ESPN.com reported today that Brad Mills has been hired by the Houston Astros to be their new manager. I, for one, am sorry to see him go. The bench coach is an often overlooked position on the coaching staff, but it is a very important one. The bench coach is the second in command for the team, acting as the sounding board for the manager and running the team in the manager’s absence. And Brad Mills did his job as well as anyone could’ve asked. Terry Francona’s history of health concerns, coupled with his propensity to get ejected from games (especially early on in his tenure as Red Sox manager), meant that Brad Mills was called on numerous times to lead the team. And he did so with honor and integrity.
In all likelihood, he could’ve left earlier on in his career and gone on to a manager’s position; there’s always a good deal of turnover at the top as bad teams seek to replace the managing staff in the hopes that fresh faces will bring fresh ideas and new-found success. But Mills chose to stay with the manager with whom he’d worked in both Boston and earlier in his career in Philadelphia. He stayed on, learned, witnessed two world championships, and then chose to leave.
Looking at the two, I see a lot of similarity between Brad Mills and Terry Francona. Both were players with mediocre stats and abilities whose careers were cut short by knee injury, only to find success in the coach’s role. And Brad Mills has had the luck to study under someone who is turning out to be an excellent baseball manager. Francona, in his tenure, has learned a great deal about managing in a sports-obsessed town such as Boston. He’s handled the press, handled good teams and bad, and handled problem players such as Manny Ramirez and Nomar Garciaparra. Presumably, all of the skills he has learned he has passed on to his coaching staff, so Brad Mills should have all of the knowledge that Terry Francona does. This will serve him well as he moves from Boston to Houston, another fantastic baseball city with a storied franchise and a decently large sports press.
Most will probably look at this story and not care very much. That’s ok, they have their right to do so. Other members of Francona’s staff have left, and some more important than Brad Mills. It’s not as if John Farrell is leaving, a coach whose work has translated more directly into on-field success and failure. But Brad Mills still played an important role in the Red Sox, and he was beloved by his manager. Another piece of the 2004 and 2007 World Series teams is leaving. I’m sad to see him go, but still I wish him the best. I think he has all of the knowledge and tools necessary to succeed as the Astros’ new manager. He has a lot of work to do (check out the link above to see how bad the Astros were this season), but I think he will be just fine. And so will the Red Sox.