I Come Not To Bury Cecil...

added 9/21/2009 by Bob Hulsey

I'm never happy to see anyone lose their jobs. Well, except for most politicians.

The firing of Cecil Cooper on Monday was more puzzling for its timing than for its impact. I think almost everyone, including Cooper, could see this was going to happen but most felt the manager would survive until the end of the season. The last straw seemed to be Cooper's unwillingness to play the September call-ups who need to gain big league experience so the club can determine if they have the potential to be regulars next year. At this point, 13 games won't make any difference in their lives so I have to believe the front office simply couldn't wait two more weeks to get started on the 2010 season.

As the last two seasons played out, two things about Cecil Cooper became clear. First, he's not the sort of manager that has the patience to work with young players and, secondly, he doesn't have the skills to handle a pitching staff. For those reasons, cutting Cooper loose was a necessary step to moving the Astros back to contention.

Unlike the last manager booed out of town, Jimy Williams, Cooper did not have a championship-caliber team. Williams was given possibly the most talent any Houston manager has had to work with. He was, simply, the worst manager in Astros history. He made Phil Garner look like a genius.

Cooper never really had the chance to get where Garner reached. He was given an old team of mostly has-beens and never-weres. Aside from a handful of keepers, the Astros simply didn’t have the talent to win a title. You can't blame that on Cooper. Even the best cook can’t make bad groceries into a great meal.

But Cooper didn't make anything better. He got the job for all the wrong reasons and it would be a mistake to replace him with another former star player without much experience with balancing a pitching staff.

Today's major league manager has four basic jobs (in order of importance):
1. Controlling the clubhouse.
2. Handling the pitching staff.
3. In-game decisions.
4. Public relations.

There are a number of names that will buzz around in the coming weeks that some people think should be the next manager of the Astros. I don't honestly have a name in mind although two of the top names on my list would be Manny Acta and Art Howe.

I'd rather first pursue my likely pipe dream that Cardinals' pitching coach Dave Duncan should be the next hire. News reports of a rift between Duncan and the St. Louis front office provide a window of opportunity to not only upgrade our organization at a critically important position but also hit our closest division rival where it hurts the most. I'm not arguing that Duncan should be the manager – unless he demands the position in order to leave St. Louis – but I do contend that any manager the Astros choose ought to be thrilled to have the best pitching coach in baseball nursing the franchise’s future.

I hope Cecil Cooper finds a position that will allow him to continue his baseball career. I wish the man no ill will. He's Texas-born and a man of good character. But his termination was a necessary step and he should serve as an object lesson that the next manager for the Astros needs to have strengths where Cooper had weaknesses.

Next, it will be incumbent on Drayton McLane, Tal Smith and Ed Wade to build a young, talented ballclub so that the next time an Astros manager claims his team can win 90 games, his prediction will not be met with muffled giggles and rolled eyes.