Cover For Cooper

added 6/19/2009 by Bob Hulsey

It was a minor firestorm Wednesday night and Thursday regarding Manager Cecil Cooper's behavior after the 5-4 loss to the Texas Rangers this week. He was angry that the Astros misplayed their way into another defeat and made that clear to reporters afterwards. For the record, there were three errors which all led to Texas runs. The team failed yet again to deliver with runners in scoring position (1-for-9). And you can't have an Astros loss these days without some baserunning blunders tossed in.

Yet the clubhouse felt differently. Cooper failed to congratulate Ivan "Pudge" Rodriguez after the game for breaking Carlton Fisk's all-time record for most games caught in a career. His failure to acknowledge the record was seen as a snub by Rodriguez and some of his teammates. Rodriguez, by the way, committed two of the errors and also struck out in the tenth inning with runners on base just before the Rangers won the game.

Cooper met with the team before Thursday's game to apologize to Rodriguez before the rest of the team and Pudge says he forgives him. Apology accepted, issue over. Right?

Well, no. The Houston Chronicle columnists, Jose de Jesus Ortiz and Richard Justice, both jumped on the controversy to fling arrows at Cooper. Both have lobbied for Cooper to be fired and both columnists are not above inserting themselves into the story which makes their complaints seem to fuel their own agenda in advancing the firing of Cooper.

Now, to be clear, Cooper has made a lot of puzzling decisions and created some self-inflicted wounds while running the Astros. There is talk that many in the clubhouse either don't like him or don't respect him. It must be difficult matching wits with veteran managers in the Central Division like Tony LaRussa, Lou Piniella and Dusty Baker without having your team willing to fight for you. This isn't about whether Cooper deserves to keep his job, this is about one particular situation where I feel the need to defend him.

Anyone who visits knows I love baseball history and almost anyone who loves baseball history is something of a sentimentalist who respects the record books and cares when records are broken. Pudge Rodriguez deserves all due credit for tying and breaking Fisk's record and he will no doubt build on it rather than wheezing over the finish line for the sake of a record.

Back in 2007, I stood against a lot of the criticism lobbed at Craig Biggio for hanging around to reach 3,000 hits. He was not much of a liability, was not a major salary expense and, as it turned out, he wasn't stunting Chris Burke's budding superstardom either. I cheered for Craig every step of the way because I understood that he was a lifelong Astro who had sacrificed himself both professionally and financially several times for the sake of the team. He deserved that moment which I think will catapult him into the Hall of Fame on the first ballot in 2013.

But Pudge Rodriguez is a different story. He's a one-year rental who is an Astro mostly because nobody else was interested in signing him, in part because of his poor finish to the 2008 season and in part because many teams are wary of dealing with a Scott Boras client. Signing him was the right thing to do, particularly at the bargain-basement $1.5 million price tag. But I don't feel the same emotional tug to celebrate a Pudge Rodriguez milestone as I did for Craig Biggio.

Cooper wasn't caught in the moment of a personal milestone. He was caught up in a loss that had just kept his team in the division cellar for what is approaching a full month, one in which Rodriguez played a key role in the loss. I'm not saying a snub was justified but I appreciate that he cared about losing more than he cared about sharing champagne with the guy who just set a record in a losing effort.

I think there are plenty of reasons why people might want to see Cooper fired but, frankly, Wednesday's incident shouldn't be one of them. Cooper wants to win. I got that impression clearly during last year's Milwaukee fiasco after Hurricane Ike. He cares about winning and losing, maybe a bit too much but that's what managing is about.

If he's lost the clubhouse, that should be reason enough to let him go. But I can't fault a man for being consumed with winning and losing. And it shouldn't be the job of the Houston Chronicle to fan the flames of firing as they seem intent on doing. I suspect their desire to fan the flames is because Cooper doesn't kiss their butts the way reporters like. Let's discuss Cooper's worthiness to manage the Astros based on his on-field decisions, not his off-field interactions with the media.