After Francona gave Astros owner Drayton McLane a strong endorsement during a telephone conversation Sunday, Houston announced Tuesday it had hired Red Sox bench Brad Mills to be the 18th manager in franchise history.
Mills, 52, was introduced at a press conference at Minute Maid Park after going through a third interview Tuesday morning. He received a two-year deal with a one-year club option for 2012.
"This organization and this city, as I have said many times in this process, has a very good name in Major League Baseball," Mills said. "I'm thrilled and excited to be involved in it and get on board and help keeping us going in the right direction. The experience [he's had] is going to aid mightily in helping this organization move forward and become winners as well."
The Astros were looking for a full-time manager to replace Cecil Cooper, who was dismissed on Sept. 21. Dave Clark managed the Astros on an interim basis for the final 13 games of the season and will remain on the Major League field staff next year.
Mills managed 11 seasons in the Minor Leagues with the Cubs (1987-92), Rockies (1993-96) and Dodgers (2002), moving into managing immediately upon the completion of his playing career. He's coached 11 years at the Major League level, including the past six as Boston's bench coach.
"I think he's ready," Francona said. "He's been ready. That's subjective, but he's been working his whole life towards this. When he was second in charge, he did a great job. Now he's going to be making the decisions and he'll do a great job."
Wade has often said dismissing Francona as manager of the Phillies was the biggest mistake of his professional career. Mills and Francona were teammates and roommates at the University of Arizona.
Mills is known as being extremely organized and a tremendous communicator.
"Millsie, with the exception of the Major League manager experience, checks off all the boxes in what we were looking for," Wade said. "The big separator in this thing is the chair he's sat in in Boston for the last several years. He's coached in 45 postseason games and two World Series and has more World Series rings than anybody in this room."
Mills got the job after the Astros originally offered it to Manny Acta, who turned down the Astros after being offered a two-year deal plus a one-year option. Acta agreed to manage the Cleveland Indians after being offered a three-year deal with a one-year option.
After Acta was out of the picture, the Astros turned their attention to Mills. McLane called Francona on Sunday to find out more about him.
|"This organization and this city, as I have said many times in this process, has a very good name in Major League Baseball. I'm thrilled and excited to be involved in it and get on board and help keeping us going in the right direction."|
|-- Brad Mills|
"I have never seen another person give an endorsement like Terry gave Brad," McLane said. "I asked him a lot of questions, lots of tough questions and lots of ideas and he was so supportive. I would also like to thank [president of baseball operations] Tal [Smith] and his entire group and how they worked tirelessly since the end of the season. We had 10 candidates, four [finalists], and any of the four could have been a great manager for the Houston Astros."
Clark was a finalist for the job, along with Acta and former manager Phil Garner. Clark interviewed for a second time Tuesday morning before the Astros decided to go with Mills. Clark will remain on the staff as third-base coach, a position he held most of last year.
"I'm going to give this guy my respect like I've always given my managers," Clark said. "I'm going to give every ounce of energy to make this ballclub better. There are no hard feelings. He got it, and that's awesome and I'm happy for him."
Wade said the thing that stood out the most about Mills in his three interviews was his consistent message about communicating with players, which became a problem toward the end of the Cooper regime.
"It comes down to players, and I made the point last year during the season, both privately and publicly, that I've been around along enough to know sometimes managers don't lose their job because of losing games, they lose their jobs because they lose the clubhouse," Wade said. "And I think this guy, with the consistent message and the way he will use his coaching staff and the way he was a part of a cohesive unit in Boston, I expect that to be the case when he gets the opportunity here."
Mills inherits a Houston team that has missed the playoffs four consecutive seasons since reaching the World Series in 2005. Last season, the Astros went 74-88 and finished in fifth place in the six-team National League Central for their lowest finish since a sixth-place ending in the NL West in 1991.
"When we get down and we talk about the team we have now and the team we're going to put on the field when we start April 5, we're going to start working together and playing the game solidly and in a winning way," Mills said.
When asked how he would handle players not playing hard, Mills didn't hesitate.
"We're going to try to stop those issues right before they even come up," he said. "I think there's a lot of things we're going to be involved in and we're going to try to find out right away."
The next task for Mills is putting together a coaching staff. Sean Berry will return next year as hitting coach and Clark's position is set. Mills and Wade have already exchanged names about candidates for bench coach and pitching coach.
"The names Ed and I have thrown around already have me really excited," he said. "These guys have had experience not only in the Major Leagues, but in the Minor Leagues, and whoever we wind up getting it's going to be pretty exciting. I look for a guy that has experience, a passion for the game and a lot of energy, and the players see that."
Brian McTaggart is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.