If there is one last intangible in the game of baseball, it is the role of the manager. I’m sure contribution can be totaled by calculating the odds of one move versus another in some endless algorithm. Many of us over the years have played an armchair analyst or Monday morning quarterback regarding Terry Collins specifically. He has given us much fodder with which to feast. His repeated treatment of lefties in the bullpen has been well documented on this site time and again. His mannerism leave the impression of a bumbler when it comes to the media. And his in-game strategies have never been viewed as dynamic, or innovative. Instead Collins fills a role that most managers can’t, and that’s being a good leader.
Leading often means getting out of the way, and simply getting the best out of people. Chances are there is someone in your life, perhaps at work, that is always looking to butt in or give advice. A manager can often get that way. The Mets only have to look across town to see an example of a manager, in Billy Martin, who was a genius on the field but a source of aggravation in the clubhouse. Nobody is looking to punch Collins in the face, because everyone is happy.
Of course their happy, you say, they’re winning. But it wasn’t always so. The Mets 2015 has been repeatedly referred to as a roller-coaster year, and that’s pretty accurate. There were early winning streaks and first place claims. Then came terrible slumps and injuries galore. A rejuvenated roster helped the core players get healthy and reach higher potential. And now the Mets are four wins away from being declared the best team in baseball. They’ve beaten the two best pitchers in the game, twice, and swept one of the brightest young offensive teams in the entire game. How did they get from there to here?
Collins does not deserve all the credit. Far from it. There were games he certainly hurt the team more than aided. But whatever on-field general quality he lacks in the dugout, he apparently makes up for in the clubhouse. Repeatedly players have been quoted as saying that early on this season, it was expected they would do well. And they did, for the first few weeks. Yet when winning times gave way to the doldrums and struggles, the team kept saying the same things. ‘Our guys are confident’, and ‘we know we can win’. Sure, it’s baseball platitude nonsense, but it’s also all true.
When teams don’t have a healthy clubhouse, it becomes evident. Diva players, bad communication between staff and players, and straight up people not liking each other have brought teams down before. Jonathan Papelbon and Bryce Harper ring bells for anyone? It’s easy to judge when a team folds at the end of the year. But where was the leadership earlier that year to quell the need for such outburst? Matt Williams probably wasn’t all to blame, just as Collins isn’t all to praise. But that secret ingredient must be appreciated for it’s value to the team.
Of course Collins didn’t do it all himself. David Wright, Curtis Granderson, Bartolo Colon, and Michael Cuddyer are all positive veteran clubhouse presences. Scandals don’t follow them around, and usually they only make news outside of baseball for their charity work. While guys like Lucas Duda and Daniel Murphy have always come across as humble and workmanlike. The sole distraction when it came to this team was one Matt Harvey. And even that was more related to play on the field then it was anything off the field. The point is that Collins, and to a great degree Sandy Alderson, have guiding this team with patience. Patience that Alderson thanked Mets fans for enduring after Game 4 in Chicago by stating, “New York has been patient with us, and loyal. Our goal was to play good baseball through the entire regular season. We took some detours along the way. We had some injuries, but the pitching kept us in it through the first half of the season and we were able to add some offense, get some people back and everything came together. I’m glad that they’ve been rewarded.”
Now all our patience has been rewarded. Collins doesn’t need to go out and win games with his actions. He’s done his job by putting this team in a position to get the primetime moments on the field, not in the locker room or nightclubs. He’s no Mickey Goldmill. He’s Terry Collins damnit, and he does his job with a goofy grin.