When I first read about the alleged friction going on between Jeff Luhnow and Bo Porter last week, I wondered if there was actually any truth to the story. Monday’s firing of the Astros second-year manager confirmed that the problem was bigger than most of us thought. It also raised a few questions. One of them has to be: Was Porter ever part of Jeff Luhnow’s long-term plan? My guess is, no.
When Luhnow interviewed for the job as the Astros G.M. and proceeded to dazzle Jim Crane and company with his 7-hour powerpoint presentation explaining how he would turn the franchise around, there had to be a few pages dedicated to the hiring and firing strategies relating to the team’s field manager. I’m thinking it went something like this.
1. Bring in a young hungry manager that will be easy for our young hungry players to identify with. Someone who will work cheap would be ideal.
2. Force my analytical strategies down said managers throat for as long as he is willing to take it.
3. At the first sign of that manager standing up and questioning my authority, make an example of him.
4. Depending upon how far along in the rebuild we’ve advanced, repeat steps 1 through 3 as needed.
5. Hire an experienced big name manager to guide the incredible mass of talent that I’ve assembled to a World Series championship.
The next question is: Are we now on step four or step five? Although some progress has been made, we’re definitely a long way from step five.
Early returns suggest that Astros fans are pretty evenly split on whether or not Porter should have been sent packing. Yes, the timing was curious, but the abruptness of the decision also makes it clear that the problem was too big to ignore. Whether you side with Porter or Luhnow, there are a few things that shouldn’t be forgotten.
On more than one occasion, Porter publicly humiliated individual players. (J.D. Martinez, Jonathan Villar, Lucas Harrell just to name a few). He even called out Jose Altuve for a base-running blunder once or twice last season. And who can forget the time he gathered the entire team on the diamond after a Spring Training game and lambasted them in front of the crowd. That type of behavior, in my opinion, is counterproductive.
Porter came to the Astros with the reputation of a shrewd baseball man who was properly groomed to be a leader. His resume included a decorated college football career playing for legendary coach Hayden Frye. He had also worked as a major league coach under the well-respected Davey Johnson. But Porter didn’t seem to measure up to the hype. Richard Justice points out that there were doubters from the beginning.
“It was extremely uncomfortable being in that room,” one remembered.
Players and coaches remember a weird dynamic between the two men.
“Bo kept interrupting Jeff,” one player said. “He seemed to think he was the boss. If you’d been there, you would have known it wasn’t going to work.”
I’ve also been extremely critical of Porter’s in-game managerial decisions, especially his usage of the bullpen. I think most would agree that continuing to use guys like Hector Ambriz and Jerome Williams in high leverage situations after repeated failures was the opposite of brilliant. Some of Porter’s decisions regarding the batting order also led to some scratching of heads.
But, if what Porter suggests is true, maybe he wasn’t actually making all of those decisions. I have absolutely no trouble believing that Luhnow sent Porter into each and every game with explicit instructions on how to utilize specific players. That’s where another question arises. How often did Porter go directly against Luhnow’s instructions? And, as the manager, shouldn’t it be his prerogative?
Some of these questions may never be answered, but what happens next could help shed some light.
So, what is next? Minor league infield coach Tom Lawless takes over as manager on an interim basis. Lawless sounds pretty stoked about the opportunity. Let’s see how he feels after he’s been given the DeFrancesco treatment and pushed aside in favor of a “better option”.