Memo To Terry Collins: Never Take On Your Fan Base

An article by posted on May 19, 2014

terry collins

Terry Collins take heed: NEVER TAKE ON YOUR FANS! The Collins reaction to Met fans reaction to his benching of Juan Lagares will not serve TC well. A manager never wins when he takes on his team’s fan base. And, many times doing so is an ominous sign.

In the business world it’s called ‘the customer is always right.’ In professional sports, a baseball manager has to know his fan base is often fickle, impatient, emotional, and after too many consecutive losing seasons in a row, especially, in New York City, sometimes, downright disagreeable.

Even so, even when you believe in your heart of hearts the fan base is wrong, it’s critical for the long term survival of the person who sits in the manager’s chair to speak and behave as if the fans are spot on accurate.

The wringing of hands, the gnashing of teeth, and the tremendous fan clamor over the benching of Juan Lagares is symptomatic for a very unhappy, immensely disgruntled, bordering on angry New York Met fan base. A fan base that right or wrong is hardening in their belief that the team that they love is insensitive to their needs and treating them unfairly. For a manager to even suggest the spontaneous fan uproar over a managerial decision is overblown, is at its best shortsighted judgment and at its worst suicidal.

I consider myself to be a passionate, yet reasonable and fairly balanced Met fan. When it was announced Terry Collins was the new Met manager a few years ago, he was not my choice. But, I’m a Met fan and I hoped TC would find success and do well.

Over his three+ years as the Met skipper, I have never blamed Collins for the Mets win/loss predicament or their standing in the National League East. I have never joined the growing chorus of Met fans calling for Collins’ head. Yes, there are instances when I don’t agree with Collins’ on-the-field decisions, but I try to understand a plausible rationale to explain why TC made the baseball decision he did.

For the most part, I have admired Terry’s persistent optimism and his unwavering faith that he can make lemonade out of the lemons he has on his roster. I also admired his almost miraculous transformation from a guy who used to lose his cool in the clubhouse and frequently blow his top, to a gracious elder statesman who appears to be having the time of his life as the manager of the Mets.

That was until Terry Collins benched Juan Lagares.

For the first time, I was angry. Try as I might, I could not find even a rudimentary argument that could support TC’s decision to bench Juan Lagares. And, Collin’s explanation both before the extended benching, and after Lagares played magnificently when he was released from his holding cell and returned to the field only increased my ire.

Whether right or wrong, baseball fans always know what they see and hear what they hear. Passionate New York Met fans know that Juan Lagares has been an almost single beacon of hope from his centerfield position over the last year. They see the almost impossible plays he makes supporting his appreciative pitchers every day. They calculate the runs Lagares has saved them with his electric outfield play and turn to applaud him as Bartolo Colon did on Saturday. They have also watched him continue to mature as a major league batter. Actually, all of us have.

Met fans are not dumb. We know an outfielder with the highest batting average by far, the highest on-base-percentage and the highest slugging percentage of all New York Met outfielders is not the cause of our inept performance scoring runs at the plate.

Met fans can read a box score. They know a .216 batting average of Bobby Abreu, a .236 batting average of Eric Young Jr., a .222 batting average of Chris Young and a .194 average for Curtis Granderson are all contributing factors to our troubles at the plate. At least equally as much as the far elevated hitting statistics of Juan Lagares.

If Terry Collins does not understand the growing angst of the Met fan base he is not the man to lead our team through the final stages of the team’s rebuild. The comments reported by Daily New reporter, Mike Puma, in today’s paper make me feel Collins simply may not get it.

“It’s not like I sat him for six or seven days,” Collins said at a press conference. “We get a little carried away here. Somebody gets a day off here and it’s like the sky is falling. It’s not. He’s the center fielder.”

Slow down Terry, breathe. Sometime it’s best to leave fan unhappiness alone and allow things to simmer down on their own. Not TC.

“This is what the market is here,” he continued. “If I give Curtis Granderson a day off, he’s benched. If I give Chris Young a day off, he’s benched. If I give Juan a day off, he’s benched. That’s not really the case, but I know you’ve got to sell newspapers so do what you’ve got to do.”

Well, Terry is partially right. But the word is ‘rested’ and not benched. Major league managers give starting players a day off to rest them not to bench them. Terry has rested Curtis Granderson and Chris Young a day here and a day there over the season. He benched Juan Lagares confining him to the bench for a majority of the time over several days, in fact four of five games – not two. Reading the Collins remarks only inflamed an already combustible situation.

In my heart of heart, I think Terry Collins’ issue is a communication issue as much as anything else. Many times Terry jumbles his words and murders his syntax. That’s why WFAN often uses Collins’ comments after games as a comedy piece. That’s not fair, but, hey, this is New York City.

Collins’ post-Lagares benching argument tries to sell the notion he extended Lagares stay on the bench for corrective batting instruction with the Mets assistant hitting coach Luis Natera. Natera and Lagares are close, and Natera has worked extensively with Juan on his batting mechanics during Lagares’ stay in the minor leagues. Apparently, Natera had detected an issue with Lagares’ swing involving his hand path to the ball that was contributing to a recent batting slump and wanted more than one day to correct the issue.

I can buy that argument, but it has to be sold in a way that shows respect for a testy but incredibly loyal fan base. It was not.

Imagine the fan reaction had Terry Collins told the press,” I understand why our fans were so upset when I decided to have Juan take a few days off. I really didn’t communicate my thinking about this situation very well. Juan Lagares was and still is a terrific young center fielder and our choice to man that position. Recently, Luis Natera, our assistant hitting coach, a guy who has worked extensively over several years to develop Juan as a major league batter, detected a flaw in Juan’s swing. It’s something familiar to Juan and something he and Luis have worked on in the past. The time Juan spent out of the line-up was spent with Luis working on making a correction. We value Juan’s contributions at the plate as well as in center field and thought a chance to work immediately on the issue would be to the team’s long-term benefit. Once again, I apologize for the confusion I caused by not communicating the reasons Juan was out of the line-up well.”

It’s possible that even Terry Collins detractors may have given him a pass on this one had he explained himself in this way. I know I would have.

Instead, the Collins response keeps the issue on the front burner and calls to question whether he really understand the passions and doubts of the Met fan base or cares what Met fans think one way or another.

I know I had the benefit of time to pre-think my words and prepare a response Terry might have used to slow down a tsunami of growing Met fans unrest. Terry Collins, too, had time to prepare his words. His words were delivered in Terry’s pre-game press conference with the media.

Take heed Mr. Collins: Words are important. A baseball manager can never win when he takes on his fan base.

And we oughta know, we’re Metsmerized.

MMO

About the Author ()

MMO Minor League Analyst John Bernhardt is a retired public school teacher and administrator, who still coaches high school baseball. Growing up in a Yankees household, Bernhardt was an ardent Mickey Mantle and Yogi Berra fan. When the Yankees fired Yogi in his first season as the Bomber manager, curiosity turned to passion when the Mets signed Berra as a player/coach and he has pulled for the Mets ever since. In retirement, John writes the sports for a local weekly, The Catskill Mountain News and hosts Tip-Off, a Friday morning sports hour, from 8:00-9:00 on WIOX, 91.3 F.M.

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