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Jason Fry and Greg Prince
Faith and Fear in Flushing made its debut on Feb. 16, 2005, the brainchild of two longtime friends and lifelong Met fans.

Greg Prince discovered the Mets when he was 6, during the magical summer of 1969. He is a Long Island-based writer, editor and communications consultant. Contact him here.

Jason Fry is a Brooklyn writer whose first memories include his mom leaping up and down cheering for Rusty Staub. Check out his other writing here.

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Terry Collins and Kid Gloves

As one who wasn’t keeping up on the Astros’ day-to-day machinations from 1994 to 1996 nor the Angel melodramas of 1997 to 1999, I have to admit I knew little about Terry Collins during his first two tenures as a major league manager, other than he looked kind of miserable in Houston and it ended rather miserably in Anaheim.

The Terry Collins who won few plaudits as the returns on his management style chronically diminished seems to have been left behind in the last century, replaced by a kinder, gentler, wiser, more empathetic character about whom nobody has a bad word to say personally (a few bunting and bullpen calls aside). Check out Ken Rosenthal’s piece on the Met-amorphosis of a skipper, from “notoriously high-strung” to someone who’s succeeded via “remarkable transformation” for a well-deserved pat on Terry’s back.

Recalling erstwhile Met David Cone’s assessment that the Yankees got him when he was in his calmer, more mature yet still effective “second husband” phase while we had him when he was wild and at least once wanted by the law, it’s nice knowing that for a change we got somebody at the stage of his career when he’s at his best. Not only is this Terry Collins preferable to the Astro/Angel model, he’s worn way better than his three predecessors — Jerry Manuel, Willie Randolph and Art Howe — and become the manager to finally put an end to the residual pining many of us long maintained for their predecessor, Bobby Valentine.

Can you feel the “but…” coming?

The but is more a sense than a complaint, because I have no concrete complaints with Terry Collins or the overall job he’s done. But my sense is he overcompensates sometimes for the manager he used to be, the well-meaning results coming out, well…weird.

Terry threw himself full-force under the bus for removing Jose Reyes a half-inning too soon for comfort on Closing Day last year. It was such a strange episode to begin with, and it got only stranger in the postgame when Terry attempted to explain his culpability in letting Reyes bolt from the box score in the top of the first to preserve his league-leading batting average. The premeditated protection of .337, fairly standard in baseball folkways, was far less the issue than the timing of Reyes taking a seat before many fans had a chance to take theirs. At least have him go to short, tip his cap, get a few more people in the ballpark for what turned out to be a Met icon’s last day on the job. As someone who grumbled in the right field stands over the incredible, disappearing shortstop, that’s all I wanted.

The manager took responsibility. Fine. He took the blame. Fine. He broke down and made an enormous and emotional admission of what it took for him and his staff to earn their players’ respect and if his star wanted to go out on these terms, then that was the way it was going to be, blame him the manager. It was human and thoughtful and, besides, it was Closing Day. If you can’t show yourself as blatantly sentimentally introspective as a baseball season is ending, what’s the point of being what they call a baseball man?

A few weeks ago — though it seems longer —  Terry jumped on another grenade after another questionable decision involving another star player. That was the Brewers game in which D.J. Carrasco had so much trouble locating his sinker that it rose high enough to smack Ryan Braun in his left arm. Coming as it did on the heels of a Carrasco-surrendered home run in one of those (several) games the Mets were losing by a ton of runs, it all looked a little peculiar, intentionwise. Soon enough, Carrasco was an unmissed ex-Met, but not before another weird interlude in which Collins pulled David Wright from the lineup in advance of his imminent at-bat. SNY’s cameras found the manager and the .408-hitting third baseman in an animated exchange, the upshot of which didn’t require lip-reading expertise. It was clear David Wright did not want to come out of the game because David, de facto captain serving under Colonel Collins, did not want to be seen as ducking potential retaliation from Zack Greinke or not taking one — or, per usual, everything — for the team.

Right move for Collins? Maybe. The Mets, you may have noticed, are prone to injuries and if there was any risk to the N.L. batting leader at that moment, the season would have been on the endangered species list. There’s no telling what the Brewers were thinking, but my guess was Greinke, pitching a shutout and being Greinke, wasn’t going to headhunt just because Carrasco, immediately ejected (to only modest on-field objection from Collins), plunked his MVP teammate. But that was just a guess. It was 8-0 in the seventh inning. Never-say-dieness notwithstanding, the Mets weren’t coming back. Why not take David out for a little rest?

Better yet, why not, when the carnivorous gentlemen of the press asked what was up with that, answer, “I was resting my player. David’s been playing with a fractured pinkie and giving his all. He wanted to stay in, he’s such a competitor. That’s all there is to it. Next question.” Collins could have winked, the reporters could have rolled their eyes a little and baseball as we’ve known it for decades would have been served. Instead, the Full Terry 2.0 was on display as every ounce of angst seem to come pouring out of him, suggesting the Brewers might have wanted to have hit David…which made the manager and the Mets look guiltier than the actions of a lone wolf ineffective reliever should have. Yeah, the dugout discussion between Collins and Wright appeared fierce on TV, but as David himself said, as he is prone to as an expert issuer of controversy-defusing quotes, “You get caught up in the moment and things probably looked a lot worse than they really were.”

It all blew over as Carrasco was immediately DFA’d, the Brewers left town and new mini-dramas came and went, but by the next day I began to think that Terry Collins, for all the praise he’s rightfully received and for all the progress he’s admirably extracted, may not last as manager beyond this season. I just get the feeling this being a changed man business is way harder than it looks, that the combination of characteristic intensity and extra care he takes to watch his step and publicly blame himself when things go periodically awry isn’t good for a person.

Friday night in the Bronx, I sensed it again when Collins stood in front of the veritable Tiananmen Square tank and insisted Johan Santana’s lousy outing in a stadium where he’s historically been abymsal was all his fault. The extra day of rest, which became a huge story not just because of Johan’s huge last outing but because Terry so sweated and bled the arbitrary pitch count the previous Friday, apparently backfired. Johan, said the skipper, didn’t have a bad game in surrendering four home runs over five innings…the skipper had a bad game:

“I am responsible for the way he pitched. He was rusty. The command of his stuff was not as sharp as it’s been the past three or four or five starts. It was my doing tonight. We erred on the side of caution, and it cost us the game.”

Hiroki Kuroda and his seven innings of one-hit ball notwithstanding, it’s likely Santana was a little too well-rested, however understandable the precautionary fervor given his post-rehab status. If rotations really turned at their most optimal on that much rest, why are none of them regularly of the six-man variety? Teams carry twelve, sometimes thirteen pitchers. Every pitch is monitored as if it could be the last of a pitcher’s career. If this really worked, I bet somebody would try it and stick with it instead of saving it (as Valentine did in the late ’90s) for extraordinary circumstances.

Let’s say everything Collins says is true, that’s it all his fault, that Santana was merely an instrument for his managerial malfeasance, that the balls whacked by Cano, Jones and that dipstick Swisher were predetermined by Terry’s horrendous miscalculation, not because sometimes those things happen.

Even if we say all that, it’s a loss. It’s one loss. Even if it’s an unattractive 9-1 Subway Series loss, it’s just one demerit in a season when there’s plenty of goodwill and chits to go around and nobody’s falling out of a playoff race because of it. Johan was undeniably lousy, but he hung in, his arm didn’t fall off, we still have the Friday night from the week before and, better yet, we have today. Managers are always preaching the importance of putting it behind us and moving on. I suppose this is Terry’s attempt to do that. Yet why does it feel he’s laboring far more than Santana did against the Yankees?

Again, I really get the armchair feeling that Terry is trying so dadburn hard not to be who he used to be and is so dadburn dedicated to being New Age Terry that it’s not good for him. The “respect” thing he talked about last September seems to have paid off in how his players (who, blessedly, have no obvious prima donnas or malcontents in their visible ranks) view him and play for him, but I hope Terry has enough respect for himself to not tie himself up in unnecessary knots every time a star-related pothole materializes on the long season’s road. Because as I said, I don’t think it’s going to wear well ultimately, and if a team that’s played hard and responded to him falls out of contention and winds up in a competitive free-fall the way his team did last year anyway, I can imagine it not wearing at all.

I was wrong that Terry Collins would likely be a bad fit for the New York Mets. I hope I’m wrong again.

4 comments to Terry Collins and Kid Gloves

  • Joe D.

    Hi Greg,

    This actually cost us more than one game. By pitching out of turn, Terry messed up the entire rotation. Santana would have taken his regular turn against the Nats on Wednesday and, though no one could say for certain, it would have been a good bet that Johann would have been in sync and not out of rhythm and not surrendered the four (three earned) runs in six innings.

    And Neise would have started last night’s game on four days rest. Will the extra and unnecessary day off take a little off his game and give the Yankees that extra advantage this evening?

    So all in all, Terry’s reaction might wind up costing us three games – there is valid enough evidence to speculate that his juggling of the rotation – in fear of the damage an extra 20 pitches would do to one’s pitching arm – already has cost us two.

    But I’m wondering if Terry being so cautious with Johann with his pitch count on Friday and the subsequent messing up the rotation for at least one round (setting everybody back a day) was as much his fault as it was the vibes he gets from the front office. Being the veteran baseball man that he is, he certainly did not listen to his veteran pitcher who is smart enough to know not to tell his manager he is fine if he isn’t.

    Was it his decision to rest Santana for six days or was that the direction he either sensed or was told from those above who have more faith in computer analysis than the baseball mind? As you point out, Sandy takes the blame for his players, so why not for those who make out the paycheck?

    All speculative, of course, but I think valid questions to ask.

    Joe

    • Joe,

      Let’s not forget Niese had to leave his start last Sunday for an irregular heartbeat, so giving him the extra rest was likely a separate issue.

      • Joe D.

        Hi Greg

        Well, doesn’t mean much at this point since Gee is the starter tonight taking his regular turn. Don’t know if he’s scheduled for tomorrow, but if so, Niese will also be pitching on six days rest.

  • Ed

    From a competition point of view I don’t think it necessary for Collins to speak so much from his heart at these press conferences. I don’t think he or any manager needs to explain every detail of their decisions. I do like his very ‘human’ personality but it may hurt him down the road. Perhaps he should put a wall up now and again.