World Series Ethics: His Decision Didn’t Work, But Mets Manager Terry Collins Was Right

KC wins

The end of the baseball season is traumatic for me, except for those few years that ended in Boston Red Sox championships, and those two golden glow seasons (1967 and 1975), when the team lost at the end but fought such a good fight that it felt like they had won. In my house we refer to the days between the end of the World Series and the beginning of Spring Training as The Dark Time.

On the plus side, I have about three more hours every day to do something productive.

For the second consecutive year, baseball ended with an ethics conundrum in its final game. Last night, as the Kansas City Royals battled back from a late deficit again (they had done so in the previous game as well) to take the Series four games to one,against the New York Mets at Citi Field, the topics were trust, courage, leadership, and most of all, consequentialism. The latter is to baseball as apple pie—or baseball— is to America.

Let me set the stage. The Royals, having stolen the previous game from the Mets’ grasp by an unlikely 8th inning rally (the Mets lost one game all season when they were leading in the 8th; they lost two such games in this five game series). With their backs against the wall (on the short end of a 3-1 game tally, the Mets had to win last night to avoid elimination), the New York sent their ace, the remarkable Matt Harvey, to the mound to do what aces do: win. Harvey had it all last night. After eight innings, the Royals hadn’t scored.  Harvey looked fresh in the eighth, and got the Royals out without surrendering a baserunner.

All season long, with a close game after eight innings, Mets manager Terry Collins would tell his starter to take a seat and let his closer finish the game. This is standard practice now: complete games by starting pitchers are a rarity. Once, not too long ago, the league leader in that category would be in double figures. Now the top is usually about five. Moreover, nobody cares. The best teams have 9th inning specialists who almost never lose one-run leads, much less two, and the Mets had a great one, Jeurys Familia.

After Harvey’s dominant eighth, the Fox cameras recorded the drama unfolding in the Mets dugout. Collins’ pitching coach told Harvey that his night was done and Familia, as usual, would close out the game. Harvey pushed past the coach to confront his manager, passionately. Let me finish it, he insisted. The game is mine.

Managers love hearing a pitcher say these things, and since managers are older than players, they remember the time when nobody counted pitches and the greatest hurlers regarded “finishing what they started” as a badge of honor. Harvey had been dominant and didn’t seem tired; he had carried his team on his back, and had only thrown 100 pitches. He had plenty in the tank. Collins decided that Matt Harvey had a right to be on the mound when the final out of his own masterpiece was recorded and the Mets earned the chance to play another game. The manager relented.

Harvey had walked only one batter through eight, but he walked the first batter in the ninth. Then the next batter hit a screaming line drive to left field, a double, putting the tying runs in scoring position with no outs. Now Collins pulled Harvey for Familia, who gave up no more hits. Yet the two runners scored anyway—Kansas City’s players run the bases like their hair is on fire—and the game was tied. Three innings later, in the twelfth, the Royals scored five runs to become baseball’s 2015 World Champions.

You can guess the rest. This morning Mets fans and everyone else is saying that Terry Collins is an idiot, including Terry Collins. Of course he should have brought in Familia to close out the game: look what happened!  “I got sentimental,” said Collins.

Collins may be an idiot, but this call didn’t prove it. If he had brought in his closer and Familia had given up the tying runs, critics would be leveling the exact same charge in different terms. THis is a hind-sight bias playground. “Why take out a starter who was unhittable in a win-or-perish game? Just because it’s what is usually done? This isn’t a usual game, it’s the World Series! Who’s the best pitcher on the team? Harvey! What pitcher do you know is at his best? Harvey! What did the Royals think when they knew he wouldn’t pitch the ninth? “Thank GOD! Now we at least have a chance.”

Collins might as well have flipped a coin. There was nothing wrong with his decision when he made it, which is all that matters.   The only thing wrong with his decision was that it didn’t work. That’s pure consequentialism, defining the rightness or wrongness of a decision based on results entirely beyond the control of the decision-maker.

One could, and some have, make a legitimate critique of how Collins made the decision. He decided to pull Harvey, and let Harvey talk him out of it. Wishy-washy leadership, right? On the surface this is the kind of weak leadership that I have criticized in Rick Grimes, the alleged leader of the zombie-fighters in “The Walking Dead.” In past seasons, he has wavered or retreated after any decision that is faced with opposition (now he’s a psychopath, so that’s not as much of a problem). Collins’ duty was to his team, not Matt Harvey.

This, however, was a different situation. Collins trusted Harvey and had every reason to continue to trust him when the pitcher said, “Let me pitch, and I’ll win the game.” This is akin my favorite moment in “Hoosiers,” when the underdog high school basketball team, needing one bucket to win an epic state championship, meets with its mentoring coach (Gene Hackman) during the final time-out. The coach outlines a play using his superstar, Jimmy Chitwood, as a decoy: another player will take the final, must-make shot. Then Jimmy, after an awkward pause, looks this coach, who has has insisted in absolute obedience from his players at all times, squarely in the eyes and says, “I’ll make it.”

It shows excellent judgement and leadership to take such an assertion by a respected subordinate as new and crucial data. It takes humility and courage for a leader to accept the possibility that his initial decision was not the best one, and trust a dedicated individual to take great responsibility upon himself when he has the ability and track record to do so.

Jimmy made the shot, Harvey failed. That’s all. It could have gone the other way (except that Jimmy has a script making sure it didn’t.)

Terry Collins proved to me that he was a real leader last night. He made a good decision. It just didn’t work.

That’s all.

15 thoughts on “World Series Ethics: His Decision Didn’t Work, But Mets Manager Terry Collins Was Right

  1. I agree. Collins made a good decision. I know that if I had been in his place, I would have been absolutely wishy-washy-free, and would have kept Harvey on the mound for the ninth inning without hesitation or equivocation.

  2. I am a believer in the hot hand. Real old school. If a pitcher is doing the job you keep him in. Pitch a clean 7th then you get to pitch the 8th. Clean 8th you get to close it out.

    My only problem with Collins is after a leadoff walk that should have been it. One batter too long.

    • I agree. If you are going to concede on something like this, you lay down the law: “if the tying run gets to the plate, I am pulling you.”

      • In the 1975 World Series Game 4, Luis Tiant of the Red Sox repeatedly talked his manager out of removing him. Every inning, it seemed, he had men in scoring position, protecting a 1 run lead—I remember that my mother got so nervous she stopped watching. From Bleacher Report:

        After two straight gutwrenching losses, the Red Sox found themselves on the brink, and they turned to the man who had the nickname “El Tiante.” He didn’t dominate like in Game 1, but he temporarily saved the Sox.

        It didn’t start well for Boston—Griffey and Bench hit RBI doubles in the first and with a 2-0 lead, the Reds seemed on the verge of blowing this World Series open. Then the Red Sox erupted for five in the fourth.

        Fisk and Lynn started it with singles, and an Evans triple tied the game. Burleson doubled, and now the Red Sox were up 3-2. Cincinnati manager Sparky Anderson went to his bullpen. Pedro Borbon had been both effective and a horse all year long, and he’d closed out the NLCS in extra innings. Game 4 of the World Series wasn’t his night. Tiant singled. Perez committed an uncharacteristic error. Burleson and Yastrzemski each hit RBI singles and it was 5-2.

        Cincinnati quickly countered with two in their own half of the fourth, as Concepion and Geronimo delivered extra-base RBI hits. But the scoring ended there. Tiant got out of a 1st and 2nd/1-out jam in the fifth by getting Perez and Bench. In the ninth, the Reds loaded the bases with one out, but Tiant got Griffey on a line drive out and then Morgan popped up to end the game.

        Tiant had won one game by dominating and other game by battling. A city that 28 years later would drive manager Grady Little out of town for using staff ace Pedro Martinez beyond 100 pitches in the 2003 ALCS, had cheered on El Tiante as he threw 163 pitches on three days rest.

  3. One difference with Hoosiers: in the movie,all of the players were standing there looking at Hackman like he’d gone crazy, and eventually Hackman snaps to enough for Jimmy to tell him it’s in the bag.

    To paraphrase Earl Weaver, if you make a decision based on sentiment, you have one guy who loves you, and 24 guys who know you just made the wrong decision.

  4. I thought the 45,000 vocal fans compelled the decision. Collins was forced into his move; it was not freely given. And to make matters worse, Harvey was not pulled after walking Cain, who was as good as on second base (in this series) the moment he arrived at first. If the fans are saying that Collins is an idiot, they have only themselves to blame.

    Still a good throw from Duda nails Hosmer and the Mets go to KC where they ultimately lose, in my estimation. The Royals were the better team from the better league and they played like it when it counted.

    You’re right about the 3 (plus) hours wasted a night Jack. We’re free until April!

          • Royals were last in MLB road attendance for 2015 and slightly behind Toronto and Houston. Go figure. Three great teams to see and no one shows. Last place Red Sox were second in AL in road attendance. I am very happy for the fans, but their management is the pits. Not fan friendly to visitors.

            • Ignorant fans. No stars. No respect. KC has never had mystique, like the Yankees, Red Sox and Dodgers. Also Boston fans are everywhere, thanks to all the college students who become indoctrinated into Red Sox nation.

              • When the Royals come to Boston it is very rare to see any fans in team regalia. Even when they meet the Cards in St. Louis you see not as many as you would expect.

                We had a tailgate party this past season in KC that at least 300 Red Sox fans attended. Almost all were from the Nebraska-Kansas-Mo. area.

                I travel to many road games and Red Sox fans are everywhere.

  5. They turned up in good numbers for a September w/e series in Baltimore (O’s won 2 of 3). And they came out in full force for the ALCS last year.

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