Brad Mills is finally getting his chance to run a big-league team.
The 52-year-old Mills was hired by Houston on Tuesday after six seasons as Terry Francona's bench coach in Boston. He'll manage in the majors for the first time, though he's managed a total of 11 seasons in the minors, with affiliates for the Chicago Cubs (1987-92), Colorado Rockies (1993-96) and Los Angeles Dodgers (2002).
"One thing that I'm going to bring in is a freshness, being with a champion and bringing that freshness in," Mills said. "It's a fresh voice, it's a new voice."
General manager Ed Wade said Mills agreed to a two-year contract, with a team option for the third. The Astros made an offer to former Nationals manager Manny Acta over the weekend, but Acta took the Cleveland Indians' job instead.
Mills, interviewed by the team for the third time on Tuesday, set aside the notion that he was the Astros' second choice.
"I'm going to move on from that," Mills said. "I have to do what I think is best, and this opportunity is very good opportunity. I'm not talking about just to be a manager. To be in this organization is very special."
Houston owner Drayton McLane spoke with Francona about Mills by phone on Sunday. Francona said Mills practically ran the Red Sox at times, allaying McLane's concerns about his lack of major-league managing experience.
"He said, 'I have given Brad more responsibility than I have ever seen a bench coach have,'" McLane said. "He totally runs spring training and he handles most of the communication with the players. Terry said he's been the assistant manager and has gathered all the necessary experience."
The Astros fired Cecil Cooper on Sept 21. Third-base coach Dave Clark served as interim manager for the final 13 games and Houston finished 74-88. Clark was one of 10 candidates to interview for the full-time position, and he spoke for a second time with the team on Tuesday.
Clark was guaranteed a position on next year's staff if he was not hired as the full-time manager, and Wade said Clark will return as Houston's third-base coach.
Mills sold the Astros with his emphasis on communicating with players, a problem in the clubhouse when Cooper was manager.
"He talked a lot about respect, that you gain the respect of the players," Wade said. "He's not saying, 'These are the new rules, there's a new sheriff in town.' His approach is, 'We're going to be consistent, they're going to know what the plan is, they're going to know what the expectations are. They're going to know that we respect them, and treat them as individuals for the collective good of the club.'"
Mills served as the Philadelphia Phillies' first-base coach from 1997-2000, when Francona was the manager. Wade was the Phillies' GM from 1998-2005 _ and he fired Francona, Mills and three other coaches.
After leaving the Phillies, Mills served as an advance scout for the Cubs (2001) and was the bench coach in Montreal in 2003. The Red Sox hired him in January 2004.
Wade made an impassioned plea for Mills to McLane and other team executives.
"This is guy that fits for us, this is my choice," Wade said. "When you take into consideration everything that you have to do, I think Millsey fits the bill perfectly."
Mills has plenty of work to do. The Astros have endured two losing seasons in the four years since reaching the World Series in 2005, and Mills is the fourth manager hired since the middle of the 2004 season.
McLane is hoping Mills brings some stability.
"That was one of the ingredients we saw," McLane said. "He's a young man, as far as a manager candidate is and he can relate to players. I think he's going to have a long, successful tenure."
Houston was 49-46 on July 22, one game out of first place in the NL Central, then lost 42 of their last 67 games as the starting pitching deteriorated.
The offense was also subpar, ranking 27th in runs scored (3.97 per game) and 25th in on-base percentage (.319).
Mills said he'll leave the offseason roster moves to Wade. His work will start at spring training, where he'll stress preparation and cohesiveness.
"Everybody on the ballclub is important, and we're going to communicate with all of them," Mills said. "We're going to start from day one working together and playing the game solidly and in a winning way. That's what we're going to do."