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Searching for the Astros Skipper, Weekend Rundown

Six candidates interviewed in the past three days, and five of them haven't been profiled yet. But before we move on to that, I thought it'd be constructive to get a historical perspective on the job they're interviewing for. What do these guys need to do to become the best manager of the 18 in Astro history? Here's a handy reference chart:

Most wins by a Houston manager: Bill Virdon, 544

Most playoff appearances: Larry Dierker, 4

Most seasons at the helm: Bill Virdon, 8

Most wins in career (non-Houston): Leo Durocher, 2,008

First up on the managerial rewind is Bob Melvin, former Arizona Diamondbacks skipper:

Bob Melvin
Age: 47
Hometown: Palo Alto, Calif.
College: California.
Most recent job: Manager of the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Previous Major League managing experience: Managed the Seattle Mariners in 2003-04 and Arizona Diamondbacks from 2005 until he was dismissed on May 9 of this year after a 12-17 start. He won 93 games with Seattle in 2003 but didn't make the playoffs and lost 99 games the following year. Melvin was hired by the Diamondbacks and led Arizona to the 2007 NL West title before being swept in the NLCS by the Colorado Rockies. He was NL Manager of the Year in 2007.
Minor League managing experience: None.
Minor League managing record: None.
Playing experience: Melvin spent most of his career as a backup catcher for 10 seasons with Detroit, San Francisco, Baltimore, Kansas City, Boston, the New York Yankees and Chicago White Sox. He hit .233 with 35 homers and 212 RBIs in 692 career games.
Did you know: Melvin was hired by Arizona to replace Wally Backman, who was dismissed before he managed a single game because of past discretions?
What GM Ed Wade said: "Once we started to focus in on some names and we did our homework and talked to people like Pat Gillick and [former Diamondbacks general manager] Joe Garagolia Jr., they thought he did a good job."

Melvin was a hot candidate when he landed with Seattle back in 2003, but had an up-and-down tenure in Arizona. He did usher in a bunch of kids and helped the D'Backs to win the 2007 NL West title, but he also oversaw the under-development of guys like Chris Young and Stephen Drew. His bullpen management was also spotty, mainly because he constantly changed closers due to injuries and ineffectiveness.

The interesting thing about Melvin is he had almost the exact opposite situation in Arizona that he'd have here in Houston. Out there, his rotation consisted of Brandon Webb, Randy Johnson and Dan Haren for at least part of his tenure. That's three top-flight starters breezing through town, while his offense struggled for the most part. Arizona finished 14th in runs scored in 2007, 10th in 2008 and though the D'Backs finished 9th in 2009, they also gave up the third-most runs in the league. For comparison, they gave up the fifth-least runs in both 2007 and 2008.

So, though his offense did trend upwards over the past three seasons, once they lost Webb and Johnson, the D'Backs pitching fell off a cliff. I wonder how much discussion went into what he'd do with Houston's rotation?

Moving on to the next candidate, Phil Garner:

Phil Garner
Age: 60
Hometown: Jefferson City, Tenn.
College: Tennessee.
Most recent job: Manager of the Astros
Previous Major League managing experience: Garner managed for more than 14 years in the Majors, spending eight seasons in Milwaukee (1992-1999) and two full seasons in Detroit (2000-01) before being dismissed six games into 2002 season. He took over the Astros at the All-Star break in 2004 and led them to the NLCS and a year later to the World Series. He was let go with 31 games left in the 2007 season and has been out of baseball since.
Major League managing record: 985-1,054.
Minor League managing experience: None.
Minor League managing record: None.
Playing experience: Spent 16 seasons in the Major Leagues with Oakland, Pittsburgh, Houston, the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco and hit .260 with 109 homers and 738 RBIs in 1,860 games. He helped Pittsburgh to the 1979 World Series title by hitting .500 in the World Series. He played with the Astros from 1981-87 and appeared in more games with the Astros than he did with any other team.
Did you know: Garner became a candidate after calling Astros president of baseball operations Tal Smith to recommend Bob Melvin for the job?
What GM Ed Wade said: "I've known Phil since we crossed paths in 1981 when I went to the Pirates and he was there. I've been a big fan from afar in Detroit and then here his record speaks for itself. He's a tremendous candidate."

Not going to spend too much time on Scrap Iron, but suffice it to say, he's got an interesting candidacy. Using that whole good cop, bad cop theory of coach hiring, Garner was the perfect, laid-back guy to get the manager's job from Jimy Williams, who was a little more on the prickly side. After Gar was Cecil Cooper, who turned out to have his own prickly side. Naturally, the team thought of the laid-back Garner again...wait, what? I've stopped trying to think about why they'd consider a guy they fired so recently, so let's just move on...

Next up is Pete Mackanin:

Pete Mackanin
Age: 58
Hometown: Chicago.
College: Illinois.
Most recent job: Currently the bench coach for the Philadelphia Phillies.
Previous Major League managing experience: Has been interim manager twice, with Pittsburgh in 2005 and Cincinnati in 2007. He went 12-14 in the final 26 games with the Pirates in '05 and 41-39 in the second half of the season two years later with the Reds, who had the worst record in the Majors when Mackanin took over.
Major League managing record: 53-53.
Minor League managing experience: Managed in the Minor Leagues for 13 seasons and won championships in 1995 (Ottawa of the International League), 2002 (Lynchburg of the Carolina League) and 1990 (Nashville, Eastern Division championship of the American Association). Mackanin has also managed in Venezuela League, Dominican winter league and Puerto Rican winter league. He also has seven years of Major League coaching experience with Pittsburgh and Montreal.
Minor League managing record: 917-849.
Playing experience: Played for nine years as an infielder in the Major Leagues with Texas (1973-74), Montreal (1975-77), Philadelphia (1978-79) and Montreal (1980-81). He hit .226 with 30 homers and 141 RBIs in 548 career games.
Did you know: Mackanin has been succeeded twice by Jim Tracy as a manager, with Class A Peoria in 1986 and the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2006? He succeeded Tracy as manager at Triple-A Ottawa in 1995.
What GM Ed Wade said: "Pete served as interim manager it Pittsburgh and Cincinnati and had great results taking over in Cincinnati. I talked to Wayne Krivsky, who as the GM [in Cincinnati] at the time, and he was a really big advocate of Pete's. He has managing experience in winter, extensively in the Minor Leagues and on two Major League club. He has a great personality and a good sense of humor."

The most interesting thing about Mackanin was what he did with the 2007 Reds. That team had 51 losses when he took over in July and went on to win 41 of their last 80 games. Basically, Mackanin played .500 ball for the last half of the season. Of course, those same Reds finished above the league average in runs scored in 2007 but dead last in runs allowed. The Reds were hitting .254 as a team when Mackanin took over and finished by hitting .279 over the last three months of the season, including a team line of .309/.375/.499 in August. Good seasons by Scott Hatteberg, Brandon Phillips, Edwin Encarnacion and Josh Hamilton show that Mackanin has experience getting the most out of some very different personalities.

Still, the pitching woes of the Reds that season is at least a little troubling. Mackanin used his bullpen for 263 innings and had an ERA above 5 with his relievers in the second half. His overall ERA jumped up to 5.11 from 4.79 as well, though he basically had to cobble together a rotation behind Aaron Harang and Bronson Arroyo. This is definitely another case of a guy who needs to answer quite a few questions about what he sees with the Astros pitching staff.

Next is former Astros shortstop Tim Bogar:

Tim Bogar
Age: 45
Hometown: Indianapolis, Ind.
College: Eastern Illinois.
Most recent job: Currently first -base coach for Boston Red Sox.
Previous Major League managing experience: None.
Major League managing record: None.
Minor League managing experience: Spent four seasons as manager in the Minor Leagues with Cleveland (2006-07) and the Astros (2004-05) and went to the playoff in three of those seasons. Led Double-A Akron to the Eastern League title in '06 and '07 and was named the league's Manager of the Year in '06. He was named Manger of the Year in the Appalachian League in 2004 in his first year of managing at Class A Greeneville. The next year, he led Class A Lexington to an 81-58 record, the best record in the South Atlantic League.
Minor League managing record: 289-200.
Playing experience: An infielder who spent nine years in the Major Leagues with the New York Mets, the Astros and Los Angeles Dodgers, Bogar hit .228 with 24 homers and 161 RBIs in 701 career games. He started a career-high 82 games at shortstop for the Astros in 2000 whiles sharing time with Julio Lugo.
Did you know: Bogar played all nine positions in an exhibition game for the Mets against Triple-A Norfolk in 1996?
What GM Ed Wade said: "When this process started, a lot of people spoke very favorable of Tim. I don't know him, but certainly there are multiple people, including people on our interview committee and [president of baseball operations] Tal [Smith] and others, that felt Bogar fit the profile extremely well. Despite the fact he hasn't managed in the big leagues, they felt the experience they had with him and dealing with players [was positive]."

Bogar brings back fond memories of that late '90s playoff era, and has been a surprisingly effective minor league manager. The thing that sticks out to me was a couple years after he retired, he visited the Astros in Kissimmee as a Rawlings sales representative. The irony of a guy known for his glovework selling gloves to teams was not lost on me at the time.

Yet another anecdote I recall from his time with the Astros: some time in that playoff run (I believe it was 1997), Bogar broke his arm and had to spend the rest of the season on the bench. He credited Dierker with helping him see the field as a manager at the time, and claimed it helped him play smarter when he was on the field. Since he never hit much, it was nice to think our shorstop was sort of a manager on the field, and I remember Dierker praising his acumen on helping the fielders around him. Of course, I cannot now find any evidence of this. Still, I do recall reading about that back in the day.

I'm not sure what Bogar's strengths or weaknesses as a manager might be. We can assume that he'd help their fielding, but that's too simple a conjecture to really be true. Plus, the Astros have actually been a pretty good fielding club for the past couple of seasons. For all the grief I've given Tejada for the past two seasons, he's a good defender. Yes, he doesn't really have the range to play short any more, but he's a vacuum cleaner out there when the ball is hit near him.

Lastly, let's look at Brad Mills, bench coach for the Boston Red Sox:

Brad Mills
Age: 52
Hometown: Exeter, Calif.
College: College of the Sequoias/University of Arizona.
Most recent job: Currently bench coach for the Boston Red Sox.
Previous Major League managing experience: None.
Major League managing record: None.
Minor League managing experience: Mills managed 11 seasons in the Minor Leagues in the Cubs (1987-92), Rockies (1993-96) and Dodgers (2002) organizations, moving into managing immediately upon the completion of his playing career. He led the Rockies' Triple-A club in Colorado Springs to the playoffs in 1994 and Pacific Coast League title in 1995. He last managed in 2002, when he guided the Dodgers' Triple- A Las Vegas affiliate to a club-record 85 wins the PCL's Southern Division championship.
Minor League managing record: Unavailable.
Playing experience: Appeared in 106 career games over four seasons, all with the Montreal Expos (1980-1983). He hit .256 with one homer and 12 RBIs in 168 at-bats.
Did you know: Mills was Nolan Ryan's 3,509th career strikeout victim, lifting Ryan past Walter Johnson as baseball's all-time strikeout king in 1983?
What GM Ed Wade said: "I've always had great respect for Brad. [Boston manager] Terry Francona made a point of calling me when the search began and gave a strong endorsement for Millsy and he got a strong endorsement from [Boston general manager] Theo Epstein. Despite the fact he hasn't managed the big-league level, everyone knows he's got tremendous experience working as [Francona's] right-hand guy in Philadelphia and Boston and managed in the Minor Leagues."

It's easy to assume that the bench coach is the guy next in line for the managerial position. After all, that's what Cecil Cooper did for all those years and it's what a ton of other guys have done over the years (Joe Maddon, possibly? I can't remember anything today). Still, it appears that the pitching coach in Boston, John Farrell, is the heir-apparent to Francona and not Mills. That explains why he'd be interested in our position. Now, why should the Astros care about him? Was this interview just a way to get Bogar on the docket?

Mills is right in the middle of the candidate pool, age-wise. He's not as young as Manny Acta or Bogar, nor is he as old as Garner or Mackanin. He's won consistently in the minor leagues and certainly has been around a winning ball club there in Boston. The Red Sox run their organization the way I'd hope the Astros will someday, making decisions based partly on numbers and partly on traditional scouting. They spend a ton of money, but they just don't throw it around too frivolously (ahem*Dice-K*ahem). How much contact Mills has with this side of the team, I don't know. The other side of that coin is, if that's what Mills is used to, can he work for the Astros, who don't seem to run their team in quite the same way? Food for thought.

Thus endeth Round One. With the word that Manny Acta is a finalist for the Cleveland job, are the Astros now taking too long in their search? What could a second round of interviews possibly tell them that this one didn't? We've already got to wait until after the World Series to announce who the new skipper is, but that doesn't mean they can't go ahead and hire them ahead of time and announce it later. What's your top five list of the candidates and who do you think will end up getting hired?