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Full Speed Ahead : Terry Collins Doesn’t Know How to Relax. His Intensity Cost Him a Job With the Astros, but It’s a Key Quality That Made Him Seem Like the Perfect Fit for the Angels

TIMES STAFF WRITER

There are Type-A personalities, and then there are Type-AAA personalities, and Angel Manager Terry Collins definitely falls into the latter class.

People tend to get defensive when they’re accused of being workaholics, but Collins embraces the label like an old friend. “Yep,” he says proudly, when asked if he’s a workaholic. “I don’t know if that’s healthy, but I enjoy this, and it may not last that long . . . I want to be at the park.”

Twelve-hour work days are the norm for Collins, who gets to the park around noon and leaves around midnight. He’s so consumed by his job, so bombarded with thoughts of how he might coax a little more out of his team, that he sleeps just five hours a night.

“I may go to bed around 1 a.m.,” Collins says, “but I usually lay awake for at least an hour.”

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Is Collins competitive? When he was a kid, the mother of one of his friends called his mother and asked that Terry no longer play ball with her son because Terry played too hard.

Is he hot-tempered? Collins is known for his volcanic arguments with umpires, and last season his voice pierced clubhouse walls during a shouting match with one of his players in Houston.

Is he intense? Collins, 47, took part in rundown drills and pick-off plays with the Angels this spring and pitches batting practice almost every day. This 5-foot-8, 160-pound pepper pot seems to be brimming with enough energy to illuminate Anaheim Stadium.

“I’m an enthusiastic person, I can’t help that,” Collins said. “I always felt if you kept your energy level up, the players might feed off it.”

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The Angels, who open the 1997 season against the Boston Red Sox Wednesday night in Anaheim, are starving for such a dynamic leader.

Marcel Lachemann, whom Collins replaced, was a better manager than he’ll ever be given credit for, and he was well-liked and respected in the clubhouse. But you could never look at the Angels during his tenure and say, “That is a Marcel Lachemann-coached team.” Collins wants to change this.

He’s trying to mold the Angels in his image, transforming them from the placid, station-to-station team they were in 1996 to a feisty, aggressive, down-and-dirty, overachieving bunch.

He stewed this spring when pitchers who were getting bombed were afraid to knock a batter on his rear end. He steamed when his baserunners were given the green light and didn’t attempt to steal.

He wants his players to go from first to third on singles, to crash into infielders attempting to turn double plays and catchers blocking the plate, to play the game aggressively--but not recklessly--and without a fear of making mistakes.

“We’ve got to change the mind-set here,” Collins said. “But from what I hear about this league, how guys wait for hits and home runs because the parks are smaller, it’s not going to be easy.”

Another warning to Angel pitchers: If you’re on the mound on a day one of your teammates is beaned or another is sent flying into the dirt by a pitch at his head, you’d better be man enough to retaliate.

Collins’ Astros once got into a beanball war with the Reds, with pitchers from both teams hitting batters and a bench-clearing brawl ensuing.

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“The Reds were all bitching about me, but I know one thing: The guy [Xavier Hernandez] who threw at my players, I signed the next year because he competes,” Collins said. “I know that’s part of the game.”

This intensity, this passion for the game, this tolerance for nothing but the maximum effort from his players, is what impressed Angel executives who interviewed Collins last October.

The irony is that the same things that got him hired in Anaheim got him fired in Houston.

Collins guided the Astros to a 224-197 record in three seasons, and his .532 winning percentage was the highest among Houston managers in franchise history. But a September collapse--the Astros lost nine in a row to fall from first place in the National League Central--and a perceived lack of clubhouse chemistry led to his downfall.

After his Oct. 4 dismissal, one Houston columnist wrote that Collins “was too stern and the athletes bristled at his heavy-handed ways.” Astro General Manager Gerry Hunsicker thought Collins overused his bullpen and that his baserunning strategy was too aggressive at times.

When Houston replaced Collins with broadcaster and former pitcher Larry Dierker, then-Astro outfielder Brian Hunter said: “We need a guy like Dierker. He’s a laid-back guy who likes to have fun and is not uptight.”

Collins was so enraged by Hunter’s remark that he called the outfielder, who has since been traded to the Detroit Tigers.

“He also said that I didn’t have patience with young players,” Collins said. “I asked him, ‘How many at-bats did you get [Hunter had 321 in 1995 and 526 in ’96]?’ He’s a nice kid and a heck of a player, but maybe I asked too much of him.”

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Collins thinks he was fired for the same reasons many managers are fired: “We just didn’t get done what everyone felt we should get done, and because of that there was a lot of finger-pointing and excuses being made,” he said.

“Some said the team needed someone with a different personality. . . . It was the same when I got the job. I got fired for the same reasons I got hired, and [former Astro Manager] Art Howe got fired for the same reasons Dierker got hired, he was too laid-back. . . . It’s just the opinion of the people calling the shots.”

Collins said he “never lost enthusiasm for the game” after getting fired, and exactly one month later he was introduced as the Angels’ new manager, completing a remarkable double.

Collins, who spent 10 years as a player in the minor leagues without ever reaching the big leagues, and who managed 11 years in the minors, has interviewed for two major league manager jobs and gotten them both.

Even Jim Leyland, who is considered baseball’s best manager and was one of Collins’ mentors, was turned down five times before finally landing his first big league job. Maybe Leyland was right when he said Collins “was born to manage.”

Roger Coryell, Eastern Michigan University’s baseball coach, saw those managerial instincts as far back as 1970, when he and Collins were college teammates there.

Eastern Michigan had lost to Southwestern Louisiana in the semifinals of the double-elimination, NAIA national tournament, and there was a lot of bickering in the EMU dugout afterward.

“Everyone was going bananas, blaming this guy or that guy,” Coryell said. “Terry just got up and talked to the team, saying that this was not the way we were capable of playing, that tomorrow was another day, that we had to put this behind us. It brought everyone back into focus.”

Eastern Michigan came back the next day to beat Southwestern Louisiana for the national championship.

“He was very knowledgeable about the game, like a coach on the field, and that showed a lot,” Coryell said of Collins, who was a middle infielder. “He was very intense, he liked to win, and he got himself and others ready to play. If the guys were too down, he’d get them up. If they were too angry, he’d calm them down.”

It’s easy to see how Collins developed his feisty demeanor. He grew up in Midland, Mich., with something of an inferiority complex because he was always one of the smallest players on his team. In junior high school, both the football and basketball coaches told him he was too small to play.

“Maybe that drove me,” Collins said.

He was not the most gifted athlete but was always one of the hardest workers, and that ethic helped Collins earn high school varsity letters and scholarship offers in three sports: football, basketball and baseball.

Collins played well enough at Eastern Michigan to be drafted in the 19th round by the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1971, and though he was never considered a top prospect, he advanced to the triple-A level in 1975.

“One of the things that always stuck with me about Terry was that some teams played their outfield shallow when he was up, and it was almost an insult to him,” said Joe Simpson, Collins’ teammate and roommate at triple-A Albuquerque and now an Atlanta Braves broadcaster. “It seemed like every time that happened, he’d drill one over their heads and run like a madman.”

But Collins’ speed, aggressive baserunning and sound defense only took him so far. He never hit better than .276 in his last four seasons at Albuquerque, he had no power and his career eventually stalled.

“He always said if he could just play one day in the big leagues it would make it all worthwhile,” Simpson said. “He always had a burning desire to get to the big leagues.”

Collins said he was never bitter about not getting called up, though. He was always a reserve infielder at triple A, and when he once sat on the bench for 52 consecutive games--"It’s true,” Collins said--he knew he had no future as a player.

So he started concentrating on coaching, absorbing all he could from his triple-A manager, Del Crandall. Collins landed the managing job for the Dodgers’ Class A team at Lodi in 1981, and two years later he was managing at Albuquerque, where he remained through 1988.

A falling-out with Dodger Manager Tommy Lasorda--the two disagreed over how some players were being developed--led to the end of Collins’ Dodger career.

But Collins moved on to triple-A Buffalo, where he managed from 1989-91 before joining Leyland’s staff as Pittsburgh’s bullpen coach in 1992 and ’93. In 11 years as a minor league manager, Collins compiled an 824-736 record and was named minor league Manager of the Year by The Sporting News in 1987.

Collins admits he was probably difficult to play for, but he says he’s lightened up considerably in recent years.

“When I started managing at the Class A level, I had 50 rules and had to police all of them,” Collins said. “Now I have two rules, be on time and play hard. . . . That’s not too much to ask.”

Collins doesn’t care if the players like each other, if they fight with each other, or if they like him. Just play hard, and everything should fall into place. Slack off, though, and Collins will jump in your face.

“If he’s unhappy with something, he’s going to let you know,” said Rick Sweet, Collins’ first base coach at Houston. “No one will not know where they stand.”

Added Brent Strom, former Astro pitching coach: “There’s no hemming and hawing with Terry. You get a stare in the eye, and you know what you’re going to get.”

Sometimes you get more than a stare. Sometimes you get called into Collins’ office and get chewed out. The only thing Collins hates more than losing is a lack of effort.

But there’s a lighter side to Collins too. He loves a good joke, and his door is always open to players or coaches who want to use his office as a chat room. Yes, Collins is about as intense as they come, and he’s prone to emotional outbursts, but he thinks his reputation may have been embellished over the years.

“Am I intense?” Collins asks. “Are Jim Leyland and Tony La Russa intense? Was Billy Martin intense? You tell me when the game starts who isn’t intense? I am definitely intense . . . but I’m not the monster some people think I am.”

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

The Word on Collins

What they’re saying about first-year Angel manager Terry Collins:

“From the other dugout, across the field, Terry Collins is a jerk. But if he’s on your side, you love him. He’ll go to war for his players.”

--Ray Miller, former Pirate pitching coach who worked with Collins in Pittsburgh

*

“He has a great energy level . . . I haven’t been to too many [spring-training] camps where the manager participates in rundown drills, pickoff plays and throws batting practice every day. You figure if a manager is that intense, you can be that way about your job. It kind of rubs off on you.”

--Angel shortstop Gary DiSarcina

*

“Last year he flew from Chicago to Midland [Mich.] on an off-day to speak at our American Legion banquet. The kids were in awe that we were able to get a major league manager in the middle of the season. But that’s the kind of guy Terry is. If there’s a way to do it, he will.”

--Dave Reece, a former high school teammate of Collins

*

“Bringing [former Angel Manager] Marcel Lachemann back as pitching coach says something about Terry’s confidence. . . . A lot of guys might feel paranoid about having the former manager on staff and think he would be looking over his shoulder, but Terry is strong enough and comfortable enough to do it.”

--Joe Simpson, former teammate of Collins who is now an Atlanta Braves broadcaster

*

“He lit a fire under the Astros and the flame swallowed him.”

--Houston Chronicle columnist Ed Fowler after Collins was fired as Astro manager last October

*

“He’s a very positive influence, has a good sense of humor, and he’s very straight-forward and honest. He thinks very quickly on his feet.”

--Angel General Manager Bill Bavasi


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