- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 30, 2012


The good news for Bo Porter: He landed one of only 30, highly coveted big-league managerial jobs.

The bad news for Bo Porter: He landed with the Houston Astros, arguably the majors’ worst managerial job.

Porter, the Washington Nationals’ third-base coach through the end this season, wasn’t in a position to be choosy. At least not if he wanted to manage as soon as possible. Patience might have netted him the Nationals’ job whenever Davey Johnson retires, perhaps in a year or three, but there were no guarantees.

Long considered a prime managerial candidate, Porter previously had interviewed to skipper the Florida Marlins and Pittsburgh Pirates. When the Astros offered him the job last week, selecting him from an initial list of 49 candidates, Porter concluded there’s no time like the present.

It’s easy to suggest that Porter should have waited for a better opportunity than Houston, which has the worst record in baseball and one of the weakest farm systems to boot. But the lure of managing at home was pretty powerful. His emotions didn’t start to waver until he told his wife the news.

“She kind of broke down,” Porter said. “It was obviously very emotional for her, being from Houston, her hometown. When I heard her break down on the phone, it really hit me like, ‘Wow.’ It was good. It’s a good feeling. There’s only 30 of these jobs. Whenever you get an opportunity to be named the manager, it’s always exciting.”

That’s the proper reaction for him, though not as much for objective folks who like him and care about him. The same manager hasn’t begun and ended three consecutive seasons with the Astros since Terry Collins did so from 1994-96. Houston did enjoy measures of success since then, making six postseason appearances including a trip to the 2005 World Series. But there hasn’t been a winning record since 2008 and the franchise will move to the tough AL West next season.

But the challenge might have enticed Porter as much as the opportunity to sleep in his own bed. He has seen firsthand how an organization can go from back-to-back 100-loss seasons to World Series-contender in a few short years. (Of course, the Astros won’t have the once-in-a-million chance to pick Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper in back-to-back drafts, but go with it anyway.)

Porter is confident and crazy enough to believe he can lead a turnaround.

“A lot of times, people look at losses in the loss column,” he said. “But a lot of times you’re learning how to win. More importantly for me is, everybody wants to win. That’s the desired result. But at the end of the day, you have to take care of the process, which is all the things in between. At the end of the day, if you take care of the process, you’ll get the desired results.”

We know why the Astros would hire Porter. He’s young enough (40) and energetic enough to withstand the desert experience as they search for the promised land. He has the sort of contagious enthusiasm that the downtrodden organization desperately needs.

“His style is his biggest asset,” Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow said during a news conference. “He’s a natural-born leader. He’s very charismatic. You will get to know him over time; he’s a motivational speaker but not to the extent you hear it five times a week, it wanes.”

Part of me wishes Porter’s first opportunity came with a more-established team. But that’s rarely the way it works. Unless they’re already within a winning organization — like the St. Louis Cardinals’ Mike Matheny last year — coaches with no managerial experience have little chance of landing plum openings. Such coaches are usually relegated to the Houstons, Pittsburghs and Kansas Citys of the world.

But Porter has the best resource available to offer assistance in taking over losing teams. Manager Davey Johnson is a master, having turned the Mets, Reds, Orioles, Dodgers and, now, the Nationals into winners.

“When you take a last-place club your expectations aren’t very great,” Johnson said. “But when you show improvement year to year, which I’m sure he will, it’s a great challenge, and an ideal situation. He’s lucky. He can sleep in his own bed. That’s a wonderful opportunity for him.”

We’ll have to take Johnson’s word on that.

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