There’s a great story about Hall of Fame manager Walter Alston. The team was traveling on an old bus and the players were complaining mightily about it. Alston stood up and told the team to shut up. Furthermore, if anyone had any problems, they could stop the bus and walk outside and settle things the old fashioned way. And no one else said a word.
Now, try imagining that scene unfolding with Terry Collins.
To be fair, Alston was 6’2 and no one will ask Collins to go anywhere near the paint in a game of pickup basketball. But it’s not like Alston was the size of Frank Howard or anything. As much as his size, players knew Alston was the boss. They knew that he ran the team during the games and likely had a huge say in players coming and going, too. He had authority, real authority, and everyone on the bus knew it.
Meanwhile, no one has any idea how much authority Collins has.
The game has evolved to where it’s no question that general managers hold much more authority than managers do. In a way, this makes sense. Fortune 500 companies don’t let middle managers make decisions that have a great impact on the bottom line. The current wisdom in baseball is that managers exist to carry out orders from the GM.
Each team is different, with some managers having more authority than others. But with the retirement of Jim Leyland and the dismissal of Dusty Baker, who are the managers who carry the juice here in 2014? Mike Scioscia probably fits the bill and no one will accuse Buck Showalter of being a yes man, either. There are undoubtedly others, too. But the names of managers with Alston-like clout do not exactly roll off the tongue.
It seems to me the pendulum has swung too far. Yes, it’s a good thing that we don’t have a raging alcoholic like Billy Martin calling the shots in the dugout anymore. But if given a choice, my preference would be to have a young Davey Johnson as a manger in control of the team. Someone who was both smart and tough, someone who would risk everything for what he knew was right.
If all the manager brings to the table is carrying out decisions from the front office, why not install a loudspeaker in the dugout and let Sandy Alderson manage the game from his private suite? The backup catcher can go to the mound to make pitching changes. They can designate captain David Wright to answer questions from the media that would normally go to the manager. What else is left?
This should make the Wilpons happy. If we carry out the current deployment to its logical conclusion, we eliminate the manager’s position and save whatever salary they’re paying Collins. Which brings to mind another point – exactly how much is Collins getting paid? We know every incentive clause in every player’s contract but we have no idea how much the manager pulls down per year. That seems, um, insane. Is no one else even remotely curious about how much Collins gets from the Mets? Someone get Adam Rubin to ask this question.
If you have a talented person in the managerial seat, you want him to make decisions. The GM hires the manager so during the interview process you pick someone on the same wavelength in regards to how often to run or sacrifice or make pitching changes. And then you get out of his way and let him run the day-to-day operations, allowing the GM to focus on the big picture, including whether to retain the skipper.
But that’s certainly not the way the Mets operate in 2014. My take is that Alderson is a good GM and Collins is a bad manager. But is the truth more like Alderson is a good GM and a bad manager? If that’s the case – wouldn’t it be a splendid idea to keep Alderson the GM and get rid of Alderson the manager?
My preference is for a manager to examine three years worth of failed bullpens because of an over-reliance on LOOGYs and try a different deployment. Yet our manager has been extremely vocal to the press about the need for two lefties in the bullpen. Is this the one thing Alderson has given his blessing to Collins to discuss publicly?
My preference is for a manager to worry less about players showing up early for Spring Training and more about showing up in shape and the right frame of mind to have a great year. But our manager bellyached endlessly about Ruben Tejada showing up on time in 2012 yet he did not say one thing about his condition/mind set in 2013 until the regular season was one-third over. Did Alderson prevent Collins from expressing that opinion in February (and March and April and May)?
My preference is to carry a roster that makes sense, not one with six outfielders and no backup shortstop. Was Collins prevented from voicing his opinion in public on this matter? Especially since his one shortstop wasn’t in shape? And to make matters worse, he had to watch and hear management rip Justin Turner on the way out the door for not hustling. Did Collins not notice a player on the roster all season, one whose presence prevented a backup shortstop, loafing on every ground ball he hit? Shouldn’t the manager be responsible for getting rid of guys not giving it their all in between the white lines?
Is it wrong to want a manager with the huevos to tell the GM that a player isn’t hustling or that his shortstop is killing the team or that playing a butcher in the outfield is a bad idea? Is it wrong to want a manager with a spine firmer than that of a chocolate éclair? We get frustrated over Ike Davis wanting to succeed on his terms – shouldn’t we be equally frustrated if our manager has no terms whatsoever of his own?
It was deflating to see Collins get an extension. But if in fact the Mets manager really has no authority and Alderson is the one pulling all the strings, what difference does it make?
Who made the decision to play John Buck, Davis and Tejada every day in May when the Mets’ offense was in the toilet – was that Alderson or Collins? That should be the manager’s decision, no questions asked. You can probably come up with a dozen or more different scenarios where we as fans are left wondering who was responsible. The bottom line is that there are things that were done wrong that someone needs to be held accountable for at the end of the day.
We have no problem praising Alderson when he trades for Zack Wheeler or panning him when he drafts Gavin Cecchini. We need that same clarity in who to give the credit and blame for decisions that once were in the exclusive territory of the manager. It’s not fair to blame Collins for his slavish devotion to bullpen matchups if he’s ordered by Alderson to do it.
The GM should set the goals of the organization yet the manager should have some flexibility, some authority in how those goals are carried out. At times there should be conflict between the manager and the GM. The manager should be able to go to the GM and complain that his shortstop is out of shape and that he has no backup to play in his place. And if the GM does nothing to rectify the situation, the manager should have the ability to voice his concerns to the press.
The ability to go to the press – after trying to settle things in house – serves two purposes. One, it puts some type of pressure on the GM to act. Secondly, it serves to let us know who’s responsible. Since Collins is writing the names in the lineup, one would expect him to be responsible. But if the GM steadfastly refuses to give the manager an MLB quality SS to play instead – shouldn’t he get the blame?
No one wants to get smeared by a subordinate and it’s easy to understand why the situation has evolved like it has. For being a good solider, Collins is getting ready to begin his fourth season at the helm and he’ll get paid for five. By all rights he should have been replaced after two so it’s hard to say it hasn’t been good for him personally.
But for the fans it stinks.
There should be a type of checks and balances going on with the manager and the GM. But if the manager has no power and no authority, it’s easy to see a situation that could go horribly wrong. Then when you consider that the GM was likely ordered into his place by the commissioner, the possibility exists for a person with entirely too much control.
In a weird way, it makes one almost happy for the presence of Jeff Wilpon. While he has no authority, at least he has the ability to make Alderson’s life difficult. Recall how miffed Alderson was when the younger Wilpon hinted at a big move to come during the Winter Meetings. For once, Alderson felt some pressure. The press – and by extension the fans – were waiting for news of a free agent signing or trade. While it only lasted a few hours, Alderson had a fire to put out.
No one likes having conflict but creating a system where none is allowed to exist is not ideal, either. I very much like that Alderson is the Mets’ general manager. What bothers me is that he’s in a situation with entirely too much power. His manager knows which side his bread is buttered and Fred Wilpon wouldn’t dream of speaking out against Bud Selig’s former executive vice president.
It’s a good thing that the owner is not meddling. But it would be better if the manager had some authority, some ability to question the moves made upstairs, especially when they go against providing the best possible team for the fans to watch.