By Joe Rini
With Terry Collins departing as Mets manager under a cloud of unnamed sources, people shook their heads at how their longest tenured manager was being besmirched rather than celebrated on his way out the door. Yet, somehow like a toddler who throws a tantrum because he doesn’t want to leave the playground, perhaps the Mets have trouble with transitions.
Given his age, when Collins signed his last two year deal after the 2015 World Series at the age of 66, it seemed fairly clear to me, and probably to most followers of the team, that 2016 and 2017 were going to be his final two years as skipper. As time progressed, and Collins mentioned the strain of the 2016 season only to be followed by the team’s disappointing 2017, the expectation that this would be Collins’s last tour as manager became, if anything, more certain, especially since the idea of dismissing Collins mid-season was never really discussed.
Why then, as the season ended, did Collins’ future as manager, or lack thereof, seem to catch the Mets off guard? Shouldn’t there have been enough lead-time to orchestrate a dignified departure for Collins rather than read how Fred Wilpon had saved his job over the years? Perhaps someone in the front office was upset that Collins had said he wasn’t “retiring,” at the end of the season but I read Collins’ remarks to mean he’d like to work until 70 even if he wasn’t managing. Memo to the unnamed source in the front office: a lot of people “work” after “retiring.”
Interestingly, this kind of controversy has happened to the Mets several times over the years and it doesn’t seem to matter who was in the front office or even owning the team. Just last year, Wally Backman and the Mets parted ways bitterly. If anything, I think Backman’s departure a year ago signaled that 2017 would be Collins’ last year as Mets manager because the front office knew there would be popular pressure to hire the 1986 hero if he was still managing Triple-A Las Vegas.
The Collins situation brought to mind the unsightly (though probably not unjust) firing of Willie Randolph in 2008 during the Minaya regime after Randolph flew across the country as the team embarked on a west coast trip. But in fairness, the Wilpons didn’t originate awkward Mets managerial transitions. Way back in 1972, many people were uncomfortable when the Mets announced the hiring of Yogi Berra on the day of Gil Hodges’ funeral. I’m sure the prior owners of the Mets had their reasons for this announcement – just like they had their reasons for trading Tom Seaver five years later (who of course, returned in 1983 only to be gone after one year when he was left unprotected in the 1984 free agent compensation pool).
Collins now has a spot in the front office so maybe all’s well that end’s well. Is there a good way to say good-bye to a manager? Even the Yankees and Joe Torre didn’t engage in a group hug when they parted company. There probably isn’t an easy way to say good-bye, but there should be a dignified way.