do with it anymore. He was, just like the on-field incident, nothing but a spectator. Callaway was the problem, because he didn’t run out and carry Cano from home plate to first base, and then, worse, he didn’t publicly call for Cano’s resignation from organized baseball.
If you want a little perspective on that episode, look back only a few weeks ago to something just as zany in St. Louis. On a deep fly ball to left field, Cardinals left-fielder Marcel Ozuna made a mad dash toward Iowa, leapt heroically to the top of the left-field wall, then watched with everybody else when the baseball landed 10 feet short of the wall. Ozuna looked like a character in a Laurel and Hardy production. When Cardinals manager Mike Schildt was asked about Ozuna’s bizarre behavior, he complimented his outfielder for trying so aggressively to prevent the baseball from being a home run.
Not one person ripped Schildt for not ripping his player.
See, there’s this crazy thing with some baseball managers. They tend to take up for their players. But of course, you can’t do that if you manage the Mets. You don’t get it. This is New York. You don’t understand. Clearly, Cano didn’t run because Callaway is a clumsy oaf.
So Callaway went about his business managing a baseball team, and miraculously, there was life after being swept by the Miami Marlins.
Callaway has seen just about everything there is to see in baseball, from a career that had him play everywhere from Butte, Mont., to winning a World Series with the Angels, to playing in Korea, to becoming a pitching guru for the Cleveland Indians in a way that took them to the World Series, which was a big factor in making him manager of the New York Mets.
The most perilous circumstance for Callaway is not hitting a skid in Miami but the simple fact that Van Wagenen wasn’t the man who hired him. A new boss always wants his own people. When word surfaced that Van Wagenen had a liking for managers like Buck Showalter and Dusty Baker, it fueled the speculation that losing baseball games to a team in Miami had to be the last straw. Showalter was surely looking for an apartment in Manhattan.
Former New York Mets manager Yogi Berra (yes, Yogi Berra managed the Mets into the World Series in 1973) was known to have uttered the most insightful line of philosophy in the history of baseball. “It ain’t over til it’s over.”
Callaway is the Mets’ manager. They might just win some more baseball games.
Looking at the standings, it looks pretty clear. It ain’t over.