If fans picked the team’s manager, it is highly unlikely that Terry Collins would have gotten the job last season. But if you asked those same fans a year later what they thought of Collins, the vast majority would give him a favorable job rating. Collins did an excellent job of keeping his team together throughout the season, despite the numerous obstacles he faced.
Collins comes into this season in a rather unusual, perhaps even envious, position. He obviously has the support of management, he has won over the fans and apparently he has the support of his players, as there have been no loud whispers of unhappiness coming from any of the troops. To top it all off, nobody has any expectations of a winning season in 2012.
It is about as close to a fool-proof situation that a manager could possibly imagine here in the 21st Century. Collins can lead and teach his players, build relationships and do his best to position his club for success in the future. If he wins 75 games in the process, most will consider that an unqualified success. If he loses 100 games, many will see that as an indictment of the talent on hand and not put any blame at Collins’ feet.
Still, if we view this season in terms of the history of Mets managers, this is a make-or-break year for Collins. The Mets have had 20 managers in their existence and the successful ones all made their mark by their second season with the club. No manager in club history has ever produced a winning record in any full season if they were below .500 in their second full year at the helm.
Gil Hodges led the Mets to the World Series in his second year
Yogi Berra was 82-79 in his second season
Davey Johnson’s second squad won 98 games
The Mets went 88-74 in the second full season under Bobby Valentine
Willie Randolph guided the club to 97 wins in his second season
Now let’s look at the other side of the coin. Here are the managers who finished under .500 in their second full season and what happened to them afterwards:
Casey Stengel led the Mets to an 11-game improvement in his second season with the club. The following year the Mets won 53 games, 13 more than they did in their inaugural season. In 1965 Stengel broke his hip and was replaced as the team’s manager. His lifetime record as skipper of the Mets: 175-404.
Joe Torre went 63-99 in his second full season as skipper, a drop of three games from the previous year. Torre managed the Mets for two more seasons and finished with a record of 286-420 in his first managerial stint. The 67 wins in 1980 was the high-water mark for the Torre-led Mets.
Dallas Green went 69-75 in the strike-shortened 1995 season, his second full year as Mets manager. Green returned the following year but was fired after the Mets started out 59-72. In parts of four years guiding the team, Green finished with a lifetime 229-283 record. That 69-win season was his best mark in Queens.
Art Howe went 71-91 for the 2004 Mets. While it was a five-game improvement over the previous season, it was not enough for him to be asked back for a third year. Howe finished with a 137-186 mark.
Jerry Manuel went 79-83 in his second full year with the Mets. Like Felix Unger before him, Manuel was asked to leave his place of residence. In his two-plus seasons leading the Mets, Manuel posted a 204-213 record. The highpoint of his Mets tenure came in his partial year, when the Mets went 55-38, as Manuel benefitted from being in place just shortly after Carlos Delgado began his remarkable turnaround.
The remaining managers were either interim skippers or did not make two full seasons with the club.
Getting back to Collins, it is interesting to speculate how things will turn out for the man who will turn 63 this May. Most people considered him a transitional manager when he got the job last year, perhaps someone to keep the seat warm for fan favorite Wally Backman, while the former Mets star got experience managing in the upper levels of the minors.
But the Mets have already picked up Collins’ option for the 2013 season, making it a near certainty that he completes two full years at the helm of the Mets. Does Collins buck the trend, becoming the first manager for the club to finish over .500 when he was below that mark in year two with the club?
Or is Collins destined to end up more like Torre, a man on the job for several seasons but never finishing with a winning record? And if Collins does indeed follow this career path, how will he be remembered? Will fans recall him as the man who brought professionalism back to the dugout and accountability to the team? Or will they look at him as more like Green, an old guy who once he was replaced by a younger, more dynamic skipper, the team immediately became contenders?
There is one scenario not mentioned. What if Collins leads the team over .500 this season?