Contrasting conductors: Subway Series starts with managers on different tracks

Mets manager Terry Collins, left, chats with Yankees Mets manager Terry Collins, left, chats with Yankees manager Joe Girardi behind the batting cage. (April 4, 2012) Photo Credit: AP

advertisement | advertise on newsday

On the surface, they have little in common.

Joe Girardi has an engineering degree, the haircut of a Marine and a polite, if somewhat detached, manner. He is a man who believes in statistics, likes being in control of his emotions and has an unwavering faith that hard work and preparation eventually will conquer all.

Terry Collins, by contrast, is a tight coil of emotional energy: He talks a million miles a minute and doesn't so much walk out to the pitcher's mound as launch himself toward it. He is a man who can cry in a news conference, someone who has experienced failure and believes he is better for it.

On the temperament scale of major league managers, Girardi of the Yankees and Collins of the Mets occupy opposite ends. Yet the two have one very important thing in common: As managers of two New York baseball teams battling for first place in their divisions, they have exactly the right skill set and personality to inspire the type of teams they are leading.

Who has the tougher job? It's hard to say. Collins took over a young but demoralized team that few thought would be within spitting distance of .500. Girardi, once again, has the team with the highest payroll and highest expectations of any team in sports.

"Either side of town is extremely difficult at times because of what you have to deal with -- the players and the scrutiny," Girardi, 47, said when asked who has the tougher job.

Said Collins, 63: "To manage in this town, it's a tough job. You're under the microscope and it's a nightly thing. It's a tough place compared to other places, but if you like competition, this is where you want to be."

It's hard to imagine either manager leading the other team. Girardi, with his thick binder of statistics and his deep understanding of Yankees lore, would seem deeply out of place holding the hand and molding the psyches of the young players in Queens. Collins, by contrast, doesn't have the Yankees pedigree and sense of emotional reserve required to be the caretaker of a legend, which is basically the chief job requirement of any Yankees manager.

The men who hired both managers, however, believe both have unique skill sets that make them perfect for the teams they lead.

Collins, who went 77-85 last season in his first as Mets manager, was far from a popular choice when Mets general manager Sandy Alderson hired him after the 2010 season. Collins hadn't managed in the majors since 1999, when he resigned from the Angels after losing the support of his team. Alderson, who had known Collins for a while and "always liked him," believed that Collins learned from that experience. And he believed that Collins had the combination of big league managing experience, player development skills and just plain desire to do a good job that would be perfect for a team of young players.

"He has a set of qualifications that could not be duplicated by anyone," Alderson said. "But what binds it all together is his personality. When you boil it all down with Terry, what you see is what you get. He's very honest and direct. He's got an open-book type of personality. And I think the players and our fans appreciate that."

That open-book personality was plainly on display last week in the way Collins handled Johan Santana's no-hitter. After the historic game, Collins revealed just how much he had agonized over letting Santana throw a career-high 134 pitches, walking reporters through the scene on the mound when he decided to let Santana make the decision.

"He listens," Santana said when asked what he likes about Collins. "He talks to you, and he listens."

That wasn't always the case with Collins, who in past managing jobs was known as a hothead who had trouble relating to young players who didn't grow up with the same respect for authority that he did.

"I think he's definitely doing it different this time around," R.A. Dickey said. "I think he learned a lot when it didn't work out in other places. He wants to know your opinion. When you see him grappling with decisions, it's because he wants what's best for you and the team. There is no denying how invested he is."

Just as there is no denying how invested Girardi is in the success of the Yankees, how he embraces the obscenely high expectations that come with managing the team.

"This is a place where perfection is expected, and Joe understands that as much as anybody," Mark Teixeira said. "I think his playing experience here really helps him as a manager. He's more of an overseer than someone who needs to be in our business every day. I think that's how Joe Torre was before him. Those kind of managers work well for the Yankees."

Yankees general manger Brian Cashman said that when he had to replace Torre, he interviewed only candidates who already had worked in the Yankees' organization. "To succeed here, you have to understand the 24-7 attention that's paid to the organization," Cashman said. "There are two sides to the coin here because there's a lot of opportunity because we are the New York Yankees. But there's a lot of expectations, too."

Girardi missed out on the playoffs in his first season as Yankees manager as the team went 89-73. But that was quickly forgotten as the Yankees won 103 games the next season en route to a World Series title. The Yankees won 97 games last season and 95 in 2010.

Andy Pettitte, a teammate of Girardi's when he was a catcher with the Yankees, said he has exactly the right type of temperament for a veteran clubhouse. "I think the guys just appreciate the way Joe treats us," Pettitte said. "He treats us like men. He expects us to do our jobs the right way, and if we do that, he just lets us go about our business."

Though they have little in common on the surface, Girardi and Collins have an appreciation for the job the other is doing. After Friday's Subway Series opener win, the Yankees were 32-25; the Mets were a surprising 32-27.

The two have joined forces in a Dunkin' Donuts commercial, joking about how they need a large iced coffee to deal with the rivalry between the two teams. In reality, the two have more in common than a liking for Dunkin' Donuts iced mocha and caramel.

Said Girardi: "We both have tough jobs."

You also may be interested in: