Just before Thanksgiving 2010, the Mets hired Terry Collins to shepherd the Mets into their new era. The talk at the time was based in GM Sandy Alderson’s history – apocryphal though it might be – of disdain for the position. There isn’t a copy of Moneyball handy, but the quote was something about the man in the dugout being nothing more than a “middle-manager,” a replaceable part entrusted with the day-to-day operations of a ballclub. That’s why most Mets fans were unsurprised when Alderson bypassed available “name” options like Bobby Valentine or Wally Backman. It was clear that what was needed was, indeed, a “caretaker,” someone who would fumigate the Citi Field clubhouse, clearing the fumes from the attitudes of the late-Minaya era. At the time, I called Collins’s hiring a “tenting operation,” similar to the practice exterminators use to rid a location of pesky vermin.
Three years later, it would appear Collins has fulfilled his mandate. It would appear that the sense of entitlement – that particular brand of hubris that has existed in Queens clubhouses since the 2006 playoffs – has dissipated. With the lowering of the team’s median age comes a commensurate lowering of expectations and assumptions. The room is mostly kids, not aging superstars. Like newborn colts, they are still getting their legs underneath them, testing their abilities and limits. This, it would seem, also plays into Terry Collins’s strength. These guys are still young enough that their attitudes are malleable. Their respective characters can still be molded to reflect the image ownership and the Alderson front office desire: a youthful group who enjoys each other and “plays the game the right way.” As for the veterans – David Wright and Johan Santana, in particular – it has taken a kind of “finesse” job from Collins. The trick was to let them in on the thought process, top to bottom: if they buy into Collins and Alderson, the rest of the room will, theoretically, follow suit. That’s all great.
It has been reported that Terry Collins would very much like a contract extension, so he can see his work to its final fruition – the inevitable playoff appearance/World Championship that ownership and Alderson assure us fans is on the horizon. No such offer seems to be forthcoming. According to Metsblog this morning, Collins is appearing more “antsy” than in camps past. His answers to simple questions seem curt and impatient. He addressed the players yesterday, and the take-away was that his voice rose steadily as the talk progressed, leading Wright to quip to a writer “Same old Terry.” To your intrepid columnist, that’s a red flag. It’s hard to comment on something when you’re not actually in the room, hearing it directly, but it sounds like Wright et al have started tuning Terry out. Bad, very bad. Remember that Collins screamed himself out of solid gigs in Houston and Anaheim, alienating player, fan, beat writer and executive alike. He “lost the clubhouse,” in the parlance, both times. If he’s as on the verge as he appears, it’s a foregone conclusion that someone else will be manning the con during the crucial 2014 season. Tradition would point toward AAA skipper Backman being that guy. And wouldn’t that be fun for everybody concerned?
This might be a year-long conversation. Better buckle up.
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