Suddenly phony Mickey Callaway was never made for this
Watching Mickey Callaway after the past two Met losses in Arizona made me think about Arnold Schwarzenegger playing Hamlet.
Schwarzenegger is an actor. Hamlet is a part. But not all actors were meant to play all roles. And not all managers have the emotional range to go from sunshine to darkness. On Saturday and Sunday, Callaway appeared an actor determining there are no other roles for him except tough guy running out of patience. And let’s just say I believed Sofia Coppola’s zombie Mary Corleone more than I did Mickey Grouse.
Callaway happy talked 77-85 in his first season — sometimes it felt like he was watching a different movie than the rest of us. He was essentially in the same space this year. It is his comfort zone. But 3½ weeks ago, Jeff Wilpon convened a meeting with the manager and Brodie Van Wagenen and implored Callaway to take what he learned last year and apply it to avoid having another season slip away.
The Mets were three games under .500 (17-20) at the time of the meeting. They came home from the desert three games under .500 (28-31). Nothing has changed except for Callaway’s attempts to be what he sure doesn’t appear comfortable being.
Callaway has slowly tried to ad lib being the heavy, and improv in that area is just not his thing. He amped it up over the weekend, sensing perhaps what we all are — that he is running out of time in his current role. He seemed to be trying to figure out what his bosses and the fans might want to hear. And it just sounds ersatz coming out of his mouth following a year-plus of a manager seeing bunny rabbits in the storm clouds overhead.
“We put ourselves in a position to win more games than we did but we lost them so it doesn’t matter what position you put yourself in, you gotta go get the job done,’’ Callaway said Sunday after a 7-1 loss to Arizona that completed a 2-4 road trip. “We have to do better. I’m kind of getting sick of saying we have to right this ship.’’
If this sounds off to you and me — the nice guy trying gangsta — it will to the players as well. It is not good for a tenuous manager to be publicly challenged by his most respected player, the normally vanilla Jacob deGrom, who was critical of Callaway for removing him Saturday when the ace insisted he had a cramp that was not a problem. It played like Lyndon Johnson losing Walter Cronkite (ask your parents).
Ultimately, a manager should never want his players sensing: 1) inauthenticity, 2) blame deflection, 3) lack of answers. Callaway touched the managerial third rail.
He did not name names and he mainly used “we,” but to watch the post-game gatherings was to hear a lot of “someone has to get it done” and “we have to figure out how to win on the road” and talk about “inconsistency.” It did not sound like a manager speaking in his voice, taking responsibility or providing solutions. Perhaps behind the scenes Callaway is offering more — in reality he better be.
But in reality not everyone is managerial material. In 1999, Joe Torre was diagnosed with prostate cancer in spring and missed about six weeks as Yankee manager. Don Zimmer, so valuable to Torre as his consigliere bench coach, slid a few inches over on the dugout bench and nearly tanked a team mid-dynasty with his edginess and inability to cope with George Steinbrenner. Some lieutenants should not be generals.
Callaway was lauded as an Indian pitching coach. But to me he has been miscast as a New York manager. I have made this point previously — that his best route to success would have been to learn how to manage a game, a season, a roster and talking about it all to reporters in a less stressed environment first off-Broadway like Kansas City or Baltimore. This is a difficult place to train on the job, tougher with Wilpon ownership, tougher still when you have an amalgamation roster that too often plays like the greatest mistakes of Sandy Alderson and Van Wagenen.
At best Callaway is frustrated by all of this. At worst frustration and desperation has him trying to play the part of a tougher manager. And Van Wagenen did not hire him for the role. It feels ever closer to when the director yells, “cut.”
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