Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
November 22, 2010
BASEBALL: Meet The New Boss
I can't say I'm any sort of excited over Terry Collins taking over as Mets manager. Collins' record as manager of the Astros and Angels, and even of the Orix Buffaloes in Japan, was that of a somewhat Buck-Showalter-like high pressure, do-it-my-way manager who helped build a contender out of a talented but scuffling team (in the Angels case, one rebounding from the trauma of 1995), but then suffered clubhouse strife, saw the team decay in his hands, and was replaced by a guy who got them over the hump. His last U.S. managing job, either in the majors or minors, was in 1999 (he's managed in Japan and the Chinese WBC team since then and worked as a minor league organizational guy with the Dodgers and Mets). As ESPN's Mark Simon points out, one of Collins' trademarks as a major league manager was his teams' September pennant race collapses, absolutely the last thing Mets fans want to hear. Collins was thought to be a frontrunner for the job throughout the interview process, and is plugged in with the Alderson/Beane crowd that now runs the organization, having been Paul DePodesta's apparent choice to take over as Dodgers manager until DePodesta - now with the Mets - was fired as GM.
So, let's summarize:
-Not a new guy from outside the organization
What could go wrong?
I trust Sandy Alderson's judgment in building rosters, and when you bring in a big name GM who knows what he's doing in the regard, the manager is less critical and it's important that he be in tune with the program, which Collins apparently is. That said, given the history of Alderson's comments about managers as "middle managers" and the shortcomings of the post-LaRussa A's in the postseason, I do wish that Alderson had learned from his time in the Marine Corps that middle managers still have an important role to play as emotional leaders, especially when managing young men. Marine NCOs are not less vital as teachers and motivators of young men just because the chain of command tells them where to go and what to do.
All that said, the conventional wisdom outlined above assumes that Collins, now 61, has neither matured nor learned from his earlier shortcomings and his decade to ponder what he got wrong. In fact, managers can and do grow over time. There are a number of managers who didn't really get it done until their second or third job - Casey Stengel, Joe Torre, Bobby Cox, Whitey Herzog, Bobby Valentine...the most recent and perhaps more apt examples would be Terry Francona and Joe Girardi. Francona in particular really seemed like a guy who grasped the job of leading his players better the second time around. Some of those guys were always good managers and just needed the horses, but others really did need to learn and mature into the job. Perhaps the most optimistic parallel would be from the world of football: Bill Belichick was a flop his first go-round with the Browns for reasons somewhat similar to Collins' earlier frustrations, but obviously he was better prepared to be the head coach when he went to New England.
It may also help that Collins knows the Mets' system inside and out and will, I assume, be eager to deploy those youngsters in the system who have impressed him. The Mets are, barring a real stroke of luck, not likely to be significant contenders in 2011, but this is not a complete rebuilding job either assuming the team holds its core of under-30 players and plays its cards right, the franchise may well be a contender again by 2012. Let's hope that by then Collins is able to avoid yet another replay of 2006-08.