Mickey Callaway’s rookie managerial season skippering the Mets had some ups, and a lot of downs. He and the team had a sizzling start, then a dreadful June, before rallying to a respectable pace the latter part of the year. Perhaps the low point for Callaway was the infamous lineup mixup in Cincinnati that likely cost the Mets a game ultimately won by the Reds in extra innings. Wilmer Flores and Asdrubal Cabrera batted in each other’s spot through no fault of their own, due to an incorrect batting order posted in the dugout. The Mets finished 2018 in fourth place with a 77-85 mark.
However, 2019 is a new season, Callaway has a year under his belt and some new coaches, ironically including new bench coach Jim Riggleman, who was the Reds’ manager who successfully exploited the batting order snafu last year. Callaway said Riggleman has already given him some valuable insights about approaching managing, including suggesting Callaway not try to reinvent the wheel but instead go with tried and true methods that have worked.
Other managers have struggled in their first year but then turned it around into very successful careers. We’re going to look at the records of five Hall of Fame managers who managed within the past fifty years, all of whom had some type of New York team connection.
Walter Alston had a very rocky start to his MLB managerial career in 1954 with the Brooklyn Dodgers. They finished second to the arch rival New York Giants with 92-62 record. In ‘53 the Dodgers under Charlie Dressen t demolished the league with a 105-49 pennant winning season. There was plenty of speculation that Alston was on thin ice, but he then rebounded and the club won the WS in ‘55 over the Yanks and Alston went on to a long and successful career with the Dodgers with another four championships in Los Angeles.
Whitey Herzog had been the Director of Player Personnel with the Mets before receiving the managerial post for the Texas Rangers in 1973. However, Herzog did not even finish out the year, he was fired with a 47-91 record. Herzog hung in there, made some adjustments and eventually landed another manager spot. He was especially successful in the ‘80s with a WS win and two other appearances with the Cardinals.
Joe Torre replaced Joe Frazier as the Mets manager part way into the 1977 season. In 1976 the Mets had finished a respectable 86-76, but regressed considerably in Torre’s first year as his record was 49-68. He never sniffed .500 in his tenure with the Mets which ended in 1981. Torre soon landed on his feet, managing the Braves to a divisional title in 1982. He had a great run with the Yankees in the 90s and into the 2000’s including the remarkable ‘98 season when the Yanks had an other worldly record of 114-48, culminating in a WS win.
Lou Piniella just won election to the Hall of Fame this off-season. His initial season managing was 1986 with the Yankees, with a solid 90-72 record good for second place. It was, however, a regression from 1985 when the Yankees were 97-64. Piniella was then replaced by Billy Martin in 1988 during the unstable George Steinbrenner years, but he did go on to a successful managerial career elsewhere including a 1990 WS win with the underdog Cincinnati Reds.
The final manager to be examined is Bobby Cox, who is the exception to the slow start to his managerial career. The one-time Yankee infielder managed his first MLB season for the Braves in 1980, finishing 81-80. That was a big improvement over ‘79 season when Atlanta finished 66-94. Cox had a stint managing Toronto, then became Braves GM before returning to the Atlanta dugout midway through the 1990 season. Cox won one WS in ‘95 over Cleveland to go with a long string of divisional titles in the 90s and 2000s.
The bottom line is that even though Callaway had some bumps in his first season managing, that is almost to be expected. Who knows how his career will end, but he seems like a smart guy who learns from his mistakes.