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Mendoza Finding His Own Way Mets History Of Rookie Managers

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This past November, the Mets named Carlos Mendoza their newest manager, the 24th in team history. Eleven out of those 24 were first-time managers, including their winningest manager to date, Davey Johnson. Forty years ago, Johnson debuted with a Mets team on the rise. While Mendoza is looking to replicate Johnson’s success, his approach seems to be a bit different.

Even before his first Opening Day, Mendoza has had to deal with some challenges: his roster is comprised of players who mostly underperformed last year, if they even played in the majors; his ace pitcher will be out for at least the first month; one of his best hitters has had to take a break from swinging a bat for a couple weeks; his star closer hasn’t thrown a major league pitch since October 2022; there’s been more talk about his cleanup hitter’s 2025 destination than his 2024 projections. For Mets fans, it’s par for the course. For a rookie manager, this could seem overwhelming. 

Surely, Mendoza understood what he was stepping into when he signed on for the role. Until the regular season begins, there’s no statistical method for evaluating a manager’s performance. Instead, fans, the media, and the team itself, will just have to rely on their eyes and ears. As American political strategist Lee Atwater said, “perception is reality.” Until the Mets play a game, Mendoza can only be judged on how he handles Spring Training challenges. So far, so good. 

When Davey Johnson began his Mets managerial tenure, he immediate gave off an air of self-confidence, bordering on arrogance. Or possibly an air of arrogance bordering on self-confidence. About 20 years later, first-time manager Willie Randolph came to the Mets with a somewhat different relationship with the media. Even though he was new to managing, Randolph was certainly not new to New York. He had been a player or coach for the Yankees and Mets (mostly the Yankees) for a combined 24 years, so his often surly, somewhat standoffish take did not come from nowhere. Early success made it seem like he was hyper-focused. Once things started turning for the Mets, Randolph turned on the media (including the Mets own TV announcers), and the media reciprocated.

More recently, Mickey Callaway, another rookie manager, tried to find his own methods. Callaway’s generally friendly interactions lacked genuineness, and he was often called out for this. Then, early in the summer of 2019, Callaway unleashed his frustrations with an expletive-filled response to a reporter’s question. At that time, many felt these were his true colors finally showing. Of course, Callaway’s even truer, and uglier, colors, came out years later when five women in sports mediaaccused him of lewd behavior. 

So far, Carlos Mendoza is reminiscent of the Mets most recent rookie manager, Luis Rojas. Rojas was 38-year-old when he took over the team in 2020, and at times his inexperience showed. Still, while he may not have been entirely ready to manage in the big leagues, he did handle himself like an old pro. When the Mets decided not to pick up his option after a frustrating 2021 season, it seemed to happen without hard feelings. Throughout his brief tenure with the Mets, Rojas conducted himself with a straightforward, honest-seeming, friendly enough personality, that he was a somewhat sympathetic character in the franchise’s mess. He didn’t point fingers, even though the team’s issues weren’t his fault. Still, he lacked the experience to fix them.

So now Carlos Mendoza is the eleventh newest rookie manager in the Mets 60+ year history. He has plenty of other managers to learn from, including his time in the Yankees system. So far, he’s presented himself as confident, humble, and smart, and by all accounts, he seems well-liked by his players. It’s also barely the top of the first inning of his managerial career. Of the ten previous Mets first-time managers, only four have managed another team after leaving the Mets (Wes Westrum, Salty Parker, Joe Torre, and Davey Johnson). Of course, Mendoza isn’t thinking about his next opportunity, he’s just aiming on seizing this one. On a team that will likely have a lot of “new” this year, Mendoza might just be the most important, and the Mets are hoping he sticks around for a long time.

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