Collins’ aggressiveness as a manager produced mixed results on the field during stints in Houston and Anaheim. In three years with the Astros, his intensity reportedly annoyed enough players to get him fired after the 1996 season. But in his first year with the Angels, Collins’ club responded to their manager’s fire, winning 84 games after finishing the 1996 season 70-81.
A light-hitting but gritty minor-league shortstop who played eleven years in the Pirates and Dodgers organizations, Collins retired as a player in 1980 to manage the Dodgers Single-A Lodi affiliate to the California League championship in 1981. By 1983 he had made it to the helm of the Dodgers Triple-A Albuquerque team, where he stayed until 1989. Along the way, Collins won the Sporting News Minor League Manager of the Year award in 1987 after leading his team to the Pacific Coast League championship. After three more successful years in charge of the Pirates Triple-A club in Buffalo (American Association), Collins was promoted to Pittsburgh as bullpen coach under Jim Leyland in 1992.
The improving Astros had won 85 games and finished third in the NL West under Art Howe in 1993, but owner Drayton McLane was frustrated by the club’s slow progress. McLane fired Howe and general manager Bill Wood, promoting Bob Watson to take the latter’s job and hiring Collins as the new manager. It was hoped Collins’ up-tempo style would spark the Astros into first place. With a lineup that featured Ken Caminiti, Craig Biggio, and Jeff Bagwell, the Astros finished only a half-game behind the Reds in the NL Central. Collins compiled a winning record in each of his three seasons with the club, but each year the Astros finished in second place. Impatient for a playoff appearance, McLane canned Collins and brought in Larry Dierker for the 1997 season.
Collins landed in Anaheim, where he replaced the disappointing Marcel Lachemann and his interim replacement John McNamara, who went 18-32 to close out the 1996 season. He rallied the Angels to a 14-game improvement over their 1996 record, but despite the change of scenery Collins finished in second place for the fourth straight season. Amazingly, he was a runner-up yet again in 1998 as his club — victimized by injuries and a late-season slide — finished three games behind the division-winning Texas Rangers.
1999 was a forgettable season for the Angels, who quickly slid into the AL West cellar despite high expectations. Their manager received a vote of confidence from the front office when his contract was renewed in June over the objections of several players who had petitioned GM Bill Bavasi to cut him loose. But a late-August losing streak that culminated in a particularly demoralizing series in Cleveland pushed Collins over the edge. He decided to resign, tired of the bickering and finger-pointing that had come to characterize his team. “I tried everything I could think of to get them going,” Collins told reporters with tears in his eyes. “I decided that if I’m the reason they haven’t, then I’m out of here.”