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Mets Manager Terry Collins has outgrown Angels fiasco

Mets Manager Terry Collins has outgrown Angels fiasco
New York Mets Manager Terry Collins smiles as he steps out of the dugout before a game against Washington on Sept. 8. (Alex Brandon / Associated Press)

The two men said hello. They sat down to catch up. As the conversation extended beyond half an hour, beyond an hour, through a second hour, it was clear that this was no ordinary conversation.

This was an apology, and a purging of the soul.

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The reunion was amicable. The parting a decade earlier most certainly was not.

The older man was Terry Collins, working in the minor leagues for the New York Mets. The other man was his old shortstop, Gary DiSarcina, working in the minor leagues for the Boston Red Sox. They sat at a ballpark five years ago in Florida, in spring training, baseball's traditional season of rebirth.

Collins had given up hope he would get a third chance to manage in the major leagues. This wasn't about a job. This was about sharing the lessons from a road traveled.

"I think sometimes it takes being humbled to come to the realization you have to change," DiSarcina said. "Obviously, he has."

On Friday, 21 years and 1,688 games after his debut as a major league manager, Collins will direct his first postseason game, for the Mets in their National League division series opener at Dodger Stadium.

In 1999, the last year Collins managed the Angels, DiSarcina was a conscience of the clubhouse.

The year was a disaster, and not just because of a flurry of injuries. The players ripped each other, publicly and repeatedly. When word surfaced that Collins was about to get a contract extension, the players went to the general manager to object. When Collins included Mo Vaughn in the lineup the day after the first baseman did not join the team on the field in a fight, DiSarcina and several teammates told Collins they would not play if Vaughn did.

Two days later, Collins tearfully announced his resignation.

He scouted for a year, coached for a year, managed in Japan for two years and worked in the minor leagues for six years before the Mets extended him a third chance.

"I'm a believer not in retreads," Mets General Manager Sandy Alderson said, "but in people learning from past experience."

In that conversation about their time with the Angels, DiSarcina said Collins talked about how he had lost the team, how he should have spent less time in his office and more time working the clubhouse, how he needed to build stronger relationships with players and cut them some slack at times, how he realized he could have lowered the intensity level just as well as he raised it.

"The one word he kept saying was patience — have a little more patience," DiSarcina said.

Said Tim Salmon, the right fielder on that Angels team: "He's a high-strung, emotional guy. He wears his emotions on his sleeve. When things are going well, that gets guys going. That's a great motivator. That energy can be really productive in a clubhouse environment.

"But I think what you saw in our instance is, when things weren't going well, it was a little toxic."

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As Collins leaned back in a chair outside the Mets clubhouse last week, he repeatedly chose the adjective "enjoy" to describe his tenure in New York. In Anaheim, not so much.

"The main thing is that I took everything that happened on the team to be my fault," Collins said. "I took everything personally. If you were Gary DiSarcina and you went 0 for 4, I thought I failed you, and I was [angry]. Unfortunately, back then, I wore my emotions on my sleeve, so you thought I was mad at you.

"So that's changed here. I still have the same passion. I still want to win. But I've learned you can't let it out. You've got to let it go."

Collins thought back to a team meeting in Anaheim. We need to be better at a certain aspect of the game, he had told his players. DiSarcina approached Collins later and challenged him, because DiSarcina was already doing whatever it was that Collins wanted the entire team to do.

"What I learned from that is that some guys can't distinguish it," Collins said. "If you're having a team meeting, it's about them. The only thing they worry about is themselves: 'Is he talking about me?' And so I've learned to change that.

"I no longer have a meeting where I throw [stuff] around. That's done. I talk about how good we can be. That's it."

Said Mets outfielder Curtis Granderson: "He says things when he needs to, but he's definitely not honest all the time. He lets us go ahead and learn from our bruises."

A personality makeover is nice, but victories and losses are what matter. His first four seasons as Mets manager were losing ones, increasingly putting a spotlight on his strategic decisions and a strain on his relationship with the general manager. The book "Baseball Maverick" details a scene in August 2014 in which Alderson told author Steve Kettmann that Collins had a "51%" chance to return this season.

"Frankly, for me, that percentage has been eroding," Alderson said then.

Look at Collins now. His former players, the ones who feuded with him in Anaheim, are happy for him.

"Life is all about second chances," Salmon said. "He's been given a second chance, and he's made good."

Collins is still an old-school manager, a little too open in sharing his true feelings in an era where power has shifted to general managers, with managers increasingly molded into corporate spokesmen. The Mets are expected to reward Collins with a new contract this off-season, but he says he would not want to stay more than two or three more years.

He is 66, the oldest manager in the major leagues.

"It's getting to be a young man's game," Collins said. "There is so much involved now, technology-wise, that it's beyond me. I'm very lucky that I have coaches who can do that stuff and explain it to me.

"I'd like to do it for a couple more years, and then it's time to let someone else do it and let me have some fun watching it."

That brings the story back to the Angels. Fun was something they needed desperately in that summer of 1999, as Collins shed his tears of resignation and took his intensity with him.

When he left, the Angels appointed one of his coaches to replace him. The tension evaporated under this interim manager, with his quick smile, mellow personality and an extraordinary ability to work the clubhouse and connect with each player.

"Complete polar opposites," Salmon said.

That interim manager was Joe Maddon. If the Mets and Chicago Cubs advance to the NL Championship Series, the opposing managers would be Collins and the coach who replaced him in Anaheim.

"That," Salmon said, "would be a great story."

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