Collins may not be perfect, but he's right for Mets
Veteran manager has what it takes to start helping team win again
NEW YORK -- There is no perfect manager for any ballclub, Mets general manager Sandy Alderson said this week as his team was in the midst of splitting the four-game Subway Series with the cross-town rival Yankees, but Terry Collins seems to be the right one at this moment for New York's struggling National League franchise.
"My standard is not the perfect manager," Alderson said. "My standard is not the perfect anything. That's unrealistic. We all have foibles. That's human nature. So the question is, what short of perfection is an acceptable standard?"
Evidently, the standard right now is the hard-scrabble Collins with the tough-guy demeanor and his cap pulled down low on his forehead. It certainly isn't the record. The Mets have played .464 ball during the three years-plus, since Alderson and Collins have been together and haven't won more than 77 games in a single season. After a pair of 88-loss campaigns, they are 19-21, heading into this weekend's three-game series against the Nationals in Washington on Friday night.
Those kind of results might spell danger for a manager in another situation. But since Collins joined the Mets in 2011, they have been in a constant rebuilding mode. Collins, who will be 65 on May 27, has been around long enough to know how to survive in any given situation. After all, it had been 12 years between his two Major League managing jobs, a gap that included two years doing the job over in Japan.
The decision by Alderson to hire him was surprising when it happened. But now the pair have settled in. The difference in the once irascible and mercurial Collins between then and now?
"Patience," Collins said. "Due to the fact that I'm at the age I am and have all the years I have, my patience is much improved. I would have blown up way before now a few years ago. But you just deal with it. I enjoy this. I enjoy it a lot more than when I first started managing. I'm still demanding inside and behind the scenes. I don't do it as much in the clubhouse as much as I once did. I do it more individually, one on one. I think that reaches the player more than doing it in the middle of the clubhouse. Years ago, I probably would have been furious, but now I'm living with it."
That's perfectly suited to Alderson, who in his days as GM with Oakland and San Diego, worked with some top-rated managers in Tony La Russa, Bruce Bochy and Bud Black.
Alderson knows the difference between good managing and bad, but he also knows there's a dynamic difference in playing talent between the A's and Padres and these Mets. Because of finances and injury, the Mets haven't been able to fully rebuild a roster that had begun to languish under then-GM Omar Minaya and manager Jerry Manuel.
The Mets haven't enjoyed a .500 season since 2008, their last at Shea Stadium, and haven't been to the playoffs since they lost the 2006 NL Championship Series to the Cardinals, Carlos Beltran striking out looking with the bases loaded on the final pitch of the seventh game. That means, they haven't been a winning team since moving across the parking lot into Citi Field. The recent losses of pitchers Matt Harvey and Bobby Parnell to Tommy John surgery have certainly stunted their immediate growth.
A pair of victories over the Yanks this week at Yankee Stadium when the Mets tallied 21 runs notwithstanding, the entire process is taking a lot more patience from Alderson and Collins than either man could have imagined. But Alderson is hanging tough behind Collins.
"Terry is tremendously energetic and is on top of his relationships with players," Alderson said. "And that entails empathy with the players, it entails private communications with the players, it entails his sensitivity when making public comments about the players. To me, that's the most important thing. From a tactical standpoint, everybody has their way to approach things. The only thing I ask here is to be aware of probabilities and so forth and then you have to make your decisions at the moment. You don't have to be a slave to it."
All that was reason enough that Alderson extended Collins' contract at the end of last season for 2014 and '15. Alderson is on the last guaranteed year of his original four-year deal, with a club option for next season. It's not as if the Mets are on the brink of turning it around.
Entering Friday, the Mets hovered around the bottom of the league with a .229 team batting average, but they are 18th in baseball with 163 runs scored. Their pitching staff is 17th overall with a 3.90 ERA, but their bullpen is tied for 24th with only seven saves.
Against the Yankees this week in two losses at Citi Field, the hitters were held scoreless on seven hits with 22 strikeouts. In the friendlier confines of Yankee Stadium, they hit six home runs. Collins is trying to find the right combination, because in the end, like any manager, his future is going to be judged by how many wins he has amassed in the immediate past.
And right now, Collins is a sub-.500 manager in nine years with the Astros, Angels and Mets, with only three winning seasons.
"I mean, it's been hard at times, because you want to win more games," Collins said about his tenure with the Mets. "We've lost some tough games in the times I've been here. You see the young players getting better. The veteran players continue to be great leaders. We've worked very, very hard here to build a great clubhouse and the right atmosphere, and I think we have. We have tireless working coaches who have done a good job. Do we want to win more? Absolutely."