An Unenviable Position

added 5/28/2009 by Scott Barzilla

There are so many things about this column that make me uncomfortable. First, I am in the position of agreeing with Richard Justice. I've called him The Weather Vane here and on the boards, but it appears that he has reached what alcoholics call a "moment of clarity." His column this morning not only reached the right conclusion, but was rare in its clarity and depth of understanding all of the important issues. I only address the issue myself because there is one issue I think he left out that is germane to this situation.

My biggest problem with this particular column is that it asks me to abandon something I have always held as true. The vast majority of the time, the manager is not the reason the team is losing and he usually is the last person that should be fired for what is going on. Of course, exceptions do occur. Jimy Williams is a notable exception back in 2004, but only he and Terry Collins rank as managers that should have been fired during the McLane regime. That is, until we got the peculiar case of Cecil Cooper.

I suppose we should start by pointing out that Cooper wasn't completely McLane's choice. He has a little help from the Commish on this one. Thanks, Bud. You always got the feeling that Coop was the manager because there really wasn't anyone else around at the time. Maybe if the club knew that Joe Torre was going to be available, they would have kept the interim tag on Cooper. Then again, it's not like McLane likes spending money on coaches. Maybe that's because he recognizes that managers don't make that much of a difference, but that is wishful thinking. It's probably more because deep down he isn't really the spendthrift we think he is.

Only a true romantic gave the Astros much of a shot this year. We've bandied about the issues before. There's no use in doing so again. What you've seen in the first 45 games is pretty much what you are going to get. Lance Berkman and Roy Oswalt will likely finish closer to career norms but, other than that, there is little to point to for hope. That's what happens when you hire the ghosts of greatness past. So why does Coop deserve to be cut from this rag-tag bunch? Well, here is where I put the numbers away and call upon something else to make the best explanation.

I like to think I know a little about coaching, but last year I lost my team. They didn't believe in me and I didn't believe in them. Part of that wasn't my fault. I was new and they weren't going to like anyone. Part of it was my fault. I didn't learn the culture of the team until too late. I also didn't like most of the players and that probably came through even if I didn't say anything publicly. The beauty was that those players left and I got a new batch the next year. In other words, I was able to trade the players. This year was much better because I was able to learn from those experiences.

Of course, there are some things I knew going in. First, you never publicly call out a player in the media. I didn't get many opportunities to do that anyway. Secondly, you should always know what is going on with your players healthwise. This, is my mind, is Cooper's biggest failing. There have been way too many instances of players playing hurt because Cooper "didn't know." Most of this depends on relying on the player to communicate with you. Yet, I also utilized the training staff and can't understand why Coop didn't get the info he needed.

The biggest problem with this situation is that there is a gap between the talent available and the expectations for that talent. It seems like everyone in Houston knows what this team is except for the owner. Those expectations might be drowning Cooper at this point. Usually, a manager would take an off night by his ace with a lot more grace than Cooper did on Tuesday. I suppose his reaction would be easier to understand when we consider the fact that his fate is probably week-to-week or day-to-day at this point. If we get swept in Pittsburgh, Cooper is probably done. Somehow you get the picture of Wilford Brimley from The Natural, knowing that if he doesn't win the pennant he loses his team and his job.

All of the miscommunications, mistrusts, and mishaps are reasons to fire him. Still, they are all symptoms of someone feeling the pressure to win with a bad hand. If they cut the chord with Cooper, then they can bring in someone that doesn't have to feel pressure. An interim manager doesn't expect to get the job. A permanent manager usually gets three years or more. That's enough time to play for the future and not for the day-to-day. It's also enough time to remain calm when your stars aren't playing like it. It sure beats stabbing them in the back to the press.