added 4/15/2009 by Scott Barzilla
I'm pretty open about my dislike for some of the writers in the sport. We have the weather vane here in town that seems to want to make a name for himself by adopting an opinion that is sure to incite something. The Astros beatwriter seems to be more interested in race baiting than anything else. Yet, I will give a hearty two thumbs up to Alyson Footer at MLB.com. So, it's not as if the written word is dead in baseball terms.
If the guys at the Chronicle seem to be more inclined to incite than inform, that is bad, but it isn't as bad as being the gossip monger of the sport. Every sport has one. Basketball had Peter Vecsey for awhile until no one bothered to listen to him. It seems that Ken Rosenthal is becoming that guy for baseball. Essentially, instead of inciting, the idea is to throw as much stuff on the wall because some of it is bound to stick.
Rosenthal included the Astros in his weekly crap toss Tuesday by saying that it is likely that Cecil Cooper will be the first manager fired. Let's see, he has no contract beyond the season, a delusional owner, and he himself said we should win 90 games. I guess you don't have to do a lot of mental gymnastics to figure that one out. Of course, no Rosenthal article would be complete without the wild suggestion that the club will hire Buck Showalter when Cooper finally gets the axe.
In my last piece, I described the ways in which Owner Drayton McLane has cut corners. This is another one. Supposedly (if you believe Rosenthal), the players don't want to play for Cooper. We've heard this before, so I suppose it has some validity. The question is why they would want to play for him in the first place. He had never been a big league manager before and he wasn't exactly a career baseball guy after his playing days were over. Cooper spent time as an agent and managed in the minors before he was plucked by Garner to be his bench coach.
Cooper is really good friends with Commissioner Bud Selig and Selig gave his buddy the ol' "I'd really like to see you hire him" line and Drayton bent over as he has continually for Bud. This ignores two undeniable facts. First, Bud Selig is not the owner of the Astros and what is in the Astros' best interest is not his primary concern. Secondly, do you want to trust the word of a guy that has run the sport as poorly as he has?
Yet, the hire of Cooper follows a line of hires that point to an alarming trend in Astros history. Owners in Astros history have habitually underspent on managers. Some have turned out good and some bad, but most were unknown before their stints in Houston. The Astros have never hired a marquee manager in my lifetime and most of them have not had any previous big league experience. I was born in 1973 when Leo Durocher was the manager. That is the last time you could say a marquee guy had the job.
Prestom Gomez, Bill Virdon, Jimy Williams, and Phil Garner represent the only managers to have major league managerial experience coming into their managerial stints with Houston. Virdon was the only one that had won a division title. Gomez had a .363 winning percentage in San Diego. Williams frequently took the most talented team in the league and found a way to finish second. Garner had ten consecutive losing seasons in Milwaukee and Detroit. Those aren't exactly the best credentials anyone had ever seen. That doesn't count the endless list of guys making their debut.
That being said, I have always been a proponent of the idea that managers get too much credit and too much blame. Ed Wade is the key guy in this equation. He is the one tasked with getting the manager enough talent to work with. The aforementioned Showalter has more experience and buzz than Cooper but he isn't a magician either. He won in New York and Arizona when he had talent and lost in Texas when he didn't. So, this isn't to say that hiring a proven manager is a guarantee of anything.
Still, there is a difference being pulling out all the stops to win a ring and looking like you are pulling all the stops. When it came time to hire a general manager and manager, did he hire the best available? Nope. Why? Managers and general managers don't sell tickets. All they do is put the guys in place that sell tickets and help the team be as successful as possible (which sells tickets). When you're looking for your first World Series title in 47 years don't you think you might try bringing in a big time manager? Of course, Buck Showalter really isn't that guy. I suppose he's better than the alternative though.
I talked earlier about how unfairly the brass is treating Cooper. Here we are a week in and we are already hearing rumbling. Sure, coming from Rosenthal, that might not mean a whole lot but there is some truth to what is being said. Cooper likely will be the first guy fired and, looking at the roster, I don't see how anyone in their right mind would see a playoff contender. Instead of pointing that out, Cooper played the game and said he had a winning ballclub. Oh well, I suppose a lot of us would love to get the shaft earning his salary.