Evan Smith: We’re talking at a moment when the Astros are 4 and 9—the second-worst record in baseball. I’m sure you get tired of people asking you why the team isn’t any better, but why isn’t the team any better?
Cecil Cooper: We’re not hitting. We have a lot of situations in which we’re just not scoring runs—when we have leads of 1-0, 2-0, 2-1, we’ve not been able to get a big base hit to open those games up. In thirteen games, I can probably look back and only find one instance where we did that.
ES: That’s not something that you, as the manager, can necessarily affect. You can’t force people to hit.
CC: People are going to hit, or they’re not going to hit. Some guys are going to have a better season than they had before, and some aren’t. There’s not a whole lot I can do except put the right players in the right positions and expect them to perform.
ES: Are the right players not performing? Or maybe you don’t have the right players.
CC: I have the right players, but this isn’t the way they should be. This isn’t what they’re capable of.
ES: In recent years pitching has been a problem for the Astros, but you haven’t mentioned it as an issue.
CC: I think our pitchers have done a better-than-average job. They’re actually throwing really well over the last six or seven games. But they haven’t gotten the run support they’ve needed.
ES: You’ve been the manager since Phil Garner departed, near the end of the 2007 season. Now that you have almost two years under your belt, how are you enjoying the job?
CC: It’s been a wonderful experience. It’s something that I would recommend to most players when they retire, because it’s pretty challenging. But having had some success as a player, I also find it to be a little bit frustrating.
ES: Talk about why that is.
CC: If you’ve had success at that level, you think everyone should have success at that level. You have to learn how to adjust your thinking to deal with other people’s failures.
ES: When you were a player, you were more in control of your performance. When you’re the manager, as you said earlier, your performance depends on other people doing their jobs.
CC: Exactly. You’re much more focused on the total concept as opposed to the individual concept. You can only do what you can do from an individual standpoint, but as a manager, you’re focused on the bigger picture, and you have to keep your mind focused on that.
ES: How do you know how to think like a manager?
CC: It comes from your experiences as a player and, I think, your experiences in dealing with people. Because when it comes down to it, that’s what you are doing: You’re dealing with people and egos and personalities, and you have to be able to deal with people. If you’re not a good people person, it’s going to be more difficult, because you have 25 different player personalities and 8 to 10 staff personalities. You deal with them on a daily basis, along with 5 or 6 front-office personalities.
ES: So the most important part of the job isn’t knowledge of baseball or strategic thinking?
CC: You need those things as well. But the more difficult part is dealing with the personalities—and in baseball it’s a long, tedious grind. If I were a football coach and only had to deal with my players for three months …
ES: Which managers did you learn the most from?
CC: My first regular big-league manager in Boston was a guy named Darrell Johnson. His personality was a lot like mine—he had a very quiet and calming presence—yet he was good with people. I had two guys with Milwaukee who were a lot like that. One was Harvey Kuenn. The other guy I really respected and picked up a lot of things from was George Bamberger. He was a good pitching coach before he became a manager. He had tremendous people skills.
ES: When you were a player, did you think to yourself, “I want to be a manager one day”?
ES: Because your career seems to have taken an interesting path. After your time as a player came to an end, you didn’t go into coaching right away—you became an agent.
CC: I became an agent out of necessity. When I was released, in the winter of 1987, it was unexpected. I hadn’t made any plans. Once reality set in, I thought, “Well, what am I going to do?” My agent and I talked—we were good friends—and he said, “Why don’t you come work for me and learn the business?” I had always done most of the work on my own contracts from the standpoint of dealing with numbers and that kind of stuff, so I said, “Okay, I’ll give it a shot.” I did it for a year to see if I liked it, and I kind of got into it.
ES: And you ended up spending eight years doing it. Did you represent any players I would have heard of?
CC: Some players who had good careers and some big names. Randy Johnson was one of the current players I represented. Wade Boggs was a client. Joe Girardi, now the manager of the Yankees, was a client.
ES: What did you learn about the game as an agent?
CC: I dealt primarily with younger players, and I tried to prepare them for their steps up the ladder of success. And I learned that people are people, that players are people. A lot of folks don’t look at it that way, but I saw the human side—not the baseball stuff but the personal stuff.
ES: If being an agent was such a positive experience, why did you go back into baseball?
CC: I had a very strong relationship with