Mickey Callaway’s real misfortune had been standing out in front of the New York Mets. It’s what made him the face and voice and conscience of whatever came, whatever rolled downhill and lodged under his heel, if not necessarily the cause or the consequence.
His real mistake was getting tired of it.
He took the job these 239 games ago, which meant that when he led with any proficiency and remembered which arm everybody threw with and did nothing to infer he was in over his head he’d still be fired, sure. But he’d also be returned his dignity — slid through the slot under the bulletproof window — on his way back to civilian life. Mets managers — and general managers, for that matter — are about 50-50 on this, because New York Mets owners go by the name Wilpon.
The game is hard enough. Corralling even grown men is hard enough. It’s the self-inflicted stuff that makes it more than that, that makes it personal, that leaves a stain. That makes it unsalvageable.
Mickey Callaway is not an unreasonable man. He’s not, though reasonable men don’t generally respond to common niceties with hard profanity. In that way you are free to wonder if the job has steered him toward unreasonable or if becoming unreasonable is his chosen escape route. He had an evening flight from Chicago to Philadelphia on Sunday night. Perhaps it would grant him the peace and time to sort it out himself. To ask himself if he is that guy. If that’s where this leads.
Either way, the scene in his clubhouse late Sunday afternoon, in which he cursed a reporter and in so doing declared open season on that reporter in a jumpy room, stated that Mickey Callaway had lost command of both himself and that room. And that it was his own doing. And that is a problem.
And, yes, it is his clubhouse. The fluff you hear about players controlling clubhouses is largely myth. When the clubhouse “goes bad” the manager is fired. When the clubhouse is “lost” the manager is fired. Conversely, a “great clubhouse” is almost always a reflection of an authoritative and respected man who does not consistently lose games on the top step. There are exceptions. The Mets are not one of them. They are not exceptional.
They have not performed. The roster is flawed. Callaway has been spotty, particularly in his operation of among the worst bullpens in the game. If that sounds like blaming the weatherman for the rain, it is. That’s also the gig. Bring galoshes, man.
So an irritated Callaway attempted to eject a reporter and a puffed-up Jason Vargas threatened to punch the same reporter and it all turned into a to-do that was beyond dumb, beyond embarrassing and, maybe, beyond repair. Because what’s going to happen from here? Reporters will not stop asking about the games and the strategies within them. Callaway will not be excused from answering. The bullpen likely will remain unreliable. Callaway will be the guy picking the guy for the situation, the sporting equivalent of a 4-year-old moving cold peas around on a dinner plate. Mets fans will continue to criticize him, because that’s how it goes, and the back pages may be unkind, because that’s how it goes, and certain players will subvert him with their effort, because sometimes that’s how it goes, and he’ll still be working for the Mets, because that’s the team across his chest.
So a proud and charismatic baseball man who leads a 37-41 baseball team into a summer that promises to be at least weird and possibly chaotic had a bad day. A month ago the Mets — the owner, the general manager — showed some courage in staying with Callaway, in maintaining the “us” part of this. Whatever this is today. Now they’ve canned a good portion of Callaway’s coaching staff. Now they’ve had to apologize for his behavior. Now some of them have to be wondering about their own jobs, all except the Wilpons. These are the same people who filled that room with 37-41 ballplayers, who stuck with Callaway, who clearly were not looking for reasons to fire Callaway, but who on Sunday afternoon were presented one.
Now they’ll decide if it’s still an “us” thing. The easy choice today is to fire Mickey Callaway. They wouldn’t even need to sell it. They would, in fact, just be getting on with the inevitable, as most would see it.
So, they should go ahead. Fire Mickey Callaway. Because he’s not the right guy for the job. Because he couldn’t handle it. Because he made management look bad.
That way, they could get on with hiring the next guy who’s not right for the job, who can’t handle it, who makes management look bad.
Because, you know, somebody’s got to stand out in front of it.
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