Tales From the Juice Box: Hickey Firing Sparks Astros' Arms Race
By Christopher Gray,
5:57PM, Wed. Oct. 4, 2006
The Astros sent an interesting message today, extending skipper Phil Garner's contract through 2008 and cutting pitching coach Jim Hickey loose, despite the general excellence of the pitching staff since Hickey replaced former Longhorn Burt Hooton two years ago. But it does make a certain kind of sense. Hickey, who came up from Round Rock (he and Hooton essentially switched), was a decent pitching coach, but how much coaching Roger Clemens, Andy Pettitte, and Roy Oswalt need is up for debate. Garner finally coaxed one of those late-season runs the Astros should patent at this point out of his club, although this year it came a game or two too late to get them into the postseason.
Phil is popular with the fans, owner Drayton McLane and GM Tim Purpura are in his corner, and one of the main reasons things were so close at the wire was the general ineffectiveness of the team's young crop of prospective starters, which reflects right back on Hickey. This now takes on much greater importance because who knows if Roger Clemens (doubtful) and Andy Pettitte (questionable) will be around next year. Which is why the Astros should offer Rocket the job immediately. No way he would get paid as much as a coach, but let's face it, 2006 probably used up the last of the fuel in that right arm - but his brain is fine, never better. He's already shown he loves to work with young pitchers, showing up at spring training this year even though he wasn't even signed at the time, and the more of that vicious competitive streak that rubs off on Matt Albers, Jason Hirsh, Chris Sampson, Fernando Nieve, and Wandy Rodriguez, the better. Yes, his kid was in Kissimmee, but that's another thing: They could be reunited in a major league dugout as soon as late next season, and wouldn't ESPN love that storyline? They could keep selling armloads of No. 22 merchandise, and keeping the Rocket in the fold (and the clubhouse) would probably be enough to motivate his "little buddy" Pettitte to come back as well.