Today, we’ll kick off an Astros’ Best of the Best series. We’ll look at all positions, from the top down in the coming weeks leading up to opening day. (By special request, please limit discussions to today’s topic and don’t jump ahead!)
In three short years, A.J. Hinch has already served notice that he may soon be in the discussion of best Astros’ manager in history.
- Years: 3
- Record: 271-215.
- Winning seasons: 3.
- Losing seasons: 0.
Despite winning a World Series and enjoying the best winning percentage of any full-time Astros’ manager, his length of service may not yet qualify him to join in the discussion with the likes Bill Virdon or even Larry Dierker in some minds. Or does it?
Jim Crane and Jeff Luhnow finally got it right with Hinch after suffering through four other choices (two full-time, two interim), but Brad Mills, Tony DeFrancesco, Bo Porter and Tom Lawless were sometimes brutal before Hinch stabilized the boat in 2015.
Players play for him, the clubhouse seems smooth and he meshes with Luhnow. Fans often quibble with some of his moves, but you can’t argue with the results overall.
Virdon, who is at the top of most Astros’ managerial lists, was in Houston for eight seasons and owns the most wins of any manager: 522. No other manager has lasted more than five seasons in Houston, though Dierker’s sometimes volatile five-year run may be the best thus far. Take a look at the list of Astros’ managers.
Here are my Top 5.
- Dierker. 1997-2001. If you include his entire career as an Astro, from pitcher to broadcaster to community to manager, Dierker wins hands down. Just on his managerial merit, he also rates in my book, though his old school run-ins with veterans like Craig Biggio, Jeff Bagwell and others might taint his appeal somewhat. He oversaw some of the great teams and players, the move to Enron/Minute Maid Park and four first place finishes in the NL West (remember that division?).
- Bill Virdon. 1975-82. Hard to argue with 522 wins and the man who led the team to the vintage 1980 playoffs. He had only two winning seasons (one .500), but his long-time tenure in the seat garners him the all-time leader in wins and respect.
- Hinch. 2015-present. It’s been only three years, but Hinch has earned his way onto a list that doesn’t include many long-timers. He’s seventh on the all-time wins list and will likely climb into fourth place in 2018 with 90 wins.
- Phil Garner. 2004-2007. He joined the team in the middle of the 2004 season and left in the middle of 2007. Ol’ Scrapiron is fifth on the all-time wins list (277-252) with that 2005 NL pennant and World Series team to brag about.
- Hal Lanier. 1986-88. Depending on how you look at it, Lanier beats out others like Art Howe, Bob Lillis or Terry Collins. Of course, Lanier (254-232) was the overseer of one of the most exciting teams in Astros’ history (1986) with Mike Scott, Nolan Ryan, Glenn Davis, Jose Cruz, Billy Hatcher, Charley Kerfeld and Dave Smith.
Honorable mention: Howe, Lillis, Collins, Harry “The Hat” Walker.
To be sure, the list of successful Astros’ managers isn’t long and while you may quibble with the order of my choices, you’re likely to end up with the same list in your Top 5.
Let the debate discussion begin.