I know this doesn't fit into the political nature of our friendly little site, but if I am known for much, I am known as a huge baseball fan. The Astros hired a new manager yesterday and I wanted to give everyone here a primer in case they don't follow baseball as closely as I do. I'll even try to set aside some parallels with politics, so I can remain with the theme of the site.
First, you should know that Brad Mills has been an assistant coach with the Boston Red Sox for the past six years. In that time, they have been to two World Series and also been to the playoffs just about every year. As the bench coach, he was Terry Francona's chief assistant. When you are hiring a manager, your choice is usually between a retread and someone that is up and coming. The choice is similar in the NFL and NBA. When you are a former manager, there is probably a good reason why you are a former manager. So, if you hire a former manager you hope they have learned from their first experience.
When you hire someone like Mills, you typically look at the successful organizations and find top assistants. No organization has been more successful than the Red Sox this decade. So, getting someone from that organization makes a lot of sense. What style Mills will bring to the team remains to be seen. He has a reputation for being tough, but that might have been by design in Boston. Sometimes, head coaches delegate certain responsibilities to their assistants, so Terry Francona may have asked Mills to be the heavy. Time will only tell in this regard.
This is where we get to the part about expectations. Baseball is very different from basketball and football. In those sports, a superior coach can scheme his way to victory. Baseball is a much more individualized sport. 90 percent of the action is pitcher against hitter. That is purely a talent issue. So, 90 percent of baseball success or failure is predicated by talent. As the ol' saying goes, "even the best jockey can't win the Kentucky Derby on a mule." The same is true for baseball managers. The Astros aren't exactly a mule, but where most horses that run the derby are three or four years old, they are the proverbial ten year old horse being sent out to stud.
They had the oldest roster in baseball last year and those guys will only be a year older this year. The kids on the farm are clearly not ready for prime time. Jason Castro and Bud Norris might be the notable exceptions to that statement. However, the club may be forced to throw in Tommy Manzella and Chris Johnson at shortstop and third base. If you are asking yourself, "who in the heck are those guys," that's the whole point. Even people that read Baseball America aren't going to recognize too many of the Astros' prospects. There are some good ones at the A ball level, but above that the cupboard is pretty bare.
In other words, baseball is a sport where the general manager has a whole lot more to do with success than the manager. If a manager is really good or really bad they might have a positive or negative impact on ten games. The Astros are more than ten games away from being a contender. If Mills is really good he might elevate them to a .500 record, but all indications are that this team will get worse before it gets better.
I suppose the whole point is that while the sports section made a huge deal out of this hire, it really doesn't change that much. You have an old team and bloated payroll with a farm system that is still a year or two away from bearing decent fruit. Here's hoping Astros management sees what just about everyone else can see. Mills deserves more than the two year contract that they gave him (which would have gotten them Manny Acta) and here is hoping they allow him to grow with the team beyond those two years. Unless he is completely incompetent, he deserves that much.