The departure of James Click as general manager of the world champion Houston Astros only makes sense if viewed in the context of a divorce due to irreconcilable differences.
Click’s departure followed his turning down of a one-year contract extension offered by Houston owner Jim Crane, an extension Click presumably found something between inadequate and insulting.
He had been general manager since January of 2020, when he replaced the fired Jeff Luhnow as an outgrowth of the team’s sign-stealing scandal.
The Astros were 230-154 in Click’s three seasons, a .599 winning percentage. In fairness to the Astros, Click benefitted greatly from the talent base he inherited. Jose Altuve, Yordan Alvarez, Alex Bregman and Framber Valdez were only four of nine Astros who either played all three of Click’s seasons on contracts signed prior to his arrival or who never reached free agent eligibility under Click.
Although neither the team nor the general manager has spoken about the intimate details of the separation (and don’t hold your breath waiting for them to), it’s not hard to make some pretty good speculation. The most likely underlying issue: ownership interference.
It has been reported in recent days that Click had engineered a trade deadline deal with the Cubs that would have brought Willson Contreras in to catch. The price was reported to include pitcher Jose Urquidy, a 27-year-old who made 28 starts with a 3.94 ERA for the Astros but came to be viewed as excess baggage given the depth of the team’s rotation.
In Houston’s World Series run, Urquidy was limited to one mop-up appearance.
News reports agree that Crane stepped in to quash the deal at the last moment which, if true, would explain why (to the surprise of everyone) the Cubs did not trade Contreras, who is now a free agent.
If Crane did not appreciate ownership meddling in his decision-making, he wouldn’t be the first to feel that way.
In the history of Major League Baseball, championship teams have from time to time seen upper-level management changes. But they are rare and usually involve either promotions or anticipated retirements.
The last team to restructure its front office in the immediate aftermath of a World Series win was the San Francisco Giants, but that was on far more friendly terms. Following the team’s 2014 victory over the Kansas City Royals, long-time GM Brian Sabean was promoted to executive vice president of baseball operations, allowing Bobby Evans to take over as general manager.
In 2008, Pat Gillick stepped down as general manager of the world champion Philadelphia Phillies. But again the departure was both friendly and planned; Gillick was 71 at the time and a candidate for retirement under any circumstances.
After his St. Louis Cardinals won the 1982 World Series, field manager Whitey Herzog agreed to cede his dual responsibilities as general manager to Joe McDonald. Herzog remained as field manager until being removed midway through the 1990 season.
Prior to the 1967 season, the Cardinals appointed legendary star Stan Musial as their GM. But Musial soon concluded that he was ill-suited for the desk work the position entailed, and he voluntarily resigned even before his team concluded its successful World Series run by beating the Boston red Sox.
There are really only two parallels to the Click-Astros situation, and both date back decades.
During the turbulent 1970s years of George Steinbrenner’s operation of the Yankees, minority owner Gabe Paul agreed to assume the reins as general manager. That was prior to the 1974 season. Inevitably, though, Steinbrenner’s tinkering and/or interference wore on Paul.
The final straw was Steinbrenner’s appointment following New York’s 1977 World Series win over the Dodgers of Al Rosen to a position titled, “senior executive.” Paul read that as an encroachment on his authority, and resigned.
Back in 1947, Larry MacPhail led the Yankees to a World Series victory over the Brooklyn Dodgers. But MacPhail’s abrasive, boisterous and often boorish style — which had grated on the far more refined Yankee co-owners Dan Topping and Del Webb for two years — finally prompted them to buy out MacPhail’s contract. The final straw in that relationship apparently was a drunken, profanity-laced dispute during the team’s World Series victory party.
There’s no reason to believe a scenario like that had anything to do with the departure of Click from the Astros, but working relationships can be frayed in many ways. One of those ways obviously intervened in Houston.