Posted by Reese Kaplan at 8:00 AM
A recent article on the “official” blog of the New York Mets pointed out the fact that Skipper Terry Collins is closing in on some very noteworthy achievements. With another contending season he will become the 2nd winningest manager in Mets history, surpassing Bobby Valentine. He will have managed longer than anyone else and he has the chance to be the first to achieve three straight post-season appearances. The conclusion, therefore, was that Terry Collins’ legacy will be that of a winner.
Terry Collins long ago was a winner when he was in charge of the Houston Astros. In fact, he finished with a statistically winning record here in my home state with a career mark of 224-197. That’s a positive winning percentage of .532 yet after three consecutive 2nd place finishes the Astros had seen enough and fired him. (Statistical footnote – the following year Larry Dierker took over and took the Astros to three straight 1st place finishes. But no…the manager doesn’t make a difference according to the apologists…)
The braintrust for southern California’s AL team decided that the fiery Collins was just what they needed to propel themselves back to the postseason as the newly minted Anaheim Angels in 1997. Underachieving as usual, he led them to two straight 2nd place finishes and then a 4th place finish. It was while he was mired 28 games out of 1st and his players appealing directly to the front office to can him that Terry Collins resigned. His ending numbers in Anaheim were not pretty – a .481 winning percentage over three years, but the club knew it had to change direction. (Sandy Alderson, by contrast, did not feel compelled to improve the team the way Bill Bavasi did. Similar footnote – shortly after his departure the Angels went onto win 1st place 5 out of 6 consecutive years.)
For the next seven years no one in baseball would give Terry Collins a job but he bounced back to crash and burn in Japan and then in China. He eventually landed as manager of the Duluth Huskies of the Northwest League where he shepherded them to a 7th place finish. He had pretty much hit rock bottom when the Mets decided that perhaps managing wasn’t his best role. They offered him a job as a roving minor league instructor and he spent 2010 doing just that.
Inexplicably in 2011 when Sandy Alderson took over he turned to the man with the very checkered record who’d never won anything to be the face of the franchise as it tried to emerge from the Madoff madness. The old stressed out, fiery Collins was long gone and replaced with a perplexed looking but mellower guy who routinely made head scratching decisions, yet the GM stuck with him. By 2015 he (and mostly Yoenis Cespedes) got the Mets into the World Series and many felt vindicated for their long and tried patience with the man. His subsequent follow up to the post season in 2016 reinforced the apologists’ mantra that given the horses he was the right jockey.
Of course, all those years that Sparky Anderson was winning with the Big Red Machine the conventional wisdom was that a monkey could finish in first place with that kind of lineup. It seems that the test of a good manager is one who can motivate his team to perform at an elite level even when the talent was not quite there. On that front Terry Collins has not succeeded.
Take, for example, some of the players who performed under Terry Collins and then witness how they did when they left. Justin Turner and Daniel Murphy are the two most glaring examples. However, the flip side also must be considered. There are players he kept trotting out there again and again when alternatives existed until eventually the GM relieved him of the opportunity to do so. They’re no longer in the major leagues – Ruben Tejada, Eric Young and Eric Campbell immediately spring to mind.
Put another way, some people felt that Don Sutton's induction into the Hall of Fame was a travesty because he was never even in the conversation as one of the best pitchers of his era. The term "compiler" was coined to describe someone who, through longevity and modest talent, aggregated large enough totals that people who didn't watch him on a day-in, day-out basis might misread as superstar. He won 20 games but once in his long career and won one ERA title. He was not going to hurt you but to put him in the same breath as people like Tom Seaver or Steve Carlton is heresy.
So too, it is to call Terry Collins "good" on the basis of simply having been around and owning a career losing record as the Mets manager. For his entire career he sits at exactly .500 -- the very definition of mediocre. Why Sandy Alderson dragged him out of obscurity and thrust him into the dugout with that kind of track record is anyone's guess, but he's certainly not done anything to distinguish himself. Even when he improbably took a team to the World Series (and lost in embarrassing fashion) he didn't get the Manager of the Year award from his peers. In fact, two guys who didn't even make it to the World Series finished ahead of him.
To hear some tell it, he deserves accolades for what he’s accomplished. To me, he’s Milton, the beleaguered and put upon guy with the red stapler from “Office Space” who keeps getting shuffled around because no one has the heart to tell him he’s no longer relevant or productive. Just as Sandy Alderson has done nothing to improve the roster, he’s willingly embraced a sub-optimal manager and has no rings to show for his decision and loyalty.