Houston Astros Need Much More Than a New Manager

Richard ZowieCorrespondent IOctober 22, 2009

WASHINGTON - APRIL 19:  Manager Manny Acta of the Washington Nationals laughs with players before the game against the Florida Marlins at Nationals Park April 19, 2009 in Washington, DC.  (Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images)

We're learning that Manny Acta and Terry Francona's bench coach Brad Mills are among the finalists for the new Houston Astros managerial job.

One has to think that unless these men already live in Houston or would absolutely love to live in Houston despite the extreme heat and humidity along with cockroaches and waterbugs (similar to cockroaches, but bigger and uglier) bigger than the ego of Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, the new manager would be best to rent an apartment with a month-by-month lease. Preferably one with something similar to a "military clause," which allows you to abruptly move if you suddenly get a job elsewhere.

Perhaps I'm the Woody Allen of Astros fans—a man whose glass is so bone-dry it doesn't even qualify to be called half-empty—but it's going to take a lot for me to get excited about anybody the Astros appoint as their new manager.

Yes, even if it's "Scrap Iron" himself, Phil Garner.

Mills has strong ties to general manager Ed Wade, while Acta loves the Astros so much one has to wonder if he has a tattoo of the Astros logo somewhere on his body.

(Preferably the old blue-and-orange one and not the hideous, gosh-awful black-sand-and-brick one they've had to wear for 10 long years).

Right now, when I look at the Astros I am reminded of a lemon of a car I used to own: a 1990 Ford Crown Victoria. The prior owner didn't take good care of it, and we bought it in desperation from a used car lot (long story, don't ask).

In the 14 months we owned it, we had to replace tires, the water pump, the alternator, the power steering hose, and an oil gasket. It had another leaky oil gasket that we couldn't afford to get fixed along with a head gasket that looked like it was slowly about to bite the dust. Once every week or so we had to add a quart of oil to the engine.

It also had a passenger-side door lock that didn't work, a radio that didn't want to work, and on and on and on.

In short, what the car needed was an autopsy. Cash for Clunkers didn't exist in those days. Thankfully, we hit a deer (something that's very common in Michigan) and the car was declared totaled. Hello, insurance money to get another, better car.

Like the Crown Vic that had major problems, the Astros have many problems from years of, frankly, bad decisions. The minor league system has few stars, and I worry that potential Astro greats like Jason Castro will be rushed through the system too quickly. We remember the Astros let Randy Wolf go to free agency and brought in Russ Ortiz.

Then there's the lack of defense and the mental miscues. When I think of a great defense that plays smart, I am reminded of Game Seven of the 1991 World Series between the Atlanta Braves and Minnesota Twins. With the Braves' Lonnie Smith on first base in the top of the eighth with nobody out, he took off on a hit-and-run. Terry Pendleton hit a double.

Smith went hesitantly into second base as Twins shortstop Greg Gagne and second baseman Chuck Knoblauch pantomimed executing a double play. By the time Smith realized the ball had instead been hit for a double, he was only able to advance to third base. (Smith later said he was only waiting to see if the ball would be caught).

Gagne and Knoblauch's actions, it can be argued, prevented Smith from scoring what could've been the World Series-winning run.

Last year, Houston suffered from two chronic problems: shaky starting pitching and no clutch hitting. Outside Roy Oswalt and Wandy Rodriguez and occasionally Brian Moehler, I don't remember any quality starts last year for the Astros. And, frustratingly enough, it seemed like the same pitchers (Chris Carpenter and Carlos Zambrano) consistently took the mound against Houston and limited 'Stros hitters to a few hits and maybe one run over seven innings.

Yes, I know I'm probably going to sound like Dustin Hoffman's character in Rainman , but I have to repeat this—I don't know who's in Drayton McLane's inner circle, but he needs people who will tell him if and when a baseball decision he wants is a bad idea. I worry that maybe he's surrounding himself with too many yes men.

Who would I like to see as Houston's new manager? Someone who loves the Astros, someone who can earn respect from the players, and someone who's not afraid to tell McLane and Wade they think a decision they want to make is a bad one. Otherwise, in two or three years, another cattle drive of managerial candidates will ensue.