HOUSTON -- Phil Garner never came close to the postseason in his first two stints as a major league manager.
He's hoping that will change now that he's with the Houston Astros.
Saddled with bad teams and little money in Milwaukee and
Detroit, Garner was fired twice and began to consider a life
without baseball during the next two years while he and his family
settled into their Houston-area home.
His hometown Astros, however, pulled him back into the clubhouse with an offer to manage a team that fully expects to be playing after the regular season.
Garner replaced Jimy Williams as the Houston's manager
Wednesday, taking over a team loaded with talent and money that's
languishing in the NL Central.
"Most people in baseball understood what those situations were, I think," Garner said Thursday, minutes before conducting the
first workout with his new team. "I feel comfortable about the
jobs I did with other teams. But no question, having this quality
of players is important, too."
It's somewhat ironic, though, that the Astros are counting on a
manager with no postseason experience to get them to the first
World Series in their 42-year history.
Garner, an infielder with the Astros from 1981-87, is taking
over on an interim basis. The team will conduct another search at
the end of the season.
Dubbed "Scrap Iron" for his scrappy effort and intense work
ethic during his playing days, Garner has lots of work to do -- and
not much time to get it done.
Houston was 44-44 at the All-Star break, not the kind of results expected from a team that was tops in the NL Central for the first month and a half of the season.
The Astros finished the first half of the season in fifth place
in the NL Central, 10½ games behind division leader St. Louis. It's the first time they've faced a double-digit deficit in the
standings at the break in 11 seasons.
"You don't have much time to let it soak in and enjoy it,"
Garner said. "But if I don't have any anxiety or pressure in my
life, I'm going out to find it."
More moves could be imminent, general manager Gerry Hunsicker warned, if the team hasn't improved by the July 31 trading
deadline. The Astros get started Friday against San Diego, the
first of a five-game homestand.
Most of the players who showed up for the Thursday workout -- the Astros' four All-Stars got an extra day off -- were disappointed
that Williams was fired but were eager for a fresh start.
"Phil is as good a guy as you're going to get to replace
Jimy," said catcher Brad Ausmus, who played for Garner in Detroit
in 2000. "He's a blue-collar guy and he expects hard work from the team."
Garner's first job as a manager came with Milwaukee in 1992, and he led the Brewers to a 92-70 record and a second-place finish in
the AL East. That proved to be his best season as a manager, and
Garner was ultimately fired by Milwaukee after 112 games in 1999.
The Tigers hired Garner in 2000, going 145-179 over the next two seasons before firing him after they lost the first six games of
the 2002 season. His dismissal tied the quickest firing of a
manager who started the season since 1900, according to the Elias
Sports Bureau. Baltimore fired Cal Ripken Sr. in 1988 after the
Orioles lost six games en route to an 0-21 start.
"I have had the pleasure only once in my career of having
several really experienced and talented players, and that was a
good experience," Garner said. "I didn't know what I was doing to
be honest with you. And that was probably part of the brilliance. I
just wound 'em up and let them go. And they did a great job."
Astros outfielder Craig Biggio, who briefly played with Garner in Houston, thinks his former teammate could provide a much-needed spark for the slumping team.
"He's a good fit for this team. He's got a good personality and
he's been following us," Biggio said. "We've got the talent in
here to succeed."