ANAHEIM, Calif. - On the darkest day of his career, Terry Collins sat alone in a back room at Angel Stadium. He had just submitted a tearful resignation to the Anaheim Angels, a fractured, infighting mess of a team that ultimately stained his resume.
Nevertheless, former Angels shortstop Gary DiSarcina sought out Collins on that day in 1999. He offered an apology to his deposed manager and gave him a hug.
"We let him down," said DiSarcina, now the Angels' third-base coach. "He didn't let us down."
Nearly 15 years have passed since a highly publicized clubhouse mutiny cost Collins his job. Until Friday night, he had never returned to Angel Stadium as a big-league manager.
From the ownership group, to the uniforms, to the players, coaches and staff, little about the franchise remains the same. The same goes for Collins, who believes that his failure ultimately changed him for the better.
Collins, 64, is the oldest manager in baseball. He insists he's more mellow and a better communicator than the version of himself that crashed and burned under the weight of expectations in 1998.
"If I could have done 15 years ago what I do today, I don't think we would have had some of the problems creep up," Collins said.
From 1994-96, the hard-driving Collins managed the Astros to three straight second-place finishes. When he was fired, only a month passed before the Angels hired him in 1997. DiSarcina said Collins found a young team eager for an identity -- and Collins provided it.
Playing a National League style of baseball, the Angels exceeded expectations with second-place finishes in 1997 and 1998. In '99, the Angels lured free-agent slugger Mo Vaughn, making the team a legitimate contender.
Instead, the Angels underachieved. Fissures in the clubhouse turned into canyons, with Collins' managerial style at the center of the divide. He lost the clubhouse, in retrospect, because he did not address his communication issues soon enough.
"We fractured," DiSarcina said. "And he took the blame for it."
Years later, DiSarcina still believes Collins got a "raw deal," an opinion that was hardly universal. It took more than a decade before Collins accepted his next managerial job in 2011 with the Mets.
DiSarcina said he figured it would be only a matter of time before Collins got another shot. That impression was reinforced a few years back when the two crossed paths at an instructional league game. DiSarcina was working as a roving infield coordinator and Collins was the Mets' field coordinator.
They chatted for four or five innings. The whole time, DiSarcina found Collins to be more appreciative, intense but not overbearing, as "someone who has adjusted." He sensed a changed man, one worthy of a second chance.
"Nothing was his fault," DiSarcina said. "You remove that out of the equation, and you just think of Terry as a baseball man, he's right where he should be."
Notes & quotes: The use of the designated hitter will allow the Mets to start both Ike Davis and Lucas Duda on Saturday . . . Outfielder Chris Young (quadriceps) will begin his rehab assignment Saturday with Triple-A Las Vegas. He could rejoin the Mets later on the road trip in Arizona.
Sign up for Newsday’s Mets Messages for updates directly to your phone via text, free with a Newsday digital subscription. Learn more at newsday.com/metstext.