When this offseason started and the Mets began their search for, first, a general manager and then a manager, I followed the GM process pretty closely. I was invested in it, had some thoughts and preferences, and made sure I tuned in for the introductory press conference.
Once Sandy Alderson was on board, I stepped back a little. I didn’t read all the stories and blog posts on each round of interviews, but I took note of the headlines and some of the tweets. I knew who interviewed when and I knew who the final candidates were. But I didn’t have a horse in the race. It had nothing to do with who the final four candidates were, because I had no top preference from the start. There wasn’t an available candidate who I felt strongly about, who I really hoped would be accepting the floral horseshoe at the home opener next April.
So when the news came out Sunday that Terry Collins was the choice, I took note, read a little, and moved on. I didn’t watch the press conference today, but I’ve read several of the stories, including Marty Noble’s column. Back on Sunday, I didn’t expect to be blogging about the choice, but after some of the reaction among Mets fans — and “fans” — I started thinking about why everyone needs to chill the hell out.
And listen, I don’t blame people for their opinions — but some of the knee-jerk reactions were over the top. There were some who renounced their fandom, some who acted offended, as if Wally Backman (the fans’ choice) were a close relative. But look, no one can know in November if Collins — or Backman, Bob Melvin or Chip Hale — is the right or wrong choice. At the moment, we don’t even know who his Opening Day starter will be.
Here are the reasons I’m not getting all bent out of shape over the choice of Collins:
It’s just a two-year deal, with a rumored club option for a third. Two years is reasonable, especially if you expect 2011 to be a non-contending year, as I do. You could probably substitute the word “rebuilding,” but as of today, it’s hard to see how the Mets will be in contention for the NL East title next season. There are a lot of unknowns: Johan Santana may not pitch; Jason Bay has to first stay healthy, then double his production; Carlos Beltran needs to be close to 100 percent for 150 games; and a lot of personnel moves need to be made, particularly concerning Luis Castillo and Oliver Perez. But looking at the team today, it’s hard to see a contender there, and Alderson couldn’t wait until February to hire a manager. So why not go with an experienced guy — and one who’s familiar with the system and its young players — when it’s not a position that is set up favorably for immediate success?
Had the choice been Backman or Hale, they could have easily been in a tough spot — similar to John Russell with the Pirates, Lee Mazzilli with the Orioles or Manny Acta with the Nationals in that they didn’t have much to work with and, when they were fired, had many people saying, “What did they do wrong?” The situations aren’t identical, because the Mets have more now than any of those clubs did when the skippers took their posts and have more resources to improve — but not until next winter. So I can see why Alderson might not have wanted to put a rookie manager in a tough position in 2011 where a 70-win season might be more likely than a 90-win season.
Some bloggers and tweeters have cited the player mutiny that forced Collins’ resignation as evidence that he’s a loose cannon, he’s too fiery. Others have lamented that he’s an Alderson favorite and will merely be a puppet in the dugout to carry out the front office’s “Moneyball” theories. To me, those two characteristics are mutually exclusive. I can’t see a loose cannon being a puppet for the front office.
About his departure from Anaheim in 1999: While it should definitely be asked about, it shouldn’t condemn him. Obviously, Alderson asked what happened there and liked Collins’ answer. And, come on, it’s been 11 years. Let’s give the guy a break. There’s a good chance he’s changed and learned from that experience, as he said today:
“I did a bad job managing the clubhouse, no question about it. I’m accountable for that. I was the manager of that team. I should have done a better job of staying on top of it. I didn’t. I learned from it. And it will never happen here. I guarantee it will not happen here.”
Eleven years is a long time; a lot can change. And it’s not like he’s spent the last 11 years on a farm. He’s been in baseball, managed the Chinese national team. He hasn’t been away from the game, only from a Major League manager’s office.
At 444-443, 10 games over .500, his record may not be spectacular, but in the six seasons (or parts thereof) he guided a team, he only had one losing record, the 51-82 mark before his resignation from the Angels. Take out those 133 games, and you’re left with 393-349, a .530 winning percentage. He’s gotten results on the field.
As for Backman, the clear fan-favorite, I’m not sure I would’ve wanted his second year managing in the system to be at the big league level. He has a right to be disappointed in the final decision, but I also think he should be grateful that he was among the finalists. The Mets clearly like him and he has a future with the organization. He might prefer to be on a faster track, but I still think he has an inside path to the job after Collins. Had Alderson gone with Backman because he felt he was the best man for the job, I would have no problem with that. But choosing Wally in order to sell more season tickets or placate the fan base is not the reason to choose a manager. Since the opening of Citi Field in 2009, the Mets have made great strides in fan interaction and in responding to fans’ requests. They didn’t need to let the fans pick the manager, too.
Finally, I wasn’t sure what to call this post. My working title was, “The case for Terry Collins,” but I didn’t feel that’s what I was offering. Another, similar option was, “In defense of Terry Collins,” but I’m not sure that’s the premise I wanted to set. So I settled on the idea that what I wanted to present was a defense of Alderson’s choice. He’s the one who led this process and interviewed the candidates. He likely led the questioning and came up with many of the queries. Until we have results on the field on which to judge Collins, why not let Alderson’s blessing be enough for now.