Has there been a more successful general manager in all of baseball during the 2000s?
In his three seasons with the Houston Astros in the wake of the team’s disastrous cheating scandal, James Click was the General Manager of a team that went to the ALCS every year of his reign. They won two AL pennants, and in 2022 Click’s team won the World Series in six games, winning 11 of 13 playoff games and sweeping the Yankees in the ALCS.
Days after his great victory, he was fired. (Offered a low-ball one-year contract intended to be rejected)
OK. He inherited a team rich and deep in talent and a system that has made winning an institution.
Nevertheless, in the two full, non-Covid seasons of his tenure, the Astros won more games than any other team in MLB except the Dodgers, who in 2022 spent $75 million more than the Astros. The team the Astros convincingly beat in the World Series, the Philadelphia Phillies, spent $60 million more than the Astros did in 2022.
So even though the pick of Dana Brown as Click’s replacement is overwhelmingly popular, let’s give James Click the love he deserves. Sure, he inherited a highly successful organization. Still, numerous other teams during these last few years are just as talented, yet none have a more impressive track record of consistent excellence.
In short, it would have been easy for Click to manage a team in decline. No one would have been surprised, what with the loss of so many key players from the team that won the 2017 World Series. It’s what almost always happens to champions. Yet, in both of the last two seasons of the Click era, the Astros have significantly outperformed pre-season expectations. Arguably, the 2022 Astros were the best team of the Astros’ championship era, five years after the team won its first World Series.
What an amazing run. No other post-millennial team, not called the Yankees or Dodgers, has been able to hold together a dynasty for that long. Click deserves more credit than he has received for keeping the window open for this long. Too many of us here in Houston have taken it all for granted. It won’t last forever.
So let’s take a look at the James Click legacy. Many are Click’s colleagues who tried to buy their way to the top but failed. Like all baseball leaders, he made some mistakes. But he also did many more things right. But mostly, Click succeeded by humbly resisting the temptation to disturb a winning formula.
Sometimes not taking action is the best action you can take. And the hardest. The Chinese mystic and philosopher Lao Tzu could have been speaking of James Click when he said,
“A leader is best when people barely know he exists. When his work is done, and his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves.”
In the next two installments of this series, we’ll analyze the following:
- The Click trade legacy
- Click’s free agency decisions
More later, TCBer’s.