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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

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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.”)

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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.

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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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18 Comments

Kirk Gibson? Hadn’t thought of him coming to Houston. But that would be FANTASTIC!!!!!!!!!!! I was in the park cheering him on when he hit that HR to beat the A’s. One of the best baseball moments of my life.

You’re missing Dave Duncan, the pitching coach/magician who’s contract is up (not to mention La Russa’s) with the Cardinals after this year. What Duncan has done over the years, basically picking pitchers off the scrap heap and turning them into stars (look no further than Chris Carpenter’s numbers before St. Louis and with St. Louis for an example) has got to be boarder-line witchcraft. After his son was cut loose, there were some reports of tension between him and the Cardinal higher-ups. After two consecutive managers (Cooper and Garner) that couldn’t properly manage a pitching staff to save their lives, it would be awesome to have someone with a real track record of excellence in working with pitchers. If I have to watch another manager use five pitchers in one inning in a September game when the Astros are already eliminated, I’m going to vomit.
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Dave Clark is a great guy to have around for all the reasons you listed, but after watching him bat Tejada second so far, I’m convinced I don’t want him filling out our lineup cards. How you can bat the league-leader in grounding into double plays in front of Berkman while Keppinger is hitting 7th is far beyond my ken. I’d definitely like to have Clark back next year…as 3B coach.

Manny Acta would be the favorite for me, but Tim Bogar sounds very very intriguing after reading his managing bio.

The Bagwell and Biggio route has already been done with Dierker.
They’ve tried the home grown route with Dierker, the nostalgic route with Garner and the politically correct route with Cooper.
Now it’s time to try the “best man available for the job ” route based on experience and track record.
I vote for Tim Bogar.

I’m curious why Jose Cruz’s name never comes up for consideration? He didn’t seem to get much consideration when Cooper was hired either.

I’ve had about 50 people tell me, “We need to get Art Howe.” I’ve seen him on the post-game shows, and know his history, but is he even available? Interested? A good idea? I trust you more than my 50 best friends, Allyson. Give me some input on Art Howe so I can tell them what’s what.

http://swimthedeepend.wordpress.com

My vote, not that it counts for anything, would be for Acta. I also agree that Dave Duncan would be a good group 3 candidate–offering him a management job is something most other clubs aren’t in a position to do, and it might be just the thing to woo him over after his spat with the Cardinals front office.I don’t like what I’ve seen from Clark strategically over the past few days. It’s too short a time frame to really make a judgment, but these two weeks are his interview, and so far it’s not going too well. The criticism above of his lineup cards are spot on, in my opinion; his management of the pitching staff has so far been only a marginal improvement over Cooper’s, and he did make one bizarre decision last night, assuming it was his (to make Norris sac bunt the runner from second to third, though it went for a hit). If he’s good with the players, especially the younger ones, that’s one piece of the puzzle–but he also needs to have a good baseball mind, and so far he hasn’t shown that.

Kirk Gibson has “the name” that would provide a huge media splash.
Scrap Iron? I’m sure he’s a nice guy, but that’s like going back to your ex-girlfriend. Been there, done that.
Valentine is too goofy….even for me. ;) I’m liking Tim Bogar.

http://stonebutch99.mlblogs.com

My vote would go for Valentine; he took the Mets to the WS, and he took the Chiba Lote Marines to their first title since 1974 despite all the barriers (language, difference in baseball style between the US and Japan) one can imagine. Heck maybe he could help Matsui next season?
Bill Ripken is an interesting option too.

The only one from “Group 1″ I like is Manny Acta. Valentine and Randolph would both be poor fits here. Fregosi is what, 70 yrs old? Group 2 – no way. Love all of them, but not as manager. I really like your 3rd group of “outside the box”.

Now, if only Drayton and Nolan had not had a falling out, we could have had him working with OUR pitchers instead of the Rangers.

My sentimental pick would be Garner. He was an awesome manager for the fans point of view. He & Carol both always made us feel they actually enjoyed visiting with us. We have some really great memories/stories just from the way they visited with us (Best Astro-Line guest ever). Best talk show manager guest ever and we know how Drayton feels about marketing??.
I would love to see Jeff, Craig or Biggio in the dugout again ? after a few successful minor league seasons (just to prove the desire ? remember Clyde at UofH)
After that, I just hope and pray that Ed nails it. The Astros will finally be all his making. He seems to be on the right track ? Heck has been his biggest pick so far?I just hope Drayton is buying in
Bobby V would be very interesting. All that zen from the years in Japan?

My sentimental pick would be Garner. He was an awesome manager for the fans point of view. He & Carol both always made us feel they actually enjoyed visiting with us. We have some really great memories/stories just from the way they visited with us (Best Astro-Line guest ever). Best talk show manager guest ever and we know how Drayton feels about marketing??.
I would love to see Jeff, Craig or Biggio in the dugout again ? after a few successful minor league seasons (just to prove the desire ? remember Clyde at UofH)
After that, I just hope and pray that Ed nails it. The Astros will finally be all his making. He seems to be on the right track ? Heck has been his biggest pick so far?I just hope Drayton is buying in
Bobby V would be very interesting. All that zen from the years in Japan?

Mike Maddux

I haven’t heard anyone mention Tony Pena’s name yet. He has a small connection with the Astros, was the AL manager of the year, a defensive catcher who would understand about a pitching staff and probably hasn’t hurt him to have sat on the bench with Girardi the last few years. I hope they will at least consider him.

I would go with Duncan myself, I’d love to see what he could do with the pitchers that Cecil has been abusing for 2 years. Maybe he could even have confidence in them? THAT would be a change. And a start.

Bobby Cox is retiring in 2011, the Atl J. Constitution put together an extensive list of possible candidates to replace him http://braves.scout.com/2/902756.html GM Wade interviewed some of these people when he hired Charlie Manuel, he’s likely sifted through the entire list at some point.

Great analysis. Art Howe is solid. I’d like Valentine – he has fire, although the years in Japan may have mellowed him. Maybe he could motivate Matsui.

I would have to throw a vote in for Bogar but would deff throw Bill Ripken in a close second. I love listening to the Ripken brothers radio show and just from listening to Bill and how he is on the radio along with there teaching books and I think they even have how to videos out as well he seems like he would make a great manager for a pro team. Which granted talking about it is deff a lot easier then being in the situations but seeing how no mater how much Drayton doesn’t want to announce rebuilding this team after this season it should prove we should so why not give Bill a shot. He also fits into the teams schemes of helping out in the community him and his brother do baseball camps for the little leaguers as well so there another plus to look at.

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