When Mickey Callaway’s days became numbered and Carlos Beltran’s name was first floated as a possible successor as Mets manager, the concept seemed ridiculous, frankly.
He was a remarkable talent, with tremendous physical skills and a brilliant baseball mind. It was like having another manager in the clubhouse, a great resource for teammates who universally respected him.
In my experiences dealing with Beltran while covering his entire 6 1/2-year tenure with the Mets, he was always insightful, providing his honest opinions in a straightforward way, never fearing any repercussions.
But as you may remember, that didn’t always go over so well, as Beltran’s stay overlapped one of the more turbulent periods in recent Mets history.
He went through three managers, had two general managers and was part of back-to-back spectacular collapses in 2007 and 2008. There also was the infamous curveball he took for a third strike from the Cardinals’ Adam Wainwright to end the 2006 NLCS, but that was only one pitch in one at-bat, and in my mind, far from a defining moment.
On top of all that, and perhaps most infuriating for Beltran, were clashes with ownership over his offseason knee surgery in 2010, and I wasn’t totally convinced that anger ever cooled. Terry Collins played a huge role in repairing some of that rift with the Mets before Beltran's trade to the Giants, a feat that impressed Beltran, probably because he wasn’t sure it was possible.
So you see how this originally felt like such a long shot. Why would Beltran want to plunge back into such a reservoir of bad memories, especially after winning a World Series with the Astros and seeing how great life could be across town in the Bronx?
Turns out, maybe I was looking at this the wrong way. Instead, Beltran's return to the Mets shows just how badly he wants to manage. He’s willing to dredge it all up again and re-enter into a working relationship with the Wilpons after the bad faith of his previous go-round.
Location evidently was a big factor, too. Beltran and his family love New York, and the Yankees already have a manager. He refused to interview for any of the other seven openings, choosing only the Mets.
“I just feel like right now living in New York, it’s the right fit for me,” Beltran said last month at the ALCS in Houston.
In that sense, the Mets got lucky, because aside from Beltran’s strong motivation to manage, it didn’t hurt to have something else in their favor. Other than Joe Girardi or Buck Showalter, none of the other candidates possessed anywhere near Beltran’s brand value, which really can’t be overestimated with the Mets, especially under a relative newcomer in general manager Brodie Van Wagenen.
As Van Wagenen further tries to mold his Mets into a winner, along with the Wilpons’ constant efforts to increase market share, who was going to help more in that process? Pat Murphy? Derek Shelton? No offense to either, but a coach from the Brewers or Twins doesn’t move the needle. I thought Eduardo Perez, who had the media savvy of an ESPN analyst to go with big-league coaching experience, would have checked those important boxes. But again, Perez doesn’t make much of a splash.
Beltran hasn’t been a manager or coach at any level, but he does bring the sizzle and the proven ability to handle the demands of the New York media — although that exposure is going to increase exponentially in a new role that is unfamiliar to him. He has put together a Hall of Fame career on the field, so he’s succeeded at just about everything he’s tried. That’s as good as reason as any to believe he can do it again, even if this represents a much different challenge from what he’s conquered in the past.
This is a calculated risk by the Mets, but also the trend throughout baseball, as front offices favor a “collaborative” vibe with a first-time manager rather than the more authoritative presence of someone who has spent a decade in the big chair. Beltran witnessed that up close during Aaron Boone’s first two years with the Yankees and he’ll benefit from taking those lessons with him to Flushing.
Nobody really knows for sure what kind of manager Beltran will be simply because he’s never done it before. We do know the Mets have a long history of hiring much worse. And Beltran should have an understanding, to some degree, of what he’s getting back into. Come to think of it, that could be his greatest advantage.