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Terry at 1,015

When Dallas Green died, an AP photo of him from his Mets managing days [1] circulated alongside obituaries and other remembrances. It was from the beginning of his final Spring Training running the club, taken in his office in Port St. Lucie. Dallas was in what baseball people call street clothes, but with a Mets windbreaker over his button-down shirt. He looked like the Dallas Green I remembered, which is to say he didn’t look at all like the manager of the Mets.

Some managers I never got used to as Mets manager. Dallas held the job for the lion’s share of four seasons, so I knew for a fact he was the guy in charge. His signature was on the lineup card and his quotes filled the articles that ran the next day. His background in the game, his bearing, his stature, his temperament — definitely managerial timber.

I just never got used to him as Mets manager. I always saw the manager of the 1980 world champion Phillies, no matter that he wore the Mets windbreaker. I never got past the shock that he was the choice to succeed Jeff Torborg, who definitely needed succeeding. I was vaguely aware that Green was a scout in the Mets organization just beforehand, but his appointment to the most visible post in a Mets fan’s existence may as well have descended from outer space. Dallas Green, four games pitched for the 1966 Mets notwithstanding, was an alien life form set down in our midst. Regardless of what he brought to the franchise in his time, both good and less good, I couldn’t easily link the name with the title. Dallas Green. Manager of the New York Mets.

Still can’t.

Buddy Harrelson couldn’t have been more of a Met. Couldn’t be more of a Met when he’s not being a Duck to this day. He was the shortstop on two of the most fabled teams the Mets will ever have, the two for whom “Miracle” and “Believe” were enshrined as Met buzzwords. It is accepted and likely accurate wisdom that the 1973 Mets don’t Lazarus themselves if Buddy doesn’t come back from injury when he does. He wore the Mets uniform as an All-Star twice, as a Gold Glover once, with grit and hustle and heart and every cliché you care to apply. It all fits.

What didn’t was Buddy in the manager’s role. That became easy to deduce once the 1991 season went down in flames and took Harrelson with it, but I would have said the same thing during the very good times a year before. Buddy, the narrative went, was exactly the tonic the 1990 Mets needed. He loosened them up, let them play, guided them from the middle of nowhere to the top of the division for a spell. It was one of the greatest stretches any Mets club produced — 27 wins in 32 games spanning June and July — and I was happy to nod along that Harrelson was the right man at the right juncture…but I never really bought it. I never bought Buddy Harrelson as manager of the New York Mets.

Coach? Yes. Announcer on a cable channel I rarely saw because we didn’t yet have cable? Sure. Manager of the Little Falls farm team where he nurtured one of his shortstop heirs, Kevin Elster? Sounded in character. When it was rumored that Toronto had its eyes on Buddy, I didn’t want to see him go, not so much because I didn’t think Davey Johnson couldn’t risk losing him as a lieutenant but because Buddy Harrelson should have never worn any uniform but ours. It was bad enough that he passed through Philadelphia and Texas to end his playing career. It was wonderful that he returned home. He was half of the first induction class of players in the Mets Hall of Fame, alongside Rusty Staub, and it was a perfect choice.

Making him manager never felt that way. I loved Buddy. Continue to do so. He’s Buddy Harrelson. No Mets fan who can envision him sprinting into shallow left field to reel in a pop fly or yukking it up on Kiner’s Korner or reciting the praises of his roommate Tom Seaver could ever not love him. Nevertheless, Bud Harrelson as manager of the New York Mets refused to make sense to me.

Some managers of the Mets always were and always will be the manager of the Mets in the mind’s eye. Casey Stengel invented the Mets before I was born; we wouldn’t be here without him. Gil Hodges was the first skipper I ever saw and he will define the position of manager to me and a whole lot of others into perpetuity. Davey Johnson strode right in and took over as if he and the Met renaissance of the middle 1980s were meant for each other. You can envision Bobby Valentine rubbing his hands in anticipation of running this team right up to the moment the reins were passed his way. Others I take on faith. I didn’t experience Wes Westrum or Salty Parker, but their names are embedded in my consciousness, so they get a pass. Mike Cubbage gave the Mets an honest week to finish out Harrelson’s term. Seemed like a good dude.

Figuring this out comes down to what Jimmy the Greek would have labeled an intangible. Sometimes I can say for sure why a grumbly other-league outlander like George Bamberger seemed all wrong, but I couldn’t tell you why Jeff Torborg, for all his glaring drawbacks, didn’t seem all that strange (nor did he seem all that suitable once 1992 got to unraveling, but that’s a different measurement). Yogi Berra being Mets manager made all the sense in the world to me. He was Yogi Berra! Joe Frazier never quite did. Who was Joe Frazier? Joe Torre as player-manager seemed like uncommonly clever destiny.

Roy McMillan’s short interim stint clicked in my perception. Frank Howard’s slightly longer term didn’t. I can’t stress enough that this isn’t about record or performance or progress. It’s not even about “looking the part,” which is no way to staff a baseball team’s brain trust let alone a presidential cabinet [2]. I’d seen Art Howe manage for Houston and Oakland, yet he looked out of his element managing the Mets even before the first battle was lost. I’d never seen Willie Randolph manage anybody, but if I hadn’t known different, I would have assumed he came here with a résumé Dave Bristol deep. Jerry Manuel transitioned from coach to manager in five minutes. The rest of his tenure wasn’t so smooth, but I always connected his dots.

Once Manuel’s dots fell apart, we entered the age of the man of the ongoing hour, the man of the past six-and-a-quarter seasons’ worth of hours, Terry Collins.

Can you believe that at the conclusion of business Saturday night Terry became the longest-tenured of Mets managers? One more game than Davey Johnson, then two, then three as of tonight, which will be No. 1,015. If he and his players are successful in their directly upcoming mission, it will be Terry’s 500th win as manager. A losing record overall, but an impressive sum of victories.

You know what I find most impressive about Terry Collins, Mets manager? That when I look at him, I see Terry Collins, Mets manager. No question about it. It’s not weird. It hasn’t been weird for quite a while.

Maybe at first. When Terry was introduced to us, I thought he looked severely out of place [3]. I hadn’t thought much about Terry Collins in my life up to then (to be fair, he hadn’t thought of me at all). His previous title in the Mets organization had been minor league field coordinator. I had never heard of that position before the spring of 2010. The Mets needed all the coordination they could get, and if a former manager could help them stand up straight, terrific. Before the calendar year was out, he was charged with coordinating the Mets at their highest level. They still didn’t seem terribly coordinated, but a change, per special advisor Sheryl Crow [4], could do us good.

Collins showed up for his offseason meet ‘n’ greet press conference, as all new managers do, in a suit and tie. Forced to talk about himself for an audience that knew him mostly for having been drummed out of his previous posting more than a decade before, he demonstrated enough edginess to cut aluminum sheeting. When the Mets’ holiday party for kids rolled around a few weeks later [1], I had the opportunity to shake his hand and make what amounted to awkward small talk. He was in a suit and tie that day, too, and came off as only a tad less edgy. I came to realize Terry Collins shouldn’t be asked to talk about anything except the last game he managed and the next game he’ll manage, and that he should never be dressed in anything but a baseball uniform. No suits. No ties. Get that man a Mets cap, a Mets jersey, a pair of Mets pants and let him be. Maybe give him a Mets windbreaker if he’s chilly.

It was weird to consider the guy whose overintensity imploded in Anaheim was going to discover his mojo in New York. It was a dozen years between major league dugouts. Old dogs, new tricks…ah, but TC isn’t a pooch. He’s a person and he learned to calibrate. He communicated with players. He communicated with the press. He channeled his energy, of which there was a nearly endless fount, into trying to make a bad team play better than it was poised to. When you think about the 2011 Mets, on the off chance that you do, you don’t think of a team that wound up a net total of four wins from .500. You instinctively assume they and their successors lost a hundred games over and over again.

They didn’t. Collins’s Mets of ’11 and ’12 and ’13 ran out of fuel across their Augusts and Septembers, but they showed up at the park and competed, which sounds like the least you can do, but exceeding minimal effort practically all of the time is its own kind of achievement by the late innings of a 162-game slog. They didn’t win enough to satisfy their hardy band of patrons, but they could have been worse. If you recall the composition of the Mets of those seasons, you understand that as high praise.

After a while, I was totally used to Terry Collins as manager. I didn’t approve of every move (still don’t). I didn’t nod along with every explanation (shake my head [5] more often than not). But I saw it. I got it. It made even more sense when the talent level rose and Terry shepherded it to the outskirts of the promised land in consecutive seasons. He’s the manager of the Mets. I remember others maybe doing it better, but certainly nobody doing it longer or with more determination to do it as best as he could.

Somebody will someday succeed him, but after 1,014 going on 1,015 games, I have a hard time imagining it. That’s how much Terry Collins is the manager of the New York Mets.