"The first time I met him, he walked over and said, 'Hi' like I had known him for years," Collins said. "I was very impressed by that, and obviously with the job he's done."
That positive impression apparently went both ways. Citing Collins' success in the face of adversity in New York, La Russa on Wednesday named the Mets' manager to his National League coaching staff for next month's All-Star Game in Kansas City.
"It's an honor," Collins said. "It's an honor to be asked, and certainly it's a thrill to be associated with the game itself. I am truly honored. I told Tony I was shocked."
"I've known and respected him for years," La Russa said. "But I think the job that he did last year -- nobody had more adversity than that, and he kept the club competing. And he's doing it again this year. I just think you need to recognize when somebody is handling a ballclub and day in, day out, there's no difference how they compete. If the stars are hurt, they still keep competing and he still keeps getting contributions. So I think it's a well-deserved honor."
Collins, who previously coached under Felipe Alou at the 1995 All-Star Game, will join Brewers manager Ron Roenicke on La Russa's staff. Both men will likely begin the game as the NL's first- and third-base coaches, before retiring to the dugout to advise La Russa during the middle innings.
Collins is 110-114 over his first season-plus with the Mets, despite going long stretches last season without key players David Wright, Jose Reyes, Ike Davis and Daniel Murphy. Despite a losing season, the Mets exercised the 2013 option on Collins' contract last September.
"It's not just my opinion," said La Russa, who will come out of retirement to manage the NL squad. "He's very well-regarded for a lot of reasons. He's got a real good grasp of the game."