By Will Martin
Labor Day came to pass with quite a bit of activity on the heels of the Houston Astros taking three of four from the Texas Rangers, a five game cushion from out of the cellar where the Rangers currently occupy.
Coming into the final month of the season as rosters increase from 25 to 40, the Astros indeed take a new direction with the dismissal of Bo Porter.
The Houston native had a 110-190 mark in almost two seasons with the new American League team. It was only on Friday when it was revealed that there was tension between Bo Porter and GM Jeffrey Luhnow.
A 30 minute press conference earlier September by Luhnow explained a few questions.
“This was a challenging day, a difficult thing to do,” Luhnow said.
Luhnow would continue but not give specifics about Porter’s ouster.
“It was a difficult decision and one I didn’t come to lightly,” Luhnow said. “This is not regarding wins and losses at the big-league level. I take responsibility for the roster, I take responsibility for our baseball operations, which includes the staff and the clubhouse.
“I felt strongly that we need a new direction for the next phase of where we are for the Houston Astros. I do believe we’ve made a lot of progress in the last couple of years and we’re moving towards our goal of being consistently competitive. As I honestly evaluated our goals going forward, we needed a change in leadership in the clubhouse.”
“At the end of the day, it came down to me feeling like at this point going forward, a different leader in the clubhouse was in the best interest of the Astros,” he said.
Houston’s owner Jim Crane would also issue a statement which in part stated:
“This was not an easy decision to make. We wish Bo nothing but the best in the future. Jeff has my full support moving forward. Our goal to bring a championship to Houston remains.”
Bo Porter also chose to convey a written message to the media and to the people of Houston.
“I want to thank the Astros organization for giving me my first opportunity to manage Major League Baseball. During my time in Houston I dedicated myself to do everything I could to help this organization win, in the short-term and for the long-term.
“I am proud of what we were able to accomplish in Houston with an organization in transition. I’m gratified we were able to bring some excitement to this city as a result of our improvement from 2013 to 2014. I am enthusiastic about what the future will bring for me and my family. I look forward to my next opportunity in Major League Baseball. The valuable experience I gained with the Astros will be extremely beneficial in all my future endeavors.”
This begs the question: What happened?
On the heels of a reprised lovers quarrel between Jerry Jones and Jimmy Johnson from 20 years past was this an issue of egos clashing with Bo Porter’s decision making? Were there problems in the clubhouse?
“We’ve got an environment with a lot of young players who are continuing to finish their development at the big leagues, and it’s important to have a certain type of environment for those players to succeed,” Luhnow said. “The clubhouse chemistry environment is a complicated formula and there’s no one thing that you can look at and say, ‘That’s what you need,’ but you need to have a feeling that we’re all aligned, that the leadership is all aligned and working towards the same goal.”
Last Friday there was a bit of a report about there being a rift between Bo Porter and Jeff Luhnow. Luhnow chose to address the Ken Rosenthal piece.
“I don’t tinker with lineups, and I don’t tell people when to hit and run,” he said. “That’s not my job. That’s the manager’s job. There are times where I’m going to ask questions about it. That’s natural, that’s communication, and make sure we’re all aligned and things are being done for the right reasons.”
A 59-79 season and a great chance that you avoid 100 wins for the first time since 2010. So wherein lied the tension?
Hurler Dallas Keuchel expressed his surprise and shock.
“It’s definitely surprising,” Keuchel said. “I know there was some stuff that came out earlier this week about the rift between the front office and Bo. Some of the guys have said it’s none of our business and we’re paid to play, and that’s what we’re going to do. We know it’s a business and we hate it any time anybody is relieved of their duties.”
If Bo Porter was looked as a stopgap measure to help rebuild a brand in a new league then for what he had to work with he had many votes for most improved team in the American League after last year. Jose Altuve fast approaching 200 hits, a batting title along with the emergence of Chris Carter, George Springer, Dexter Fowler, Collin McHugh alongside additions like Scott Feldman who was an offseason acquisition.
“We all know if you look up and down our roster and compared it to the A’s or the Angels or something like that, Bo did a pretty good job with the cards he was dealt,” Feldman said. “He had a really tough job, just with our low payroll [of $45 million] compared to other teams and, honestly, the talent level. We’re building more for the future.”
Longtime baseball man Tom Lawless will serve as interim manager for the month of September as the Astros brain trust proceeds to seek a new skipper for 2015 and beyond. Adam Everett will also join Lawless as Everett will replace Dave Trembley as bench coach for the rest of 2014.
Bo Porter was nothing but a positive whenever I spoke with him. I’m very sorry to see him go. Maybe the rah-rah, motivational approach was something that just didn’t sit well with Mr. Luhnow and Mr. Crane.
Let’s hope we get down to the bottom of this rift. One that has caught many by surprise.
Otherwise it was a 4-3 week for the Houston Astros after dropping two of three to the struggling Oakland A’s, one loss given away in the 9th before defeating the Rangers by scores of 4-0, 2-0, and 3-2 (in between a 13-6 loss August 29) courtesy of a complete game masterpiece by Scott Feldman on August 30 and some 8th inning dramatics on August 31 after trailing 2-1 against Nick Martinez.
For the record Houston finished the month of August with a 15-14 record. Jose Altuve on Sunday also had his fourth four hit game of the season in that 3-2 victory. Add to that 21 games with three hits or more and you can see why he sits at 189 hits, poised to take the battling title, hits title, and stolen base title in the American League.
“It’s a huge credit to our ballclub and you know us as a staff, and that’s what we appreciate about the group that we have,” Porter said. “These guys, they come to the park every day and they’re prepared to play. They enjoy playing the game together and that’s a great accomplishment, this time of year, to be able to finish the month of August with a winning month.”
Apparently even a winning month was not enough to save a manager’s job. If there were a theory that might come into play, I’ll wonder aloud if the inability to sign Mark Appel was a sore point between Porter and Luhnow.
On that note was George Springer also kept out longer than the rookie phenom would have liked? The term clubhouse chemistry is one that is open to interpretation. Maybe the better question is who wanted Bo Porter gone?
We may never know. Best wishes to Bo Porter in the future as Houston now tackles a two week stretch with playoff laden ballclubs starting with the LA Angels of Anaheim who just completed a four game sweep of the Athletics.
9/2 vs Angels 7:10 p.m.
9/3 vs Angels 7:10 p.m.
9/5 @A’s 9:05 p.m.
9/6 @A’s 3:05 p.m.
9/7 @A’s 3:05 p.m.