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Greg Prince and Jason Fry
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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A Terry Good Time to Turn It Around

Saturday was Valentine’s Day, providing those us of who still adore from chronologically afar the occasion’s namesake a moment to recall the improvement Bobby Valentine’s Mets produced in his first full year at the helm. After finishing 71-91 in 1996 (a campaign he took over with 31 games remaining), the 1997 Mets delightfully surprised their loyalists with a Wild Card-contending 88-74 season, setting the stage for postseason runs to come.

Although he has a day named in his honor, it is understood Bobby V wasn’t everybody’s cup of managerial tea, so maybe you’d rather be romanced by consideration of the skippers who led other memorable Met turnarounds.

In 1969, his second year at the helm, Gil Hodges upped the Mets’ record from 73-89 — which itself represented markedly higher ground from the 61-101 squad the relentlessly fascinating Salty Parker brought home — to 100-62 and, of course, a world championship coda.

In 1984, first-year manager Davey Johnson was the turnaround specialist, converting a perennial sub-.420 dud into a 90-72 dream. It was the Mets’ first winning season since 1976 and a delectable appetizer for the main course that was ready to be served in 1986.

In 2005, Willie Randolph assumed the limp Met reins from Art Howe and crisply set the club galloping past .500 and to the cusp of greater things that were only a year away.

You notice a trend among Valentine, Hodges, Johnson and the mostly forgotten Randolph? It’s not just that they transformed perennial losers into certifiable winners. It’s that they did it with minimal delay. Gil: second year. Davey: first year. Bobby: first full year. Willie: first year.

Terry Collins is entering his fifth year as Met manager, the only man besides Hodges, Johnson and Valentine to greet Met pitchers and catchers in as many as five consecutive Februarys. He’s presided over four consecutive losing seasons. He’s not picking up for Westrum/Parker, Bamberger/Howard, Green or Howe. The losing manager’s trend he’s charged with turning around belongs to Terry Collins.

Will entrusting a promising team to the manager who hasn’t led its four immediate predecessors to a single winning record work if the goal this year is to craft a legitimate contender? Should we expect it to work? There is no precedent in Mets history that suggests the same old manager is suddenly capable of generating bright new results. Precedent isn’t everything, but it does have the benefit of having occurred before, and we simply haven’t heard a voice as familiar as Collins’s has become suddenly resonate in an uplifting fashion when it hasn’t done the trick this long.

For a team that tinkered only slightly with its roster en route to Port St. Lucie, is it reasonable to expect the manager who has led the Mets to 77-85, 74-88, 74-88 and 79-83 seasons to lead them much further in 2015?

Every edition of the Mets — even the Collins versions that seem to have played the entirety of their annual slates of 162 games on Groundhog Day — is different. Every set of circumstances can’t help but be unique. So let’s ask our old, anecdotally reliable pal precedent (we are, after all, on the eve of Precedent’s Day) for some background on those aforementioned turnarounds. Specifically, how different did those respective Met clubs appear from the end of the previous year to the beginning of the next?

• The team Hodges was about to elevate to miraculous heights didn’t make any high-profile moves heading into 1969. Mostly, they lost Dick Selma in the expansion draft and selected Wayne Garrett in the Rule 5 draft.

• Johnson showed up to St. Petersburg in 1984 determined to retain the services of 19-year-old, Single-A phenom Dwight Gooden, which more than made up for Frank Cashen’s clumsy deletion of Tom Seaver and overshadowed any minor shuffling that had taken place since October 1983.

• Valentine’s inaugural Spring Training featured one prominent arrival from another organization, that of erstwhile Toronto Blue Jay John Olerud, and an assortment of radar-or-below imports whose collective potential to gel ultimately seemed dependent upon Bobby V’s knack for personnel alchemy.

• Randolph benefited from a spending spree when that sort of thing was in Flushing fashion. He was provided Pedro Martinez and Carlos Beltran as his foundational building blocks. It would be hard to continue losing with stars like those on hand, though other new Met managers had certainly pulled off such feats despite similar purchases made on their behalves.

Some casts were altered slightly. Some dynamics changed dramatically. All the managers were still fairly fresh in their roles. That’s the part that looks like the common denominator of those four great Met leaps forward.

Terry Collins will not have a hard time putting names to faces in the days ahead. He knows intimately almost everybody who figures to be on his roster come Opening Day. Michael Cuddyer, John Mayberry and perhaps Sean Gilmartin or Duane Below loom on his new-guy radar. Everybody else — including prime recovery candidates Matt Harvey who missed all of 2014 and Bobby Parnell who missed all but one horrible inning of it — should be intensely familiar to him, just as Collins will be a known quantity to them. Familiarity will be reintroduced to familiarity on the heels of a quadrennium when the most familiar element of Mets baseball has been the losing.

Now let’s think back over the World Series-winning managers of this century.

It took Bruce Bochy four seasons to capture a world championship for the Giants, but by his third year in San Francisco, he had them out of the doldrums and up to 88 wins.

John Farrell won a World Series for the Red Sox in his first go-round in Boston, one year after Bobby V finished last at Fenway.

Tony LaRussa had the Cardinals atop their division in year one (1996) after a rare fallow period had disillusioned St. Louis.

Joe Girardi was a world champion manager in his second season managing at an undisclosed location nearby.

Charlie Manuel contended from the get-go as Phillies manager, making the playoffs in year three (sigh) and getting fitted for a ring in year four.

Terry Francona won it all for the Red Sox in his first season there.

Ozzie Guillen guided the White Sox to their first modern-era championship in his second season running the South Side show.

Jack McKeon took over a humdrum Marlins outfit in May of 2003 and had them pouring champagne in the visitors’ clubhouse at Yankee Stadium by October.

Mike Scioscia piloted the Angels to the highest of heavens after three years on the job.

Bob Brenly won everything there was to win in his first year managing Arizona.

Joe Torre, you don’t need me to remind you, won a World Series as soon as he took on his initial American League assignment.

You don’t have to mull only world champions to find better results sooner than later where skippers are concerned. Joe Maddon, Clint Hurdle, Ned Yost, Buck Showalter and Bob Melvin all managed winning records in their most recent postings by the end of their third full seasons in those locales, pushing their teams into playoff contention in the same time frame. If a given manager’s ballclub is going to get noticeably better, it gets noticeably better not all that long after he shows up; if it doesn’t, he doesn’t continue to get invited to keep showing up. However much credence you put into in-game strategy and so forth, a manager’s voice can be presumed to have made some sort of impact for the good when a team has turned around its fortunes. Following 1969, 1984, 1997 and 2005, the men who managed those Mets were understood to have effected serious positive change.

If such results haven’t been reflected in the won and lost columns after four full seasons — no matter how positive his reviews have been, no matter how few of his players have expressed disgruntlement while he’s been in charge — what tells us that in his fifth season occupying the Met manager’s office Terry Collins is likely to spark a clubhouse full of essentially the same individuals, whatever their respective talents and ceilings, to substantially greater collective achievements?

13 comments to A Terry Good Time to Turn It Around

  • Dave

    They took away the rope Terry was using to hang himself. There hopefully aren’t as many sub optimal “veterans” on the team who will demand pt in the face of all reason. The weird obsession with the Youngs, the innings eaten by Farnsworth and Papa Grande…. Those are no longer options. The team is constructed in a way that makes bad decisions harder. Right?

  • Lou from Brazil

    This season will hinge entirely on 4 players playing well- Flores, Wright, Cuddyer and Granderson. The pitching staff should improve at least a bit overall as the young guys in both the rotation and the bullpen get more time under their belts. It’s all about getting runs on the board. If the Mets do that, rather than expecting these arms to carry 99% of the load every night, Terry may end up looking like a great manager. If not, surely he’s gone.

  • zekeman1

    don’t forget the coddling of ike davis in ’13. Sent duda down, yet kept davis on the roster when BOTH should have been sent down. That had to be a clubhouse chemistry killer as well. All on Collins watch. Not to mention his in game moves and poor double-switches. Gone by memorial Day if not .500 or better. Give Wally a shot.

  • Michael G.

    Good managers need good players. If the following ’15 Mets players perform up to hopes and expectations, Terry will thrive: Harvey, deGrom, bullpen, Duda and Wright (corners), d’Arnaud and Lagares (up the middle). Everything else is gravy. The Wilpons’ lack of spending notwithstanding, Terry has more arrows in his quiver than ever before.

  • metsfaninparadise

    Maybe so, but he’s still a lousy shot.

    • Dennis

      That petition is a joke and a waste of time. I’m not a huge fan of Collins, but he’s not the worst manager ever. I’d like to see the genius who started that try to manage at least one game in the major leagues.

  • Jack's Loge 23

    I still believe that many of long-time fans think that Terry was only given the job because he would tow the company line – not that that characteristic is uncommon in any modern corporate business, alas. But I have long felt that Terry is simply a babysitter of sorts until the owners could have figured out a way out of their mess. Unfortunately for Met fans, that day never seems to come and we’ve been resigned to having Terry – by all accounts a good guy – man the helm of the good ship Mets, with Alderson as the chief architect. Perhaps Terry has become, by default, the fall guy for Sandy as the philosophy of keeping the team afloat with bargain players has apparently become the M.O. for the Mets (since, of course, the owners are still a mess).
    The other thought for this Met fan is that Terry does not have a Met pedigree, Wally most certainly does, and therefore…well, you get the picture. Still, I see no scenario under the Wilpon regime where Wally gets the job – unless they keep Mr. Bachman well sedated.
    So the scenarios put forth above by Mr. Prince, while well documented and relevant, are examples of teams run by owners other than the Wilpons – truly a breed to themselves (thankfully). Can Terry win? Sure. Can he win with this team? Not likely – nor is (was) he expected to. He’s expected to be the tiller for this thing until the real thing comes along.

    • metsfaninparadise

      Davey didn’t have a Met pedigree when he arrived either, other than making the last out of the ’69 World Series. Collins is just a lousy manager, period.

  • Frank

    I just don’t want the season to over by July 4th…..again.

  • Lenny65

    They need to come out of the gate strong this year, right from the get-go. If they’re staggering through April and May still trying to get their footing, the mob will be chasing TC with torches and pitchforks by Memorial Day. Now I’m not suggesting they need to break camp and instantly dominate like ’86, just that they need to look reasonably legit, that’s all.

    TC is definitely a real concern. His Mets teams have shown an annoying tendency to reach a point where they seem to be improving and coming together as a team, then having it all disintegrate into nothing. That’s just an observation by a fan, I can’t back it up with hard data or anything, it’s just a general sense of how his teams have a knack for falling flat as soon as they start to climb a crest. For example, they’re on a nice little 4 out of 5 run featuring quality pitching and “timely hitting”, then they return home for three against Washington and they faceplant themselves into a weekend home sweep where they score two runs total. One forward, two back.

  • Dave

    I used to think that Collins might be like the band’s first manager in That Thing You Do…the “bird-dogger” whose job is just to hand them off to the real big league guy.

    But it seems to me that if that were the actual plan, an exit strategy or an obvious next step would have emerged by now. Wally Backman will never manage the Mets…if he were to, it would’ve happened by now. But I don’t see any heir apparent. Collins might wind up like Valentine was with Texas years ago…the “this guy still has a job?” manager who has nothing to justify his job security except an owner who is inexplicably loyal to him (and that team was also owned by a blithering idiot).

  • nestornajwa

    Terry has a year left on his contract. That makes him untouchable in an organization that won’t spend. He’ll get fired the day after the 2015 season ends, and that will be the annual upgrade that’s supposed to make us want to go out and buy ticket plans and Extra Innings in 2016. If the Mets get lucky and win a lot of 1-run games and the team “plays meaningful games in September” (whether or not that translates to an actual playoff berth), then management will declare Mission Accomplished and maybe pick up his option for 2016.