Mickey Callaway went 11-1 in his first 12 games as manager of the New York Mets. After that, nothing ever seemed to go smoothly for him again.
Following more than a year of near-constant speculation about his job security, Callaway was fired Thursday by the Mets after missing the playoffs in both his seasons at the helm.
The move came four days after New York wrapped up an 86-76 campaign that marked a nine-win improvement over his 2018 debut. But a strong second half wasn’t enough to save the embattled Callaway, who had one year remaining on his contract.
New York went 46-26 following the All-Star break and made an unlikely charge into the National League wild-card race, only to be eliminated during the final week.
“I feel unfulfilled. I feel we left some games on the field that we should have won, and we didn’t fulfill what we really had as a goal, which was get to the postseason,” chief operating officer Jeff Wilpon said on a 30-minute conference call with reporters. “We’re not playing October baseball, and that’s what it’s about.”
The Mets became the seventh team seeking a new manager this offseason, joining the Angels, Cubs, Giants, Padres, Pirates and Royals.
Joe Girardi, the former Yankees and Marlins skipper, and Houston Astros bench coach Joe Espada have been mentioned as potential replacements for Callaway.
While the persistent Mets certainly made strides this year, it’s no surprise general manager Brodie Van Wagenen wanted to make a change and bring in his own choice to manage the team. The 44-year-old Callaway was hired under previous GM Sandy Alderson and retained after Van Wagenen, a former player agent, took the job nearly a year ago.
With the Mets holding organizational meetings this week, Van Wagenen and Wilpon flew to Callaway’s hometown in Florida to meet with him in person Thursday morning and exchange thoughts.
After the meeting, they told Callaway of their decision to let him go and he was a “true gentleman,” Wilpon said.
“We want to thank Mickey for his consistent work ethic and dedication over the last two seasons and I’m certain these characteristics will serve him well in his next opportunity,” Van Wagenen said in a statement. “A decision like this is never easy, however, we believe it is in the best interest of the franchise at this time.”
A confident Van Wagenen, after upgrading the roster during his first offseason, challenged rivals in the competitive NL East to “come get us.” But the Mets finished third in the division behind Atlanta and Washington, left out of the postseason for a third year in a row.
It was a tumultuous tenure for Callaway in his first stint as a manager at any level. Several in-game decisions drew heavy criticism, the Mets batted out of order once in 2018, and he was fined by the club for cursing at a beat reporter during a June blowup at Wrigley Field in Chicago following a tough loss to the Cubs.
The next day, it took Callaway two news conferences to make a public apology.
“I think that we can all say that that was a tough learning experience for me. I can choose how I want to react to any situation and I chose poorly,” Callaway said last weekend. “That was not a good decision on my part.”
Some thought Callaway, who enjoyed an extremely successful run as Cleveland’s pitching coach under Terry Francona before joining the Mets, would (or should) be dismissed last offseason following such a rocky first year in New York.
He was kept on with several new coaches put in place to help, including bench coach Jim Riggleman — an experienced major league manager.
“I think that I’ve improved in all areas,” Callaway said Saturday. “I think that you learn from experience, first and foremost. Having new coaches in the dugout has definitely helped.”
With the Mets slumping in May and Callaway’s status in serious doubt, the team held a news conference and Van Wagenen announced Callaway would remain the manager for “the foreseeable future.”
As the Mets continued to struggle, however, pitching coach and Callaway pal Dave Eiland was fired and replaced by 82-year-old Phil Regan — part of a plan to restructure the pitching department that yielded positive results the rest of the way.
Van Wagenen again voiced support for Callaway later in the season, and ownership had stood behind him as well.
Mets ace Jacob deGrom flourished under Callaway and could win his second consecutive Cy Young Award next month. But the bullpen was problematic each of the past two seasons, and plenty of Callaway’s pitching maneuvers — not to mention other substitutions — came into question.
New York went 163-161 under Callaway. On the final day of the season, he said he’d been packing up his New York apartment since last week and planned to spend 19 hours driving home to Florida on Monday and Tuesday.
He said he’d had no in-depth discussions with the front office about his future yet but felt no anxiety either, because he “left everything on the field.”
“There’s conversations that I’ve had with players that I’d like to have another chance at, but I learned from them,” Callaway said the previous day. “There’s all kinds of things that you look back on and you try to self-reflect on and want to improve upon.”
NOTES: Van Wagenen said starting pitcher Noah Syndergaard and demoted closer Edwin Díaz will be back with the team next season. Both were thought to be possible trade candidates this offseason.
AP Baseball Writer Ronald Blum contributed to this report.
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