Posted by Reese Kaplan at 10:00 AM
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.