Reflecting on The Mets Longest Tenured Manager
Once Saturday’s game is over, Terry Collins will become the Mets all-time leader in games managed. With this, he will be above Gil Hodges, who may have owned the record himself if not for his sudden and tragic passing. He will surpass Bobby Valentine, who was the first Mets manager to lead the team to consecutive postseasons. Finally, he passes Davey Johnson, who led the Mets to the greatest stretch in team history.
All of the aforementioned managers have had better records then Collins, who owns the Mets mark for most losses as a manger. It leads to the question, why is it Collins lasted longer in New York than either Valentine or Johnson? The answer is a complicated one for a man who has led the Mets over a complicated time period.
Collins took the helm for the Mets after the disastrous Jerry Manuel Era. After bad mouthing his boss, Willie Randolph, he talked his way into the managerial job, and he oversaw his own collapse. Despite that, the Mets decided to retain him as the new team manager as the Mets opened up a new ballpark. In his two full seasons as Mets manager, his teams were 149-173. This was despite having talented rosters with players like David Wright, Jose Reyes, and Carlos Beltran.
The Manuel Era was done in by a number of issues. First, the team was not built well for the then cavernous Citi Field. Second, high priced veterans like Luis Castillo and Jason Bay were playing up the standards of being an average major league player, let alone their contracts. Third, the team deal with a number of injuries – some of which were exacerbated by Manuel’s decision making. Mostly, the mix of manager, ballpark, and roster were doomed from the beginning. It was time for new blood across the organization.
This was the stage upon which Collins entered as the Mets manager in 2011. The team was mostly a mix of veterans nearing either the end of their contracts or their careers and some interesting players who could be talented major league players. In the early part of Collin’s tenure, the Mets were teams that overachieved in the first half of the season, and then with trades, injuries, or players coming back to earth, the Mets would fall apart as the season progressed.
During the early part of Collins tenure as Mets manager, no one realistically believed the Mets were going to be contenders. As a result, judging him by wins and losses seemed counter-intuitive. Rather, you want to look at managers like this through the prism of their ability to get the most out of the talent on their roster. Specifically, you want to see them develop some young players.
Things almost came to a head in 2014. The Mets first real prized free agent acquisition of the Sandy Alderson Era, Curtis Granderson, was struggling. The other, Bartolo Colon, was the staff ace, which meant Zack Wheeler was not progressing like the organization would have liked. There were also struggles from Dilson Herrera, Travis d’Arnaud, and others. It was not how the Mets envisioned this season would go, and if not for the Wilpons intervening, it would have been a different manager that led the Mets to the 2015 pennant.
It’s unsure to pinpoint the exact reason Collins survived. The biggest skeptics will pinpoint Collins was due money, and the Wilpons, who were dealing with the Madoff scandal, were loathe to pay two different managers. It’s possible Collins was saved because the Mets were not exactly under-performing. There were also some positive signs for the team.
Lucas Duda not only won the first base job, but he hit 30 home runs. Daniel Murphy was a first time All-Star. Jenrry Mejia showed he was closer material. Wheeler had a strong finish to the season. Jeurys Familia looked like a closer in waiting. Juan Lagares won a Gold Glove. Jacob deGrom was a surprise Rookie of the Year. Matt Harvey had just been the All Star Game starter the previous season, and he was set to return in 2015. R.A. Dickey won a Cy Young Award that allowed the facilitation of the trade to bring over d’Arnaud and Noah Syndergaard. Overall, you could see young pieces who could be part of the Mets’ future. These were players who were cultivated under Collins. It should also be kept in mind Collins created a certain atmosphere in the clubhouse that partially led to Wright signing a contract extension in 2012. Overall, the pieces for a future contender were there, and they were all cultivated under Collins.
There’s another factor that is not often discussed with Collins is the fact he’s a good human being. Time and again with Collins we hear little things he does that mean so much to people. He has reached out to grieving Mets fans to offer his condolences. He’s stopped the team during Spring Training to assemble them to spend some time with sick children. He struck the right chord between honoring Jose Fernandez and trying to keep the Mets team competitive in that three game set. That’s a harder job to do than we all give him credit. Having a man like this around your team and leading young men is always a good thing.
And yet, there are plenty of instances where you look at Collins’ tenure and wonder how he’s lasted this long. His usage of Tim Byrdak, Scott Rice, Johan Santana, Jim Henderson, and others have had a negative impact upon their ability to stay healthy. Certainly, it can be argued these pitchers’ arms were ruined by Collins.
There has also been his over-reliance on his veteran players. Despite Collins mantra that you hit you play, it really has only every been applied to young players. It has twice taken a litany of injuries to get T.J. Rivera in the lineup. Collins never would put Michael Conforto back in the lineup last year no matter his raking in Triple-A and his wrist being healthy. Instead, he watched Jay Bruce continue to flail at the plate. This year, we see him keeping Reyes and Granderson in the lineup despite their both hitting under the Mendoza Line.
More to the point, Collins allows the question to be asked over who exactly is in charge. There are always reports Alderson dictates to him what should be done instead of Collins being allowed to manage the team as he wishes. Collins allowed Reyes to pull himself from the last game of the 2011 season to preserve his batting title. One of the lasting images of the 2015 World Series was Harvey telling him not to pull him from the game.
That World Series is certainly one that will haunt the Mets. Collins made a number of questionable moves throughout that series which did not put his team in the best possible position to win. Given how the Mets are struggling now, it does beg the question whether that was this core’s best opportunity to win a World Series. But it’s more than that. We have consistently seen Collins ignore reliever’s workloads and splits when making pitching changes. He will send Wilmer Flores up there to pinch hit against right-handed pitchers even with other players still on the bench. Overall, it is his in-game managing that leaves a lot to be desired.
Despite all of that, Collins is still here. He has survived a lot to get to this point. There was the Madoff scandal. There was a rebuild that took a year or two longer than initially advertised. He has consistently tried to hold a team together that has seen a number of injuries, brutal losses, and disheartening losing streaks. He oversaw the transition from the Mets being a last place team to a team that almost won a World Series.
The Terry Collins’ Era will forever be a complicated one in Mets history. To a certain extent, it does not matter that he is the manager who has managed the most games in Mets history. That is mostly the result of circumstance. Arguably, the circumstances have dictated Collins remain on for as long as he has. Say what you will about the man, but he has always been accountable, never left you questioning his loyalty to the players or fans, and he has had the pulse of his clubhouse. If nothing else, Collins is a leader of men, and as a man, you are hard pressed to find a better human being in baseball.
It does not matter if you believe someone else should have this record. It’s Collins’ now. He deserves everyone’s congratulations for it, and he deserves the respect of Mets fans for his tenure.