Terry Collins bid a tearful farewell to the Angels Friday, resigning as the team’s manager while two of his superiors lashed out at the bickering players who essentially cost Collins his job.
Having exhausted all efforts to motivate an underachieving club that started the day 28 games out of first place, Collins said during a press conference at Edison Field that he decided to step down after a lengthy meeting with General Manager Bill Bavasi Friday morning.
The move, both parties said, came by “mutual consent,” although Collins said he would not have left the team if Bavasi had asked him to finish the season. Joe Maddon, the Angels’ bench coach, was appointed interim manager, the third time in the past four seasons he has taken that title.
Angel players were not immediately available for comment because the team took the unusual step of making its clubhouse off limits to reporters before the game.
But after the Angels’ 8-2 win over the New York Yankees, shortstop Gary DeSarcina acknowledged, “The game was a blur to me. I wasn’t all there, probably, until the fourth inning. You look into the dugout, you look for Terry and he’s not there. It crosses your mind that you’re to blame.”
Added DeSarcina: “Speaking for the guys, we’re pretty much embarrassed and ashamed with the way we’ve conducted ourselves. Terry deserved better. You don’t realize what your actions can do until something like this happens.”
Collins’ departure is the first significant change in what might well become a management make-over of the Angels before the start of next season. Bavasi’s own job appears in jeopardy and the Walt Disney Co. has the team up for sale.
Bavasi has hired two managers in his 5 1/2-year tenure--Marcel Lachemann in 1994 and Collins before the 1997 season. Both resigned under duress.
Only a little more than two months ago, Collins received a one-year contract extension with an option for an additional year and will receive his full salary next season.
Although occasionally criticized for his abrasive style and hot temper, his 1997 and ’98 Angel teams contended for American League West titles before collapsing in late September.
Despite a series of devastating injuries this season, the club was within 6 1/2 games of division-leading Texas at the All-Star break. But since the break, the Angels have won only 11 games while losing 37, and players have taken turns pointing fingers at each other for being soft, for not taking losing hard enough, for having a lackadaisical attitude, for being unprofessional and for putting individual goals above team goals.
And when they ran out of those complaints, they ripped each other for airing their gripes in the media.
The result was the worst record in baseball going into Friday’s game.
Collins, 50, said he had a good idea Thursday that his reign as Angel manager would end Friday. “I was walking around Cleveland, trying to figure out how to end our [nine-game] losing streak, and when I got to the clubhouse, I had to address a few other issues,” he said.
“I was unable to talk about the game. That’s when it hit. .. . . There were a couple things that happened [Thursday] and I thought, this was enough.”
Collins wouldn’t elaborate on any specific incidents, but he endured a typically tense past week, during which:
* The Angels blew an eight-run, eighth-inning lead and lost Tuesday night.
* Reliever Troy Percival accused some teammates of not supporting him during a bench-clearing brawl.
* $80-million first baseman Mo Vaughn tore into his teammates with two expletive-laced tirades.
Friday’s announcement is a crowning blow in a tumultuous season that started to turn ugly when players staged a mutiny of sorts in May, going to Bavasi to complain about Collins’ impending contract extension. It turned hideous in late July and August, when the Angels collapsed on the field and crumbled in the clubhouse.
“If people took as much responsibility as Terry Collins, if they had one-quarter the integrity he has, this wouldn’t have happened,” Angel President Tony Tavares said. “I don’t think [the players] quit on Terry, they quit on themselves. I’ve never been more disappointed in a team.
“We thought we had the right core of players here. . . . Frankly, I think it’s all excuses. We have to take a long look at the character of this team and determine if it can perform when the chips are down.”
Said Bavasi of the Angels: “They quit on somebody. . . .”
He later said he thought quitting might be too harsh a word, “but their energies were divided,” he said. “Not enough energy was spent on the games.”
Collins said he was sad, not bitter, about leaving the team.
Bavasi was the one who was bitter.
“This is not a good day for me, for the organization or for baseball, because this is a good guy,” Bavasi said. “This is not a reflection on how this man works, how he approaches things. He has sacrificed everything he has for this club. This is a bitter, bitter pill to swallow for me.”
As for Collins, he got to the lectern Friday “thinking I was well prepared for this.” But the silver-haired manager needed about a minute to compose himself before speaking, fighting back the tears.
“Hopefully, this is a bad dream we can all forget,” said Collins, who was fired in 1996 after three seasons as Houston’s manager. “I tried everything I knew--I patted them on the back, kicked them in the butt, everything. I gave it all I had, and it wasn’t good enough.”
Collins tried to maintain his sense of humor through the painful ordeal. Asked why he decided to resign Friday when he has stressed for months that he’s not a quitter, Collins replied, “The Yankees,” referring to the four-game home series with the defending World Series champions that began Friday night.
“I thought this would give the team a fresh start, if nothing else,” Collins continued. “Maybe this will trigger some life in them, we’ll see what happens. . . . Tony and Bill supported me all year, but when you reach the last thing you can think of to get the guys going, if I’m the reason [the team is playing so poorly], then I’m outta here.”
Collins said he was “absolutely not” forced out. “I took a good, hard look at this and some of the things that went on the last few days and made the decision,” he said. “When you don’t perform as a club, the manager is responsible.”
Collins signed his contract extension on June 22. Under terms of his resignation, he will be paid in full through next season.
Bavasi said he would immediately begin compiling a list of candidates to replace Collins. Expected to be among the favorites are former Angel outfielder Don Baylor, the former Colorado Rockies manager who is now Atlanta’s batting instructor, recently fired Milwaukee Manager Phil Garner and former Boston Manager Kevin Kennedy, who managed Vaughn in Boston.
Other potential candidates are San Diego first-base coach Davey Lopes, a former Dodger; Yankee third-base coach Willie Randolph; Houston third-base coach Mike Cubbage, a finalist when Collins got the job, and Yankee coach Chris Chambliss. Maddon and Angel triple-A Manager Carney Lansford are considered longshots.
If Bavasi keeps his job long enough to hire the next Angel manager, he might be wise to hire one who has played in the big leagues. The fact that Collins never played in the major leagues seemed to widen the credibility gap between him and his players in Anaheim.
“Maybe not playing in the big leagues was an issue, but I worked for a pretty good manager who didn’t play above double-A ball,” Collins said, referring to Rockies Manager Jim Leyland. “That should not be an issue. If it is, the players should remember how they got here, that someone taught them along the way.”