Thursday, December 02, 2010

Can Terry Collins turn the Mets around?

It's a tough call. He did manage a turn-around for the Angels in the late 1990s, taking them from a losing team to one that finished second in the Designated Hitter League in his first two years there. His third year was blighted by bad luck: injuries, and a player revolt that led to his resignation after the 1999 season. Nevertheless, what he did while their skipper had something to do with the Angels' having won the 2002 World Series. His only other major league manager's job was with the Astros, before his time with the Angels. Since 1999, his only managerial experience has been in Japan (see photo), where he evidently had the courage to take on Godzilla-sized umpires, and with the Chinese national team in the World Baseball Classic in 2009. He spent the past season as the Mets' minor league field coordinator, so he has some familiarity with the organization.

The adjective most used about him is "intense". Do the Mets need "intense" now? I think they do, though whether Collins' brand of intensity is what's needed is in dispute. Ron Hart thinks not. He gives a variety of reasons. One is the usual New York as media-driven pressure cooker, which, along with the problem of being in the same town as the Yankees, he thinks will wear poorly on Collins. Nevertheless, Collins' experience in Anaheim was in a high pressure media market, and the Dodgers had the same relationship to L.A. that the Yanks do to New York. Hart characterizes Collins as a failed manager, but he had winning records in both Houston and Anaheim, though a conflict with players clouded his last season with the Angels (according to Hart, conflict with players also cut short his managerial career in Japan). Perhaps Hart's most forceful argument against Collins is that he hasn't managed in the majors for over a decade, and "[t]he ballparks have changed, the umpires have changed and the nature of the sport itself has evolved in many ways" during those years.

I suspect that Sandy Alderson, the Mets' new General Manager, may see Collins as, at the least, a short-term solution to the Mets' problems: one who can quickly impose order and change the team's course, as he did with the Angels. At 62, Collins may see the Mets job as one last shot at glory before retirement. I hope he succeeds. If he doesn't incite a player revolt, takes the Mets to a World Series championship, and manages them into his seventies (the last like the Mets' first manager, the Old Perfessor), I'll be surprised and delighted.

Thinking about Casey Stengel got me to wondering about the history of Mets managers. A quick web search got me to this handy chart. In their 49 seasons to date, the Mets have had fifteen managers, not counting Collins or four interims. Of these, only five have had overall winning records for their terms as Mets managers: Gil Hodges (1968-1971, 339-309--a 52% winning percentage), Davey Johnson (1984-1990, 595-417--59%), Bud Harrelson (1990-1991, 145-129--53%), Bobby Valentine (1996-2002, 536-467--53%), and Willie Randolph (2005-2008, 302-253--54%). It's interesting how these managers' winning percentages cluster around 53%, except for Johnson, the one outlier at 59%.

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