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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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This Manager's Losing Mentality

Did I hear the manager of the Mets say he expects his team to lose more often than it wins? I did.

I watched the postgame show on SNY Sunday after a rousing 11-3 win. I stayed tuned for the media scrum with Terry Collins, which, by dint of logistics, appears less stage-managed on the road than it does at home. Following games at Citi Field, Collins is seated at an elevated table at the front of a room dedicated to his fielding questions from the press. It’s all relatively dignified for him there. He’s literally placed above the crowd. After away games, however, Terry might have to do his business crammed behind the desk of the visiting manager’s office or standing up against a jury-rigged backdrop of dancing logos. At Dodger Stadium, it was the latter. Such a setting makes the manager look less like a head of state and more like a cornered animal.

Still, there was no reason for Collins to feel uncomfortable under interrogation on Sunday. His club was an eight-run winner, his cleanup hitter pounded two homers, his infield turned a triple play and his starting pitcher put aside his personal grief to deliver six quality innings. True, the manager had to deal with the possibility of no longer having Bartolo Colon by the trade deadline, and there were issues stemming from the early achy exits of slumping David Wright (neck) and steady Daniel Murphy (calf), yet given that this was the 131st Mets game he’d managed this season and his 617th dating back to 2011, the drill should have been familiar to Terry.

Questions came. Questions went. One that was fairly innocuous brought a response I found jarring. It didn’t seem to get written up in any of the game accounts I read (and I checked as many as I could find). Maybe it didn’t seem like news next to Lucas Duda’s slugging, Yasiel Puig’s baserunning, Colon’s status and the injuries. Maybe it didn’t seem like news because if the Mets are playing out another losing season in a forest, nobody who covers the team notices it. But I did.

A reporter asked about the Mets not just winning but beating a team that had captured its previous three games. After acknowledging the Dodgers were “playing good,” here (at 3:20 on sny.tv) was where Collins took his reply:

“As I was telling the coaches in the dugout today in the eighth inning, when we started this road trip and you said, ‘Hey, you’re gonna go two and three and playing two of the teams that are heading for the playoffs, you’d take it.’ Three and two would’ve been a tremendous road trip. After losing the first two here, things didn’t look very good, but we stepped it up today.”

If I’m reading that correctly, the manager of a major league ballclub thinks it’s acceptable to lose three of five games. “You’d take it,” in advance of the road trip. You’d get on a plane for California with the notion that if you didn’t get swept by the A’s or the Dodgers — or that if you won a pair against either of those teams, it was OK to lose three others altogether — you were doing all right.

That wasn’t news coming out of Sunday. Maybe it’s not news after six years of losing baseball, four of them on Collins’s watch. Maybe it’s not news in a Mets culture that seems to put no premium whatsoever on winning any sooner than eventually. I do believe it’s noteworthy, though. The same manager who said he told his team following its most recent sweep at the hands of Washington, “Let’s go win seven of the next eight” (after which they won three and lost five), is content going 2-3 against solid but hardly immortal competition.

Not simply content after starting the trip 1-3, but happy to have been theoretically guaranteed it when everything was still 0-0. So thrilled by it, apparently, that he was sharing this insight with his coaches during the second of those two wins and relating it later to reporters.

This is what it’s come to. Our team’s manager admits our team isn’t good enough to accidentally win more games than it loses against a couple of playoff contenders. Baseball games, mind you. Not once-a-week football games. Not the 0-12 expansion Tampa Bay Bucs of 1976 bundling up and flying to Pittsburgh to run straight into the teeth of the Steel Curtain defense. Those Steelers had given up a total of 28 points in their previous seven games — all victories — when they hosted the legendarily futile first-year Buccaneers.

Y’know what happened at Three Rivers Stadium on Sunday afternoon, December 5, 1976? The Steelers won, 42-0. Because that’s football. Y’know what happened when the first Dream Team played Angola during the 1992 Olympics? The USA won, 116-48. Because that’s basketball. Sometimes in some sports you know your lousy team has almost no chance against their fantastic team.

This is baseball. The gap is almost never so wide that you give up in advance on a week; that you decide not quite breaking even is OK. You certainly don’t do it when you’re on the inside and you don’t casually mention it later. Not when you’re the titular leader. It’s one thing for you or me to sit here and decide we’ll be lucky if the Mets come home from California 2-3. It’s another thing for the manager to come to that conclusion. And it’s absolutely mind-boggling that he’d share it without reservation in front of a passel of digital recording devices and notebooks.

The Mets flew west with a record of 59-67. The A’s they met were 73-51. The Dodgers they’d see next started their series versus New York at 72-57, at which point the Mets were 60-68. The A’s and Dodgers had better records, more talent and home-field advantage. But the Mets had a history of playing better on the road than they do at home, all their pitchers lined up in rotation and every motivation to prove themselves worthy of roster consideration for 2015. In other words, there was no reason to write off a winning trip before the trip commenced. Yet Terry Collins reviewed the situation and explained that’s basically what he did. He turned five days’ worth of .400 ball into the moral equivalent of going .500.

Which doesn’t connote winning, either.

He does this a lot. Listen to his postgame remarks after losses (of which there will be plenty between now and September 28, the manager has helpfully implied). The Mets are always “one or two hits” from winning instead of losing, he likes to say. “We were in it all the way,” is another common refrain, as if partial points are awarded for proximity to the most runs. Collins doesn’t have his team positioned to win. He has them prepared for pats on the head.

Lousy teams beat better teams regularly enough in baseball so that it’s not a novelty. Ask the 1964 Cardinals, who almost saw their National League pennant pulled out from under them when the tenth-place Mets came to St. Louis and took the first two games of a crucial three-game series. Ask the 2007 Mets, who didn’t fend off the fifth-place Marlins at Shea Stadium and saw their postseason plans crumple up and blow away. Ask anybody who’s watched baseball for more than five minutes. It’s baseball. One-game-at-a-timing the sport is probably the ideal course of action, but if you’re going to insist on mapping out your near-term future, you can expect to win three of five as easily as you can expect to lose three of five at any juncture of the schedule.

It’s not the losing three of five amid 162 that particularly bothers me. It’s that the manager is quite comfortable framing it as an adequate outcome…never mind that winning three of five would’ve qualified to him as “tremendous”. We know the stakes are low with little more than a month remaining to this season, but is the bar for success with this organization that low, too? Collins can pretend his key player’s performance isn’t hindered by a nagging shoulder injury, yet he can’t keep himself from admitting he’s fine with losing three of five? He couldn’t have just confined his remarks regarding beating the Dodgers to “We stepped it up today”?

Going 2-3 against two of the teams that are heading for the playoffs is not something you should so readily take, unless you’re thoroughly beaten down from guiding a losing team that never substantively improves under your leadership — in which case maybe you shouldn’t be leading that team any longer.

27 comments to This Manager’s Losing Mentality

  • dmg

    hey, cmon now. this is terry collins yer talkin bout: as art howe says, he’s quite the battler.

  • 9th string catcher

    Well, I can’t get mad at someone telling the truth. This is not a team that goes into a west coast trip against superior opponents and mows them down. They are a work in progress that loses more than they win. I’d rather TC be honest instead of BSing the media, which is what’s expected.

    That said, could you ever imagine Wally Backman saying something like that?

  • Kevin from Flushing

    Perhaps now is a good time to remember what our owner said early on in TC’s tenure: “we’re snakebitten baby.”

  • Rochester John

    I think that Terry Collins was the right manager for this team 3 years ago, 2 years ago, and maybe even last year. He is good at protecting young players in over their heads by deflecting criticisms of them and creating low expectations. But now, when the team GM implies with his “90 wins” challenge that the team is ready to compete, they need a manager that demands and produces competitiveness. That’s not TC.

  • The Jestaplero!

    Wally. Now.

  • BlackCountryMet

    Wally.Now.

    Really? On what grounds? The fact that he was part of the 86 team? What credible stats are there to say that Wally Backman would do SOOOO MUCH better than TC? I’m NOT particularly a TC fan, some of his decisions mystify me and perhaps another manager would do better(better players might help as well) However, the “love in” that a section of the fanbase have with Backman is almost as mystifying. IF we are serious about winning, why don’t we aim for the BEST, go get Joe Maddon

    • Dennis

      I agree with this……I hear on talk radio and read so many comments about Wally Backman like he is some undiscovered managing genius. He might be a good MLB manager and probably deserves a chance, but I find it hard to believe that by his mere presence he would turn this team around instantly. Plain and simple……the Mets need better players.

    • The Jestaplero!

      Why Wally:

      Most of my arguments are well articulated here:
      http://www.vavel.com/en-us/mlb/365452-the-case-for-wally-backman-as-mets-manager.html
      http://www.lasvegassun.com/news/2014/apr/03/wally-backman-mets-las-vegas-51s/

      -Managing throughout the Mets’ system, he has overseen the greatest player development renaissance in the organization’s history. He has helped develop Harvey, Wheeler, deGrom, Mejia, Familia, Montero, Syndergaard, Lagares, Duda, den Dekker, Nieuwenhuis, and Ike Davis.

      -Not to mention Travis d’Arnaud v. 2.0.

      -He’s won, and won big, virtually everywhere he’s managed. I live in Brooklyn and in 2010 I watched him manage to a 51-24 record.

      -Have you seen the video of his South Georgia Peanuts tirade? THAT’s who I want to manage my team!

      -1986

  • open the gates

    What Jestaplero said.

    The problem is, the Mets brass only hire Backman-esque managers when their back is absolutely to the wall – and then spend their entire tenure undercutting them. See: Johnson, Davey; Valentine, Bobby.

  • SoFla Mets Fanatic

    I really, really, really hope that at least someone in the organ-eye-zayshun with a title reads this excellent work from Greg, if not SA himself. This should be required reading for the team and all Met fans worldwide. “Less Than Mediocre” should no longer be acceptable effective immediately and it is time for Terry to go.

  • Ken K. in NJ

    Not only that, but in describing Lucas Duda’s “breakout” season (I put the word breakout in quotes because not so long ago 27-75-259 for a first baseman would have meant a trip to the bench. Even in 2014 it doesn’t seem worthy of the word “breakout”), he compared it to Ike Davis’ season of two years ago, as in “it just goes to show you, if you’re patient, good things are bound to happen with these sluggers”.

    Um, I’m not sure comparing the Lucas Duda of 2014 to Ike Davis of any year is the way to go here, Terry.

  • DGB

    I don’t think you know what breakout means Ken K. I would challenge you to find one first baseman in the last 20 years who was on pace to hit 30 HR, drive in 90 plus runs and hit .260 that was benched. Maybe in fantasy baseball. Don’t get me wrong…I am not a fan of TC, but this is a breakout season for a guy who has never hit more than 15 HR, never drove in 60 runs and is a career .250 hitter.

    • Dennis

      Excellent point. I’d like to see an example of a bench player who had 27 HR & 75 RBI’s….and those aren’t Duda’s final numbers. Ridiculous!

  • joenunz

    I’m sure I am not the only one who thinks that Wally Backman as Mets manager would turn into a disaster…perhaps I’m wrong, but I think he would be an unrefined Kirk Gibson.

    • The Jestaplero!

      What about all his winning seasons in A, AA, and AAA ball? What about all the great players he’s sent to the big league club? What’s Kirk Gibsons ever done? I think Wally’s got a better resume already than TC.

  • Seth

    Everyone complains about the manager, but no one ever does anything about it.

  • Dave

    Don’t get me wrong, I loved Backman as a player. But if he’s such a hot managerial prospect, why is it that at the age of 55 he has yet to manage a game in the major leagues? He seems to do a good job bringing young guys along, but that’s where Collins’ skills lie too.

    I’m with Dennis, team needs better players.

  • Rob

    I understand the sentiment behind what he was saying. I don’t think he was saying it’s ok as much as he was being a realist about making a West Coast trip to play two of the best teams in baseball, especially limping in as they did.

    Here IS what gets me, though: the Dodgers and Nationals have absolutely KILLED the Mets for a while now (they are 1 game over .500 against the rest of baseball this year). I know there are a lot of young players and rookies that haven’t suffered through the history, but at what point does competitive pride kick in? I don’t get the feeling that they’re mailing it in, yet still something is missing. I would hope the manager is trying to instill some pride here, but it’s also got to come from veterans. I want to say Wright, but I don’t think he’s the guy to do that. Getting dominated by those teams as long as they have should matter to SOMEBODY.

    • Very true about the Nationals, in particular.

      What gets me about the TC quote was nobody asked, “Terry, how would you characterize the trip?” He volunteered his assessment, as if he couldn’t wait to take credit for having accomplished something great. Even the notes and stats packet the Mets PR staff sends out every day doesn’t promote losing as progress.

  • Kevin from Flushing

    Terry Collins=Geico Pinnochio.

  • Steve D

    I have no idea what Backman is like in the locker room, how he would be in the majors and it is impossible to know if he would have been better than Collins with the current team. However, the current team and organization does have a losing mentality and he might change that…it is worth a chance. That said, they will never do it. I can’t get too worked up over the manager when we have the worst ownership money can buy. Remember the Mets only turned around in the 80s when new ownership came in and hired Cashen.

  • Jestaplero

    The reason Wally has never managed in the majors is well- known, and it has nothing to do with baseball. In 2004 he was hired to manage the Diamondbacks, but was fired days later when it was revealed that he had downplayed his financial and legal problems in interviews.

  • Dave

    Jesta – except that was 10 years ago, the Dbacks were stuck with egg on their face for not doing their due diligence. Once it’s all out in the open I don’t think anyone cares (lot of people here don’t), still nobody has offered him a job, his name doesn’t even come up in rumors when teams are hiring (or if it has, skips my mind).

  • Maryl1973

    I think it was after the signing of Tanaka that Joe Girardi said words something like this, “Glad that is over. Now we can get back to the job of winning the World Series”. I have never, ever heard either SA or TC say anything close to that. And that, my friends, explains it all. I want to vomit when I hear stuff like “I was brought here to handle the budget and improve the farm system”. Well, we the fans want to win the World Series!

  • Rob D.

    I’m a little late to this discussion (moving my oldest back into Michigan State, speaking of Kirk Gibson) but I go back to when Buck Showalter was available. I was disheartened that the Mets wouldn’t do everything in their power to get him to transform the franchise post Omar/Willie. it’s not like he had done it before or anything…..oh wait (see Yankees, D’Backs)

  • Seaverfan

    Guys — I’m tired of TC also. A good fan, who has done some decent things and certainly hasn’t made things worse, but what makes anyone think that ANY manager (or GM for that matter) hired by ownership will be any good?
    This ownership is toxic and with Fred almost completely gone and Junior (I mean Jeffy boy) in charge the chances of a turnaround are miniscule.
    Haven’t read the blog for about 2 weeks so don’t know if this was discussed.
    Did we even take a shot at the Cuban outfielder Boston signed? All I heard was Alderson saying something about scouting differences.
    It seems to me that if this guy is remotely as good as Jose Abreu — to fill a hole without giving up ANY of our young pitching was worth the risk. Any decent OF will cost more than 10 million a year anyway.
    The Wilpons are losers — and until they leave, we’re stuck in mediocrity. Wonder how much money they made this year even with no one in the stands.