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):

Clark answers questions from reporters.

Al Pedrique followed later in the afternoon.

1013_pedrique.jpg

A back-of-the-room shot of Pedrique’s presser.

1013_room_shot.jpg

Most of the media traffic was in the back, where the cameras were set up.

1013_cameras.jpg

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25 Comments

The way it was handled was poor. Ed Wade should have made a statement to the media, WITH Jose Cruz by his side.
By letting the fans “hear” he was fired, was crap. Sorry…..
but there are right ways of doing things, and then there are
the ways Drayton and Tal do things. Tal Smith is a leach, always has been, always will be.

There are several things that bother me about the coaching changes.
If you’re saying you’re trying to clean house and get a fresh start why are you keeping Berry as hitting coach. Yes, you could argue he had some success with Bourn and Pence, but that’s just two guys on the team. The offense as a whole was pretty awful for large stretches of the season, and of all the people to be held the accountable why wouldn’t one of them be the hitting coach?
Regarding Cruz, yes he was offered an “organizational” job, that seems to me as nothing more than window dressing to try and save face about getting rid of the franchise icon.
Additionally, while getting rid of some of the other coaches is understandable, when you have a guy like Cruz who’s been here as long as he has, I think we deserve to hear more of an explanation about why he’s being moved on out. I think that bothers me as much as anything, that there was no why to this. It makes me wonder if there wasn’t some other motivation behind this? Did Cruz want to be considered for the manager position?

Ms. Footer, I’m having a hard time understanding why this is so hard for all of you in the organization to grasp. Please pass this on to Mr. McClane, et al. You may have asked yourself: Why do we love Jose so much? To Drayton McClane, Ed Wade, and Tal Smith this game is just a business. They’ve never cried when the Astros lost. We do. Once, Jose did, too. We cried with him, and he let us. We loved him for it then, and we love him still. It’s ephemeral, not logical. I guess all those front office guys aren’t capable of understanding. I know you weren’t here in October of 1980, but (Tal was) I thought you understood. This goes waaaaaaay beyond a public relations crisis. This is “I’ll hate you forever” kind of stuff. Put him back at first base and bother that man no more. Maybe we’ll forget it ever happened.

I remember hearing that in ’07 when Scrap Iron was fired, and Cheo moved to the bench in place of Coop for the rest of the season, that he requested to go back to first base and had no interest in being considered for the manager’s position. I have to wonder if maybe this somehow played a part in it. Not this particular event that dates back two years, but perhaps his entire stance on the subject came in to play behind the scenes at some point.

Also, I have to agree, if Cheo goes, when why in the world does Sean Berry stay? Our run production this year was considerably less than that of the ’05 season, widely regarded as a terrible offensive year, resulting in the World Series berth based entirely on the outstanding pitching. If we can’t get Berkman, Lee, and everyone to hit as well as Burke, Lane, and Ensberg, surely there is a problem.

I only have one question for Drayton McLane. Do you honestly think that reassigning Cruz will improve this team? And no lies allowed from you like we got from you regarding the Mitchell Report.

If anyone in your entire organization has convinced you that reassigning Cruz will improve your team, you need to fire them for having the stupidity to think that.

I will NOT renew my season tickets, nor will I ever spend another nickel on any Astros merchandise, tickets or anything that you will ever receive any income from, or a percentage of a profit.

Drayton you have no clue what Cruz means to your players or your fans? I was a Cruz fan long before I was an Astros fan and now it looks like I will be a fan of Cruz after I am no longer an Astros fan.

Treating Cruz like yesterday’s newspaper is uncalled for, nasty, unjust, disgusting, and demeaning. This man STILL PUT FANS IN THE SEATS. But not anymore. This is a PR nightmare that will not go away tomorrow. Unless you reinstate Cruz at 1st base, look for a LOTS more empty seats at MMP.

I hope Nolan Ryan calls Cruz and offers him a job!

Alyson,
In my opinion, I think it was more poorly handled by Ed Wade, as to the wording of how Jose Cruz’s future assignment/prospect was being handled. I agree, Cruz should have been in the press conference by Ed’s side.

Drayton has gone a long way to make sure fans are happy about the outgoing of some of our players, Bagwell, Cruz, Ausmus, giving them nice dedication ceremonies, pregame, etc.

However, the organization still feels stings from the poor handling of the firing or letting go of others, like Gene Elston, Nolan Ryan, and now Cruz, to a lesser degree.

It didn’t help that when I first heard about this, was from this website, and the headline read ‘Cruz dismissed from Astros staff’. It was a bit of a shock to read…though I had to read on to learn that he was offered another position in the organization which I did appreciate. It wasn’t like they showed him to the door and took his key.

However, if the headline would have been different like “Cruz offered new position in organization”, it might not have stung as much as it did…..just my thoughts.

Sorry, I meant to say Bagwell, Biggio, Ausmus….duh. :)

Fair points by all…I will try to address each area of concern as best as I can.

I can assure you Ed never, ever wanted the news to break as it did and he did not have anything to do with the leak late Tuesday night. He also had nothing to do with the misinformation that was put out in the first run, especially the part about the entire coaching staff being fired. Had the news not leaked, it would have been presented in a normal way, with Ed making an announcement, most likely before the press conference introducing the first managerial candidate (which in this case was Dave Clark).

Regarding Cheo being present when the announcement was made…the only problem there is that he has not decided whether to accept the job that has been offered to him, and I believe he said he is taking a week to make a decision. So for him to be there would have been a little strange, seeing he is currently mulling over his options.

dulciman, that speaks to your concern…I agree that would have been a more appropriate, an accurate, headline. But there was really nothing appropriate or accurate about the way it was handled in the media when it first broke, and the Astros obviously have nothing to do with the headline writing.

Finally, while I do understand that we’ve all grown accustomed to Cheo being at first base, I’m a little perplexed about the sentiment that he can only coach first base in this organization and that any other job is unacceptable. He’s been given an opportunity to both be in uniform at home, be a part of Ed’s circle of evaluators and will still be front and center in the Astros community. I’ve been told the pay will increase as well.

I am disappointed that Cheo won’t be on the road with us anymore too, because I loved being around him all of these years. But I am struggling with how hard some of you are taking this. He’s not been fired. He could very well spend 20 more years in the organization if he chooses. He’s going to be as visible as ever. There are other ways to contribute without coaching first base, and the Astros are hoping he stays on board. I am as well.

Thanks.

Because it’s Jose Cruz, Alyson. Either you aleady know exactly what I mean, or you never will. It’s the fact that they treated him just like he was any ole former ball player. It’s the difference between Abe Lincoln and Warren J. Harding. They both have their pictures hanging in the White House, but …
It’s not that Jose can only coach first base. It’s that Jose Cuz has earned the right to make that decision. Not some new manager, not Ed, not Tal, and not Drayton. I don’t care if he does own the team. Managers, general managers, and owners come and they go, but some things, and some people, are forever. Jose is one of them. To paraprase the beginning of my post: I can explain it TO you, but I can’t understand it FOR you.

Thanks for the clarification, lefty…

How in any way is this a good thing? If Cruz isn’t being fired, then why is he having to take time to go over his options, this is obviously not his choice. Even if he is offered a position in the organization, he still is being let go as a coach. I love Houston, and I love baseball, but its getting real hard to stomach the Astros. I used to be a season ticket holder but it has been pretty obvious that between owner and management this franchise is being run like a circus for a while now. Why don’t we fire the real people responsible for where we are, not the guy with the stop watch at first base. (Tal? Wade?) Oh well I guess we have to suffer through another couple years of crappy decisions before those guys get the axe, well actually only Wade, because Tal can do no wrong except advise Drayton on crappy GMs. Hey Wade and Drayton, its called pitching, thats how you win. If you don’t have it rebuild and get some, we aren’t going to be champions every year, I don’t care what you say.

Alyson……our feelings have been hurt beyond words.
It will take some time to try and heal from this. Jose Cruz
was, and is the only stable person on this crazy team.
He has outlasted MANY managers. We love him, and we
want him back. btoo (Becky)

Your first mistake in trying to understand our feelings over Cruz is trying to use logic. It’s not about what was best for the team or what normally happens or what the other offer is; he’s Cheo, he’s our hero, our icon, almost a member of our FAMILY, and he’s suddenly not going to be standing at 1B anymore, and that is, honestly, feeling like a slap in the face of the fans. A slap in the face of the fans that have been paying their hard-earned money in a downed economy to a terrible, horrible team with little hope for the future. And now they’ve taken Cheo away too? It’s not about where he’ll be or what he’ll be doing, it’s about where he SHOULD be and what he WON’T be doing anymore. In an organization full of turmoil, heartache, deceit and hopelessness, Cheo, above all else, was a constant; Cheo was ALWAYS there, always smiling, always happy, good or bad, playoffs or basement, win or lose. They’ve taken away that pillar, and it feels like a piece of my heart has been ripped out. I teared up when I read Cheo’s shocked response in the news article. He’s as close to a member of the family as anyone in this organization will ever be, and he’s not going to be where he’s ALWAYS been. This IS a big deal, and it will NOT be okay when he’s not at 1B anymore. I didn’t even get this worked up over Biggio or Bagwell retiring, that’s how big this is.

Thanks Alyson. Good points about Cruz probably not being at a press conference next to Ed unless they’d both agreed to his new role and both were ready to express that to the press. Yepper.

I understand that the Astros organization can’t control leaked media reports, but I would think they could express the way their eventual media reports are handled on this website….or is MLB.com solely to blame for the misleading headline? The same words are being used in the reports about the new managers being interviewed…”interviewing for the job…after the dismissal of Cecil Cooper….”. You can get my drift.

I am a realist though. If you’ve been a Houston sports fan for any serious length of time, and been through some well earned heartaches, er, umm…playoffs, your heart will become hardened to a degree as every new scar builds over the last…like a callous. So, the loss of Senyor Cruz as a coach is only tempered with the realization that he was kindly offered a role in the organization by Drayton. Smart move by Drayton.

Alyson, look no further than the retired number wall to see No. 45. :)….that’s why so many people are upset…we love us some Mr. Cruz! :)

From my own personal memory bank…two things:
1) I remember sitting in the kitchen floor crying after we lost the 1980 series against the Phillies, and it hadnt helped that Cruz had been shown on tv crying in the dugout…it was quite an emotional time! It was the closest the Stros had come at that point!
2) A few years back my wife & I came down from LR, AR to MMP to attend the game on Photo Day…and I’m not sure which player I was more excited to see, but Cruz was probably it…one of my all-time favorite players…and he came up and put his arm over my shoulder to pose for or camera. It was quite a thrill for a longtime fan!!!

Gosh…major duh moment…I meant to type 25…not Dave Smith’s old number heh heh

Maybe it would be a good idea, to let Drayton see how
upset his “fans” are. Won’t change anything…but at least he would know this move WILL come back to bite him in his
pocket. b2too

Dulciman — I was referring to the initial Chronicle headline that indicated Cruz was “fired,” that appeared on its web site Tuesday night. I felt it was misleading. Yes, he was dismissed from his position as first base coach, but he was offered another position, so “fired” probably wasn’t appropriate.

Plus can a new first base coach really improve this club in anyway? Is Cruz causing problems for this team? No and No. So in what realm of fantasyland can firing him be a good move for the club? I want Drayton to sell the team and get a new GM that will make moves to improve the club not anger the fans. I just wish they gave a ‘real’ reason, I mean why not fire the equipment manager for losing too… And ole Suba in the bullpen hasn’t been doing a good job of catching the relievers why don’t we get rid of him too, oh and the nacho lady didn’t ensure a championship, she has to go… Heck Alyson you didn’t blog us to a championship so guess its time to let you go too. I can see its going to be a long rebuild process… BTW don’t ever leave Alyson, we love ya.

Alyson – If your “having a hard time understanding some of the outrage” over Cheo’s FIRING, YES FIRING – HE WASN’T PROMOTED, HE WASN’T TRANSFERED TO AN EQUAL POSITION – then you are not truely an Astros FAN!!!!!!!!!!!!! just another employee.

Alyson,
I wasn’t aware of the Chronicle’s headline. I read about Cruz’s ‘dismissal’ on the Astros website first and only. No problem. Thanks again for the clarification! :)
Have a good weekend,
Scott

Now I’m not one that usually agrees with Richard Justice (actually I hardly read him anymore) but in this case I think he said it best:
“I think Ed Wade wants to hire someone that’s really smart and maybe really ambitious, a guy that will be making suggestions and coming up with ideas that help the Astros win. If they get someone really good, then it was the right move to fire Jose Cruz. If they simply fill the job with one of Ed Wade’s buddies from the Phillies, then it was a stupid move.”

On a PR stand point this was terrible. And Alyson: Stop trying to spin this in a good light. A “fair position”? This “Fair” position is a “thanks for playing have a nice day” position. The same one they give almost every player that could do anything in this organization. “Special Assistant” to nobody. What does Jimmy Wynn and Larry Dierker actually do (for the astros) on a day to day basis? Besiseds showing up a couple of times every spring and taking pictures? Firing the rest of the coaching staff? Risky move but I can understand it. Firing Jose Cruz? Only if they somebody better…

Oh yea….Alyson, I still think you’re a suck up.

I hate the fact that Cruz was fired/demoted/reassigned, whatever you want to call it. It stinks no matter how you look at it, in my opinion. But there’s no need to throw Alyson under the bus. Let’s be honest: She’s a great sports journalist; she’s a brilliant wordsmith; she gets great inside info. for the fans. Okay, I was angry when she didn’t vote for my wife’s entries in the recipe’ contest, but just because she’s offering balanced commentary on the Cruz situation is no reason to call her a “suck up” or to start questioning her Astros loyalty in all-caps.
http://swimthedeepend.wordpress.com

Thanks bh, and thanks for all of the comments, even yours, sanbogsilent. I understand the sentiment about Cruz and I’ve said what I have to say on the matter. The Astros wouldn’t have done something so controversial after such a bad season if they didn’t have their reasons. I do not subscribe to the notion that someone shouldn’t be held accountable just because he or she is a celebrity. Just my two cents. Everyone is entitled to his or her opinion.

“”I can assure you Ed never, ever wanted the news to break as it did and he did not have anything to do with the leak late Tuesday night. “”

Did Ed tell you that? Ed, as we all know, is a former PR guy. He knows how news leaks, and how this game is played. Of course he did not want the news to leak as it did. Who in their right mind would want news of the team icon being removed from his highly visible job at first base to be leaked before the spin could be positive? And many do not accept the fact that Cruz helped coach this team to a lousy season, when it was reported by some (including a former coach now with the Rangers) that Coop did not speak to his coaches. Many are convinced that removing Cruz from 1st base will NOT be the remedy needed to transform the Astros in to “Champions.”

“”Ed Wade wants him in the booth with the rest of his brain trust”” Oh Lordy. Look where that brain trust has gotten us the last two years. Good luck Cheo, you’ll need your wits about you now more than ever.

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