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Sure, Phil Garner and Tim Purpura Are Out, and Cecil Cooper and Tal Smith Are In, But None of That Matters So Long As Drayton McLane Is Still Around…

Drayton McLane fired general manager Tim Purpura and manager Phil Garner


. I’m one of those who feel that this move was long overdue, but I also think that it’s really a bit too late in the season. There are only 31 games left in the season, and the time

has long passed

for there to be any hope with this team. Sure, Drayton has noticed that the fans are pissed, and it’s said that he’s making this move to appease us. But really, Cecil Cooper? Tal Smith?

Is this the best he can do?

But before I get into that, I’ve got to address another issue. It’s an issue I’ve addressed numerous times, but I seem to be the only Houston-area media person who sees it. Primarily, I’m sick of hearing that it’s not really Garner’s fault because Purpura gave him a sucky roster with which to work, and that nobody could win this roster, not even Tony La Russa or Bobby Cox.


I’m so sick of hearing this.

First, isn’t this the same sucky roster that Chron scribe Jesus Ortiz said was going to win 93 games and advance to the World Series? Isn’t this the same roster that features Lance Berkman, Carlos Lee, Roy Oswalt and Hunter Pence – that roster which Drayton claims is the best nucleus in baseball? Isn’t this the same roster that has future Hall-of-Famer Craig Biggio?

Where’s this so-called lack of talent?

I’m sick of having to detail this, but what the hell, here it goes. Again.

Chris Carpenter, the Roy Oswalt of the St. Louis Cardinals, has not pitched for St. Louis this season because of a major injury. Jason Marquis, Jeff Suppan and Jeff Weaver, key members of the Cardinals rotation last season, departed during the off-season. La Russa’s had to convert a failed closer into his rotation ace. And he’s had to make use of cast-offs from other teams.

So which rotation would you rather have? The Cardinals? Or the Astros, with Oswalt, Rodriguez, Sampson, Williams, Jennings and Albers?

And what about that everyday lineup? Brad Lidge-killer Albert Pujols is having a good season for most players, but a bad one for him. Jim Edmonds and Scott Rolen have played injured the entire year, and they have looked like Craig Biggio while playing. David Eckstein and Adam Kennedy make the Biggio-Everett tandem look like the greatest in baseball history. And the Cardinals have no one in the outfield who can compare to Carlos Lee or Hunter Pence.

The Cards best bench/utility player is in drug rehab. Mark Loretta and Mike Lamb are still available to play every day.

Yet, the Cardinals are in third place, one game under .500, and only two games out of first place in the NL Central. The Astros, with the superior talent, are only percentage points away from last place in the NL Central.

So tell me once again how this roster is so devoid of talent that there’s no way Phil Garner could win. Tony La Russa seems to be pulling it off with talent less than Houston; just imagine what he would do here.

And there have been numerous excuses issued regarding Tim Purpura’s many failings. The primary one is that he has been hamstrung by Drayton McLane. This is probably a good excuse. Drayton’s known throughout baseball for getting involved in baseball decisions. Purpura, it’s said, went along with Drayton in order to keep his job. Now, seeing what happened to Bill Wood and Gerry Hunsicker, there’s probably some justification for Purpura acting in the manner in which he did. But Wood and Hunsicker lost their jobs because they refused to bow down to Drayton. They insisted on doing their jobs. Purpura just acted to keep his job.

But even this doesn’t excuse Purpura. Andy Pettitte split because Drayton McLane didn’t like his agent. Purpura panicked and made a deal for Jason Jennings without doing his homework; hence, the Astros acquired a pitcher who was injured to replace a pitcher with injury problems.

Then Purpura constructed a team that depended on a series of “ifs” to succeed. For instance, if Morgan Ensberg played like 2005, and if Jason Lane played like 2005, and if Craig Biggio played like it was the 1990s, and if Brad Lidge erased Albert Pujols from his mind, and if Adam Everett and Brad Ausmus hit just a bit, and if Chris Burke made a successful move to centerfield, the team would win.

That’s a few too many “ifs” for a team to win.

But, and I’ve got to stress this, if Phil Garner had managed this team like a major league manager, the team could’ve won more games.

Oops, that’s another “if.”

I’m not even going to go into Purpura’s failures to trade Brad Lidge, Mark Loretta or Mike Lamb when lots of team inquired about them.

Let’s just say that though Drayton sucks as a boss, Purpura couldn’t pull off the same job that Bill Wood and Gerry Hunsicker were able to pull off. Plus, if there’s any such thing as karmic justice, then Purpura will be subjected to that same crap he helped to dish out about Gerry Hunsicker.

So the past is past. What happens now?

Cecil Cooper is the interim manager. And the odds are that he will get the job next year because he’s a minority and Bud Selig pushes for teams to hire minorities. Which is fine, but just what has Cooper done to deserve this job? He’s got a mediocre record as a minor league manager, and for the past several seasons he’s been Garner’s bench coach. For those not familiar with a bench coach, it’s the job of the bench coach to advise the manager on strategy. And anyone who’s seen the Astros play this season knows that strategy isn’t exactly a strong suit of Garner. But if Cooper’s doing the advising, what does this say about Cooper?

I’m also sure of this: Cooper’s got the same so-called crappy roster as Garner, but I’m betting that we’re going to be seeing plenty from the Chron about what a genius Cooper is for getting this team to perform. I bet Justice will be comparing him to La Russa by the end of the season.

Maybe Cooper will surprise me. Maybe we’ll discover that Cooper gave Garner all kinds of great advice, but that Garner just didn’t listen.

I’m not counting on it.

I wrote earlier this season about the kind of manager needed by the Astros, but there’s just no way that a Joe Girardi, a Davey Johnson, a Cito Gaston or a Frank Robinson is going to work for a baseball fool like Drayton McLane. The Astros need a manager with a strong will. Someone who will tell Drayton to shut the hell up – something with which Girardi has experience. The team needs a good baseball man who will teach these guys how to run bases – I’m still amazed that Garner and crew didn’t decide to teach Pence about running the bases until he was injured – and give them a commitment to the fundamentals. I keep hearing about Craig Biggio and Brad Ausmus coming into management, but Drayton McLane should toss as much as possible in the direction of Jeff Bagwell. Anyone who ever watched Bagwell would know that he was one of the most fundamentally sound players in the majors. He wasn’t fast, but he was a fantastic base runner who was expert at going from first to third when most players would either stay at second or get thrown out at third. Cooper’s been coaching on this team for three years, and he’s done nothing to show that he knows about teaching fundamentals.

Then comes Tal Smith.

Tal Smith is treated by many in this city as a savior. He’s the guy who built the Astros into a playoff contender in the late ‘70s, at a time when the team was being run by a bankruptcy creditor. But let’s forget the ancient past. Let’s look at the recent past. And the recent past is not good.

Tal Smith has been an advisor to Drayton McLane since McLane purchased the team. So while it’s nice to blame Purpura for his personnel moves, one’s got to ask: Just what was Smith advising Drayton to do? Was it Tal who said that it didn’t matter that Woody Williams was mediocre in San Diego, that he would be fine in Houston? Was it Tal who advised Drayton to ignore the doctors – if doctors were even consulted – and trade for Jason Jennings? Was it Tal who advised Drayton to ink Jose Lima to a huge deal? Was it Tal who advised Drayton to dump Jeff Kent and move Biggio back to second? And really, do you want a guy who puts a hill in the outfield to be making important decisions regarding the ball club?

But it gets worse. Tal Smith is just supposed to be an interim guy. So who replaces him? Is it his kid Randy? The Detroit Tigers took half a decade to recover from Randy Smith running that team. Is it Ricky Bennett, who’s running the scouting department? I’ve got sources who tell me that he’s more at fault for what happened to this team than Purpura or Garner.

Like with the manager, the Astros need to hire an outsider. Someone who’s got no connection to the team. But it’s doubtful anyone who would be good for this team would take the job. ESPN’s Baseball Tonight guys were all over how this is one of the worst jobs in the majors: working for a meddlesome owner who doesn’t understand the game but who punishes anyone who disagrees. And is a Billy Beane-type really going to want someone like this? Or a Terry Ryan who’s been working wonders with the Twins?

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I don’t think so.

So Phil Garner and Tim Purpura deserved to lose their jobs. They’ve done lousy jobs, even with the obstacles they had to hurdle. And maybe Cooper will do fine, and maybe Tal Smith will return to his glory days or hire someone besides his kid.

But truthfully, as long as Drayton owns the club, do any of you really think any of this going to matter? The Astros were built before Drayton purchased the team. And he’s been living off that team since. The clock’s ticking, and it’s almost midnight.

And let’s not forget that one vital truth. The Astros have been placed under a Curse. And until Drayton dumps the team, the Curse isn’t going anywhere. So welcome to the world of a D-Rays fan or Pirates fan. The suckitude is here to stay for awhile. And the manager and general manager don’t really matter. – John Royal

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