Terry Collins thought he knew how to be a good major-league manager in his first two stints, with an overall winning record for six seasons with the Astros and Angels as proof. • But his explosive and dictatorial means resulted in an ugly end, an Anaheim player mutiny and fractured clubhouse forcing Collins to resign with a month left in the 1999 season. • He would spend the next 11 years, including one on the Devil Rays coaching staff, working in assorted roles, hoping that somebody would somehow give him another chance to manage in the majors. • When Collins finally got it, hired by the Mets in November 2010, he felt the need to say by way of introduction, "I'm not the evil devil that a lot of people have made me out to be." • The Collins who tonight will lead the Mets into their first World Series in 15 years, and his first ever, is indeed a different manager, and a different man: mellower, though still feisty and energetic at age 66, with a changed perspective and philosophy. • "When I first came here, one of the things that I absolutely worked on every single day was to talk to every player on the team," Collins said. • "And the other thing that I do here is my players have a say in stuff. They have a say in the rules. They have a say in dress codes. I want them to be a part of this whole thing. … That's being a better communicator. Where years ago I wrote the rules, I put down the policies, I don't do that anymore.
"So I think that … the players know they have a voice, that they can come in my office at any time. I have no ego. I wasn't a star player. I don't have to worry about getting caught up in headlines. I get caught up in, 'Go have fun playing.' That's all I ever wanted to do, was play the game. So, yeah, I think I've changed. No question about it."
That that sounds a lot like Rays manager Kevin Cash, and many of the other younger, new-breed managers, is not a coincidence, just more evidence of how Collins had to adapt to get that next chance.
"I took everything personal," Collins said. "When I first started managing, I thought I ran a good game. I thought decisions I made were educated, and when they didn't work I was mad at myself. Unfortunately, I wore my emotions on my sleeve. The players saw it and thought I was mad at them. And therefore it didn't work."
Now, he'll not only discuss strategy with his coaches beforehand but is open to explaining it afterward to the media, his players, even his wife, Debbie, joking, "on the way home (she) tells me it was a dumb move, and she hasn't been in baseball until five years ago."
After leaving the Angels (where he was replaced on an interim basis by a coach on his staff named Joe Maddon), Collins, who never played in the majors, spent 2000 as the advance scout for the Cubs. But he wanted to get back into uniform.
Passing on an offer from Larry Bowa to be a coach with the Phillies, Collins agreed to help out old buddy Chuck LaMar, who was GM of the fourth-year expansion Devil Rays and wanted another experienced voice on a coaching staff that was to be shuffled with the firing of manager Larry Rothschild just 14 games into the 2001 season.
"He was an outstanding hire," LaMar said last week. "He should have been managing in the major leagues, but Houston and Anaheim wanted to make a change and they made a change. … For what we were going through for our players and for our staff to have that kind of experience on the staff was just great. And it worked out great."
Collins didn't actually like the 2001 gig, first as the bullpen coach then moved to third base when Hal McRae became manager and made Billy Hatcher the bench coach. But the important thing was getting back on the field.
Still, he spent five years working in the Dodgers minor-league system (field coordinator, farm director), managed in Japan in 2007-08, handled the China team for the 2009 WBC and went to the Mets in 2010 as a minor-league coordinator before finally getting another shot.
"That's not easy to do. I give him a lot of credit for that," Maddon said. "I know how much he craves this moment."
Though the Mets didn't have a winning record in Collins' first four seasons, his bosses liked what they saw enough to keep him around: none of the confrontations and volatility general manager Sandy Alderson had heard about, plenty of examples of solid relationships with his players and a good rapport with the media and fans.
"He's handled it really well," Alderson said. "It's a fine balance to maintain."
Second baseman Daniel Murphy lauds Collins not only for his energy and passion but, noting their early season struggles, said, "you've got to credit the skipper a great deal for keeping the fabric of this ballclub together."
Finally getting to the World Series after 45 years in the game has been an emotional accomplishment.
"It's a special moment for me," Collins said. "After all these years, when this has been your whole life, to finally get to the ultimate series that every person that's ever played this game wants to get to."
Obviously, he's managing just fine.
"This," Collins said, "is what I think I do."
Contact Marc Topkin at [email protected]. Follow @TBTimes_Rays.