The first mistake Brodie Van Wagenen made when he took over the Mets — and it is an error that suddenly sits in the middle of an ever-growing pile — was this: He had to make it a deal-breaker that he be able to hire his own guy as manager, or else.
In theory this shouldn’t have been a problem. As with many things related to the Mets, one of the appealing things about Mickey Callaway was that he was willing to work cheap. Jettisoning him would’ve cost a shade under $2 million. To most competent baseball owners, such is the cost of doing business. Plus, it only took 25 at-bats to decide that Travis d’Arnaud needed to disappear at a cost of $3.5 million. Callaway’s sample size was far greater than that.
Callaway had done little to impress in his first year as a manager, and had in fact built an overwhelming case the other way. In these parts, he was nicknamed “Calladoo” because he bore more than a passing professional resemblance, in many troubling ways, to Ben McAdoo, the former Giants coach who had taken “overmatched” to a new level, and quick.
As the Mets’ cousins in futility, the Jets have learned often in recent years — a mistake they seem destined to keep repeating — having on-field and front-office chiefs who aren’t tied to each other is a recipe for calamity. Van Wagenen didn’t owe Callaway a thing. All the Wilpons owed was the baseball equivalent of pocket change.
So maybe it doesn’t come as a surprise that this has been a six-week study in catastrophe, capped by Sunday’s 3-0 loss in Miami, making it five losses in a row for the Mets, handing the Marlins their first series sweep in two seasons, looking every bit as listless and lifeless as a baseball team can possibly look the last two days, impossibly transforming Pablo Lopez and Sandy Alcantara into Don Drysdale and Sandy Koufax for a weekend.
It will certainly come as no surprise if Van Wagenen does what he should have done last October and must certainly do now: Terminate Callaway before this season spins even further out of control. We can talk about underperforming players and ill-constructed rosters, and both are true, but Callaway has provided ample evidence across 207 games that he is not a good manager. He goes on merit.
But he also goes exposing a fundamental flaw in the Mets’ hierarchy. It is impossible to believe, as goofy as Callaway has come across in so many press-conference settings, that he truly, honestly believed what he was saying Sunday as he tried to defend another lazy tour-de-force by Robinson Cano.
Two days after failing to run out a double-play grounder, he hit a dribbler that bounced an instant behind home plate, rolled fair …
And didn’t run. Again. It wound up a double play. Again. And Callaway, despite this blatant disregard for basic baseball decorum, refused to make Cano pay a consequence for that.
And doubled down when asked about it later on.
“I’m not defending not running down the line,” he said, before doing exactly that, saying Cano thought the ball was foul and, apparently, that offers a waiver from playing the game properly.
“You have to have a little common sense when something that doesn’t happen very often happens,” he said, admonishing the question with far greater anger than he did the questionable act of indifference.
That is where Callaway lost his team, and lost his job, regardless of all the hard, empty oaths that the likes of Todd Frazier on Saturday and Noah Syndergaard on Sunday may have offered. Those words are emptier than Cano’s effort: The Mets knew they were playing for their manager’s job and still mailed in the weekend.
So perhaps Jim Riggleman’s short-term motivational skills will give this flatlining team a brief paddle shot, and maybe it won’t, but one rancid problem will remain: It is clear that as long as there are players whom Van Wagenen used to represent as an agent playing on this team, there will be — at the least — a perception of divided loyalties.
No manager can go all Billy Martin on a player in 2019 but it is impossible to believe that, say, Terry Collins, wouldn’t have sent a message to Cano this weekend — even if he knew it would cost him his job. But Cano is one of Van Wagenen’s erstwhile sugar daddies. So is Frazier, who has been playing with a fork in his back most of the past two years but still gets far more at-bats than anyone can possibly justify.
So the Mets can exile Calladoo, and that will be red meat for the masses, and it will fix one of the GM’s many mistakes. But unless the GM identifies a manager he can work with who also has the spine to tell the boss hard truths he might not really want to hear, he may well be destined for a re-branding of his own: Brodie Van Gettleman.
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