The date was January 29th, 2020.
The Houston Astros were dealing with the after-effects of the sign-stealing scandal. A.J. Hinch the team’s manager through the scandal, had been fired, as well as plenty of the front office as well. Dusty Baker was hired to take over and guide the team through a difficult stretch.
Baker would do an admirable job, as the team maintained their run of dominance, reaching the ALCS in all four of his seasons and the World Series in two, with the 2022 title a part of that as well.
He was the right guy at the right time for a lot of reasons. A veteran and lifelong baseball guy, Baker navigated the media, personalities, and backlash that the Astros dealt with over that stretch of time.
And now after Baker’s retirement, Houston has gone with one of their own, Joe Espada, to take over the reins.
Espada was born in Puerto Rico and played college baseball for the University of Mobile. He played minor-league baseball, but never made it all the way up to the big leagues. He started his coaching career in Class-A and worked his way up the ranks.
His coaching career at the Major League level has now had three stops. The Marlins, the Yankees, and then joining the Astros organization in 2018.
The year in which Espada joined the Astros is significant. 2018 was one year removed from when the sign-stealing scandal took place. However, it was before the allegations and investigations took place. That means that Espada was on the staff for the entirety of the drama that unfolded for the next few years to come.
When deciding on a manager to replace Dusty Baker, the Astros had several different factors to consider. Many can point to hiring the “next man up” as opposed to an outsider, to be a safe decision. A decision that lacks aggression.
However, this team has a unique set of circumstances. The men of that locker room have experienced scrutiny, booing, hatred, and more over the past four years. They have also maintained an incredible run, still never missing an ALCS since the scandal broke. I think a situation like that requires a manager who understands what the team has been through.
In that regard, Espada fits perfectly. He was in that dugout for all of the backlash. He was there when they reclimbed the mountain, and won their second title in 2022.
In addition to that, Espada is a baseball guy who has the resume to back up this hiring. I would say it is safe to assume that he was going to get a managerial opportunity somewhere, regardless of whether or not Houston gave him one. In that way, I would say he is as deserving as any to take over and try to keep this dynasty rolling.
With all that being said, Espada has a difficult task. The Astros are not going to stop being a target for opposing fans and even opposing teams. The roster is certainly still very good, but the division has gotten much better with the Texas Rangers emerging as World Series champions.
Joe Espada has every opportunity to continue what the Houston Astros have had going over the past seven years. However, it will be no small task. And I imagine one that he is looking forward to beginning.