A word on the coaching changes.
With about a week left in the season, after manager Cecil Cooper was dismissed, I stood with one of the coaches behind the cage during batting practice and we talked about the pending fate of the rest of the staff.
This particular coach understood the business, and he realized that with managerial changes usually come coaching changes. “No one’s safe, obviously,” the coach said. Then we both looked into the direction of Jose Cruz and I said, “well, almost no one.” Then we chuckled. Cruz’s job security was a well-known and accepted fact in Astros annals. It was often compared to a seat on the Supreme Court — a lifetime assignment, for as long as he wanted it. Or so we thought.
Turns out, Cruz’s security as a coach wasn’t so rock-solid. Late Tuesday, the news broke that he was removed from his post as first base coach and offered another position in the organization.
Cruz was one of four removed from the Major League coaching staff. Pitching coach Dewey Robinson, bench coach Ed Romero and bullpen coach Mark Bailey were also dismissed and offered jobs in the organization.
Only Robinson declined. He’ll move to the Tampa Bay organization in 2010.
The Astros, predictably, are in the midst of a bit of a public relations mess. That comes as no surprise, considering Cruz has, rightfully, carried the tag of “franchise icon” for more than 30 years and has held up his end of the bargain by being a model Astros citizen — friendly, kind and accommodating to the fans, the players, the front office. He’s always available, and he’s always smiling.
So from a PR standpoint, this wasn’t a good day. From a baseball standpoint, however, I am having a hard time understanding some of the outrage. The Astros would like to keep Cruz on staff and he was offered another position — a very fair position, in my opinion — that will allow for him to be in uniform as an instructor for Spring Training, as well as suit up for batting practice during regular season home games. During games, Ed Wade wants him in the booth with the rest of his brain trust, and when the team is out of town, Cruz will work as a community ambassador, a la Jimmy Wynn and Larry Dierker.
When the story first broke, it was portrayed as Cruz being fired, which he was not. That Wade was not asked to comment in the initial story added to the confusion.
I’ve been here since ’97 and have seen four managerial changes and countless coaching changes. Very rarely, if ever, were the coaches asked to stay in the organization in other capacities. That the Astros thought enough of the four coaches they dismissed to try to keep them surprised me, to be honest. I was especially surprised to hear that Romero will manage the club’s Rookie League team. Usually, the coach who was brought here by the since-fired manager doesn’t stand a chance to stay in the organization (See Lamont, Gene, and Mansolino, Doug).
Regardless, the Astros made their decisions, and quite frankly, the fate of the coaching staff really shouldn’t come as a big shock. Of the last four non-playoff seasons, 2009 was the worst, in my opinion. I’ve never seen the bottom fall out in September like it did this year. Morale among the players that have been around for a while was at an all-time low.
This wasn’t the fault of one particular person, or two people, or three. I’m certainly in no way pinning this on Cruz. But when things get this bad, personnel changes are inevitable. New ideas. New communication. New clubhouse atmosphere. New faces. A new start. That’s what happens when things get bad and quite frankly, that time has come for the Astros.
I’m not going to throw a bunch of company-written talking points at you about how change is tough and sometimes decisions are made that aren’t popular and blah blah blah. A lot of you are mad, and that’s entirely understandable.
But I’m also not going to pretend the Astros weren’t flawed. The problems were wide-spread, and sometimes, the truth hurts. And the truth is, the Astros took the field 162 times last year and rarely were they the most prepared team in the ballpark. That falls on a whole host of people — starting with the manager, and his coaches.
Yea, change stinks. Unfortunately, losing stinks more.
The Astros began their managerial search in earnest Wednesday, first interviewing Dave Clark, followed by Al Pedrique. Here are a couple of shots from the “postgame” meetings with the media (and you can also read McTaggart’s coverage of the day’s events here):
Al Pedrique followed later in the afternoon.
A back-of-the-room shot of Pedrique’s presser.
Most of the media traffic was in the back, where the cameras were set up.
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