Before he was fired as the general manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers, Paul DePodesta was preparing to hire Terry Collins as the new Dodgers manager to replace Jim Tracy. Tracy and DePodesta were never on the same page either philosophically or personally and the veteran manager Collins was DePodesta’s first choice as Tracy’s replacement. That plan was upended when DePodesta was also fired. So it was no surprise that when Sandy Alderson took over as the GM of the New York Mets after the 2010 season and brought DePodesta in as his assistant that Collins – already working for the Mets as their minor league coordinator – was at the top of the list to become the team’s new manager.
Collins would be able to stand a drawn out rebuild, keep the team in line off the field, and work in tandem with the front office without having to be treated as the functionary that the people in the Mets front office want their manager to be. Resistance to the plan is the bane to the existence of front offices that think like the Mets. It’s been evident with the Chicago Cubs as Theo Epstein is now on his third manager since taking over as team president. It was clear with Alderson himself when he pushed Bruce Bochy out the door as the San Diego Padres manager in favor of the cheaper and more pliable Bud Black. Bochy is on his way to the Hall of Fame with three World Series wins in the last five years as manager of the San Francisco Giants. Black, the epitome of mediocrity as a manager and a holdover with the Padres who’s somehow survived four regimes, may be on the verge of finally losing his job.
Collins has a superior resume to Black, but he too may be rattling his cage to the degree that Alderson finally pulls the lever and opens the trap door. It’s even possible that Alderson has his eye on the Padres situation with an idea that it will be Black replacing Collins.
The reasoning behind Alderson wanting to get rid of Bochy was in line with his belief system of what the manager should be. Bochy was resistant to the stat-based tactics that Alderson’s front office prefers and he understandably chafed at the interference and audacious interlopers who had never been in uniform or picked up a baseball, but felt they were qualified to make suggestions to someone who’s been in baseball for his entire working life as a player, coach and manager. In addition, Alderson didn’t want to pay Bochy what he was making at the time. Rather than fire him, he simply let him interview for other jobs. It was a mutual parting of the ways with everyone getting what they wanted.
Most managers have a survivalist instinct. In today’s game, part of that is following orders from GMs and their assistants when, in years past, they could tell their “bosses” to get the hell out of their office and get away with it. That won’t fly today.
Collins, while an old-school baseball man whose roots and sensibilities are similar to those of his former boss with the Pittsburgh Pirates Jim Leyland and Leyland’s longtime buddy (and Alderson’s former manager with the Oakland Athletics) Tony La Russa, was willing to implement the new metrics into his strategies. Whether he did this because he knew he had to to get the job or because he really believes in them is in dispute. Regardless, the cage rattling is something that bears watching as the Mets move forward into the summer with an injury-plagued roster and a clear shot to steal a division title with the reeling Washington Nationals betraying no resemblance to the prohibitive favorites they were prior to the season.
Collins was faced with a choice and for a long time he bowed to expediency. Knowing that this is more than likely his last chance to manage a big league team, he took the meddling with a shrug and did as he was told. He accepted that he was going to be saddled with relatively short-term contracts and, in 2015, the status as a lame duck. He tolerated the open statement on the part of his GM that he was on the verge of being fired in 2014.
But now, as the team is half on the verge of being quite good and half on the verge of suffering another second half spiral because of a lack of hitting, injuries and a failure to secure competent reinforcements, Collins is showing the “enough of this” attitude having reached his breaking point and no longer cares about the consequences. His attitude is that of knowing he’s probably going to get fired unless there’s a deep playoff run and he’s letting that seep out in his statements to the media and a clear disconnect between what he says and what the front office does.
Whereas he was once accommodating with the media and tamped down on the intensity that got him ousted as the manager of the Houston Astros and the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, the feistiness is returning with Collins openly telling the media that they don’t know what they’re talking about and that he’s been doing this job longer than they’ve been alive. Collins made his displeasure with the current state of his roster known in a telling chat with John Smoltz that Collins himself related. The latest is that Collins stated that the Mets brief foray into using a six-man rotation was over after one turn and one poor start from Dillon Gee, only to see his proclamation undone by Alderson with Gee slated to start against the Braves on Sunday.
This situation is such that the manager took the job with a promised payoff years down the road. He would have an opportunity – one that he was not going to get anywhere else – to redeem himself. But like most “just wait” scenarios, the promises or allusions to promises do not appear to be written in ink on the blueprint. How much castration is he supposed to take? At what point does he say that he’s not going to go out as a baseball man with the entire world thinking that he was a faceless puppet or, worse, an incompetent?
The Mets front office is making their manager look like a fool by undermining him at every opportunity. With the new way in which baseball managers are treated, the majority of teams will never allow a manager to have the power that a Joe Torre, LaRussa, Whitey Herzog or Lou Piniella demanded and received. If that is unsaid and there’s still a façade of importance in the manager’s office, then it’s possible to get away with the front office dictating the on-field decisions. If, however, there’s so open a disdain for the manager that something he said a week before is suddenly undone with a total disregard for his perception in and out of the clubhouse, then what’s the point of keeping him?
Collins has been a good soldier hoping for that last shot. Now it’s becoming abundantly clear that there is a yawning chasm between himself and his bosses and it’s incrementally coming out in public undertones of displeasure. By mid-summer, if this continues, Collins might just dare Alderson to fire him. And Alderson will. Professionally, it won’t benefit Collins to do this, but at the very least he’ll salvage a portion of his baseball man self-respect because he’d reached his limit and did what he had to do to retain some sense of dignity.