The impending arrival of the St. Louis Cardinals late in the season seems to spell doom for the incumbent Houston manager, as the last two Astros changes occurred at a similar point.
In a supreme giveth and taketh away example, Cecil Cooper both received and lost his managerial assignment under those very circumstances. Perhaps it is too strong to say the Cardinals actually drove the change, yet the timing seems more than coincidence. It is easy to imagine that the Astros front office wants their club to play especially well against the rival that is on its way to its seventh post-season appearance this decade.
On August 28, 2007, former bench coach Cooper managed his first game as skipper of the Astros after taking over for the fired Phil Garner. On that evening, the Cardinals arrived at Houston’s Minute Maid Park. Cooper’s Astros lost his first game as a major league manager, 7-0, but come back to take the final two. He finished the season 15-16 and the “interim” title was removed.
With the Cardinals again set to appear in Houston, two years and a month after his hiring, Cooper was let go by the Astros on Monday. He was under fire even before his club lost seven in a row and eight of ten, including three against Milwaukee last weekend.
With the Astros formally eliminated from post-season contention, the front office apparently decided to drop the axe now. Third base coach Dave Clark will take over for the final two weeks of the season, 13 games in total. Like Cooper before him, Clark comes into the job no prior major league managerial experience. He is the franchise’s seventh manager since Tony La Russa joined St. Louis in 1996.
(Update: For the record, Clark’s club lost their first game under him on Monday to the Cardinals, 7-3.)
Overall, Cooper was just over .500 at 171-170 at the helm of the Astros. His record against St. Louis was only 16-18 (.471). Garner managed Houston to a comparable record against the Cardinals, 24-25 (.490), though he led his 2005 club to the NL pennant and a .524 mark in 530 games with the Astros.
I wasn’t a big Cooper fan, but I believe the Astros’ organizational issues are far deeper than can be fixed by the major league manager. With a barren farm system, a reliance on middling veterans and a dearth of major league pitching, Cooper’s ultimate successor may have a difficult time posting a winning record in 2010.