By Jason Keidel
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One of the more specious mantras you’ll hear from sports talk blowhards is, “I never call for a man’s job. That’s his livelihood. He has kids…”
Then 15 minutes later he calls for a player to be cut or traded or otherwise discarded.
Sure, in theory you never want to see a man fired from his job. It’s bad aesthetics, bad optics, if not bad karma. But the moment a ballplayer plunges below the Mendoza line, we want him on the next Greyhound to Toledo. When that pitcher you’ve always disliked serves up three homers in four innings, you’re ready to stamp and laminate his ticket to the broadcast booth. So why should it be any different for management?
And it’s the question we’re all asking, even if under our breath.
How long will Terry Collins be manager of the New York Mets?
Or how long should he be?
After yet another loss to the St. Louis Cardinals on Sunday, Collins questioned the team’s effort, chiding the club for “not playing with much energy right now.”
With the team on a 1-5 slide into the All-Star break, top dog Yoenis Cespedes mired in a 5-for-40 swamp, and even Mr. Met giving the world the bird, it’s hard to imagine the Mets climbing out of this baseball sinkhole.
With the silly proviso that we don’t want grown men, especially millionaires who get to manage an MLB club, to lose their jobs, is it time for Collins to find another gig, or to put his AARP and Social Security cards to good use?
Collins, 68, has no contract for next season. The relationship between him and his boss, general manager Sandy Alderson, is frosty, at best. And the team stinks. This all on the heels of what was supposed to be another playoff run in 2017. In case you gave up on them before the start of summer, the Mets (39-47) are 12 games behind the Nats, in fourth place in the NL East. Exactly one year ago, the Mets were 47-40, five games behind Washington.
No doubt Collins would be the fall guy for an amalgam of maladies, some beyond his control, including a biblical list of injuries. But once you start hiding behind the injury bug for poor play, you enter an opaque world where no one shoulders any blame. And if the manager gets the bold ink when the club prospers, he should get equal time when the team tanks.
One of the more popular managerial refrains is to hold a mirror up to the team, to make each player look at their loathsome reflection as motivational grist. Well, perhaps it’s time for Collins to find his reflection and reflect on the job he’s done this season, the last on his contract.
Unlike many fans who scorched Collins when the franchise plunged, yet gave no credit when they reached the World Series two years ago, this column has never found Collins to be inane or inept. But as Pat Riley said, even the best coaches eventually lose the room, and the team, which has heard every vowel of your pep talks, every syllable of your rally and battle cries, every joke you told to break the knots in a tight group.
Collins was essentially a .500 manager before he got here, and has been well above .500 at times in Queens. You tend to be a better skipper when you have Noah Syndergaard, Jacob deGrom, Steven Matz, and a confident Matt Harvey taking the ball and the bump every week. Likewise, you are less capable when those arms are tweaked or mangled.
Would the Mets be bigger, faster, stronger, with their nostrils above the .500 waters, had Thor not lost his hammer? Had Harvey not lost his mojo? Had Matz ever started a season healthy? You bet.
Bobby Valentine is hailed as one of the best managers in Mets history, but if you dig a little you’d find that Collins has been just as good. The two men could not be more different. Valentine, a bit like the Jerry Glanville of MLB, was turbulent and temperamental, but also considered a very smart baseball man who didn’t care for the orthodoxy. Collins is way more stoic and old school.
Valentine has a better winning percentage (.534 to .492) in Gotham. But both skippers sent two teams to the NL playoffs — both in consecutive seasons, no less — and each took a team to the World Series, where both lost. But Collins has one autumn deed Valentine does not: an NL East crown.
And it seems both will exit the Big Apple the same way, sans a World Series title, fired before they got another shot to win one.
Please follow Jason on Twitter at @JasonKeidel