Mets' Top 5 managers: DiComo's take

June 16th, 2020

No one loves a good debate quite like baseball fans, and with that in mind, we asked each of our beat reporters to rank the top five players by position in the history of their franchise, based on their career while playing for that club. These rankings are for fun and debate purposes only … if you don’t agree with the order, participate in the Twitter poll to vote for your favorite.

Here is Anthony DiComo’s ranking of the Top 5 managers in Mets history:

• Mets All-Time Team: C | 1B | 2B | 3B | SS | LF | CF | RF | Bench | RHP | LHP | Relievers

1) Gil Hodges (1968-71)
Key fact: Transformed the Mets from a 101-loss team to a 100-win team in two seasons

When Hodges took over the Mets in 1968, they were still laughingstocks of the National League. That changed quickly under Hodges, who increased the Mets’ win total from 61 in '67 to 73 in '68 and, finally, 100 en route to a World Series title in '69. His early embrace of platoon advantages allowed him to squeeze maximum value out of an offense that ranked in the bottom half of the Majors in runs scored, while his quiet authority instilled discipline within the Mets.

To this day, living members of the 1969 Mets remain disappointed that Hodges is not in the Hall of Fame. In their estimation, he belongs there on the merits of his managerial career alone, without even considering a playing career that also saw him hit 370 home runs and make eight NL All-Star teams over 18 seasons.

“If not for Gil Hodges,” outfielder Cleon Jones said during a team reunion last summer, “we wouldn’t be standing here talking about the ‘69 Mets.”

Added another outfielder, Art Shamsky: “Gil was a tough, tough manager but everybody respected him. He managed by feel but he got the most out of every player.”

Had Hodges managed longer, he likely would have entered the Hall long ago. His untimely death in 1972 limited his managerial career to just four years with the Mets and five with the Washington Senators. Partially as a result, Hodges never received more than 63.4% support on 15 Baseball Writers' Association of America ballots, and he's fallen short when considered by various Hall of Fame committees in the decades since. The Mets, who retired Hodges’ No. 14 barely a year after his death, retain hope that he will one day enter Cooperstown.

2) Davey Johnson (1984-90)
Key fact: Owns the highest winning percentage (.588) in franchise history

Like Hodges, Johnson inherited a team on the rise, signing on to lead a club that had recently added Keith Hernandez, Dwight Gooden and Darryl Strawberry to its ranks. As a rookie manager, the 41-year-old Johnson won 90 games his first season, 98 his second, then 108 and a World Series title in his third. Two years later, he became the first -- and still the only -- Mets manager to win 100-plus games multiple times.

Perhaps Johnson’s most significant achievement was simply keeping one of the wildest clubhouses in professional sports history functioning over 162 games. Infamous for their off-field issues, the 1986 Mets managed to produce one of the highest win totals in Major League history in spite of it, then they overcame adversity in October to make good on their title aspirations.

Johnson’s critics have said that he didn’t do enough to discipline the 1986 Mets; indeed, that notion played a role in his dismissal in '90, despite Johnson having never produced a losing season (his Mets were 20-22 at the time) and never finishing worse than second place in the NL East. As pitcher Ron Darling once put it: “He gave us room to succeed.”

3) Bobby Valentine (1996-2002)
Key fact: Was the first manager to lead the Mets to consecutive postseason appearances

Hugely popular with fans to this day, Valentine took over the Mets during their lean mid-1990s years and immediately turned them into winners, beginning with an 88-74 season in '97. Two years later, the Mets won 97 games and reached the postseason for the first time since the Johnson era, then they followed that up with 94 wins and the NL pennant in 2000.

From there, the Mets faded into another rebuild, which ultimately cost Valentine his job. But he remained a vibrant leader, helping guide the Mets and New York City through their response to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center. Currently the athletic director at Sacred Heart University and a local leader in Southern Connecticut, Valentine remains an important part of the tri-state area community.

4) Terry Collins (2011-17)
Key fact: Second-most wins (551) and second-most ejections (20) in Mets history

By and large, the Mets’ fan base seems to appreciate Collins’ tenure more in retrospect than it did at the time. When the Mets hired Collins after the 2010 season, many around the team assumed he would oversee a rebuild then step aside when the team grew competitive. Instead, Collins routinely overachieved with mediocre rosters, eventually leading the Mets to a World Series berth in 2015. His postseason résumé would have been longer had the Mets not run into Madison Bumgarner in the '16 NL Wild Card Game.

Along the way, Collins earned a reputation as a fiery, emotional leader who stood in contrast to the team’s more calculated front office. The Mets valued Collins enough to keep him in the organization after his dismissal as manager; he remains involved in Minor League operations to this day.

5) Casey Stengel (1962-65)
Key fact: Was the Mets’ manager during their inaugural season

Only in Flushing could the losingest manager in franchise history also be one of the greatest. Only 11 men in history have more managerial wins than Stengel, who led the Yankees to seven World Series titles and 10 American League pennants from 1949-60. But even Stengel could not do much to help the bumbling '62 Mets, who lost 120 games in spite of him.

Still, Stengel gave the franchise immediate credibility in its fledgling days, working hard to give the Mets publicity and draw fans to the stands. He is widely credited with coining the term the “Amazin’ Mets," which is still commonly used today.

Honorable mentions

• The only Mets manager not included above to win an NL pennant was Yogi Berra, who brought the Mets to the cusp of another title in 1973. Berra, however, posted a losing record overall, and was widely criticized for his decision to use Tom Seaver on short rest in Game 6 of the World Series.

• Like Stengel, Joe Torre accomplished far more in the Bronx than Queens. From 1977-81, he nonetheless laid the foundation for what would become a Hall of Fame managerial career.

Willie Randolph seemed to spend most of his tenure batting aside questions about his job security. In spite of it, he led the Mets to three straight winning seasons, and he might well have engineered a fourth had the team not dismissed him in the dead of night in 2008. Only Johnson posted a better winning percentage as Mets manager.