Some major league managers accept their first job and immediately find success. Most of them, though, don’t. Except for retirement, a new manager is usually walking into a bad situation and expected to make everything right immediately, and more often than not, considered failures if that doesn’t happen.
Whoever the manager of the 2020 Pittsburgh Pirates will be, he’ll get the reins of a floundering team with struggling players, deeply unpopular ownership, and a general manager who’s considered clueless.
Mickey Callaway came into a similar situation with the New York Mets in 2017. The big difference between the Mets and the Pirates is the size of the stage and the chip on the shoulder. Thanks to the Yankees, the Mets consistently play the little brother role, and like any little brother they badly want to best Big Bro. A lot of managers have stumbled in the Mets job, and it shouldn’t really be thought of as a complete failure on their part thanks to the aforementioned ownership and GM. For a first-time skipper like Callaway, hitting that wall plus the brutal scrums known as New York media calls are eye-openers.
Despite getting fired on October third, Callaway led the Mets to a winning season where they were looked upon as legitimate postseason contenders. Maybe he wasn’t a good fit with the Mets, but the Pirates may do well to take a look at him, since he does bring a lot to the table.
For the troubled Bucs pitching staff, Callaway’s experience with turning around the Cleveland Indians’ hurlers should definitely be taken into consideration, even if the Mets’ early-season pitching struggles were blamed on him. It could be argued that the Indians and Mets have more raw pitching talent than the Pirates, but Callaway’s background could lead to some interesting tweaks, including increasing game longevity, an ongoing issue.
Callaway’s communication skills, however, were what attracted the Mets to him, although I’m sure that being under the tutelage of Terry Francona helped as well. He’s versed in analytics, but can translate the abbreviations and numbers into something tangible for players. As an example, the Mets’ Yoenis Cepedes had gotten used to hitting third or fourth in the lineup over his career, but the team’s analysts wanted him as the number two batter to drive run production. When Callaway first brought it up early in the 2018 season, Cepedes flatly refused. Callaway then started dropping by Cepedes’s locker with stats like the number of players that finished in the top five of the MVP voting who batted second (most of them). That got Cepedes’s attention, and he agreed to the spot. His season was subsequently derailed by injury, but in the first ten games he hit three homers and had ten RBIs, far more that he had in previous season starts.
Gossip is heavy that Callaway will be welcomed back to Cleveland, and after his experience with the Mets the idea of managing another dysfunctional club may not be appealing. But if we’re throwing names out there, why not his?