Two months ago, Mickey Callaway was a bumpkin in the big city, so marginalized that he was viewed less as a manager than an appendage or puppet of management. As the Mets plunged down the rungs of relevance, Callaway was clearly the first sacrifice in an October purge. He wasn't hired by Brodie Van Wagenen, but would surely be fired by him.
Then the Mets went on a tear, reminding some folks of 1969, and others of 2015, the kind of improbable stampede from a team that staggered into the All-Star break. They have the best record in baseball since the Midsummer Classic and just went on a 15-1 rampage before they lost on Sunday to the Nationals.
And Callaway may have morphed from Dead Manager Walking to Manager of the Year candidate.
Sounds absurd. Yet why not?
If Callaway gets the guillotine for the team's woes, he should get much love for their revival. Many of us had written his professional eulogy this season, dismissed as a good man in a hard business, victim of the zero-sum reality of wins and losses, and wholly unprepared to run an MLB club in NYC.
The Mets are a 20-6 since July 13, and they have done it with essentially the same players that pulled them down into the dark pockets of the National League. They have done it sans Robinson Cano, who was just starting to roll before he hurt his hamstring. They have done it despite their comically bad bullpen, the only one in MLB history to blow eight saves in consecutive months. The pen is led by the other half of the Cano trade - Edwin Diaz - who was invincible in 2018. But in 2019, Diaz has toiled in pitching purgatory, having surrendered four homers in his last six appearances, with an 11.12 ERA over that span. The Mets closer has hemorrhaged 11 homers this season, five more than he allowed all last season.
Callaway was the lost Pollyanna who told us his players had a run like this in reserve, with the talent and temerity to show us these Mets aren't those Mets, a club we so often eulogized in June. We satirized Callaway as the clueless skipper who batted his lineup out of order in Cincinnati. This is the same skipper with the SNL-style opening presser when he spoke strangely about how hard he'd love his players. We mocked his throat-bending laugh. We chided him for his Captain Obvious observations, belching bromides after every loss.
But just as Callaway was the square peg squeezed into a diamond to start the season, he is in the perfect position to craft an epic comeback. If the Mets end September as the comeback team of the year, then Callaway deserves a few votes for Manager of the Year. And those of us who wrote him off would eat monstrous chunks of humble pie.
Sure, the facile thing to do is vote for Dave Roberts - who won it in 2016 - for leading the talent-drenched Dodgers to the best record in the NL. It's tough to imagine Atlanta manager Brian Snitker, bagging the award when he won it last year, or Joe Maddon, who seems to win one every year. But both rosters are laughably better than that of the Mets, despite Brodie Van Wagenen's assertion that his was the team to beat in the AL East. Speaking of the Mets GM, for all his flair and moonlit optimism, Van Wagenen hasn't exactly stunned us with his personnel acumen. From Cano to Diaz to Jed Lowrie to Jeurys Familia, there's been a small army of underperforming players on BVW's brief bio running the club.
So say the Mets (61-57) finish their final 44 games with a 27-17 record. That would give them 89 wins and a real shot at a wild card spot. Only the Brewers, Cardinals, and Nationals are in front of the Mets for the two playoff slots, none of them more than two games ahead in the standings.
If you assume the Manager of the Year award only goes to those whose teams moonwalk to the best record in baseball, consider that since 1983 the award has been given to nine skippers who managed all 162 games and won fewer than 90 games. Joe Girardi, for instance, got the award in 2006, with 78 wins. Tony Pena got it in 2003, with 83 wins.
Even with all the time and tumult left in the baseball season, the Mets are not playoff chalk. They have the toughest schedule among the clubs pining for a wild card berth, and the rest of August will be brutal. So the last 25 games have hardly been a coronation. But if we closed the book on Mickey Callaway in June, he's earned the right to keep his job, and maybe win some hardware, between now and October.