No more Mr. Nice Guy
Astros run out of patience, usher out Garner, Purpura
Posted: Monday August 27, 2007 10:15PM; Updated: Monday August 27, 2007 10:30PM
For years now, the Astros have been one loose, back-slapping, come-in-and-take-a-seat bunch of guys. From owner Drayton McLane -- a man who spends a few innings at every home game wandering around Minute Maid Park talking with fans -- right down the front-office line and all the way into the clubhouse, the Astros are a genuinely fun group. Nice guys. Easy going. Friendly.
Or they were, anyway, until McLane canned his general manager and his field manager on Monday. Took his size 12 Noconas and booted 'em right out the door. Pulled that seat right out from under them. The nice guy Astros, it turns out, are way too close to doing what nice guys often do -- finishing last. And in the easiest division in baseball, too. That -- finally -- got to be too much for the Texas born-and-bred McLane.
So, no more Mr. Nice Guy.
"The last two years," McLane said in an off-day news conference Monday afternoon announcing the firings of general manager Tim Purpura and manager Phil Garner, "have not been what I think the Houston Astros can achieve, what we're about."
The last two seasons, let's face it, have been dual disasters. Remember, just two postseasons ago, in October of 2005, the Astros were in their first World Series. Everybody was happy. The city was beaming. Then came an uneven season in '06, when the Astros needed a late surge just to eke above .500. This year, they haven't been above .500 since May 16. The Astros are currently 58-73, in a virtual tie for last place in the National League Central. The locals are up in arms.
The question in Houston today isn't so much if McLane made the right move, or moves, in firing the two likeable, accomplished baseball men, but rather why it took him so long. A couple of years ago, with Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte baffling hitters and Brad Lidge closing the door and Craig Biggio scrapping his way all over the field and Lance Berkman playing like one of the best players in the league, no one could have envisioned this.
But after Clemens and Pettitte slipped back into New York pinstripes, with the off-and-on Lidge a flashpoint for fan displeasure, with Biggio on his way out and Berkman fighting through a sub-par year, with the disappointments of '06 and all the underachieving in '07, something had to be done. The only reason McLane hadn't run roughshod over the front office is because of the team's reputation as softies. Nobody wanted to point fingers. Nobody was willing to say it wasn't working. Until, finally, McLane sucked it up and informed Purpura on Sunday night, and then Garner on Monday morning, that enough was enough. The blogs and chat rooms were practically giddy with the news Monday afternoon.
"Tim and 'Gar' are good people. They worked very hard and care very much about the Houston Astros," said Tal Smith, the team's president of baseball operations and the man who will act as interim GM. "As we all recognize, this is a performance-driven industry, results-oriented. The record speaks for itself."
The Astros, as they stand now, are a terribly imperfect team. They are young and shaky in the rotation after starter Roy Oswalt and just as wiggly in the bullpen. Their shortstop and catcher positions are offensive black holes, and there are questions to be answered at both second and third base. They are weak defensively.