Players feel responsible for Cooper
Underperformance, injuries made for difficult season
HOUSTON -- Lance Berkman has been with the Astros longer than any other current player and is no stranger to managerial changes, having seen Jimy Williams, Phil Garner and now Cecil Cooper dismissed in-season. Still, Berkman said it doesn't make it any easier to see a manager lose his job.
"It's definitely somber," Berkman said. "It stinks when you know that you're responsible for somebody else's job security."
Cooper wasn't exactly a popular figure in the Houston clubhouse, but considering how much the team has underperformed this season, the players felt the brunt of responsibility for him losing his job after barely two years at the helm of the Astros.
Cooper, who took over on Aug. 27, 2007, was replaced on an interim basis by third-base coach Dave Clark.
"You never want to see your manager get fired," center fielder Michael Bourn said. "He gave it his all. We fought for him for two years, and he fought for us for two years. It's a business and a sport at the same time. Things like that happen, and you have move forward from there."
Berkman, who broke into the Major Leagues when Larry Dierker was managing the Astros in 1999, said the manager usually takes the fall when a team is underperforming. The Astros began play Monday at 70-79 and 16 1/2 games out of first place in the National League Central.
"I think any time you're not playing up to your capabilities, when things aren't going well everything is magnified," Berkman said. "There's no worse environment than a Major League clubhouse when things aren't going well, when a team is underperforming or not playing as good as they're capable of. I think Coop is probably a victim of some of that."
Several of the players said Cooper was a causality of the injuries that rocked the Astros this year. All but one relief pitcher that began the season on the roster has been on the disabled list at some point, including closer Jose Valverde, who missed 41 games with a right calf strain.
Berkman missed 18 games with a left calf strain and has put up subpar numbers, and ace pitcher Roy Oswalt won only eight games before being shut down last week because of soreness in his back and left hip.
"It always seems like it's one guy's fault that we can't accomplish on the field what we're supposed to," left fielder Carlos Lee said. "That's the way it goes, and you have to expect that. We got hit with a lot of injuries and a lot of stuff happened through the course of the year, and I didn't think we got to reach the potential we could have played with. It was a tough deal all around."
Berkman entered Monday hitting .270 with 22 homers sand 73 RBIs, all of which are numbers well below his career averages. With that in mind, Berkman said he shoulders a lot of the blame for Cooper losing his job.
"When I look back, I'm certainly not proud of this year I've had," he said. "Cecil Cooper is a good guy and a very decent man and somebody who's been here a while and experienced a lot of success in this organization. He was here when we went to the World Series.
"He's been around a long time. It's like a loss. You feel it. When I heard the news on the radio coming to the park, I was kind of shocked and definitely saddened and don't feel good about it."
Right fielder Hunter Pence echoed Berkman's thoughts.
"I'm going to hold myself accountable," he said. "I haven't driven in as many runs as I should have. Most of it has to be put on [the players]. We're the ones out there who are playing."
Brian McTaggart is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.