Too often at these gatherings, we look for the wrong things. We want these coaches and managers to “win the press conference” because that, for some reason, reassures us that they’re up for the job.
Tell a funny joke, spin an interesting yarn?
You’ll have us from hello.
Mickey Callaway didn’t win the press conference Monday afternoon at Citi Field. Oh, he expressed the proper amount of enthusiasm, of course, and he gave a shout-out to Mets fans, and he thanked his wife and his parents and his professional benefactor, Terry Francona. He told a Casey Stengel story that didn’t really have a punch line.
In many ways, it seemed like a group version of what his job interview was probably like. He’s clearly smart. He’s clearly personable. He clutched a manila envelope containing his talking points and he never let go. He refused to make any cheap declarations, opting instead for pleasant platitudes.
“We’re going to care more about these players than anyone ever has,” he declared at one point, which sounded nice, and also made you wonder if the 2017 Mets had been dressing out of a halfway house and not a clubhouse all year.
But you know something?
That’s actually exactly the tone that was needed here. Mets fans are too weary from the last year, and generally too wise in the fickle ways of the baseball world, to be seduced by some huckster spewing promises. Better to be more Henry Hill the Goodfella, telling hard truths, then Harold Hill the Music Man, selling a bill of goods.
In the end, nothing Callaway could have said Tuesday will amount to much next April, the next time the Mets congregate for real at Citi Field, trying to make right a 2017 season that went all wrong right from the start. Being glib and pithy Tuesday wouldn’t have helped the first time he comes close to nuking the bullpen next spring.
“I see a team that can contend and compete with anybody,” Callaway said at one point, the closest he would ever come to making a declaration. And let’s face it: That one isn’t going on a bumper sticker anytime soon.
Sandy Alderson, the man who made this hire, called it a “recalibration,” and he called his new manager a “contemporary thinker,” and there was nothing we saw Tuesday that would contradict that scouting report.
Alderson has been at this a long time. He has made some excellent managerial hires in his day. He hired Tony La Russa in Oakland. He hired Bud Black in San Diego. He also hired Steve Boros in Oakland, proof there are no magic formulas.
(After all, kill Phil Jackson all you want (and we have): In one three-week period early in his tenure with the Knicks, he identified — and offered — two coaches without prior experience as having almost identical skill sets necessary to be a successful coach. On one, Steve Kerr, he couldn’t have been more right. On one, Derek Fisher, he couldn’t have been more wrong. Unfortunately for Jackson, Kerr said no, and Fisher said yes.)
So Mickey Callaway slipped into a No. 36 jersey, worn most famously by Jerry Koosman and most recently by Sean Gilmartin, saying with a shrug: “I didn’t want to take a player’s number away from him, and 36 was available.” He spoke eagerly of crafting a coaching staff. He spoke anxiously of reaching out to his players (though, no surprise, he’d already heard from David Wright).
Mostly — and most properly — he made no guarantees. He made no promises. He made no declarations. He didn’t care about winning the press conference, and that tells you he understands where his priorities ought to be. Being quick with a phrase today won’t make him light on his feet in the eighth inning come spring. That’s when we’ll see what we have in this contemporary thinker. That’s when Mets Twitter will fry and fillet him — or go the other way.
That’s when the only winning — and losing — that really matters will happen. On the field. Not in a press conference room, finger foods and soft drinks off to the side.