Who should manage the Astros?
Disclaimer: I have yet to have a single conversation with Ed Wade regarding the pending managerial search. None of the names I’m about to drop have come from anyone but me. My goal is simple: scour the landscape, from the obvious candidates to sentimental picks to a few that make you say, “Hmmmm…” And I want to hear what you think. We’re in an era where the fans can be heard by the simple click of a mouse. Let’s have some fun. And please, make yourself heard.
The Astros haven’t conducted a true managerial search since the 2001-02 offseason. That was when Jimy Williams was introduced as Larry Dierker’s replacement sometime in the middle of December. Since then, the Astros have had two skippers — Phil Garner, whose “interim” tag was lifted days after the ’04 season ended, and Cecil Cooper, who was named permanent skipper the final weekend of the season in ’07.
The Astros have every intention of doing their due diligence this offseason, and don’t expect any snap decisions. The process is likely to be long and thorough. And that’s the way it should be. In the meantime, speculation is the name of the game, and let’s be honest, this is the fun part.
Group 1: The “most likely to score an interview” veterans.
I’m sensing the Astros are looking for that “name,” the guy who has the track record, has managed in the big leagues and has established himself on some level. If that is the case, we have to include these former skippers as candidates:
Jim Fregosi: 15 years as a big league manager — four with the Angels, three with the White Sox, six with the Phillies and two with the Blue Jays. He has a .484 winning percentage and won the pennant with the Phillies in 1993. He also has a long history with Wade.
Bobby Valentine: 15 years as a big league manager — eight with the Rangers, seven with the Mets. Won the NL pennant with the Mets in 2000. He has a .510 winning percentage and is completing his final season with the Chiba Lotte Marines of Japan’s Pacific League. He is reportedly close to signing a multiyear deal to return to television with ESPN (but that can probably be voided if he wanted to manage).
Manny Acta: After 2 1/2 years as manager of the Nationals, Acta was dismissed this year. He has a .385 winning percentage, but let’s be honest, was that really his fault? Acta has a rich history with the Astros, having played in the Minor League system from 1986-91 and managed in the same system from 1993 to 2000.
Willie Randolph: Managed the Mets for 3 1/2 years, from 2005 through the middle of 2008. Winning percentage: .544.
Group 2: The “We know them, we love them, but honestly, they probably don’t stand a chance” good guys.
Jeff Bagwell: I thought Bagwell would be a perfect interim manager for September, because a) he knows the young players pretty well from his stops at the Minor League sites this summer; b) it would inject some excitement into a non-contending team; and c) he might not want the job long-term. I could be wrong on this, but I’m not sure Jeff is ready to jump back into baseball full-time, yet. Someday, probably, but not yet. I do sense Bagwell is getting that itch for the game again, and when the timing is right, he might want to throw his hat in the ring. But I’m not sure that time is now.
Brad Ausmus: First, he’d have to retire as an active player, and right now, he’s focused only on helping the Dodgers get to the World Series. I think Brad would be a tremendous manager and he’s probably the only player I can think of who could step right into the big leagues without managing in the Minors first. But the only reason he left Houston in the first place was to be closer to home. I just can’t imagine he’d be willing to make a long-distance commitment again, so soon after he said he’d play for the Padres or Dodgers or retire. Ausmus will have all kinds of opportunities once he does retire, so I doubt he thinks this might be his only shot. He’ll have plenty when it’s time.
Craig Biggio: I don’t envision the Astros giving consideration to Biggio at this time and I would surmise they’d want him to manage in the Minors first if they were to ever consider him. Maybe someday. But not now.
Jim Deshaies: Thanks to the fans for the emphatic “J.D. for manager” campaign, and our loveable television analyst appreciates the passion. But it’s not happening. I think he would definitely consider managing, although I think deep down he knows he has one of the best jobs in the world. Selfishly, I’d rather J.D. stay in the booth. I’ve grown accustomed to the “J.D. drive-by,” where he stops in for one final coffee stop and a quick conversation in the media dining room about 10 minutes before gametime. He’s also fun and entertaining and the thought of a stressed-out J.D. is kind of depressing. Then again, he’s already clean-shaven up top so he wouldn’t have to worry about any premature graying or stress-related baldness.
Garner: Hard to ignore a guy who is happily retired in Houston and just happens to be the only manager in history to take this team to the World Series. Friends have tried to get me to sell this as a George Steinbrenner-Billy Martin relationship: hired one year, fired the next, rinse, repeat.
Garner takes winning well, he takes losing well, he takes everything well. Heck, when he was canned in ’07, he left a message on my cell phone that began with, ‘Ha ha, you have to work tomorrow and I don’t.”
But I don’t think there’s a chance, which is why he’s in the “no chance” category.
And finally, Group 3: “Something to chew on.” (Also known as, “thinking outside of the box.”)
Dave Clark: By no means should we write off the interim manager. Clark has managed in the Astros’ system and has the respect of all players, young and old. He and Sean Berry can take most of the credit for helping Michael Bourn emerge as the Astros’ MVP this year, and he seems to have the right combination of toughness and patience. He also doesn’t appear to be the type to put up with our No. 1 pet peeve — not running hard to first base.
Clark was no-nonsense as a player but isn’t the type to pepper today’s youngsters with stories of “back when I played…”. He’s likeable and has a lot of pride. If the Astros are looking for a long-term skipper — and by all accounts, that seems to be a priority — Clark should receive heavy consideration.
Bill Ripken: I read somewhere he was once voted by his peers as the player most likely to become a Major League manager. So what’s taking so long?
Looking for enthusiasm? A former teammate reportedly called Ripken the Nuclear Dish because he has an endless source of energy. Need someone who can deal with adversity? Ripken lived through the 21-game losing streak that opened the Orioles’ 1988 season and had plenty more low times even after the streak ended. And he knows his stuff. He was a late hire by the MLB Network and he’s by far its biggest star. Hearing him break down strategies, pitching sequences and teams in general is a thing of beauty. He also knows plenty about being the underdog. He’s Cal’s little brother for crying out loud. He’s also smart, engaging and a heck of a baseball teacher. He and Cal have written two “how to” books and they run three Minor League teams. Check it out: http://www.ripkenbaseball.com.
Tim Bogar: He cut his teeth as a Minor League manager in the Astros’ system in 2004 and was named Appalachian League Manger of the Year for the Greeneville club and the next year, his Class A Lexington team posted a league-best 81-58 mark. Bogar moved on to the Indians organization in 2006 and was named Eastern League manager of the year, and, more significantly, was named “Best Manager Prospect” by Baseball America. Bogar’s success rate didn’t stop once he reached the big leagues — as a “quality assurance” coach for the Tampa Rays in 2008, he acted as a seventh coach for the AL Champion Rays, and after the season, the Red Sox lured him away and hired him as their first base coach.
Beyond the x’s and o’s, Bogar is smart, reasonable and liked by everyone. As a player, he was one of the toughest on the field and among the most approachable off. Clearly, he has a knack for working with young players, and he also has the respect of the superstars.
Honorable mention: Kirk Gibson: Currently the bench coach for the Arizona Diamondbacks, Gibson has done it all: played, broadcasted, coached. I’ve heard rumblings that he would love a shot at managing. Tim Wallach: Former All-Star third baseman with the Expos, Dodgers and Angels. Currently manager of the Triple-A Albuquerque Isotopes, Wallach was named Pacific Coast League Manager of the Year earlier this month.
So that’s my two cents. Who am I missing?
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