Apr 19, 2012; Washington, DC, USA; Houston Astros manager Brad Mills talks with tarting pitcher Bud Norris (20) during the sixth inning against the Washington Nationals at Nationals Park. The Astros defeated the Nationals 11 - 4. Mandatory Credit: Brad Mills-US PRESSWIRE
That's quite the dichotomy, I know, so let's deal with each half individually.
MIlls did not do anything to get fired except lose games. This team, as presently assembled, was also not meant to win games. Since Mills has been the skipper here, he's lost and lost and lost players. The games have been lost, too, but it's not like a tactical genius could have done much better.
No, Mills just did what anyone in an impossible situation would do. He kept his head up, kept his integrity up and took care of his players. When you hear about a players' manager, it's a guy like Mills. He may not have always played the guys like we might have liked, burying young guys in slumps, etc. But, he always had their backs and cared a lot about how they played. The losses the past few seasons were rough on him.
If you want an example of his character, look at his quotes from last night. The losing stung, every single time he got a question about it. And yet, at this point in his abject professional failure, what does he do? He brings up how bad he feels about the other two guys on his staff who got fired. He wasn't throwing a pity party, he just felt bad for letting those guys down.
This also doesn't mean Mills won't be a good manager someday. Being a great manager is about experience, yes, but its's also about the situation. Would Larry Dierker have been as good without those late '90s teams? Even Joe Torre, who was brilliant when in charge of the Yankees, struggled with the Cardinals before that and with the Dodgers afterwards.
Maybe it just takes some time to figure out how to be a winning manager, but maybe it takes a little luck too. When reflecting back on Mills' tenure here, I wonder if he'll have a second job as successful as Phil Garner did here in Houston. Garner lost a bunch in Detroit, but he was the right guy for the job in 2005 and Houston would not have gotten to the World Series without him. Mills could do that some day, given the right team and the right circumstance.
Then again, maybe he doesn't get that shot. In a job with only 30 vacancies and a ton of guys clamoring for those jobs, failure is a pretty big black mark on the old resume. Mills couldn't control the players brought into Houston, nor could he control the teardown he saw in his three years here. He just had to go out, keep putting lineups out the best he could and hope for the best.
On the other hand, the Astros were absolutely justified in firing him.
The wins weren't here, even after a hot start. More damning, though, is that the young players weren't progressing. Yes, Jose Altuve has established himself as the next Placido Polanco, but J.D. Martinez failed. Jordan Lyles hasn't grown. Jordan Schafer is a part-time player. Brett Wallace can't get solid playing time. In this season, the most important thing was seeing which young guys would be here, and too many of them failed. Maybe that's about their talent, but the manager has to be held responsible there too.
That's because the front office will surely be held responsible for that won-loss record starting very soon. Jim Crane may turn a blind eye on this season, because he knew rebuilding was hard. But, pile up more 100-loss seasons and Jeff Luhnow and Co. risk coming under considerable (and justified) criticism themselves.
You wonder why Luhnow has suddenly been making all those staff changes we figured he'd make last winter? Now's the time to make them. Starting very soon, this will be his team completely. There won't be the excuse for when he was hired. He's got a very important offseason coming up and needs to have his infrastructure in place to succeed.
Maybe he will, maybe he won't, but in a business defined by a very distinct bottom line, we'll have a great gauge for his success. The fact is, Brad Mills never had that kind of success. As decent as he is and as bad as this roster is, there still needs to be accountability. Here's hoping he lands on his feet.