Callaway saga is about lousy bullpens

Mets manager Mickey Callaway, a former player at Germantown High School, lost his cool with reporters over his use of relief pitchers. (photo by Mike Morrow)

Baseball in New York is interesting, isn’t it? Ask Mickey Callaway.

Or rather, be careful what you ask Callaway, the former Germantown High School standout who is now managing the New York Mets.

In what became a whirlwind, Callaway weathered a blistering series of questions about his bullpen after a loss Sunday in Chicago with a smile at first, later went into a profanity-laced tirade over one of the reporters, met with the media before Monday’s game in Philadelphia, then returned for another pre-game press scrum to say he apologized to the reporter for what he said on Sunday.

And he got fined, as did relief pitcher Jason Vargas, who also went after Newsday reporter Tim Healey on Sunday.

Mets General Manager Brodie Van Wagenen left Chicago before the post-game fireworks in the clubhouse Sunday, originally didn’t plan to go to Philadelphia, but after all the brouhaha, showed up in Philly and told the media that Callaway and Vargas had been fined for their disrespectful ways.

He didn’t say how much the fine was, nor did it seem to occur to any of the media members to ask at the time. Newsday later reported each was fined $10,000. Van Wagenen also didn’t say Callaway was fired, which seems to be what a lot of people want.

Maybe Van Wagenen is privately hoping he won’t get fired himself. The Mets are a mess, and Van Wagenen hasn’t exactly given Callaway an awesome baseball team to manage. One report Monday even suggested Van Wagenen has been known to call the shots on a pitching change during a game.

From a flurry of accounts, things went this way. Javier Baez of the Cubs hit a home run in the eighth inning Sunday off pitcher Seth Lugo that gave Chicago the lead and ultimately the win in a deeply disappointing finish for the Mets. After the game, Healey and a reporter for Yahoo Sports asked Callaway questions about why he didn’t use closer Edwin Diaz in the eighth inning.

Callaway made it pretty clear that the Mets don’t like the idea of using Diaz for five outs (saving his arm, you know) despite what a couple of sports writers thought should have happened. Sometime later, Newsday’s Healey said to the manager, “See you tomorrow, Mickey.” Healey says he meant nothing by it, other than, “See you tomorrow, Mickey.”

Callaway had apparently had a little time to stew over the questions, thought Healey was smarting off at him, and let loose some bad words, then asked a Mets PR staffer to get Healey out of there. Along the way, Healey found himself being stared at by Mets reliever Vargas, who addressed Healey with a physical threat and also used a bad word in the process.

It caused enough of a stir that the Mets issued a formal apology Sunday night, saying they don’t condone treating anyone in such a manner.

On Monday, before the game in Philadelphia, Callaway had his regular pre-game meeting with the media but offered no apologies. But Callaway returned about an hour before the game to tell the press he had in fact apologized to Healey and that he wasn’t proud of the way he behaved in Chicago. Van Wagenen then appeared, telling the media that Callaway and Vargas had been fined.

Then the Mets and the Phillies went out and played a baseball game.

The dust-up made for great theater in New York, of course. But at the heart of all the heated rhetoric in the lower chambers of Wrigley Field on Sunday is the fact that big-league baseball has managed to mire itself in a big ugly gob of quicksand over bullpens.

There seems to be a federal law now that requires baseball teams to use, oh, 43 pitchers every ballgame. This has led to teams boasting fabulous, home-run-hitting collections of position players, all making big money, and a multitude of relief pitchers who are collectively worth about $1.98. On almost every team. And managers feel obligated to use them all, in almost every game.

Callaway built his reputation, indeed got a manager’s job, on the strength of handling a pitching staff in Cleveland with a masterful touch. He helped guide the Indians to a World Series as a pitching coach. But when considering what Callaway, or any other major league manager, has to deal with in the relief pitching department, you wonder why they would even take such a job.

If there were 3 million excellent relief pitchers in baseball, it might make sense to have the crowd of relief pitchers overflowing the bullpen in every major league park. When thinking of the list of Hall of Fame-worthy relief pitchers, which is a mighty short list come to think of it, somehow Edwin Diaz doesn’t come to mind. He ain’t exactly Mariano Rivera.

So why is every major league team bound to use a string of minor-league caliber relief pitchers in major league games? Why give big bucks to superstar starting pitchers throughout the majors only to take them out of games early and replace them with a bunch of Barney Fifes every game?

What is baseball thinking?

It’s bad enough that the children of America can’t stay up late enough to see their favorite team finish a game. Why ruin what little joy they had by finding out the next morning that a long line of losers came in to pitch their favorite team into a big fat loss?

Stopping the game, seemingly after every single batter, to bring in another no-name loser, doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. But it has become so deeply ingrained in the makeup, and management, of a team, every game has become the same silly story.

Tom Seaver would have never made it in this environment. Pulling him after five innings every game and replacing him with a string of worthless relievers would have left him with a career most of us would have long forgotten.

What happened in Chicago on Sunday wasn’t a case of a manager losing his temper. It was a case of two-bit relief pitchers dominating an otherwise worthwhile sport.

Categories: Home-grown

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