Terry Francona knows all about a rough first year as a manager, considering he had it worse back in 1997 in Philadelphia than his friend, Mickey Callaway, did with the Mets last season.
Francona, who came into that year “naïve” by his own admission, piloted the Phillies to a 68-94 record in his inaugural season on the bench. He’s since gone on to become one of baseball’s most successful and respected skippers, winning two World Series with Boston and winning the last three American League Central titles in Cleveland.
Asked to assess the rookie season of his former pitching coach – Callaway guided the Mets to a 77-85 record in 2018 – Francona said, “I think he’s incredibly talented and confident in what he’s doing.
“And, sometimes in baseball, the won-loss record doesn’t quite match maybe the job a guy did behind the scenes or things like that.
“I think sometimes you have to give a guy a little bit of time, let him settle into who he is and what he wants to do and then you’ll find out how good they are.”
Francona, who was Callaway’s boss when Callaway was the Indians’ pitching coach from 2013-17, spoke on a conference call in advance of the inaugural Diamond Resorts Tournament of Champions Golf Tournament in the Orlando area. Francona and Hall of Famer John Smoltz are among the celebrity participants in the event, which takes place from Jan. 17-20.
Callaway, 43, was hired as the Mets’ 21st manager before last season. The Mets started 11-1 in 2018, but injuries and a sometimes-thin roster contributed to the Mets’ slide to fourth-place in the National League East.
Callaway had his own struggles, too, including the debacle in Cincinnati when the Mets batted out of order. On two occasions, he brought in relievers before an opponent’s pinch-hitter was announced, a strategy no-no, and he also had to get used to the puzzle of bullpen usage.
Still, the Mets were 38-30 (.559) in the second half and had a hot September, going 18-10 (.643).
Francona’s rough first season helped him gain a deeper understanding of the job.
“Anybody who loses (94) games in Philadelphia can tell you it’s not a whole lot of fun,” he said.
Callaway’s 85-loss season probably gives the Mets’ manager a similar feeling, and there was speculation that Callaway’s job might be in jeopardy by the end of last season, though he obviously kept the gig.
Francona grew from his difficult first season. He believes Callaway is headed for good things as a manager, too.
“I know talking to some of the younger guys who worked for the Mets, how energized they were just being around him and his personality,” Francona said. “It’s kind of infectious.”
Then, Francona echoed something he said after the Mets initially hired his old pitching coach: “He’s going to be a star, whatever he sets out to do.”