When the New York Mets hired Mickey Callaway to be their manager this week, I had one thought: Ubaldo Jimenez pitching in Queens.
Many of you – OK, all of you – have moved on from Jimenez now that the four-year, $50 million albatross of a contract around the Orioles’ proverbial neck has officially expired.
Jimenez won’t be coming back to the Orioles. His career with the club ends with a 32-42 record and a 5.22 ERA in nearly 600 mostly painful innings.
This isn’t the end of his baseball career, however. Jimenez has every intention of pitching in the majors in 2018. And I think he will.
Starting pitching is just too thin in the majors to ignore him – if Bartolo Colon can post an 8.14 ERA in 13 starts in the National League before his release in July and then get signed three days later by an eventual AL playoff team and make 15 more starts (posting a 5.18 ERA with the Minnesota Twins) at age 44, well, anything is possible.
Besides Jimenez isn’t 34 until January, is exceptionally durable and probably will command only a one-year, incentive-laden deal. Plus, one would imagine, there are people in baseball who think they can fix Jimenez, his wacky delivery and his seemingly unrepeatable mechanics.
And that leads us to Callaway, aka, “The Ubaldo Whisperer.”
As Orioles fans, you may not know much about the 42-year-old Callaway, who has replaced Terry Collins with the Mets after five years as the Cleveland Indians’ pitching coach. He’s a former big league pitcher who has never managed a big league game before.
It was Callaway who, inadvertently, ruined your summers the past four seasons.
He was the guy who decoded the Voynich Manuscript of pitching and suddenly made Jimenez the American League’s best starter in the second half of the 2013 season, which of course led to Jimenez’s financial windfall courtesy of the Orioles in February 2014.
I talked to Callaway during that spring training about Jimenez, and he was both complimentary and humble.
He said he simply worked with Jimenez to tweak his mechanics until everything clicked while stressing Jimenez deserved most of the credit for accepting that he had changed as a pitcher.
“Everybody has to go through that stage at some point in their careers, and I think it happened a little sooner than he would have liked. I think he would have hoped it had happened at 33, 34,” Callaway said. “When he was throwing 100 [mph] … he could just throw his best stuff up there and say, ‘Here you go, try to hit it.’ So, what he really did [in Cleveland] is learn how to pitch.”
(The crazy thing about this feature on Jimenez that I wrote for The Sun before his first Orioles’ career start in 2014 is that part of my early focus was that no one knew if Jimenez would thrive or be a walk-issuing mess, and that there was potential for both.)
In the same piece, Callaway told me he was pulling for Jimenez as an Oriole because of the kind of quality person the Dominican right-hander was.
So, I’m wondering if Callaway, four years later, will roll the dice again. Thanks to a mess of injuries, the Mets had the third worst staff ERA in baseball (even higher than the Orioles), so they could use cheap reinforcements/Plan Bs in the Big Apple.
Callaway has a history – and a good one – with Jimenez, Citi Field is a pitcher’s park in the National League and Jimenez fits into any clubhouse seamlessly.
I’m just connecting dots, but if I’m Jimenez’s agent, I’m connecting with the Ubaldo Whisperer when free agency begins to see if there is a fit.
Callaway, by the way, pitched in 40 games (20 starts) in the majors for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, Anaheim Angels and Texas Rangers from 1999 to 2004. He faced the Orioles four times (two starts) in his career.
He was in that 1999 game at Tropicana Field in which the Orioles won, 17-1, compiling 20 hits but no homers. It’s only relatively significant because future Hall-of-Fame infielder Wade Boggs pitched in that game, allowing one run in 1 1/3 innings on a RBI single by current MASN broadcaster Mike Bordick.
Callaway allowed six runs (three earned) in four innings in relief of Dave Eiland, who was charged with six runs in 1 1/3 innings. Sidney Ponson pitched a complete game that night.
Callaway’s only two starts versus the Orioles came during the club’s infamous, 4-32 skid to end the 2002 season. Pitching for the Angels one week apart, Callaway picked up a win and a no-decision (as the odds would have it, the Angels won both games). In the first contest, Callaway allowed just two runs – on a homer by Bordick, who apparently was the greatest hitter of that era, according to my limited research.
Callaway pitched 10 games (six starts) for current Orioles manager Buck Showalter while he was in Texas in 2003 and 2004.