Reese Kaplan -- Don't Let The Door Hit You...

While people focus on the starting rotation, the pecking order of the bullpen, the health of some recovering players, the contributions of the 2 newcomers and the final roster juggling necessitated by players out of options, there’s another aspect to how far the Mets will go named Terry Collins.  As much as some want to believe it is the front office calling the shots on everything, personally, I find it strains credibility to believe they pay north of $1 million per year and then don’t entrust the lineup card to a man with over 33 years in baseball operations. 

If you look at the back of the man’s baseball card you’ll find that he began his managerial career in 1981 with Class A Lodi, California in the Dodgers organization where his success led to a prompt promotion 2 years later in my neck of the woods as the Albuquerque Dukes AAA manager.   Four years later he won the PCL Championship. 

His other former team, the Pittsburgh Pirates, apparently liked what they saw and brought him over to manage their AAA affiliate in Buffalo, NY.  The Bisons flourished under his leadership and he was eventually named to the Buffalo  Baseball Hall of Fame.   The Pirates promoted him to the big club as a bullpen coach where he served for two seasons.

His big break came in after the 1993 season when the Houston Astros became disenchanted with the laid back style of Art Howe  (shudder) and they though the then fiery Collins would be the change of pace they needed to ascend to the next level.   His teams were competitive, but never made it to the post season.  After an embarrassing late season slide in 1996 they fired him (and immediately went to the playoffs four of the next five years with the same players under his successor, Larry Dierker). 

Students of history might wonder what magic Dierker had that eluded Collins, but the then Anaheim Angels were willing to look past his underachieving record and hand him the reins to a powerhouse lineup that included the likes of Tim Salmon, Darrin Erstad, Jim Edmonds, Garrett Anderson and Dave Hollins, yet he again missed the playoffs.  In his second year they added slugger Cecil Fielder and improved by just a single game.  Taking a page out of the Mets’ eventual playbook, they brought him back yet again.  With slugger Mo Vaughn contributing 33 HRs and 108 RBIs in place of the aging Fielder, Collins had them in the second division and the team actively mutinied, petitioning the GM to get rid of Collins.  He instead stood by his man and the team spiraled downward in the standings.  Eventually Collins walked out on the job, replaced by Joe Maddon who finished the season with the exact same roster by going 19-10 after Terry’s departure.  Are we seeing a pattern here?  First Dierker with the Astros and then Maddon with the Angels.   Collins’ final record with the Angels was a losing 220-237.

For the next seven years Collins had become something of a pariah and eventually had to flee the country to find a managerial gig with the Orix Buffaloes in Japan.  Things had to improve, right?


After managing the Buffaloes to a 5th place standing, he again walked out on a team mid-year and his replacement, Daijiro Oishi, rallied them to finish in 2nd place after his departure.  Once again we see a team flourish after no longer under Collins’ control.   

After that it was slim pickings for Collins.  He managed the China National Team in the World Baseball Classic in the 2009 season and then went on to shepherd the Duluth Huskies of the Northwoods League (a summer collegiate baseball organization).   By 2010 he was a beaten man.  Gone was the fire and the passion that caused clashes with former players under his stewardship.  It was this veteran baseball man that the Mets selected to be a minor league coordinator for the 2010 season and then shockingly awarded with a managerial deal for the big club starting in 2011. 

Nothing in his past suggested Collins was on an ascent.  In fact, his career had been pretty much downhill for 15 years at that point, yet Sandy Alderson, perhaps thinking he was getting an undervalued asset, picked him to lead the Mets.  I won’t bore you with the countless examples of ineptitude, lineup stubbornness or foolish quotes to the media.  However, I do find it interesting that three separate stories ranking major league managers all have Collins in the lowest third among the 30 people employed in that capacity.  That ranking is itself artificially inflated as first and second year managers are automatically assigned to the bottom of the list. In fact, the best the Boston Globe can say is, “It’s hard to find someone with more street smarts about baseball. The results haven’t been there.”

However, this analysis of Terry Collins by Joe Morgan is probably more telling,   “Adversity is part of baseball; if a manager can't cope with it his team will suffer. Terry Collins, the skipper of the Anaheim Angels learned this lesson when he was with Houston. The Astros were a talented team when Collins was there (1994-96). They finished second three times, but failed to make the playoffs because their manager exerted too much pressure on them. He was so uptight, his players thought each pitch was life-or-death. It wasn't anything Terry said; it was his demeanor. Collins was edgy in the dugout during games, always looking like someone who was just waiting for disaster to strike. At the moment anything actually went wrong you could smell the panic in him. Players picked up on that. To alleviate the tension the manger was bringing to the clubhouse, they put added pressure on themselves to perform well, which invariably choked off their natural abilities so that they can't play their best. Its no coincidence that the Astros became a post-season participant once Houston replaced Collins with Larry Dierker. I dont know if Larry knows more about baseball than Collins, but he does have a laid-back attitude that immediately puts his players at ease.”

Joel Sherman of the NY Post was no kinder, “Terry Collins had no leverage in his negotiations with the Mets. He is 64. He is playoff-less in three locales as a manager. The other 29 jobs could be open and Collins probably wouldn’t even get an interview.  So when the Mets offered a new two-year deal with an option that moved him from a six-figure annual salary to seven figures — but just barely — it was not as if he could negotiate. He still wanted to be a major league manager and, thus, he needed to just agree, which he did.”

As the Pythagorean baseball results have shown, Collins has managed to wrest the least out of his players under his leadership.  Mets fans can only help history repeats itself on the day when either Collins once again walks out on his team (after all, the third time’s the charm), or Sandy Alderson finally puts us all out of our misery and does what he should have done long ago and find someone who can indeed inspire his players to perform to their potential.  Being a good corporate “Yes” man should not be sufficient justification for ongoing employment.


James Preller said...

Sandy hired him, then extended him, fully pleased. Collins is easily controlled.

You are going after the wrong guy.

Reese Kaplan said...

That's the subject of another column -- Sandy Alderson's judgment. Toy poodles are easily controlled, too. It doesn't mean they should be entrusted with great responsibility.

IBfromWhitePlains said...

Sorry, I don't buy Joe Morgan's hatchet job criticism. Name me one manager who isn't on the top step of the dugout gnawing on something to try to keep calm when he's watching his team blow a ballgame. There's no such animal and if there was, the fans would be calling for his scalp for being to laid back and not caring enough. It's always amazed me how little Joe Morgan has to offer as far as baseball insight.

I'm not a big Collins fan. If he's not on a short rope this year I'll be pretty disgusted with upper mgmt. But, baseball history is also full of guys who got it right eventually. Let's hope that's the case here too.

IBfromWhitePlains said...

I'd like to add one more thing. I think the research of Collin's history is pretty interesting and well done. Troubling to say the least. But, you start the piece by saying it strains credibility that Collins is paid a million bucks and does not control his lineup card. You finish by saying Collins has no options other than be a good corporate yes man. Which is it?

Reese Kaplan said...

What I said is that Collins' apologists say he has no control -- that it all comes from the front office. I find it hard to believe it's Sandy Alderson deciding to burn through three relief pitchers in the 7th inning to three consecutive batters. I then said Collins is a "Yes man" -- someone who will not waver from what he is told to do, unlike a Wally Backman type. They are not mutually exclusive thoughts.

Lew Rhodes said...

I disagree that Collins wasn't the right guy for the past few years - he just is the wrong guy now and Sandy should have used last year to get rid of him.

Collins - despite his comments to the contrary - is good at developing young players - he got this job because he was doing a very good job overseeing the Mets' minor league system.

I would have hoped that Collins could have improved his game management the past few years or improve his overall manager style - but he has failed and continues to make the same baffling decisions and silly mistakes.

The fact that the Mets have underperformed their Pythagorean record last year should have been a reason for Sandy to suggest that they move on.

The only thing I will say is that the only thing that makes sense is that the players actually like Collins.

Alderson has been around baseball a long time and worked with some fantastic managers (LaRussa, anyone?); so clearly he knows a bad manager when he sees one.

Why on earth would he risk the success of the team (along with his reputation and job) by sticking with a bad manager?

The only things I can come up with are 1) Sandy buys the stats that say mangers have a small actual impact on W-L record; and 2) the players like playing for Collins.

I think if the players complained or were unhappy - he would've made a change.

eraff said...

I don't debate whether Collins is in control or not;however, I do stop short of blaming him for the results of this under talented, under supported team (over the past several years).

I cannot waste my time inspecting the reasons that a 74 win team wins 74 games... I spend most of my time trying to understand WHY a major market team is managed like The Buffalo AAA franchise.... that has NOTHING to do with the Bench Coach.

BTW---"other than losing", the team seems pretty "happy" with Collins--- Personally, I'd like my BIG STAR to be LESS Happy.

Reese Kaplan said...

Whether or not the players like the manager is irrelevant. Do they respect him? Are they inspired by him? Do they play hard for him? Do they feel he's got their backs?

Go ask Andrew Brown, Wilmer Flores, Matt den Dekker, Collin Cowgill and others how much their manager supported them.

Reese Kaplan said...

On a sad note, Terry Collins has left the Mets spring training complex to return to Michigan to be with his family for the death of his father, Loren "Bud" Collins who was 95. Our thoughts go with the Collins family at this time.

James Preller said...

Ask Collin Cowgill and Andrew Brown?

Come on, get real. I'm not a fan, but you can't blame Collins for everything. He's been managing inferior talent for the most part.

Lew: Alderson inherited LaRussa and encouraged him to beat it . . . and replaced him by hiring Art Howe.

Let that sink in. He doesn't want the hassle of a strong manager. Meanwhile, over in Chicago, Theo Epstein moved mountains to bring in Madden. Very different philosophy over there.

Lew Rhodes said...

James -

I am pretty certain that Alderson hired Larussa after Larussa was fired by the White Sox - Alderson took over as GM of the A's in the early 80's - right after the Billy Martin mess.

Many folks forget (or didn't know) how young he was when he became a GM.

Alderson was also in San Diego as the CEO when they hired Bud Black - not sure how much he was involved in that.

Reese Kaplan said...

@James Preller

Andrew Brown was absolutely on fire and Collins did what he usually does -- buries the guy from AAA until his bat cools off in order to give ABs to Bobby Abreu and Eric Young, Jr.

He has done this time and time again to younger ballplayers. Take a look at Wilmer Flores who was hitting a mere .323 and Collins sat him on the bench to play the .200 hitting Ruben Tejada.

On Collin Cowgill, don't tell me you forget his proclamation that he was the starting CFer and then 2 days later benched him for good? He was used this year out in Oakland and hit effectively in the .280s most of the year as a role player until a late season slide saw his numbers tumble. Still, at .250 he'd have been an All-Star on the Mets roster last year considering what the team got out of the LF position. That one was more a case of Collins' habit of saying one thing and doing another.

bob gregory said...

This is definitely a make or break year for Collins. Hopefully a make or break April & May.

If May passes by and the Mets are under performing there really can not be any more excuses made.

Hopefully Alderson & the Wilpons will at last refuse to allow another "throw-away" year.

Anonymous said...

Re: "playing hard "; Did anyone notice that while the Braves and Marlins mailed it in and tanked in September, the Mets played hard to the end and passed both to finish 2nd in the NLE? How "unmotivated " is that?

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