In September 2012, after Mets manager Terry Collins exploded in the clubhouse after one nasty blowout only to apologise the next day, I wrote, “Crossing the line between demanding accountability and questioning heart helped turn [Bobby] Valentine’s and the Red Sox’s season into a Rimbaudian nightmare. Collins isn’t about to let himself or his Mets forget the line. Whatever overhauling is or isn’t done come the off-season, it doesn’t seem likely that the manager’s job will be part of it.”
As the Mets’ manager, Collins had bent over backward to avoid what killed him as a manager with the Astros and the Angels in the 1990s, namely living and managing as though every pitch, every play, had life and death attached to it. Doing it that way blew up clubhouses on both teams so high you could see the mushroom clouds from Honolulu.
But this year’s Mets are baseball’s lost boys. The injury bugs, some of which came out to bite as a result of the Mets’ medical and training staff having little to no real attentiveness to potential physical troubles among some players, became a plague. And Collins found himself walking a tightrope not of his own making, only to make it more and more difficult to get from point A to point B without falling to the point where the only thing keeping him on it was his nose.
According to Newsday, only owner Fred Wilpon has kept Collins from walking the last mile until now, despite what seems to be three quarters of the front office wanting him gone. But even the elder Wilpon has now come to believe it’s time for Collins and the Mets to move on.
The once-combustible manager who parlayed his years overseeing the Mets’ minor league system into overseeing a tough rebuild into the World Series entrant of 2015 and the wild card of last year may now have no further cushion between himself and the Mets’ electric chair.
Until this year, Collins wrestled with the front office but kept his job because he had a harmonious clubhouse as well as Wilpon’s confidence. Then came the injuries, the losses, the diva acts, the hiccups, and a different Collins began to emerge. One who lost the clubhouse he once cultivated so adroitly. He wasn’t the game’s greatest in-play tactician, but he was as good as it got for keeping his assets with room to play.
It wasn’t Collins who built the porous infield defense that did the most to cost the Mets the 2015 World Series. Even if he gave in to Matt Harvey’s will and his own heart over his own head and let Harvey go out to start the ninth of Game Five, it wasn’t Collins who couldn’t execute a simple throw home to keep the tying run from scoring, leading to the extra innings and the disaster that ended a Series the Mets could have won.
Collins’s worst mistake in that Series was mis-reading his bullpen, from letting a warmup-gassed Jon Niese work an extra inning to using Jeurys Familia in a non-save, low-leverage situation. Though it wasn’t the skipper’s fault that two of Familia’s record three blown Series saves weren’t Familia’s doing, either.
But this season, faced admittedly with a starting rotation shaved down by injuries to little more than Jacob deGrom, Collins turned his bullpen into sweat shop. Five Met relievers had worked five or more consecutive days in mid-May, led by Jerry Blevins’s nine-day streak. “Once [Collins] falls in love with you,” said an unnamed Met official to Newsday’s Marc Carig, “he abuses you.”
Familia may have been one such victim. The New York Post says there’s “belief within the organization that Collins mismanaged Jeurys Familia, and that might have led directly to the All-Star closer needing surgery in May to remove a blood clot from his right shoulder. Collins had been warned not to use Familia in non-save situations or too frequently, but that advice went unheeded, from the perspective of team brass.”
“He has run players into the ground,” the official continued. “He has no idea about resting players. Even when you tell him, he doesn’t listen.” Shades of Leo Durocher’s over-playing his regulars, denouncing the wounded as quitters, and burning the 1969 Cubs out to leave them at the stretch drive mercy of the Miracle Mets.
Yet Collins was also often the last man to know the full extent of the injuries befalling one after another of his players, forcing him, as Charig writes, “into the uncomfortable situation of fielding daily questions about health woes with nothing more at his disposal than official news releases.”
Like too many managers, Collins as he aged became more reliant on veterans and less confident in younger players. Like the old-schooler he generally is, Collins was less receptive to analytics than to his gut and his head, the risks of which proved another bone in the front office throat.
And even the reliance on veterans had a kicker, according to Carig: unless you were one of the Mets’ name stars, like Matt Harvey, Yoenis Cespedes, or David Wright, the manager became increasingly less likely to acknowledge his players.
When the Mets began shipping off veterans at this year’s non-waiver and waiver trade deadlines, Collins was left with a youth corps suspicious of his motives and preferences while dealing with their own growing pains. The major veteran losses were to Wright, who’s missed all season with his neck and back issues, and Curtis Granderson, who was traded to the Dodgers in August.
But not all Collins’ players blame him entirely for the clubhouse collapse. One anonymous Met told Carig enough of what happened to the team this year was entirely beyond the manager’s control. “He did what he could with what he had,” this unnamed Met said, “but I believe that it turned out that the inmates ran the asylum a bit.
“He had three or four personalities in there that he essentially had no control over for a multitude of reasons,” the player continued, “ranging from the front office allowing it, to guys just not respecting authority at all.”
Could that have included Noah Syndergaard shenking a scheduled MRI after the date forced Collins to send an incompletely rested Harvey out to take a shellacking from the Braves . . . days before Syndergaard convinced someone he could go and then got murdered by the Nationals before coming out and losing the rest of a season with his torn lat?
Could that have included Harvey’s partying on Cinco de Mayo and not showing up at the clubhouse the next day in a miscommunication, after he was shattered to discover his paramour back in the arms of her former boyfriend? Or the unknown Met who planted a sex toy in Kevin Plawecki’s locker with T.J. Rivera in front of it giving a postgame interview?
“It was Murphy’s Law in Queens this year, and with that type of stuff happening, there’s almost no choice but for turmoil to follow,” said another anonymous Met to Carig, in what might yet prove the understatement of the season for the wreck of the Metsperus.
And, like the commodore who learns the hard way he has a ship full of mutinous officers befuddling the seamen below them, Collins’s tenure as the longest-serving manager in the Mets’ surrealistic history—the man who treated field box seat Met fans to a champagne shampoo after they nailed the 2015 pennant— will end, most likely, with a normal shampoo in the shower and not even a small ceremony of appreciation.
Collins won what just might be his final home games managing the Mets this week, when they swept the Braves in a pair of one-run games and a 7-1 finale. He gets to finish the season managing his Mess against the Phillies, who’ve just decided to kick their own hapless manager Pete MacKanin upstairs to be special assistant to general manager Matt Klentak.
The man who once blew up two clubhouses with his own high-tension act, then shepherded the Mets through that rebuild while showing he learned how to demand accountability without detonating TNT, has become a commodore whose bid to steer a compromised ship with a high-tension mixture of wounded and alienated got him nothing more than a long walk off a short plank.