LAS VEGAS — Maybe Astros owner Jim Crane should wear his new World Series ring on his middle finger.
That’s what he might as well be extending to two of the men who procured him the jewelry. Some 67 hours after Houston won its second championship, its first since perhaps the greatest scandal in the history of the sport threatened to bring down the organization entirely, general manager James Click stood before a dozen reporters at the general managers’ meetings and asked forlornly whether anyone wanted to ask him any questions about baseball.
No one did, because Crane could not be bothered to treat his highest-ranking employees like human beings. Instead he left Click, 44, and manager Dusty Baker, 73, to spend months answering questions about their contract status. (Not just from reporters, either: Their peers are just as curious as anyone else.)
Crane, 68, respected these men enough to hire them in early 2020, shortly after firing their predecessors in the wake of the sign-stealing scandal that has marred the franchise ever since it was revealed a few months earlier. Since then, all they have done is won the most games in the American League and made three straight trips to the American League Championship Series and two straight to the World Series, culminating in Saturday’s resounding triumph, when they beat the Phillies in six games to complete a dominant 11–2 run through the playoffs.
But both Click and Baker worked this season knowing their contracts would expire on Oct. 31—meaning they were technically at-will employees for the last four games of the World Series—and they worked this season knowing their boss did not care enough about them or their families to address their status. Yes, Click and Baker inherited a juggernaut from former GM Jeff Luhnow and former manager A.J. Hinch. They did not screw it up, and indeed improved it in some ways, both on-field and off. The players rave about the new leadership, and it’s hard to argue with the results.
DAILY COVER: Former Astros GM Jeff Luhnow’s Next Act: Soccer
Crane reportedly offered Baker a one-year deal on Tuesday, a flatly insulting offer for a manager whose Hall of Fame induction has only been delayed because he keeps winning. In any event, Baker appears poised to accept the offer. He told MLB.com on Tuesday, “We’re working on it.” The team said that it has scheduled a press conference for noon on Wednesday. A spokesman declined to comment on what it would announce or who would announce it.
Click will not be there. “I am planning to be here, trying to put together a team for next year,” he said Tuesday. It doesn’t sound like he’s invited, anyway; he found out about the press conference barely before the world did. He said Crane had only initiated discussions about his contract status in the roughly three hours between when they climbed off the parade float and when Click boarded his flight for Las Vegas. He declined to address whether he approached Crane during the season about an extension.
You might wonder what else a man has to prove after shepherding a team through the aftermath of a scandal and helping restore it to something resembling glory. Maybe Click wonders that, too. All he would say is, “That’s a question for somebody else.”
He also declined to address whether he thought it was fair that he had to endure this speculation.
“This is the timetable that the organization has decided, and I’ll abide by that,” he said.
His peers are less tolerant. They are reluctant to comment on another organization, many of them said on Tuesday, but Click is highly regarded and well-liked, and also, in case you forgot, he just won the World Series.
“He deserves a big [contract],” said one. “He’s obviously a world champion, and that’s what everybody else is aspiring to be.”
Most of them probably imagine that status might come with some security for themselves and their families. Click is married with two young children. (Among the awkward situations he has navigated since leaving the Rays and joining the Astros: His younger son, Nate, is a classmate and close friend of Luhnow’s son Henry.) “My family is very happy in Houston,” Click said Tuesday. “We’ve settled in.”
So, surely, have the other people who work for him. This year Click brought in Andrew Ball and Scott Powers as assistant GMs, and he has beefed up the scouting staff. This uncertainty must be painful enough for Click, who is thought to have made at least $1 million annually as GM; imagine the financial strain for the people making $60,000 per year who wonder if their jobs will still be there under a new boss.
If Crane wants to fire Click, that is his prerogative. The Astros were good before Click arrived and they’ll be good after he’s gone. But what is the possible point of hanging him out to dry like this, other than to watch him twist?
A team spokesman said that Crane would not comment on his treatment of his employees. In the end, unfortunately, Crane can treat them however he likes. The worst part of all this is that this job remains appealing should Click vacate it. Even operating under Crane is a chance to operate a baseball team. There are only 30 of these positions. Someone will take it.
But it doesn’t have to be Click. Come to think of it, maybe Click should be the one wearing that ring on his middle finger. He can show it to Crane on his way out the door.
More World Series Coverage:
• The Five Best Free Agency Fits for Aaron Judge
• The Astros Are World Series Champions—No Asterisk Needed
• The Batting Cage Session That Won the Astros a Title
• Verlander Completes Epic Comeback Year With First World Series Win
• How Alex Bregman Found His Footing and Started Raking Again