The first time he became a general manager, with the Oakland A’s in 1981, Sandy Alderson inherited his manager. That manager was Billy Martin.
In 2017, no ballclub would hire a Billy Martin type to run its team. Martin was profane and demanding and paranoid and had well-documented personal demons. He belittled players and created controversies and got himself fired more times than a normal person can imagine.
He also was a brilliant, winning manager.
Perhaps the closest contemporary example to Martin is Wally Backman, who never was going to be the Mets’ manager under Alderson. Because Backman was pushed out of the organization last year, at least no one called for it this time around.
Nope, fiery is out. Lighting a fire under a player’s butt is out. Being demanding and critical and maybe a little out of control at times is out.
Understanding is in. Hugs are in. Gosh darn it, love is in.
That’s the message we got on Monday from new Mets manager Mickey Callaway, who was introduced in a Citi Field news conference.
“You show them every day that you care about them,” Callaway said of the players. “And we will care about them. It won’t just be an act . . . I’m going to love every one of them.”
Callaway, 42, had been the pitching coach of the Cleveland Indians under Terry Francona. He has never managed at any level professionally, but as Alderson said when he opened his remarks: “We weren’t simply looking for a manager. We were looking for a leader. And as I think of leadership, I think of really two general requirements. One is professional competence. And the other is personal excellence.”
Professional excellence and personal competence would seem to work just as well, but you get Alderson’s drift. By all accounts, Callaway was very good at his job with the Indians and wowed the Mets during their one-and-only formal interview and a three-hour lunch with owner Fred Wilpon.
“Best fish I’ve ever had,” Callaway said, proving he already knows where his fish (and bread) are buttered in the Mets’ world.
It sounded to us as if Callaway’s biggest attribute — besides his obvious pitching coach chops — is that he’s willing to work within the Mets’ hoped-for collaborative framework that frayed under Terry Collins, especially in the 68-year-old’s final, failed season.
After seven years of the folksy Collins, Alderson said he was looking for a manager who embodied ”contemporary thinking” — i.e., adherence to analytics and working glove-in-hand with the front office and coaches. Maybe even taking a “suggestion” or two.
Alderson also said none of that was meant as a criticism of Collins, who remains in the organization as a special adviser to the general manager.
(Was special adviser Collins consulted on the manager search? “No,” Alderson said.)
“What can the players expect?” Callaway asked himself, and then answered. “We’re going to care more about the players than anyone ever has before. We’re going to know that they’re human beings and individuals. And this is going to be a group that feels that every day that we come to the clubhouse. And that’s going to be our main concern, is to show them that we know this game is difficult and we care about you as a player, a human being and about your personal life.”
(Well, maybe not Matt Harvey’s personal life. That should probably stay personal.)
None of this jibber-jabber — as former Mets manager Willie Randolph used to call it — will matter a bit when the Mets convene in Port St. Lucie, Florida, in February. All that matters is what happens on the field.
Still, we can’t wait for the first bonfire and sing-a-long at Camp Callaway. Pass the marshmallows and the competence.
Is love the answer? The Mets are about to find out.