Former Astros manager Bo Porter purged the club’s losing culture in less than two seasons, was fired and never managed again.
When the Houston Astros won the 2017 World Series, Bo Porter says he was in his theater room watching the game. The former Astros skipper received countless texts, social media posts, and fan mail, congratulating him for laying the foundation, developing young talent and babysitting a dumpster fire during the 2013-14 seasons before the many jewels of the team’s farm system burst into World Series form.
Bo should have been receiving those congratulations from the podium as MLB Commissioner Robert Manfred presented his team with a championship trophy. Instead, he unfathomably hasn’t gotten another coaching offer.
A Career Deferred
As Porter settles into his new gig as MASN Washington Nationals broadcaster, the 46 year old makes it clear that he’s thrilled to be a pre-game and post-game analyst. The new job provides him with the opportunity to share his vast levels of experience as a former MLB player, manager and front office executive.
Porter says he’d consider managing again if the right opportunity came along, but he was adamant about the fact that he’s in a good place and not soliciting or campaigning for any opportunities.
@Boporter16Bo go one-on-one with @WashingtonNationals Catcher Kurt Suzuki on @masnNationals All Access at 3pm EST today. Tune in for insight from one of @MLB most productive catchers over the last 2 seasons. #masnAllAccess #NatsWin #OnePursuit pic.twitter.com/zYl2ldLIXt
— Bo Porter (@Boporter16Bo) February 25, 2019
If no one else says it, then I will: Bo Porter’s inability to land another managerial job is a black stain on baseball’s diversity efforts.
He’s got to feel short-changed.
“My question would be,” Porter told The Shadow League one summer afternoon during the MLB-sponsored Elite Development Educational camp at Historic Dodgertown in Vero Beach, Florida, “How would Bo Porter fare if he was given a roster that was built to win? Or given a chance to take over a rebuilding team, do all of the ground work, build the infrastructure and help the young players learn on the job and then have the opportunity to see those players through. That’s all you can ask for.”
Black Managers Get No Look Or Quick Hook
In 2018, six new managers were hired. None were African-American. As 2019 Spring Training gets underway, the trend continues. Six managerial jobs opened and one person of color — Toronto Blue Jays 53-year-old Puerto Rican skipper Charlie Montoyo — was hired.
Some would have you believe that there are no qualified African-American managerial candidates outside of 69-year-old Dusty Baker, who is also currently unemployed by the way, after posting 95 and 97-win seasons in 2016 and 2017.
The LA Dodgers’ Dave Roberts has been the only new black face in MLB’s managerial ranks since 2015. Before him, Porter briefly became a part of that rare lineage of African-American managers. Porter, Roberts, Baker and former Rangers manager Ron Washington (who went to back-to-back World Series) comprise the last four African-American managers in baseball.
Porter and Washington haven’t worked in a managerial position since 2014. Roberts has been to back-to-back World Series and still deals with job security issues.
Baseball has a problem with hiring and retaining Black managers. The numbers undeniably tell us that. There’s still outdated, culturally-biased perceptions lingering among some ownership groups, that there aren’t any “qualified” black candidates.
Porter, says that excuse is a fallacy.
“That’s not a reason,” he insisted. “Because from Willie Randolph to Dusty Baker to myself to 20-year coaching veteran Demarlo Hale…you look around baseball and there’s quite a number of African-Americans that have the resumes, have been in the game or they’ve done the job.”
Unable To Finish His Breakfast
It does seem odd that Porter hasn’t gotten another managerial offer by now.
Bo went 51-111 with a miserable squad that first year, but he stayed true to his baseball principles of mandatory max-effort, fundamentals and playing the game the right way. His efforts started to come to fruition in 2014, but he was unceremoniously fired with 24 games left after going 59-79 and showing improvement in all phases.
Guess Bo Porter won't be there when Astros win World Series in 2017 Front office worst in baseball Clueless & overhyped. Porter the fall guy
— Pat Caputo (@patcaputo98) September 1, 2014
Bo didn’t get to see his journey through. Just as the franchise started to see the light at the end of the tunnel, he was pushed out as the losses piled up and his personality, passion and managerial philosophy clashed with upper management’s vision for the future.
“Your job as a leader, regardless whether it’s as a manager or a father or a CEO, is to do everything you can to help the people you are charged to lead to reach their full potential and make any situation better than it was when you arrived,” said Bo.” I did that.”
Tom Lawless relieved Porter on an interim basis for the remainder of 2014 season, going 11-13. By the time Porter’s good friend A.J. Hinch was hired, the unrefined talent that Porter had to work with began to bubble.
Jose Altuve was growing into a batting champion and young guns like Carlos Correa, George Springer and Alex Bregman would soon burst onto the scene. The Stros’ youth movement made the playoffs in 2015 for the first time in a decade.
Two years later they won the World Series.
It was a game that validated Porter’s success at laying the foundation for Houston’s potentially dynastic future.
“I am personally happy for my lifetime friend A.J. Hinch because he was given another opportunity to manage and made the most of his second chance,” Porter posted on social media at the time. “I am also extremely happy for players like Jose Altuve, Dallas Keuchel, George Springer, Marwin Gonzalez and Peacock because they survived the lean years and were able to personally enjoy the fruits of their labor and become champions.”
The Fall Guy
The fact that Bo went 110-190 as Astros manager will always be used as justification for his firing. In reality, he did a tremendous job under the circumstances, which were not ideal from the jump. To begin with, he was tasked with overseeing a tank job.
“When I look at the work our staff was able to do in Houston,” Bo recalls with pride and a tinge of regret, “without a shadow of a doubt we left the organization in better hands than it was when we arrived. When you look at the rosters that we were charged to manage… You can just go to the numbers and look at the low projections of what those rosters were supposed to yield.”
“We exceed those numbers each year because the talent level on those teams were not that of a team that was constructed to actually win,” he continued. “It was a team that was constructed to actually rebuild the organization, while the talent that was on the rise — the major league talent — had not arrived at the major league level yet.”
In addition, owner Jim Crane and GM Jeff Luhnow didn’t let Porter assemble his own coaching staff.
The selection of a pitching coach is very important to a manager. Brent Strom was hired by Luhnow in October of 2013 without even consulting Bo. The way Strohm was dumped on him still sits uneasily with Porter to this day.
Strom was already 65 at the time of the hire. Porter was just 41 years old with an entire blueprint laid out of how he was going to make the Astros successful. His meticulous prescription for success and youthful exuberance is what convinced Astros management that he was the guy in the first place, but they didn’t let him do his thing.
From the outset, Porter was being undermined. Not only did he have a team full of players lacking pro talent, but his hands were tied concerning executive decisions and staff hires. Bo says he and his staff had to do so much on-the-job training that he couldn’t flex his treasure chest of baseball knowledge or fully execute his strategy.
“There’s things that you have to do differently managing a team in a rebuild situation to get wins and build a culture, that you won’t have to do if you take over a team that just came off winning a division,” Bo insisted.
Interestingly enough, Strom is still the pitching coach for Houston five years after Porter was let go, but those rough, early days produced a relationship of deep mutual respect.
“I really grew to appreciate his intelligence and his attention to detail,” Strom said in a 2014 article reflecting on his relationship with Porter. “I actually learned a great deal from him, I really did. Stuff that in all my years of baseball I had not thought about, and I documented all those things and actually had passed it on to our minor league pitching coaches for future years throughout our system…Bo Porter is a very, very good man.”
Besides the criticism that comes with being young, Black and very passionate, a common knock on Porter’s managerial steez is that he lacked a willingness to embrace the organization’s reliance on analytics.
“For the first time in baseball history nonwhite men, Alex Cora and the Dave Roberts, were the managers of both World Series teams, the Red Sox and the Los Angeles Dodgers. And 42 percent of major league players are black or Latino.” @powellnyt https://t.co/NaQmVtTzOn
— Gerson Borrero (@GersonBorrero) October 29, 2018
Analytics Killed The Black Knight
Porter says that’s one of the biggest misconceptions going.
“I’m well versed on analytics and I understand the game is about numbers and there are times when the numbers should dictate what you should do,” he said. “There’s also human elements that come into play and you can never lose sight that the game is being played by humans. The numbers can actually help you make a definitive decision based on the outcomes and the probability of the outcomes.”
At the same time, Porter largely attributes the decline of the African-American player and manager to baseball’s huge metrics shift.
“When you look at the African-American ball player, you see speed. You see athleticism. You see raw tools. You see guys who have an opportunity to impact the game in a multitude of ways,” Porter insisted. “Today, we have a lot of guys at the big league level that are one-dimensional players.”
“In the ’80s there were a lot of African-Americans in the Big Leagues, that’s probably why you saw more African-American coaches and managers. With the decline of player representation, the managerial numbers have declined. A domino effect.”
On his journey to MLB manager, Porter received tutelage from some of the game’s greatest minds, starting with Sandy Alomar who met Bo at the field every morning during his first Spring Training just to talk baseball.
“It was probably one of my biggest learning curves that took place,” Bo recalls. “I was always gifted from a skills standpoint, but he taught me the game of baseball. So it’s through that lens that I actually started to see the game in its entirety.”
As Porter got to the back-end of his career after stints with three MLB clubs, he was encouraged to become a coach. He was always a student of the game, so managing was a natural fit.
Rags To Riches
Porter’s American Dream is real. He rose from being a poor, black child of a 16-year-old single mother in Newark, New jersey back in the ’70s to one of a handful of African-American MLB managers in history.
“We didn’t have little league anywhere in my community,” Porter said. ” So we played in the church parking lot. I would hit the ball over the fence.”
The house across the street was owned by a man named Mr. Taylor. He was a security officer at a local bank that sponsored a little league. Bo says Mr. Taylor brought the flyer back to his mom who had no money for that.
Mr. Taylor, just being a community service person offered to pay the $25 fee and take Bo twice a week to practices and games.
Mr. Taylor takes Bo over there at nine years old to tryout. Bo is selected with the first pick by the team that finished in last place the year before. Bo’s team proceeded to win the next three championships in Southport Little League.
“What transpired after that is something that I always say even when I’m talking to kids,” Bo added. “The untraveled eye can’t see. And because I never really left my community. Was I good in baseball? Yes I had god-given ability. Could I ever really see myself playing Major League Baseball? No.”
That changed when Bo and the 12 kids on his Little League team got tickets to see the Yankees for the first time. Bo got to see Willie Randolph, Dave Winfield and Don Mattingly taking batting practice. Winfield even came over and spoke. It was life-changing.
“Now, all of a sudden I want to be a Major League Baseball player. Because now my eye has traveled. You never know what can happen when you put a child into a setting that allows them to dream big.”
Not Even A Courtesy Call?
Porter’s next big dream was becoming a Big League manager and the poor kid from Jersey got there too. It’s a shame he only got a cup of coffee. At least three of the six openings this offseason were tailor-made for Porter, who says he didn’t even get one phone call or interview request.
That’s odd considering Brad Ausmus and Don Wakamatsu got second chances after losing stints as managers.
I thought no one would hire Brad Ausmus after how bad he was for the Tigers.
— Ben Bruex (@Buffy619) October 18, 2018
The Minnesota Twins are in a rebuilding phase and made inexperienced 37-year-old Rocco Baldelli, the youngest manager in MLB. The Baltimore Orioles hired 45-year-old Brandon Hyde, a former Cubs bench coach.
Both teams would have been ideal situations for Bo as he’s equipped to deal with rebuilds and young talent. The Orioles franchise shifted into rebuild mode last July under GM Dan Duquette, who traded away many of the team’s stars — most notably Manny Machado, Zach Britton, Jonathan Schoop, and Kevin Gausman — for prospects and loot, cutting payroll from $151 million to $136 million.
A few seasons ago, the rebuilding Padres had an opportunity to nab Bo, but instead chose unknown commodity Andy Green. In three seasons with the Padres, Green has endured a 205-281 record (.422 winning percentage) while the organization has stockpiled draft picks, developed talent and recently signed free agent All-Star Machado to a $300 million contract.
Eventually, he’ll be managing a team of talented players and getting an opportunity to show his true coaching skills.
Something that just doesn’t happen for Black managers. Sixteen black men have ascended to manager since Jackie Robinson called out MLB for its lack of black managers on Oct. 15, 1972, at Game 2 of the World Series. Two years later, Hall of Famer Frank Robinson finally granted Jackie his dying wish by becoming the manager of the Cleveland Indians.
#BHM #LittleKnownBlackHistoryFact@MLB great Frank Robinson was the 1st player 2 win MVP in the AL & NL, AND the 1st Black manager of a Major League team. In 1982, he was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. He sadly passed away earlier this month at 83yo.#CelebrateBH365 pic.twitter.com/Ect6zhf6ys
— Delta Kappa Elite (@DeltaKappaElite) February 28, 2019
Age of The Latino Manager
As African-American managers have declined, Hispanic managers have become the new flavor. In 2017, Boston hired Alex Cora, a former MLB player from Caguas, Puerto Rico, making him just the 11th Latin-born manager in the long, illustrious history of baseball.
Puerto Rican David Martinez followed, joining veteran Rick Renteria, who is Mexican-American. New Toronto hire Charlie Montoya raises the total of Hispanic managers to an all-time high of four. As the league becomes increasingly Hispanic, a manager with bi-lingual communicative abilities becomes a valuable commodity.
Bogus one-and-done opportunities and quick hooks for Black coaches remain, even as the number of African-American participants increases from the grassroots on up. Sure, some get opportunities, but the nature of the opportunity often differs from that awarded to their white counterparts.
At 46 years old with a managerial job under his belt already, Porter shouldn’t be out of Major League Baseball. He says he’s good with it, but I think that’s just his pride talking.
He deserves another shot.