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Full Speed Ahead : Terry Collins Doesn't Know How to Relax. His Intensity Cost Him a Job With the Astros, but It's a Key Quality That Made Him Seem Like the Perfect Fit for the Angels

March 28, 1997|MIKE DiGIOVANNA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

There are Type-A personalities, and then there are Type-AAA personalities, and Angel Manager Terry Collins definitely falls into the latter class.

People tend to get defensive when they're accused of being workaholics, but Collins embraces the label like an old friend. "Yep," he says proudly, when asked if he's a workaholic. "I don't know if that's healthy, but I enjoy this, and it may not last that long . . . I want to be at the park."

Twelve-hour work days are the norm for Collins, who gets to the park around noon and leaves around midnight. He's so consumed by his job, so bombarded with thoughts of how he might coax a little more out of his team, that he sleeps just five hours a night.

"I may go to bed around 1 a.m.," Collins says, "but I usually lay awake for at least an hour."

Is Collins competitive? When he was a kid, the mother of one of his friends called his mother and asked that Terry no longer play ball with her son because Terry played too hard.

Is he hot-tempered? Collins is known for his volcanic arguments with umpires, and last season his voice pierced clubhouse walls during a shouting match with one of his players in Houston.

Is he intense? Collins, 47, took part in rundown drills and pick-off plays with the Angels this spring and pitches batting practice almost every day. This 5-foot-8, 160-pound pepper pot seems to be brimming with enough energy to illuminate Anaheim Stadium.

"I'm an enthusiastic person, I can't help that," Collins said. "I always felt if you kept your energy level up, the players might feed off it."

The Angels, who open the 1997 season against the Boston Red Sox Wednesday night in Anaheim, are starving for such a dynamic leader.

Marcel Lachemann, whom Collins replaced, was a better manager than he'll ever be given credit for, and he was well-liked and respected in the clubhouse. But you could never look at the Angels during his tenure and say, "That is a Marcel Lachemann-coached team." Collins wants to change this.

He's trying to mold the Angels in his image, transforming them from the placid, station-to-station team they were in 1996 to a feisty, aggressive, down-and-dirty, overachieving bunch.

He stewed this spring when pitchers who were getting bombed were afraid to knock a batter on his rear end. He steamed when his baserunners were given the green light and didn't attempt to steal.

He wants his players to go from first to third on singles, to crash into infielders attempting to turn double plays and catchers blocking the plate, to play the game aggressively--but not recklessly--and without a fear of making mistakes.

"We've got to change the mind-set here," Collins said. "But from what I hear about this league, how guys wait for hits and home runs because the parks are smaller, it's not going to be easy."

Another warning to Angel pitchers: If you're on the mound on a day one of your teammates is beaned or another is sent flying into the dirt by a pitch at his head, you'd better be man enough to retaliate.

Collins' Astros once got into a beanball war with the Reds, with pitchers from both teams hitting batters and a bench-clearing brawl ensuing.

"The Reds were all bitching about me, but I know one thing: The guy [Xavier Hernandez] who threw at my players, I signed the next year because he competes," Collins said. "I know that's part of the game."

This intensity, this passion for the game, this tolerance for nothing but the maximum effort from his players, is what impressed Angel executives who interviewed Collins last October.

The irony is that the same things that got him hired in Anaheim got him fired in Houston.

Collins guided the Astros to a 224-197 record in three seasons, and his .532 winning percentage was the highest among Houston managers in franchise history. But a September collapse--the Astros lost nine in a row to fall from first place in the National League Central--and a perceived lack of clubhouse chemistry led to his downfall.

After his Oct. 4 dismissal, one Houston columnist wrote that Collins "was too stern and the athletes bristled at his heavy-handed ways." Astro General Manager Gerry Hunsicker thought Collins overused his bullpen and that his baserunning strategy was too aggressive at times.

When Houston replaced Collins with broadcaster and former pitcher Larry Dierker, then-Astro outfielder Brian Hunter said: "We need a guy like Dierker. He's a laid-back guy who likes to have fun and is not uptight."

Collins was so enraged by Hunter's remark that he called the outfielder, who has since been traded to the Detroit Tigers.

"He also said that I didn't have patience with young players," Collins said. "I asked him, 'How many at-bats did you get [Hunter had 321 in 1995 and 526 in '96]?' He's a nice kid and a heck of a player, but maybe I asked too much of him."

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