What Terry Collins managing in the playoffs means for managers of baseball past

New York Mets manager Terry Collins is in an improbable position. Few managers get the opportunity to return to the dugout for a fourth season after leading their teams to losing records in the first three. Even fewer (even Ron Gardenhire was let go after his fourth straight losing season) get a shot at a fifth season after leading their team to losing records in the first four. As the Mets prepare for their first postseason appearance since 2006, the same manager is in the dugout that saw their complete rebuild from square one.

I have been a supporter of Terry Collins, like many other managers put into similar situations. It is not fair to hire a person into a leadership position, take away his talent AND expect him to lead the team to victory. Whether fans have issues with his demeanor, his lineups, or his use of the bullpen, the truth remains the Mets brought to the table a better group of ball players in 2011 than they did in 2012 and 2013 (and arguably 2014). Whether you like Terry Collins or not, he was not the one who reduced the talent level on the field forcing the Mets to be a second division club for the past three seasons.

The trades GM Sandy Alderson made in 2011 to deal reliever Francisco Rodriguez to the Brewers and Carlos Beltran to the Giants were made for different reasons. The trade of K-Rod was a salary dump and kept the Mets from having to pay him $17 million for 2012 (which they could not afford). The Beltran trade brought in Zack Wheeler, a young arm who is expected to return to his 2014 MLB form after coming back from Tommy John surgery. Both moves were very symbolic of the direction of the ball club going forward. The K-Rod trade was proof that the Mets were not going to be a contender for the rest of the season — a point backed up by the fact that they did not have a serviceable reliever to pitch the ninth inning. The Beltran trade was the final white flag. Though the future could be bright, there was no hope for the Mets in 2012. SS Jose Reyes left as a free agent after the season and though he signed a very prohibitive contract (look at what’s left on the final two years of his deal with Colorado), it was a sign that the Mets were not looking to win in 2012.

The 2012 season was all about the amazing season of starting pitcher R.A. Dickey. Though he had proven to be a dependable starter in his first two seasons with the Mets, his breakout Cy Young campaign kind of came out of nowhere. The Mets were 22-12 in Dickey’s 34 starts, but just 52-76 in the team’s other 128 games. Alderson cashed in on Dickey and got his eventual starting catcher, his postseason number two starter and a young, excitable OF (Wuilmer Becerra) moving up through the Mets minor league system in return for the Cy Young Award winner. Though it looked good for the future, it did not look good for the 2013 season.

So this takes me back to Collins, who before the 2013 season was about to enter his third season as manager of the Mets. Of course, he was clearly in a position where the expectations were less than they were in the prior season. And the expectations for the prior season were lesser than they were the year before. If 2013 was Terry’s last as manager of the Mets, few would have complained. Mainly because of what I stated earlier, the fact that manager are seldom kept around for more than three consecutive losing seasons. It still does not make it right. How can a manager be expected to win or be fired when the talent level at the major league level resembles that of a championship Beer League team?

But that is how the game of Major League Baseball works. Coming into a season, expectations are high for the teams that are considered to have the most talent. A handful of teams can be considered sleepers. If these teams overachieve, they can exceed expectations. The rest of the league can paint a dream scenario — something from a fantasy or a out of a fairy tale — where things bounce a certain way and their team can shock the world. An example would be the 1914 Boston Braves. The probability of such an occurrence is almost nonexistent. Imagine being a manager going into year four with such expectations.

After the conclusion of his fifth season as Mets manager, Terry Collins is about to manage in the postseason. Not just for his team and himself, but for all the managers who were let go right before their teams jumped into the postseason. He is doing it for Buck Showalter, who was let go after four seasons with the Yankees before they won the World Series in 1996 and again with the Diamondbacks after three years, before they won the World Series in 2001. He is doing it for Brad Mills and Bo Porter of the Astros, who led dismal teams but were not allowed to stick around to see the results of 2015. Even for…wait for it… Jerry Manuel, who led the Chicago White Sox to four straight WINNING seasons (one was 81-81) only to be fired and replaced by Ozzie Guillen who won a World Series in his second season. Going back further, how about Pirates manager Larry Shepard being let go after the 1969 season in favor of Danny Murtaugh. This happened to coincide with the Pirates making the postseason five out of six seasons including a WS Championship in 1971. Outside of Buck, no other manager mentioned has ever returned to skipper a club to the postseason.

Furthermore, Collins getting to the postseason after 1,688 games is a story by itself. He led the Astros to three consecutive winning seasons before he was let go after the 1996 season. The season after he was replaced, Larry Dierker (Passed Ball Show guest) led them to the postseason for the first time since 1986. Collins led the Angels to two consecutive winning seasons before it all fell apart for him in 1999. He waited 12 years, taking on any position offered to him, including stops in Japan and China.

There are two ways one can build up a reputation as a successful manager. Joe Torre, Terry Francona and Bob Brenly got themselves in the position to take over a good club at the right time. Of course, Torre and Francona won again, further validating their record for success. Being in the postseason must mean more to Terry Collins than a lot of the past managers. Gene Mauch holds the record of 3,293 regular season games without a postseason appearance. I am sure he is just as happy for Collins as I am.

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