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ANGELS IN '98

Passion Play

Manager Collins' Zeal Is Driving Force for the Angels

September 27, 1998|JOHN WEYLER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Terry Collins was squinting into the glare of television lights in a conference room adjacent to the Angel clubhouse, quietly recounting his team's belly-flop in a season-maker-or-breaker game against the Rangers, but he really wanted to be grabbing those cameras and flinging them into the walls, smashing chairs onto the table, kicking in the computer monitors that line one wall . . .

In the clubhouse, pitcher Chuck Finley was venting his rage with an obscenity-sprinkled tirade directed at himself, his teammates and the baseball gods. But Collins really wanted him to be tossing chairs, tipping over the stereo rack, taking a bat to the big-screen television . . .

"This team has done more, overcome more obstacles, accomplished more than any team I've ever been around," Collins said. "I can't imagine any team could make me more proud of the way they've played. But you do not come out here every night, play your guts out, leave it all out on the field, and in the end lose and feel good about it.

"You can sit down in the winter and say there are a lot of positive things to look at and there are a lot of things to be proud of, but the one thing is, you didn't win. And that's all that matters.

"That's why I wouldn't care if Chuck tore up the clubhouse. When we can get 25 guys here who are all on that same page, guys who care that much, guys who play the game [angry] .. . .

Then maybe the Angel manager and the Angels can shake loose of their depressive bout with second-place syndrome.

After 11 years managing in the minors, Collins got his first big-league job in Houston in 1994. The Astros finished a half-game back in the National League's Central Division that year, were second again in '95--and only one game behind Colorado in the NL wild-card race--and No. 2 again in 1996.

He had a .532 winning percentage during three seasons in Houston, but that's not really winning when you keep finishing second, is it?

Then the Angels finished second, six games behind Seattle, last season, Collins' first with the club.

And that's why Collins wasn't ready to give up Wednesday after the Angels had lost the first two games of what would be a three-game sweep by the Rangers, because no matter how far the other guy is in front of you, you never stop sprinting until you cross the finish line, right?

And that's why his 30-second "pep talk" to his team before the crucial final game against Texas was: "If you feel like quitting, do yourself a favor and me a favor and pack up your [stuff], shake hands and have a nice winter."

And that's why he pulled Garret Anderson out of a Sept. 11 loss to the Orioles after Anderson failed to run out a bouncer back to pitcher Scott Erickson. Erickson's throw to first pulled Rafael Palmeiro off the bag, but Palmeiro was able to touch the base in time to end an Angel rally.

"That was absolutely hard to do and I hated it," Collins said, "but there comes the point where everybody has to know that there's just one way to play, one way to go about it. If you know that you left it all out here every night, then you have nothing to be ashamed of and nothing to worry about.

"We've all got the same uniforms on and I ask the same of every guy."

So are the Angels buying into Collins' tunnel-vision intensity? Are they becoming a cult of his personality?

"I don't think he's superimposed his personality on anybody," veteran shortstop Gary DiSarcina said. "What he should be commended for is bringing in the kinds of players who come to work prepared to play, who keep battling and never give up. He wants to win at all costs and he's brought in guys who feel the same way."

Apparently, however, not everyone in navy and periwinkle is quite so gung-ho. Collins' blunt approach on the matter of work ethic sits differently with different players. A few Angels declined to talk about him.

Reaction to the Anderson incident, for instance, varied from the militant to the middle of the road to the semi-sympathetic.

DiSarcina: "It's his team, man, and if he sees guys who are ill-prepared, who are cheating him, their teammates and themselves, he's not going to just sit there and let it go. He's going to do something about it."

Randy Velarde: "He's so intense and he demands perfection, at least mentally. He can handle the physical errors, but he has no tolerance for mental errors."

Tim Salmon: "That was a tough call, a unique situation where you could see both sides. I know warnings had been made, but you would've liked to see that happen earlier in the year instead of when it did. But he's the manager and he has to live with those decisions."

Collins knows if the players were to vote, former-manager-current-pitching-coach Marcel Lachemann--always beloved in the clubhouse for his upbeat, soft-spoken, feel-good approach to managing--would probably win his job in a landslide. But Collins wants a World Series ring, not a most-popular award.

Meet the new boss. Not at all the same as the old boss.

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