Callaway on Mets' spirit: 'We didn't quit'

First-year skipper reflects on 11-1 start, tough June, front-office changes

September 12th, 2018

Somehow the Mets started 11-1 this season, and then spent nearly 100 games as if they had climbed into a way-back machine and turned into the 1962 Mets, who inspired one of the great baseball books of them all, Jimmy Breslin's "Can't Anybody Here Play This Game?"

Somehow, after that 11-1 start, the Mets had fewer wins than the Marlins before July 1 -- and coming into the season, the Fish had traded just about everybody in South Florida except members of the Miami Heat. On Aug. 7, the Mets were 19 games under .500, which meant that they had lost 64 of their past 99 games.

There was a stretch when they lost 14 of 15 games at Citi Field. They went 5-21 in June. By the end of June, they had already had two seven-game losing streaks. There were four games, all losses, in early June in which the Mets scored a total of two runs. Two of those losses were to the Orioles, who are the 1962 Mets.

There was the thought that the Mets should trade , who has been the best pitcher in the game this season. New York did not. They did not trade , either, nor Zack Wheeler, who has pitched like a star for months. And somehow, after a stretch of bad baseball, the Mets gave the fans who have stayed with them a month when they at least partially reminded you of the team they looked like in April. After another low point of being 19 games under .500, they have gone 19-13 since.

I asked Mets manager Mickey Callaway what it was like to watch his team take the kind of long fall it did, during which -- to quote an old country line -- the gutter did not seem like up. And I asked Callway if he ever worried about getting fired.

"I never felt [that I was going to get fired]," Callaway said. "I've said this from the beginning, I know I am going to get fired someday. Until then, I am doing to do the best job I can. I never felt like my job was in jeopardy. And I won't feel that way until they bring me in and tell me."

Here are some of Callaway's other thoughts on everything that happened to him, his team and Mets fans this season. This is his version, which has a lot of blue sky to it, because that's who Callaway is. There are plenty of Mets fans who won't want to hear it or who might not be buying it. Here it is anyway:

• "I honestly believe we are a better team and a better organization because of what we went through. Because we didn't quit. Joe Maddon [recently] sent me a bottle of wine with the note, 'Mets play hard.'"

• "We have improved as a team. We didn't blow things up, which would have been the easy thing to do. I think the organization did a great job of going through a process and coming to the decision not to blow things up. They talked to me, to our hitting coach, to our pitching coach. Everybody gave feedback. It could have been easy to make the wrong decision. I don't think we did."

• On the month of June: "It was a tough month to go through, obviously, and for everybody. I think the thing that was tested the most was this question: Are we still going in the right direction? Should we continue in that direction? But all we could do was keep approaching things in the right way. It wasn't easy. But it was a great learning experience for all of us. And our guys kept on playing."

• "I did start to ask myself if staying on an even keel was the right way to go about things. Did I need to start yelling at people? Do I need to blow up the locker room? But in the end, I chose to be myself, keep going about things in what I thought was the right way."

• "Whatever you can experience in one year, just as a manager, I've experienced it. Probably everything you can experience in your first year. 11-1 and 5-21 the same year? Really?"

And Callaway talked Tuesday about the way is hitting again, the way Jeff McNeil has played at second base and the way has started to look like a future star now that he is at the top of the batting order. Callaway did not talk about what he thinks the Mets might do in the offseason, if they will spend money to go get another bat or two or whether the next general manager will be able to assemble a bullpen, in a bullpen world, from scratch.

Sandy Alderson, the Mets' general manager when Callaway was hired, stepped away from the team during the season to deal with ongoing health issues. There will be a new man running baseball operations for the Mets next season. I asked Callaway if he is concerned about that.

"I have always embraced new things," Callaway said. "I like to learn. There will be a new person for me to learn from, that's the way I look at it."

Mets fans just want to win again. They have learned the hard way how fast things can change in the big city. The Mets were in the World Series three years ago, and they don't want to wait 15 years to go back the way they did after 2000, which is how far away 11-1 now seems. They want a big free agent this offseason. Mets fans don't want the Yankees to own the town. They don't want to hear that excluding the month of June, they have an over-.500 team for the rest of the season. They don't just want to hear about blue skies again. They want to see them over Citi Field.