NEW YORK — The similarities between Aaron Boone and Mickey Callaway are easily identified.
Both are former players turned beginner managers, both are trying to make it in New York. In April, their jobs were more or less the same: connect and contend. The Yankees brought Boone in to replace a grizzled Joe Girardi despite falling one game shy of the World Series; Callaway took the reigns from Terry Collins with the Mets still hopeful that their window had not yet closed.
The Yankees, presumed juggernauts entering the season, began the Boone era on a pedestrian 9-9 note. On the other side of the East River, Callaway and the Mets started off 12-2 after being pegged as fringe wild card contenders. The two men faced entirely opposite welcomes to the Big Apple as both of their fanbases overreacted and the media weighed in.
“I don’t deal with the second-guessing,” Boone said, standing firm after a debatable move in an early-April loss. “I don’t pay attention to it. We’re prepared, my coaches and I. We feel good about the decisions we make. We feel good about the decisions we have made.”
FAGAN: The greatest pitching performance you’ve never heard of
Fast forward to late July and Boone’s words are now backed up by results as another Subway Series comes to a temporary close. He and Callaway still remain on opposite ends of the spectrum, only they’ve flip-flopped positions.
Few newbie skippers have had the talent that Boone has to work with, a team capable of masking iffy decisions and in pursuit of upgrades as the trade deadline nears. The Yankees are the powerhouse that was expected, though they trail the Red Sox as another novice, Alex Cora, sits atop the AL East.
Callaway, meanwhile, now finds himself running a last-place ballclub that has already started to sell. While other rookie managers in his own division, Gabe Kapler and Dave Martinez, have experienced their fair share of bumps in the road, Callaway has endured the most pitfalls by far. It seems every loss or wrong decision is matched by an organizational blunder off the field (or on it). The Mets’ tailspin season has not been entirely Callaway’s fault, but he’s the one who has to own it.
“I realize I’m responsible for all of those decisions, so I try to have a really good process for making them; make sure that I’m basing that process on the right things,” Callaway told Sporting News. “When you do that, no matter what the result is, you can live a little better with the actual result in time. And then after I try to evaluate the process, try to evaluate the decision and see I if could have done something better.”
Callaway, depicted as a pitching guru with an analytical mind and a personal touch when he was first hired, has come to pride himself in being a learner as the season has gone on. In a season filled with mistakes, he hasn’t had much choice. Even with the Mets in the NL East basement, though, his players see him as a “calming presence.”
“He’s even-keel. Obviously, the season hasn’t gone the way it started out, the way we wanted it to, but he’s been the same guy throughout the whole process,” Michael Conforto told Sporting News. “He keeps his cool. It doesn’t seem like there’s any panic.”
“Whether we’re winning or losing, he’s the same guy, which is nice,” Jacob deGrom added. “He’s upbeat, positive.”
The contrasting circumstances couldn’t be clearer between Callaway and Boone, yet they still have much in common.
Boone, transitioning from the broadcast booth, came with a similar laid-back reputation. Described as “calm, cool and collected” but with a “fire” for winning by Brett Gardner, Boone has made his mark as a communicator in the Yankees’ clubhouse.
“He’s good with letting guys know the situation and what he expects out of them. It makes it easy for guys to go out and execute,” CC Sabathia, who’s known Boone since their playing days in Cleveland, told Sporting News. “He’s always been the same and that’s why I knew he’d be a good manager.”
While Yankees and Mets were hard-pressed to point out any drastic changes in their managers over the course of the season, the gig requires constant tinkering. Callaway called it a “daily learning process,” one that’s made him more receptive to change and new ideas. Boone agreed, saying, “That’s part of the job — that’s part of life — is being able to adjust, adapt, grow and learn.”
The biggest lesson Callaway has learned, though — one he would share with future rookie managers — is to not let the job change you too much.
“Stay consistent in who you are,” Callaway said. “You’re gonna go through ups and downs. The key to handling those is to be the same guy every day and not let it affect you emotionally.”