Cooper thrilled to get permanent managing job with Astros

HOUSTON -- With Bud Selig's blessing, the Houston Astros picked Cecil Cooper as their full-time manager.

The 57-year-old Cooper received a guaranteed contract through the 2009 season on Friday, a month after he was chosen as interim manager to replace the fired Phil Garner.

Owner Drayton McLane, new general manager Ed Wade and Cooper
spoke with the commissioner on a conference call after Cooper was promoted. Cooper played for Milwaukee when Selig owned the Brewers from 1977-87.

"Commissioner Selig talked about what a tremendous guy he is and how proud he was of the selection," said Wade, hired last week to replace the fired Tim Purpura. "That's the No. 1 guy in our game. Putting his endorsement on what Cecil's all about spoke volumes. That's pretty high praise."

Selig told Houston television station KRIV on Friday that Cooper
deserves the job.

"He's a quality person, a great baseball man, tireless
worker," Selig said. "It's a great story in every way."

The announcement was made before the Astros opened their final
series of the season, against Atlanta.

"It's a great thrill for me," Cooper said. "I'm very confident I can do this. I know I can do it."

Cooper, a first-time major league manager, is the first black manager in Astros history. He'd been Houston's bench coach since 2005.

When Cooper was made interim manager on Aug. 27, McLane
suggested that the final month of the Astros' lost season amounted to an audition for Cooper, a five-time All-Star during his 17-year playing career.

Cooper said the team needed to play "with more excitement, more
fire." He's tinkered with lineups and encouraged more steal attempts since taking over and the Astros have gone 13-15.

"The first couple of weeks on the job, I'd look around the dugout and all eyes would be on me," he said. "I know I have to stand up and be the right kind of leader, the right kind of guy. And I expect them to follow me. So far, they have."

The Astros are still guaranteed to finish with their second losing record since 1991. Just two years removed from the franchise's first World Series appearance, Cooper said the Astros aren't far from becoming successful again.

He's used several young pitchers in his month on the job and worked in newcomers who've flourished at other positions, like outfielder Josh Anderson and catcher J.R. Towles.

"I think I know exactly where we need to go and how to get there," he said. "There's a lot of work to be done, but we know what we need to do. We're going to take the steps. We've got some nice pieces. We're going to get it done."

This weekend's series will mark the end of Craig Biggio's 19-year career with the Astros and McLane was originally going to hold off promoting Cooper until next week. He decided not to wait because "the conclusion was so obvious."

"Cecil is a perfect fit for the managerial job based on his
leadership and experience," McLane said. "We look forward to his
influence on our team as we move forward on our quest to bring a
World Series championship to Houston. We feel he is the most
qualified person to help us accomplish that goal."

The Astros are happy Cooper is staying put.

"Coop's been nothing but honest and upbeat since he got the job
and players have taken to that," said Chris Burke, the heir
apparent to Biggio at second base. "Coop handles himself with so
much class and had such a great career that everybody respects him.
He brings a lot of authority to his position."

Wade said it's crucial to have next year's manager in place
before this season ended.

"It sends the right signal to the players, it sends the right
signal to the other people in the organization," Wade said. "Now
we know what direction we're headed. The players understand that
when they get back to spring training next year, it's going to be
the same guy sitting in that chair they saw the last day of the
season. It lends great stability."