With the Washington Nationals out of the playoffs, their former third base coach Bo Porter is now in the field manager of the Houston Astros. He's busy assembling staff -- retaining Doug Brocail and Dave Clark as coaches doesn't exactly fill me with confidence, however.
As of now, Porter's just another name in a long list of Astros managers. There have been some great managerial names linked to the Astros, like Leo Durocher, who sadly was past his time when he managed the Astros. There have also been some really bad managers linked to the Astros, like Brad Mills. So here is my highly subjective list of the five best managers in Astros history.
5. Art Howe: Howe is the only manager on this list to lose more games than he won as Astros manager (392-418). But he was the man in charge when John McMullen started tearing apart an aging squad and replacing them with young kids. Lots of young kids. Howe was at the helm when it was decided to move Craig Biggio to second base. And he was one of those who decided to risk letting Jeff Bagwell start his major league career playing first base after spending his minor league years with the Red Sox at third base.
4. Phil Garner: Garner took over the Astros during the 2004 season as a talented squad being led by Jimy Williams was underperforming for the third straight season. But Garner turned the squad around and got them into the playoffs, where they finished just short of the World Series (curses on Jim Edmonds). The 2005 squad wasn't as good as the 2004 squad -- Jeff Kent and Carlos Beltran departed and Jeff Bagwell's shoulder left him essentially useless. But Garner used his resources to the best of their abilities and used a fantastic starting rotation led by Roger Clemens, Andy Pettitte and Roy Oswalt to get the Astros to their only World Series. His record with the Astros was 277-252.
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3. Hal Lanier: The 1986 Houston Astros were picked by many experts to lose 100 games. Instead, rookie skipper Hal Lanier led the Astros to a record of 96-66 and into the playoffs. The Astros then lost to the Mets in six games in one of the greatest NL Championship Series ever. It can be argued that that 1986 squad was the best squad the Astros fielded. The rotation consisted of Cy Young winner Mike Scott, future Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan, Bob Knepper and rookie Jim Deshaies. The infield was anchored by Glenn Davis, with Bill Doran, Dickie Thon, Craig Reynolds, Phil Garner and Denny Walling playing key roles. The outfield was Kevin Bass, Jose Cruz, Terry Puhl and Billy Hatcher. Alan Ashby was the catcher, and Dave Smith was the closer with assistance from Danny Darwin, Larry Andersen and Charlie Kerfeld. Lanier was named the Manager of the Year, but the Astros could not recapture their success and Lanier was fired after his third season. His record with the Astros was 254-232.
2. Larry Dierker: Dierker was a shocking, unexpected choice to be Astros manager. He had no managerial or coaching experience, and had spent his years since his retirement in the broadcast booth. But anybody who listened to Dierker the broadcaster knew that he was a smart baseball man, and he took over an inconsistent and underperforming ballclub and turned them into a perennial playoff team, with the Astros advancing to the playoffs in four of his five years at the helm -- unfortunately for the Astros, they faced the Atlanta Braves and their starting three of Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz in three of those four years, while in the other they faced Kevin Brown, who was in the midst of a contract year. Dierker had the advantage of Craig Biggio and Jeff Bagwell playing at the height of their careers, a smart general manager who got him guys like Randy Johnson. Dierker's career record was 435-318 (I don't count the 27 games Dierker missed in 1999 while recovering from his brain aneurysm).
1. Bill Virdon: Virdon took over the Astros toward the end of the 1976 season, one of the team's worst seasons in their history. Positionwise, he had perhaps the least talented squads of any of the Astros teams to make the playoffs. His teams didn't hit for power -- this was the height of the Dome's dead ball era. He relied on speed and pitching, and he had lots of both. For a short time in 1980, he had perhaps the greatest rotation in the history of baseball with J.R. Richard, Joe Niekro and Nolan Ryan (the 1990s Braves rotation was probably better and it stayed together a lot longer). The Astros that made the playoffs in 1980 usually had Terry Puhl getting a single then stealing second with Craig Reynolds bunting him over to third base, then Puhl scoring on a sacrifice fly to the outfield. His career record with the Astros was 544-522.