For the most part, Mets fans were ecstatic about the team hiring Mickey Callaway. That went double after that upbeat press conference where Callaway both promised he would love his players, and they would be the most durable and well-prepared players in the Major Leagues.
There are plenty of reasons to like the move. The Mets hired someone who worked with Terry Francona, who is a future Hall of Famer. The team found someone who has shown the ability not just to comprehend analytics, but also to translate them to pitchers in a way that helps them improve. He’s a new and fresh voice that the team has not had in quite some time. People around baseball seemed to just love the decision of the Mets hiring the second most coveted managerial candidate behind Alex Cora.
These are all well and good reasons to get excited about the hire. There are presumably many more. However, the biggest reason to get excited about the hire is a pitching coach like Callaway chose to manage this Mets team.
That is of no small significance. After the 2015 season, many believed the Mets were going to be a perennial postseason team. Certainly, if things broke the Mets way, they could very well have become a dynastic team, at the very least in the mold of the 1980s Mets teams that were in contention each and every season. However, instead of things breaking the Mets way, the team mostly broke down.
Matt Harvey had to have surgery to alleviate the effects of his TOS, and he followed that up with trying to pitch with an atrophied muscle in his pitching shoulder. Zack Wheeler missed two seasons due to a torn UCL and complications from his Tommy John surgery, and he found himself missing the final two and a half months of the season with a stress reaction. Noah Syndergaard had a torn lat. Jeurys Familia had blod clots removed from his pitching shoulder. Steven Matz had another injury riddled season with him having to have season ending surgery to reposition the ulnar nerve. That was the surgery Jacob deGrom had last season. Speaking of deGrom, he really was the only healthy Mets pitcher during the entire 2017 season.
The pitching behind the injured starters wasn’t pretty. Rafael Montero continued to be an enigma. Chris Flexen showed he wasn’t ready to pitch at the Major League level. Robert Gsellman had his own injury, and he regressed quite severly after a really promising September in 2016. Seth Lugo had come back from his own injury issues, and upon his return, he struggled to get through the lineup three times.
Add to that Hansel Robles being Hansel Robles, and Josh Smoker failing to emerge as that late inning reliever his stuff promised he could be, and the Mets lack of Major League ready starting pitching talent in the minors, and you wonder why anyone would want to become the Mets pitching coach, let alone a manager whose strength is his work with a pitching staff.
Make no mistake, Callaway had to have liked what he saw with this team. Maybe it’s an arrogance any manager or coach has thinking they will be the one to turn things around. Maybe, it was his work with injury prone pitchers like Carlos Carrasco that made him believe he could definitely make things work. Whatever it is, the pitching guru that Callaway is purported to be liked what he sees with the Mets enough to potentially put his reputations and maybe his managerial future on a staff that some believed had fallen apart beyond repair.
Certainly, Callaway would have had other opportunities to accept a managerial position whether it was this year with an up and coming team like the Phillies, or next year when there would be more openings available. Instead, he chose to resurrect what was once a great Mets pitching staff. In part, he chose to do this because he believes in this talent, and he believes he is the man to do it.
That more than anything else is the biggest reason to be excited about this hire, and it is a reason to get excited about the 2018 season.
Current Position: Mariners Third Base Coach
Age: 1/11/1969 (48)
MLB Managerial Experience: 2007 – 2009 Washington Nationals 158 – 252 (.385); 2010 – 2012 Cleveland Indians 214-266 (.480)
One of the most respected coaches on Willie Randolph‘s staff was noticeably missing during the 2007 and 2008 collapses that doomed not just the Mets, but also Randolph. The person missing was third base coach Manny Acta.
Much like we saw with Alex Cora this season, Acta was a hot commodity back then because he was widely considered the next big manager. Acta was respected for his intelligence, baseball acumen, and his ability to communicate with players. That went double for young and Hispanic players. In fact, the Washington Nationals said of Acta, “Manny is so intelligent, and so articulate. And he’s very good with players. He’s very active. He was out there hitting fungos (while managing the Nationals). He has a lot going for him.” (Sports Illustrated). That’s a remarkable thing to say about a manager. It’s all the more incredible when you consider that was said when they fired him.
Because Acta is well respected and because people believe he’s an intelligent man who continues to educate himself, he keeps getting jobs. After failing with the Nationals, he was hired by the Indians. After failing with the Indians, he was hired by Baseball Tonight. After a well received Baseball Tonight stint, he was hired by the Mariners to serve as their third base coach, a position which he holds today.
Considering how well respected he is, it makes you question why he never worked out as a manager. For starters, he’s never really had good teams. When we thing of the current Nationals who are one of the best teams in baseball, you think of Stephen Strasburg, Max Scherzer, Bryce Harper, Anthony Rendon, and Ryan Zimmerman. In his Nationals tenure, Acta only got to manage a young Zimmerman.
In Cleveland, he had a difficult situation with the old players getting old fast, and the young players not being quite ready. Players like Johnny Damon and Derek Lowe were hanging on while Jason Kipnis and Corey Kluber weren’t what they are now. As many will note, even the best of managers cannot win without talent.
But with Acta, it might have been more than just a lack of talent. In a MASN article, Acta was described as being unable to relate to players. As bad as that might be, an AP article was even more damning of Acta as a manager with Indians players feeling as if Acta did not have their back. There were other reports suggesting Acta was rigid in his ways, and that he was unable to motivate his players. Put another way, Acta’s greatest weakness as manager might be his ability to handle a clubhouse.
What the Players Say:
Joe Smith: “Our team, for whatever reason, didn’t seem motivated to play. It’s sad when you say that about a bunch of guys that get paid to play a game. You shouldn’t need somebody else to motivate you to play this game. At the end of the day, it’s on us, but when it came that time to motivate us, there wasn’t a whole lot of it there.” (MLB.com)
Josh Tomlin: “He said that’s how he managed, that’s how he won in the Minor Leagues and that’s how he was going to win in the big leagues — by being himself. You have to respect a man for that, that he wasn’t going to change who he was.”
It is interesting to see Mike Puma’s recent New York Post article on the subject of Acta’s candidacy. Ultimately, it highlighted the best points of Acta that leads to teams continuously trying to bring him into their organization. However, that same piece highlighted his weaknesses, notably his inability to “handle controversy.”
What we don’t know from with Acta is if he’s grown from the issues that held back his career in Washington and Cleveland. If he hasn’t then hiring him should prove to be a disaster much in the same way hiring Art Howe or Jeff Torborg was. The Puma article does little to quell those concerns.
However, if Acta has grown and has learned from his mistakes in the clubhouse like we have see from Terry Collins during his Mets managerial career, you will have a smart baseball person who is hard working. In life, you can never go wrong with smart and hard working.
Ultimately, any decision on Acta should begin with long and honest conversations with David Wright and Asdrubal Cabrera. Both are veterans who Acta has coached/managed. If both endorse Acta, it’s possible he’s the right man for the job. That goes double when you consider most of the praise directed at Acta comes from front offices and not players. If Acta doesn’t receive glowing endorsements from Wright or Cabrera, it should be an easy decision to look in a different direction.
Editor’s Note: this was first published on MMO
Recent reports indicate Robin Ventura and Brad Ausmus are not interested in the Mets managerial job. For Ventura’s part, it seems he’s just not interested in managing again. With respect to Ausmus, he’s interested in managing again, but he doesn’t want the Mets job. Ausmus is interested in the Red Sox job.
There are also reports other managers with managerial experience were out of the running as well. Specifically, Bob Geren and Chip Hale will not be reuniting with the Mets. Both were assumed to be well respected by the organization, but for unspecified reasons, neither is a candidate for the Mets managerial opening. With respect to these two, it should be noted, it was not known if they took themselves out of the running, or the Mets decided to go in another direction.
Really, the only manager with prior experience who is a candidate for the job is Manny Acta, who due to poor stints in Washington and Cleveland, probably won’t be a candidate for many managerial positions. Unless Acta gets the job, the Mets are going to hire a first time manager, and the top managerial candidate on the market, Alex Cora, appears destined to go to the Red Sox.
It really makes you question why there isn’t greater interest in the Mets managerial position? There may be a number of viable reasons why, but let’s not overlook the fact the Mets managerial position is somewhat of a dead-end job.
Since the Wilpons assumed team control in 2003, the team has gone through four managers. That’s five if you include Bobby Valentine who was fired after the 2002 season. Of those five managers, Valentine was the only one who would ever get another managerial job, and that was only after he first went to Japan, worked as an analyst on Baseball Tonight, and got the opportunity from a Red Sox ownership group eager to hire him. Otherwise, Valentine likely never gets another job.
There are several reasons why these managers never got another job. With respect to Terry Collins, he will turn 69 early in the 2018 season, and there were rumors before the announcement the Mets were reassigning him in the organization, Collins was going to retire anyway. Still, that didn’t prevent the Mets from trashing him on the way out.
It’s quite possible the scathing analysis of Collins as detailed in Marc Carig’s Newsday article was the Mets masterpiece. It may well be the result of all the practice they’ve had.
In a New York Daily News feature after it was announced Art Howe would finish out the season before being fired, Howe was characterized as soft, uninspiring, weak, and lacking credibility with players.
His replacement, Willie Randolph, was treated just as poorly on the way out. In addition to being fired after winning the first game of a West Coast trip, the Mets would again go to assassinate their manager’s character. As detailed by Bill Maddon of the New York Daily News, the Mets let it be known they had their reservations about even hiring Randolph and insisted the team won in spite of him. As if that wasn’t enough, the report stated the team believed Randolph, “lacked fire; the players, especially the Latino players, had tuned him out; he was too sensitive to criticism; he was overly defensive; he didn’t communicate with his coaches.”
Yes, there were other reasons why Randolph never got another job, but in the end, the character assassination levied upon him was a great disservice, and it played an important role in his never getting another job. Same went for Valentine and Howe.
Knowing how the Mets handle the firings of their managers, and knowing how their managers never get another job, why would a top candidate ever consider taking this job?
When the Mets collapsed in 2007 and 2008, one person that was conspicuously absent was third base coach Manny Acta. In his time serving that role with the Mets, he had become known as an intelligent forward thinking baseball man, who showed an ability to connect with the players on the team.
Those traits led to Acta being a hot managerial candidate that offseason not too dissimilar to what we see with Alex Cora right now. Coincidentally, many of the positive things said about Cora now were said about Acta after the 2006 season.
Acta would get hired after the 2006 season as the Nationals manager. This would begin an interesting six year managerial career split between the Nationals and the Indians. He would have go 158-252 (.385) with the Nationals, and 214-266 (.446) with the Indians.
One of the reasons for the struggles with the Nationals was talent. The team had just parted ways with talented players including Alfonso Soriano. Of the famed group of Nationals who are part of the core of the current Nationals team that won multiple division titles, he would only get to manage Ryan Zimmerman.
It was a similar issue with the Indians. It was a team in transition after Cliff Lee was traded mid-season the year prior to his arrival. Acta would lead the team to a surprise second place finish in 2011 increasing expectations for 2012. That team had underperforming veterans like Derek Lowe, Ubaldo Jimenez, Casey Kotchman, and Johnny Damon didn’t produce, and young players like Corey Kluber, Cody Allen, and Jason Kipnis who were not quite ready.
Overall, Acta was well considered in baseball circles. Its why when he was fired by the Nationals they said, “Manny is so intelligent, and so articulate. And he’s very good with players. He’s very active. He was out there hitting fungos (while managing the Nationals). He has a lot going for him.” (Sports Illustrated).
It’s why Acta only had to wait a season between managerial jobs. That is the case when he has two top five Manager of the Year finishes under his belt. After his managerial stint was over, Acta was hired by ESPN where he would work for Baseball Tonight. For the past two seasons, he served as the Mariners third base coach. When he was hired, Mariners manger Scott Servais said, “I believe Manny will be a great addition to our staff. I’ve known him for over 25 years, since we were teammates in 1989. His experience as a Major League third-base coach and manager, paired with his extensive player-development background, will be very valuable to me, and to our players, as we move forward.” (MLB.com).
Between his tenure with the Nationals and the Indians, we began to get a picture of who Acta was as a manager. Generally speaking, he was seen as a smart baseball man who had an analytical approach to the game. Whereas some managers use instincts and a gunslinger mentality, Acta was a tactician who relied on the data. For many, this would invoke comparisons to Joe Girardi, which depending on your point of view, could be seen as a positive or a negative.
In terms of the clubhouse, Acta had a mixed reputation like many managers do. For one player, he was seen as someone who didn’t keep a tight reign on this players. For others, he was a manager who respected the veterans and let them control the clubhouse. For many, this would invoke comparisons to Terry Collins, which again depending on your view, could be seen as a positive or a negative.
Really, throughout his two tenures as manger, the only real pure negative thing anyone had to say about him was he was a poor motivator, and he was rigid in his ways. As then Indians pitcher Josh Tomlin said of Acta, “He said that’s how he managed, that’s how he won in the Minor Leagues and that’s how he was going to win in the big leagues — by being himself. You have to respect a man for that, that he wasn’t going to change who he was.” (MLB.com).
As for his ability to motivate Joe Smith said, “Our team, for whatever reason, didn’t seem motivated to play. It’s sad when you say that about a bunch of guys that get paid to play a game. You shouldn’t need somebody else to motivate you to play this game. At the end of the day, it’s on us, but when it came that time to motivate us, there wasn’t a whole lot of it there.”
Overall, Acta is well considered to be a good and smart baseball man. It is why he continues to get jobs. It is also why you do see a positive impact on whatever team he joins. Still, between his record and the specific criticism of being rigid in how he manages and his inability to motive, you do question if he’s well suited to be a manager.” Then again, those things only to be raised as issues when someone is fired.
In the end, we still probably don’t know what Acta is as a manager because he’s never quite had sufficient talent to manage. Considering the current composition of the Mets roster, this would make Acta a risky bet for this Mets team. Then again, so would Cora or anyone else the Mets are considering.
When determining which team to root for this postseason, the general rule of thumb is to root against the Mets rivals. With the Mets making a number of trades this season, you could also root for teams according to their Mets connections:
East – Boston Red Sox
Assistant Pitching Coach – Brian Bannister (2006)
Bannister made the Mets out if Spring Training in 2006. His tenure was short lived as he injured his hamstring, and Omar Minaya rebuilt the rotation in-season pushing a healthy Bannister out. He’d be moved that offseason in an ill-fated trade for Ambiorix Burgos.
RHP Blaine Boyer (2011)
Boyer pitched just five games for the Mets before leaving via free agency. He would not pitch in the majors again until 2014.
RHP Addison Reed (2015 – 2017)
Acquired on the eve of September, Reed quickly became an important seventh inning reliever on the Mets pennant winning team. He was even better the next season helping pitch the Mets back to the postseason. With Jeurys Familia‘s suspension and injury, Reed became an effective closer before being traded for a trio of Red Sox relief prospects at the trade deadline.
OF Chris Young (2014)
After a few down years, the Mets took a one year gamble on Young. He struggled all year, and he was released with the Mets eight games under .500 and 10.5 games back in the division. Since that time, Young has been a much more effective player.
Central – Cleveland Indians
First Base Coach Sandy Alomar, Jr. (2007 – 2009)
Alomar ended his playing career playing eight games with the Mets in 2007. He would then begin his coaching career with the Mets serving two years as a special catching instructor.
RF Jay Bruce (2016-2017)
Bruce went from bust who struggled mightily after being acquired at the trade deadline last year to fan favorite this year. Fortunately for the Indians, Bruce wouldn’t repeat his struggles helping propel the Indians to 102 wins.
RHP Joe Smith (2007 – 2008)
Smith went straight from being a third round draft pick in 2006 to being a very good reliever for the Mets in two seasons. Ironically, he moved as part the three team J.J. Putz trade intended to improve the Mets bullpen.
West – Houston Astros
DH Carlos Beltran (2005 – 2011)
Seeing him in the postseason again will certainly evoke memories of Adam Wainwright, but he was so much more than that in a Mets uniform. Beltran was the best center fielder in Mets history and perhaps their best outfielder ever.
C Juan Ceteno (2013 – 2014)
Ceteno is a strong defensive catcher who played just 14 games over two years before he was claimed off waivers by the Milwaukee Brewers.
Bench Coach Alex Cora (2009 – 2010)
Cora joined the Mets in the hopes of being an important utility player on a playoff caliber team. Unfortunately, injuries and a ballpark ill-suited for the talents of the players on the roster brought that run to an end.
Hitting Coach Dave Hudgens (2011 – 2014)
Hudgens was the Mets hitting coach who was entrusted with helping the Mets adapt to a new ballpark. While he was much embattled in the position, Mets offensive highlights during his tenure included Ike Davis hitting 30 homers and the last great season from David Wright.
Pitching Coach Brent Strom (1972)
Strom was the Mets 1970 first round draft pick. He appeared in just one season with the team going 0-3 with a 6.82 ERA and a 1.615 WHIP.
Third Base Coach Gary Pettis (2003 – 2004)
Pettis served as the first base and outfield coach during the Art Howe Era.
Wild Card – New York Yankees
RHP Luis Cessa
Cessa was the other pitching prospect the Mets sent to the Tigers in the Yoenis Cespedes trade.
Wild Card – Minnesota Twins
Pitching Coach Neil Allen (1979 – 1983)
While Allen had a noteworthy Mets career of his own, he will forever be known as one of the two players traded by the Mets in exchange for Keith Hernandez.
RHP Bartolo Colon (2014 – 2016)
“Big Sexy” became a fan favorite and a mentor to the young pitchers in the clubhouse. There are a number of highlights you can choose from his Mets career, but the one that keeps coming to mind was the unbelievable home run he hit in San Diego last year.
RHP Dillon Gee (2010 – 2015)
Gee is an example of a pitcher who has gotten everything out of his ability. He has been resilient overcoming a number of injuries in his career with his career highlight possibly being his named the Mets 2014 Opening Day starter.
East – Washington Nationals
OF Alejandro De Aza (2016)
De Aza had an interesting year with the Mets. He was terrible to begin the year, and he then had a great July helping propel the Mets second half run to the Wild Card.
Pitching Coach Mike Maddux (1993 – 1994)
Maddux pitched two years for the Mets pitching to a 4.16 ERA as a reliever before departing via free agency.
2B Daniel Murphy (2008 – 2015)
Somehow Murphy has become one of the most divisive players among the Mets fanbase. Many still fondly remember his for his time witht he Mets, especially his incredible NLDS and NLCS propelling the Mets to the pennant. Others see a player who annihilates the Mets since leaving the team.
LHP Oliver Perez (2006 – 2010)
Believe it or not, there was a time where Perez was beloved for his Game 7 performance and his start the final game of the 2008 season. He then fell off a cliff upon receiving a huge contract. Things got so bad, he refused a minor league assignment, and his last appearance as a Met would be the team throwing him into the 14th inning on the last game of the season just to get the game over with.
Central – Cubs
Quality Control Coach Henry Blanco (2010)
“Hank White” was brought on as a defensive back-up, and he excelled in the role throwing out 50% of base stealers.
C Rene Rivera (2016 – 2017)
Rivera was a defensive specialist who helped Noah Syndergaard overcome his issues holding on base runners. It was more than Syndergaard, Rivera served as a mentor for young starters Seth Lugo and Robert Gsellman who helped pitch the Mets to the Wild Card.
West – Dodgers
Bench Coach Bob Geren (2012 – 2015)
Geren served as the bench coach for the Mets serving as a mentor for the Mets catchers. Since his departure, we have seen Mets catchers regress in their pitch framing, and we have certainly seen Travis d’Arnaud regress in nearly every aspect of his game.
OF Curtis Granderson (2014 – 2017)
Granderson is one of the finest men to ever put on a Mets uniform. He also came up biggest when the Mets needed him most. Granderson kept the Mets afloat in 2015, and if not for some blown leads, he was in line to be the MVP of that series. His big outburst to end the 2016 season helped lead the Mets back to the postseason.
3B Justin Turner (2010 – 2013)
Turner was an effective utility player in his years with the Mets who was really non-tendered because he was arbitration eligible. Turner would find himself a home in Los Angeles where he has become a terrific player.
Third Base Coach Chris Woodward (2005 – 2006)
Woodward was a valuable utility player for the Mets for two seasons having the second best season of his entire career in 2005.
Wild Card – Diamondbacks
RHP Matt Koch (2012 – 2015)
Koch was one of the two minor league pitchers traded by the Mets for Addison Reed. While Koch is on the 40 man roster, it is not expected he will be on the postseason roster.
Wild Card – Rockies
Based on the sheer volume of Mets affiliations, it would appear Mets fans would be pulling for the Astros in the American League and either the Nationals or Dodgers in the National League. Considering the presence of Chase Utley on the Dodgers and the recent rivalry with the Nationals, most Mets fans will understandably choose rooting interests for different reasons all together.