When the Mets designated Matt Harvey for assignment on Saturday, Indians manager Terry Francona was paying attention. He likes to keep an eye on the clubs managed by former members of his field staff because they are friends, but also because he wants to see them succeed. And he knew that former Indians pitching coach and current Mets manager Mickey Callaway was dealing with what had to be a precarious situation.
He read Callaway’s reaction — “We feel like we failed Matt Harvey. Our job is to help every player in there” — and he felt heartened. It’s the outlook Francona always knew Callaway had.
“It sounded like him: He had the player and the organization first,” Francona said Sunday before his Indians lost to the Yankees, 7-4, at the Stadium. “When you do that, the rest of it takes care of itself. You can’t put yourself ahead of those — ‘how is this going to reflect on me?’ — because that doesn’t work. You’ve got to be out there and take some bullets for your guys.”
Francona wasn’t surprised when the Mets got off to an 11-1 start in Callaway’s debut season. When he first interviewed him to be the Indians’ pitching coach before the 2013 season, it was an eye-opener. Francona, who has spent a lifetime in baseball but didn’t know Callaway, said, “He was knocking it out . . . It just became obvious for all of us in the organization that Mickey was the right choice. When he started, he hit the ground running with everything he said he’d do.
“That whole first year, the game never got too fast for him.”
Francona has made a habit of surrounding himself with capable people — John Farrell, Kevin Cash, Brad Mills and Callaway are some who have been or are managers — and does it knowing they will move on. “I’m not the smartest person,’’ he said, “but I’m smart enough to surround myself with really good people.”
He saw Callaway as a natural manager, if he wanted to become one. Eventually, Callaway said he did, and Francona knew it was just a matter of time before a job like the Mets’ came open. He said the two text often and even had a spring training conversation in which Callaway sought insight about handling the running game.
Francona, who has managed in the highly scrutinized markets of Boston and Philadelphia, thinks Callaway will be able to handle things now that the Mets have hit some hard times.
“He’s enthusiastic and prepared and he can be himself because he’s a good guy,” Francona said. “When things go bad? That’s when you find out a guy is really good, and I think people will see he’s really good.”