As always, Collins set to give his all for Mets
Manager undaunted by challenge of proving skeptics wrong
The Mets may have posted a losing record last season in Terry Collins' first year as manager, but the organization came away so impressed with Collins' work that it exercised his 2013 contract option before the 2011 season even ended. Now Collins faces an even more daunting challenge, managing a team that many around baseball expect to finish last in the National League East.
MLB.com caught up with Collins to pick his brain about the 2012 season.
MLB.com: How did your first season as manager differ from your expectations?
Collins: It's always going to be a little different because you have new people to work with, new challenges, roster changes, which always create adjustments that you've got to make. But in the end, it's the same because you've got to go play. You've got to get them ready. You've got to get them ready to execute as best you can, and hope that when they get on the field they're ready to play.
MLB.com: How much do you enjoy that part of the job -- the coaching aspect?
Collins: That's the fun part of the game, when you're coaching. Even last year, I took a lot of pride in the way we played the game. Yeah, I was disappointed in our [win total], but we played the game right. We were in a lot of games. We played hard. We never quit. We never threw in the towel, and I was very, very proud of them for that. So at the end of the year when I sat down, yeah, I said, "We should have won more games." We didn't, but you know what? They bought into what I believe, to the man. We had great veterans who were approachable and played hard and worked hard, and I can't ask for more than that.
MLB.com: You were visibly emotional at the end of last season ...
Collins: I should have been. I am an emotional guy. I take great pride in what I do. I take great pride in being a baseball guy my whole life, and how my teams play. People think that I'm really hard on players. It's not that I'm hard on players -- I'm hard on myself. And when you have a team that doesn't play good, I take responsibility for that, because I know how hard it is to play. I did it as a player. I wasn't a great player, but when I walked across those lines, I demanded something of myself. I respect the game so much that I was giving all I've got. And so when there were times when I didn't think my teams did that, that's a reflection of me. Not on them. I didn't get them ready. So there were times, yeah, when I was ticked off. But I'm ticked off at myself more than anything about the players.
MLB.com: You've often said that you read much of what is written about this team ...
Collins: I do.
MLB.com: So how do you combat the expectations not being what you want them to be?
Collins: I set my own expectations. I can't worry over other people's opinions -- we have no control over that. I only have my own opinion. And my opinion of this team is that our lineup is a good lineup. We have good starting pitching. It may not be the Phillies' starting pitching, but we have good starting pitching. If it weren't for our starters that went out there every five days last year, we could have been a train wreck. But those guys stayed healthy, they went out there every five days and until Jon Niese went down, we got consecutive starts out of every one of them. That helps your pitching staff. And so I have expectations for these guys. And you know what? If you talk to each and every one of them, I think they have expectations too.
Ike Davis, he's got something that he's got to prove, that the start of last year wasn't a fluke. He's a great player. We've got some guys who are willing to stand up and meet some challenges as a unit. And to be honest, it's a personal challenge, too. These players have great pride. They don't like to be embarrassed. Good players don't want to be embarrassed, so they have some things they've got to prove to people.
MLB.com: The counterargument is that you lost Jose Reyes, Carlos Beltran and Francisco Rodriguez from a team that lost 85 games last year.
Collins: I understand that. We lost Jose. We lost Carlos. We lost Frankie Rodriguez, all very, very good players. We lost one of the quality backup guys in the game in Willie Harris. We lost some big pieces of the puzzle. But you know what you do? You bring other people in to fill those spots. You trust them. You believe in them. Now what I've got to have them do is believe in themselves, because that's where it starts. We've all talked about it. If Ronny Cedeno doesn't believe in his own ability, how can he expect me to? How can he expect his teammates to? That's the approach we take here -- it starts with believing in yourself and that you can do it.
MLB.com: Can you even describe how important Johan Santana's health is to this team?
Collins: It's pretty important. It's pretty big, because our rotation starts from him down. We understand we're going to have to make some adjustments, but if we can get him through this season healthy -- and that may mean backing him up, that may mean skipping him, or maybe he'll never have to miss a start, which would be great -- he's the kind of guy that can lead a staff. It would mean a lot for us.
MLB.com: Other than Santana, is there any one player most critical to this team?
Collins: I don't think it's one guy. There's going to be a surprise on every team, and that surprise may be your star player having a career year. I look at all their numbers through their careers and I take the real good years and throw them out. And I also take the real bad years and throw them out. In the middle, you've got what you expect them to do.
Look at David Wright. He's probably going to hit 25 homers, drive in 100 runs. But what if he hits 35 homers and drives in 130 runs? That's big. That's huge. What if Jason Bay ends up having a 30-homer year? Those are things that are there, but you don't really expect them. Those are the guys that surprise you. We're going to have to do that to be successful. We're going to need our guys to play as good as they can play.
MLB.com: Has the now-settled Bernard Madoff litigation had any effect on your job?
Collins: It has not been a part of my thought process. It really hasn't. It's talked about, but in the end, it didn't affect how I went about things. It doesn't affect how I look at the season. I don't care if our payroll is $90 million or $150 million, I've got to get them to play right. I've got to get them to stay healthy and play the game right. And that's all I focused on.
Your job is not to win championships. Your job is to get people better. When you get to this level, if you continue to get them better, your chance of winning becomes a lot better. So I've never concerned myself with anything but playing the game right. Ultimately in the end, if you play it right, you'll win your games.
MLB.com: But there are so many things out of your control, from injuries to trades ...
Collins: We lost big pieces of the puzzle last year. And I'm aware that it's difficult to replace those guys, especially guys having years like that. But you know what? You can't sit there and pout about it, because the other guys see it. And I don't blame them. I know we missed Jose [in camp], and I loved Jose. But my concern had to be to Ruben Tejada to get him better. That's the only way I can go approach it.
We're watching it this spring. We ought to have three or four more wins. Not that that's a lot, but we've played some young guys we're trying to get a read on, [see] what they can do. So we haven't had a very good spring. But I know one thing: Our pitching's been pretty good. We've gotten a great read on some of our backup players that we're going to have to count on. So there's always a bright side. Even though our record isn't very good, it's about to be 0-0. So who cares? That's when it starts counting.
MLB.com: What did it mean for the Mets to pick up your contract option more than a year in advance?
Collins: I was honored by it. These jobs are hard to get. There's only 30 of them in the whole world. So to be rewarded -- even though we didn't have the wins, the record we wanted to have, to have them say, 'Hey look, you did a good job,' meant a lot. I was honored by it.
MLB.com: Has this job meant more to you given how your previous two stops ended in Houston and Anaheim?
Collins: No question. I'm having a lot more fun than I ever did before. I've grown up through the years, obviously. I'm enjoying the players more than I ever did. I just demanded so much out of myself years ago, and out of the way my teams played. I'll be the first to admit it. I still take great pride in how I prepare and how my team prepares, but I've grown to be more patient with the game than I was years ago. I'm having a lot more fun. We're in a tough market? That's what challenges are for. That's why I played the game. A guy my size, I was never afraid to play against the big boys. So now I'm on the biggest stage, and it's a blast.