If it’s up to should-have-been Hall of Famer David Wright, Terry Collins won’t be taking that long walk off that short plank after today’s season finale. The New York Mess (er, Mets) captain who missed this season and too much of last with neck and back issues that already compromised a Cooperstown-bound career stood up for Collins when it seemed few on or around the team would.
Wright ripped a new one into the anonymous Mets—whether teammates or front office personnel—who’ve made Collins the whipping boy for a season lost for too many reasons beyond the manager’s control. “It was cowardly, in my opinion,” he told the New York Daily News, and that was only warming up.
“I have been very fortunate in my career,” Wright said. “I haven’t had too many gripes, but when I did, I went and talked to Terry or whoever the manager is. His door has always been open and he’s always listened.
“I am not here to blindly defend Terry. I am not going to discuss the tactical stuff or bullpen usage, that’s not my place,” continued the third baseman, who’s always been one of the most stand-up Mets himself. “I can say that to a man in that clubhouse, Terry has dealt with us as adults. He has treated us with respect and treated us as men. I would hope that the players in the clubhouse would have enough respect if not for the man but the position to say something to him. Treat him like a man as he does us.”
Maybe that was part of the problem. Sometimes you can’t treat like men players determined to remain little boys. It’s one thing to remember Roy Campanella’s maxim that part of you still had to be a little boy to play baseball professionally and successfully, but it’s something else to remind yourself about the syndrome identified by one of the anonymous Mets who spoke up about the last days of the Collins era.
“He did what he could with what he had,” that unnamed Met told Newsday’s Marc Carig last week, “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, ranging from the front office allowing it, to guys just not respecting authority at all.”
That may have helped make it easy to forget that Collins actually maintained an open-door policy, something pitcher Jacob deGrom—who became the Mets’ de facto ace this year when the rest of the pitching staff began looking like the post-op ward of a M*A*S*H unit—seemed to want to remind people himself.
“You have those issues with Terry then you can go in there and talk to him,” said the righthander. “I have talked to him a lot since I have been here. I like him. His door is always open. But apparently not everybody feels that way.”
Collins for his part didn’t want to talk about published reports criticising his bullpen use or his relationship with the front office, though he did say he’d never been approached by the front office about the bullpen issues. Those issues included over-using some of his favourite relievers, but it was probably also fair to say the injury-decimated rotation would have challenged any manager and any pen.
Just as he agonised over whether to let Johan Santana finish that unforgettable no-hitter despite the pitch count and Santana’s swelling health issues, Collins probably agonised over what remained of his rotation and over deploying Jerry Blevins out of the pen on nine straight days with others coming out of the pen as often as five straight.
“It’s part of the job,” Collins said, perhaps a little wearily. “You sit here and make decisions you think are in the best interest, certainly there are a lot of factors involved. We don’t send anyone out to hurt anybody, never have and never will. There are players, training staff, coaches all have input. You make the best decisions to help you win.”
That last remark may have referenced an astonishing accusation that Collins was responsible for the shoulder blood clot that killed closer Jeurys Familia’s season after he returned late as it was following a suspension over a domestic violence issue. “Seriously?!?” Collins asked incredulously when the subject became the blood clot. “With the (World baseball Classic) and all the other factors? I am the reason? Ok, I’ll take it.”
Collins had to take too much. Including the too-frequent moments of having to answer questions about the health of assorted Mets players when Collins himself had nothing to go by except official news releases. The manager some anonymous Mets accused of having communication issues was the same man who couldn’t pry the full story out of his own overseers if he had a crowbar and the jaws of life.
About the only thing Collins wasn’t accused of this year was arranging the publication of the paramour returning to her ex-boyfriend that set injury-and-inconsistency-addled Matt Harvey into a brief depression that was profound enough to send him out to the watering holes holes on Cinco de Mayo, the golf course the next morning, and a mis-communicated request for the next night off.
The same Harvey Collins let talk into starting the ninth of Game Five, 2015 World Series, a chance to finish the shutout he took to that inning, only to see the shutout end, the skipper lift him with two on, and the Mets’ porous defense let Eric Hosmer score the tying run, a little daringly, when first baseman Lucas Duda—dealt away this season—couldn’t make a good throw home to finish an inning-ending double play that a high school first baseman often can finish.
This was not Bobby Valentine blowing up the 2012 Red Sox, who were almost as injury decimated as the Mets, but whose already-toxic clubhouse going in was saddled with a manager who throve on division and conquest. Who thought injuries too often equaled lack of heart. Who threw assorted players and coaches under the proverbial bus when things got even tighter. Who even called David Ortiz a quitter after Ortiz’s premature return on a balky ankle prompted the team medical staff to tell him to shut it down for the rest of a lost season.
Wright knows it well enough. Collins might demand a man’s accountability and brook no excuses, but he wasn’t trying to divide, conquer, or suggest any Met injury was the player’s own fault. And he never called any player a quitter for having to be shut down a season thanks to yet another unsought injury.
“We are together for six months, we are around each other every day, we are in that clubhouse and with the coaching staff and the players more than we are around our family,” Wright said. “His door is 10 feet from there. Man up and go talk to him.
“Since he has been here, his door is always open, whether it’s your first day in the big leagues or your 15th year….I don’t know who these guys are but my guess are they are guys whose season hasn’t gone like they wanted it. Maybe they aren’t having a good season, or maybe they didn’t get the playing time they wanted. Man up and talk to him.”
Now you know why maybe losing Wright for the season might have been the biggest blow to the injury-destroyed 2017 Mets.
Opening the season without Familia in the pen, getting him back for a handful of games, then losing him again to the shoulder clot, forced Collins to play twenty spinning plates with the bullpen. But without Wright to police the clubhouse the clubhouse became unhinged enough. More than one published report has suggested several disciplinary issues this year wouldn’t have happened with Wright in the clubhouse.
Collins says he’ll walk away with his head high if the Mets indeed prefer him to take that long walk off that short plank after today’s finale with the Phillies. The Phillies at least handled Pete MacKanin’s execution honourably. Something that wouldn’t be lost on Collins when he swaps lineup cards with MacKanin for the final time Sunday.
“It’s been a lot of fun, and when it’s over, it’s over,” Collins told SNY-TV. “I’ll walk out with my head up. It’s been a great experience. And I’ll tell you, as you know, this is not Riverside, Calif., by any stretch of the imagination. This is an intense place, and second’s never good enough.”
Who’s he kidding? In New York, there’ve been times when even winning the World Series wasn’t good enough.