Posted by Reese Kaplan at 8:00 AM
34 years ago the Mets found themselves in a seemingly no-win situation. George Bamberger outlived his usefulness as manager and Frank Howard finished up the disappointing 1983 campaign that ended with a last place finish and a record of 68-94, a full 22 games out of first in the then 6-team NL East.
8 years ago the Mets operated under very similar circumstances. They were shepherded by jokester Jerry Manuel and supervised by talent scout extraordinaire (albeit mediocre GM) Omar Minaya. They actually finished a bit better than the 1983 squad, compiling a 4th place (out of 5 teams) record of 79-83 while trailing the division leading Philadelphia Phillies by 18 games.
During the off-season of the 1983-84 winter the Mets decided to hire one of their minor league managers to take over this team, a 41 year old with no major league managerial experience by the name of Davey Johnson. It was a somewhat low risk move as they were already at rock bottom and had nowhere to go but up. Furthermore, there was an influx of talent in the pipeline that Johnson had already managed so it seemed fitting to put him into a situation where he could integrate younger players into the lineup.
After the Mets decided to clean house in 2010, they also went in-house for their manager. However it wasn’t some fresh-faced kid with no track record. It was a seasoned manager, Terry Collins, who, after flaming out in Houston and Anaheim. He was so poorly regarded that he was actually unemployed in baseball for a period of 7 full years before the Orix Buffaloes of Japan took a chance on him. He quit with the team mired in 5th place and once he left they surged into second place. After that he was so unemployable that the only gig he could land was to finish up the season with the Northwoods League Duluth Huskies. The Mets tossed him a bone and made him a minor league field coordinator (whatever that means). In retrospect that role was rather ironic considering how little regard the man has shown for younger ballplayers.
At the time of his hiring, the Mets didn’t know what they were getting with the young Davey Johnson. His track record as a minor league manager was spotty, but then so too is the talent in the minors. He came into his NY Mets major league role with a 0-0 lifetime record in the majors.
By contrast, the Mets did know what they were getting with Terry Collins. He was a perennial also ran, with a 444-434 record with the Astros and Angels, both of whom soared into first place finishes when a replacement manager was named. He never made it to the post season with either club. His record with Japan’s Orix Buffaloes reflected more of the same.
So how did the roll of the dice turn out for the 1984 club? Davey Johnson completely turned things around in a single year and has the enviable accomplishment of being the first NL manager to have his his team reached the 90-win plateau each of his first five seasons. He brought the Mets their 2nd ever World Series Championsip in 1986. Later he was twice named Manager of the Year.
How did it progress for Terry Collins? In his first full season of 2011 he finished 77-85, actually worse than the team he inherited. In 2012 he sunk even further, with merely 74 wins yet inexplicably the team chose to pick up his managerial contract option. He “rewarded” them with another 74 win season in 2013 and then soared all the way to 79 wins in 2014, matching the record of the since deposed manager, Jerry Manuel. It took Terry Collins four full years to achieve that same level of mediocrity, yet inexplicably they stuck with him.
The reason for this comparison is because Johnson is currently the longest serving manager in Mets history with 1012 games under his belt. He finished his tenure with the club with a record of 595-417, a .588 winning percentage yet was fired because the club felt it could do better. Even if you throw in the rest of his career, his .561 winning percentage as a manager is 9th best of all time in the history of the game.
Very shortly Mr. Collins will eclipse Johnson’s tenure but his managerial resume isn’t quite as noteworthy. His Mets record currently stands at 497-507, a .495 winning percentage, 10 games under .500. Even if he goes on a massive winning streak he will still have a sub-.500 record once he eclipses Johnson's record for longevity.
Davey Johnson is already enshrined in the Mets Hall of Fame. This year he was placed on the Today’s Game Era Hall of Fame Committee ballot for possible entry into Cooperstown.
By contrast, the only way Terry Collins gets into the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown is if he buys a ticket.
Those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it. We’ve seen what Terry Collins did in the past. He’s done the same again now. The Astros got fed up (and flourished once he left). The Angels got fed up (and dominated once he left). The Japanese team ascended to 2nd place from 5th when he departed. Why is he still here? What makes his special brand of mediocrity acceptable?