Your intrepid columnist is getting up there in years. Why, it seems like yesterday when he was a callow youth of 18, but that was 1983. They were just getting ready to start a most unmemorable World Series between the Baltimore Orioles and Philadelphia Phillies when beleaguered Mets General Manager Frank Cashen called an impromptu press conference in Baltimore. The ’83 season had been a bit of a wreck for a team that had been touted to be a vast improvement over the previous year’s 97-loss debacle. These Mets – with a returning Tom Seaver to lead the pitching, 1982 NL home run titlist Dave Kingman back for another year of slugging, a rebounding George Foster in left, rookie sensation Darryl Strawberry in right and exciting acquisition Keith Hernandez taking over first when Kingman went into a funk – did improve. All the way to 94 losses. The outset of that 1983 season proved too much for fragile-hearted manager George Bamberger, who resigned the position following a 14-inning loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers on June 2. He was succeeded on an interim basis by coach Frank Howard, a mountain of a man with a foghorn voice and a yawning need to be liked. Basically everyone knew the “interim” tag would stick to Howard and he was not the man to lead the Mets into 1984. Hence this Baltimore press conference.
This day, Cashen introduced a mustachioed, cowboy-hatted former second baseman Davey Johnson, who had managed the Mets’ AAA affiliate at Tidewater, VA to an International League title in ’83. All we knew was that Johnson had famously made the last out of the 1969 World Series – a fly ball to Cleon Jones in left, in case you’ve forgotten – and hit 40 home runs one time for the Atlanta Braves. To an 18-year-old, this was the wrong move. We didn’t know what kind of guy this was. We wanted the proven commodity! Billy Martin was on the verge of being canned by the Yankees…again…so the Mets should hire him! Not this AAA nobody…!
I can safely say I’ve rarely been so happy to be wrong.
Fast forward 34 years and at the beginning of the 2017 World Series, the Mets have called another press conference to introduce another new manager, another unknown quantity. Mickey Callaway, erstwhile pitching coach of the suddenly-deposed AL Champion Cleveland Indians officially became the twenty-first manager of the Mets on October 23. He takes over a team a mere two years removed from a World Series berth of its own, but it appears this team has fewer resources on hand than that long-ago ’83 squad had. They have some famously named arms in the starting rotation, for sure, but 4/5ths of them spent the 2017 season broken. Callaway inherits a slightly overcrowded outfield and an infield in a state of flux, in which only one position appears to be set. His offense at the moment is bereft of any kind of speed and most of the big-power bats were traded away in the August Purge. Let’s face it: Callaway, at best, faces an uphill battle in 2018. We have no idea how he’ll handle it; he’s never managed before. That introductory press conference was absolutely dripping with excitement and enthusiasm. We’ll see how long that lasts in the bubbling cauldron of a New York sports news cycle. A long, hot summer tends to grind on a man and at first flush, Callaway seems to have the temperament to steer through it and everything that goes with it. Callaway impressed this guy as having a little bit of Bobby Valentine in him: really smart, ready to work and sporting a megawatt smile. Johnson was able to notch 90 wins and keep the team in the pennant race until the end that first year. Valentine’s first full year was an 88-win campaign.
We can only hope Callaway can approach that.
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