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Mickey Callaway unafraid to experiment, change culture with Mets


Mickey Callaway recently bought several copies of "Legacy," the book that explains the success of the legendary All Blacks rugby team in New Zealand, and sent them to members of his Mets' coaching staff.

To all of his players, meanwhile, he has sent questionnaires asking them what they expect from teammates in the clubhouse in terms of trust and leadership, and the new manager intends to draw up a consensus of the answers to be read aloud in front of the entire team in spring training.

With spring training a couple of weeks away, Callaway isn't as concerned with who will hit leadoff at the moment as he is about establishing a culture of accountability that he believes is crucial to winning.

"Everything starts with culture," was the way Callaway put it.

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The manager is in town for a couple of days this week, and on Tuesday he held what was largely an informal session with some New York columnists.

For me, it was the second time I've sat down with him, and as I wrote in November, Callaway is more impressive in these settings than he was at his introductory press conference, where his enthusiasm for how much he is going to care for his players created the impression he would go out of his way to pamper them.


Mickey Callaway is looking to shake things up with the Mets, both in the clubhouse and in how he manages his pitchers.

(Kathy Willens/AP)

To the contrary, Callaway on Tuesday said he's all about accountability, which he says starts with building those caring relationships with individual players so that he can be tough on them and still have their trust.

"I'm not here to tell them everything is OK when they make mistakes," he said. "I will hold them accountable, but what's more important is that they hold each other accountable and they buy in to a culture of winning."

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That culture is at the root of Callaway's potentially controversial bullpen plan, as he continues to say that he won't have a designated closer, and instead will mix and match four primary relievers, Jeurys Familia, A.J. Ramos, Jerry Blevins, and Anthony Swarzak, in the late innings.

So while Familia is the obvious choice as closer, based on the success he had in 2015 and '16, before needing surgery for an arterial blood clot in his shoulder last season, the new manager made a point of saying there will be nights when Familia will pitch in the seventh inning if the situation calls for it.

Callaway said such decisions will be based on pre-game study of potential matchups, as well as which pitchers are freshest. And if the hitters with whom Familia matches up best are coming up in the seventh inning of a close game, he'll know to be ready mentally for an early call.

"All of those guys will know before every game how they might be used that night," the manager said.

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Jeurys Familia could find himself often pitching in non-save situations.

Jeurys Familia could find himself often pitching in non-save situations.

(John Minchillo/AP)

In theory it sounds great, and Callaway saw it work, to some degree, as pitching coach with the Indians, especially in the 2016 postseason, when Andrew Miller was used as early as the fifth inning, and closer Cody Allen occasionally pitched in a set-up role.

Doing it over 162 games is much trickier, and Callaway isn't naïve about it. For one thing, he said he wouldn't be surprised if Familia wound up with the most saves, and while it's easier to implement such a plan in an era where set-up relievers are earning big money, he acknowledged that there is an ego among relievers about being the closer.

In fact, the manager said only in a "utopia" would everyone buy in to the idea that nobody cares when they pitch. But he seems convinced he can make it work and keep unhappiness to a minimum by getting the relievers to understand he'll use them in a way that gives the Mets the best opportunity to win every night.

I'm not sure it's realistic, and I have a feeling at some point Familia will officially become the closer, but I don't blame Callaway for wanting to try this.

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He was hired at least partly for his expertise in all matters pitching, and the Mets are counting on him to get the most out of the relievers as well as the starters.

If he's unafraid to try things, well, good for him. For Callaway, remember, it all comes back to creating the right culture, and apparently that was a huge selling point with management as well.

Mickey Callaway's emphasis on building a winning culture is important after anonymous players complained about Terry Collins and a lack of leadership in 2017.

(Derik Hamilton/AP)

In fact, the new manager said Tuesday that most of his five-plus hours of interviewing for the job with GM Sandy Alderson and owner Jeff Wilpon were spent talking culture and leadership, as opposed to on-the-field baseball matters.

On the Mets' part, some of that may have been a reaction to the way things ended last season, with players anonymously complaining about Terry Collins and a perceived lack of leadership in the clubhouse.

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For Callaway, it's simply what he believes in most, a point he wanted to drive home with the "Legacy" book, which explains how important culture is to the success of the All Blacks rugby team.

On Tuesday, the manager was describing some of the details of how that team built its culture, when he finally summed it up by saying, "Basically it's all designed to weed out the (bad guys)."

Let the Callaway culture-building begin.