Brad Mills avoided making history earlier this season after the Astros beat St. Louis in his ninth game as a big-league manager. Only Alan Trammell lost more games to open a managerial career (9) in the modern era.
After making a run during the middle of the month, the Astros have now lost five straight and look in danger of free-falling back into last place. But, how does Brad Mills' first month stack up against former Astros managers of the past in their first seasons? Has anyone had it as tough as Mills?
Eighteen different men have captained the Astros since 1962. That includes three guys who managed less than 30 games (Salty Parker, Matt Galante and Dave Clark). Lum Harris, Leo Durocher, Bill Virdon, Bob Lillis, Phil Garner, Cecil Cooper and Harry Walker all replaced incumbent managers in their first seasons, which means only eight guys began a season in their first season as Astros manager. Who had the best first month? Who had the worst?
Not surprisingly, Brad Mills has had the worst start to a season of any Astros manager in his first year. That sounds like a lot of qualifications, but think about it. The Astros had some bad teams in their history. None of those guys had a worse winning percentage than Mills in his first April. The Astros first manager, Harry Craft, only won seven of 15 games in 1962 and both Art Howe and Jimy Williams lost 14 games in their first month.
MIlls has had the perfect storm of bad luck and off days. HIs 22 games in April is the lowest total during that month since 1986 for a first-year guy, when Hal Lanier's Astros played 20 games to start the season. Of course, Lanier won 14 of those 20, giving him the highest winning percentage of any first-time Astros manager in his first month. Of the nine guys (including Mills), five had winning records and six were in their first season as a manger of any big league club.
In fact, of the first-time managers, only Art Howe and MIlls had losing records. Howe did pilot that Astros team to a winning season record at 86-76 while finishing third in a tough NL West. He benefitted from a career year out of Glenn Davis, but also dealt with down seasons from veterans Bill Doran, Rafael Ramirez and Kevin Bass who was injured and only played in 87 games.
So the news is not good for Mills. If he can find solace in anything, it's that good friend and mentor Terry Francona was even worse in his first April as a big league manager, going 8-16 with the 1997 Phillies. That team went on to lose 94 games and positioned Philadelphia at the top of the 1998 draft. Francona never did have a winning season in Philly, but did win a World Series in his first season in Boston. Mills probably is headed for a season like Francona's first, but I sure wouldn't object to his first with Boston.