Astros have a very bad day, and that's being kind
Manny Acta was the guy they wanted. The Astros liked everything about him. His presence and personality. How he forged relationships with players. His ability to run a game.
I said from the beginning that there was no right answer in this search for a new manager. Manny Acta would have been terrific, but then so would Phil Garner, Bob Melvin, Tim Bogar, Jim Fregosi and a dozen or so others.
But the Astros settled on Manny Acta. Ed Wade and Tal Smith went through the list and the interviews and decided he should be the guy to lead the Astros through an important period in their history.
There's no use surgarcoating what happened these last 48 hours. Drayton McLane refused to offer Acta a three-year contract. He offered two, and even when the Cleveland Indians offered three, he held firm.
This is the first time McLane has ever attempted to hire a manager or general manager that was being sought by other clubs, and he wouldn't get into a bidding war.
If you'd like to blame Tal Smith and Ed Wade, it would be because they were unable to convince McLane to offer Acta a third year.
Why he decided to draw the line at three years is absolutely amazing considering the millions he has thrown at has-beens Mike Hampton, Russ Ortiz, etc. It's a funny time to get religion. I wish he'd taken a similar tough line when negotiations began with Carlos Lee, but that's another story.
Maybe since he's paying Cecil Cooper $800,000 next season, he decided not to extend himself on another manager.
The odd thing about his decision is that the Astros need stability. They've had three general managers and four managers since the 2004 All-Star Break. They needed to settle on a guy and then to give the guy the security to get through what might be a tough couple of years.
Drayton didn't see it that way. For some reason, he has it in his head that two years is all a manager should get, and by gosh, that's all he's going to give a manager.
Look for Tal and Ed to play the role of good soldiers in the days ahead. They will say the Astros made an organizational decision, and they'll stand by their owner even though it's likely they argued otherwise behind closed doors.
It would be a mistake to portray what happened Sunday as the end of the world. If Drayton only wants to give a manager two years, he'll find someone willing to work for it. He just couldn't get the hot guy, the guy his baseball people wanted.
Time is growing short. The Astros would like to have someone in place before Commissioner Selig's World Series news blackout begins on Wednesday.
It's not just that the Astros need to hire a manager. They're going to be hiring a bench coach and pitching coach. Those hires are extremely important, and the list of available candidates isn't getting any longer.
If you're inclined to be furious, remember two things. One is that the Astros will get a first-rate manager even if it isn't their first choice.
The other thing to remember is that Drayton runs the Astros his own, and he's way past the point in his life where he's going to change. He may trust Ed more than any other general manager he has had, but in the end, he's going to have the final say.
He operated the Astros that way when they made the playoffs six times in nine years, and he's operating them this way now. I believe in my heart of hearts that his heart is in the right place, but he has some odd thoughts about putting a team together.
He'll allow his people overspend on some has-been player, but veto spending on draft picks and managers.
Now the Astros will move on. They've got some tough spinning to do when a manager finally is hired.
It's not just that the new manager won't be their first choice. It's that the Astros lost their first choice for a relatively small amount of money.
Around mid-season last year, the Nationals came to town as reports of Acta's firing began to surface.
''Don't take this wrong,'' I told him, ''but I was hoping you'd get fired. You'd be perfect for the Astros.''
I don't know him well, but have heard about him for years from people like Gerry Hunsicker, Tal Smith, Fred Nelson and assorted others. To say that he's held in high esteem is an understatement.
He'd spent 16 years with the Astros, and most of his baseball life was shaped by the Astros. He loves the Astros more than the most loyal fan.
''I once told Fred in a meeting that my heart was the shape of an Astros star,'' he said.
It would have been a nice little story to have him back in an Astros uniform. It won't happen. Onward.