When I found out about Terry Collins’ two-year extension with the Mets, it brought to mind how delegates at political conventions used to yell “Four more years, four more years,” during the nomination of a sitting president. Collins signed an extension through 2017 which was announced during a press conference right about the time I was working on this article. In May or June, with the team running out a AAA roster at best and being regularly embarrassed, this move would have been unconscionable. Callers on local talk radio shows wanted his head, and that of his boss Sandy Alderson, the Mets’ general manager. He too met the media today with Collins.
So, who is this Mets’ manager who has gone from the poor house to the penthouse in 4 short months? Who is the man people wanted fired, who will now get votes for National League manager of the year? Terry Lee Collins, of Midland, Michigan is what’s called a baseball lifer, like a gym rat in basketball or boxing. He played shortstop at Eastern Michigan between 1968 and 1971 when it was still an NAIA school. He played 10 years in the minors between the Pirates and Dodgers organization. He is a rarity-a manager without even a “cup of coffee,” which is a brief appearance in the majors as a player.
As a manager, his first stop was Lodi, the Dodgers’ California League A-ball team then. In 1983, instead of being stuck in Lodi again he was promoted to the AAA Albuquerque Dukes. (pending city motto-The City That’s Usually Spelled Wrong.) He collected a Pacific Coast League title there in 1987. The Pirates signed him on, and he managed for 3 seasons with their AAA team in Buffalo. He averaged 82 wins a year there, which isn’t easy when the team played a 140-game schedule. This was in the time when the Pirates were good, before their 20-year Rip Van Winkle act that began in 1993. Collins was their bull pen coach in 1992 and 1993, working for manager Jim Leyland whose number Collins wears with the Mets. From there he managed the Houston Astros which were then a National League team, for 3 successful seasons. That was followed by 3 seasons with the Anaheim Angels. From 2000 to 2006 appears to be the only time he wasn’t anywhere in baseball.
As Bobby Valentine had done before him, Collins managed a team in Japan in 2007 and early 2008. His team was the Orix Buffaloes. He resigned 49 games into the 2008 season with his team in fifth place. The next spring, he managed the China National team in the World Baseball Classic. Later that summer, in an act of dedication that borders on true love, he managed the Duluth, Minnesota Huskies in the North Woods League, a summer collegiate league. I’ve been to Duluth when they were in the Northern League. Frank Wade Municipal Stadium in Duluth was and in many ways remains an unfinished WPA project whose construction stopped at the start of World War II. We liked going to Duluth solely because we stayed in a hotel with a gambling casino, and if one thing excited my wife in those early years of our marriage it was playing the dime slots in Duluth.
After a year as minor league coordinator with the Mets, Collins became the manager in 2011. This season’s ride to the World Series was the Mets fans’ reward for putting up with six dismal seasons between 2009 and 2014. Collins did this on a pay roll of $120 million. The Royals won the Series while their pay roll was $125 million. The two were the 14th and 15th smallest in the game. Put them together and you get $245 million spent. Meantime the Dodgers, who the Mets vanquished in the NLDS had a bill approaching $300 million for talent. Fair or not, It’s hardly a surprise that their manager Don Mattingly was required to have all his worldly goods moved out from under the smogberry trees and shipped to Miami.
The question that will occupy this offseason is, what will Collins have to manage during the 2016 season? 9 of his troops have already filed for free agency. The most famous of these are Yoenis Cespedes and Daniel Murphy. Eleven more including his brilliant but controversial ace Matt harvey are eligible for arbitration. Zack Wheeler won’t be back until July following Tommy John surgery. The Mets may not want Jenri Mejia back following his second drug suspension. Should they want him, he too couldn’t throw a pitch with intent until July. Harvey, Noah Syndergaard and Jacob DeGrom all threw far more innings than they ever had. How their arms will bounce back is a question Collins will find out the answers to next march in Port St. Lucy, Florida. He needs to know if Steven Matz will remain as fragile as he was in 2015, his first major league season. If he does, his mates will call him “Balsa Boy,” a common nickname for an injury prone player among his team. So many questions, none of which can begin to be answered until March. The price of success.