A team with a history of late season collapses and quitting on its manager hires a manger known for late season collapses and having his team quit on him. What could possibly go wrong?
It'll be Terry Collins in Flushing, after a very public selection process featuring precisely zero marquee names. Which is fine. Collins has a good track record of winning in Houston, Anaheim and Japan. But he's also got a track record of playing the lead in clubhouse soap operas.
The time: 1996. The Astros, unanimous picks to win the division, led most of the way, before a late season collapse (8-17 in September) dropped them to second for the third time in three years. Grumblings from the clubhouse had the players fed up with his intensity. From the Houston Chronicle, October 5, 1996:
In the end, the blade fell on Collins because he didn't enjoy sufficient support to merit a contract extension. With one year left on his deal, he would have entered next season as a sitting, if not lame, duck. Commanding the respect of the players is a long putt in the best of circumstances.
Some endorsement, huh?
The decision turned on a determination that he had lost that respect during the September swoon even though no one alleges that any failure of strategy or communication with the athletes on his part caused it. Less than 24 hours before the announcement, Jeff Bagwell, the best player on the club, made a point of saying Collins wasn't the one who had been found wanting at the plate or on the mound.
Then Bagwell said he didn't care whether Collins returned.
Fast forward three years. The 1999 Anaheim Angels were a complete mess, beset with injuries and Mo Vaughn. In late July, Darin Erstad blew up:
Winning would cure everything, but it's a very divided clubhouse," Angel left fielder Darin Erstad said before Wednesday night's 9-5 loss to the Texas Rangers in front of 35,849 at the Ballpark in Arlington. "It's a very cliquey team. There's not a feeling that everyone is in the same corner.
"I'm just telling you what I see compared to the last few years. I don't know how to fix it. Terry Collins, Angel manager likes a gritty team, a team that gets after it, that takes people out hard at second base, that takes the extra base. . . . We have a soft team."
Erstad, the first player to take a very hard look at the Angels this season, was just getting warmed up.
"No question, winning is not the first priority here," he said.
The last straw came when Mo Vaughn remained in the dugout during a bench-clearing brawl. Other players gave Collins an ultimatum: Vaughn or them. They reportedly petitioned management to remove Collins, who announced his resignation at a tearful press conference in early September. It wouldn't take long for word to get out that he had lost the team.
I'm still not sure Collins was the problem down there," [Team President Tony] Tavares said. "It's more like a day-care center than a major league clubhouse.
"Somebody said to me, 'You can't trade 25 guys.' I said, 'Why not?' "
So now Terry Collins lands with the Mets, after 11 years of wandering the wilderness. Lollygaggers, paycheck-collectors, and underachievers. Not exactly the type of team that Collins has thrived with in the past. While it's no gimme that history repeats itself — both with Collins and this Mets team — they probably shouldn't throw away Wally Backman's number just yet.