Berry became “a victim of circumstances” as the offense sputtered this season, general manager Ed Wade said. He believes the offense can do more and hopes Bagwell helps that happen.
“We know we can get better, but we also know there are players here that should be better and hopefully with a different voice in Jeff Bagwell, they’ll recognize the measure of accountability that they have in this whole process so we will get better,” Wade said.
Bagwell had been thinking about what his next challenge would be when Wade approached him about the position.
“There comes a point in time where you realize you have to do something and that your life has to go on,” Bagwell said. “I’m 42 years old and it’s time for me to do something else. This is what I know. I know baseball. Hopefully we’re going to find out in a couple of months that I know a little about hitting too.”
The move gives Houston hitters a chance to work with one of the most beloved and successful players in franchise history.
In 15 seasons with the Astros, the former first baseman set club records with 449 home runs and 1,529 RBIs. Bagwell was the National League rookie of the year in 1991, the NL’s MVP in 1994 and a four-time All-Star.
Berry, who has been the hitting coach the past five seasons, was given a chance to remain with the franchise in a development role. He hadn’t decided if he’ll accept that opportunity.
Bagwell hasn’t been promised anything past this season and said the remainder of this year will be a sort of test for him.
“This is 2 1/2 months to see if I’m any good at it, can I get some results out of these guys and ultimately is this something that I want to do full time,” he said.
Wade knows great players don’t necessarily make good coaches, but believes Bagwell will be successful after what he’s shown working with the team as special assistant to the general manager since retiring in 2006.
“He’s very levelheaded,” Wade said. “He communicates very well, particularly with regard to the nuances of the game. We’ve seen him have a significant impact on some of our minor league hitters with the information he’s able to convey. So he’s got the interest and the passion in doing this and we think it’s appropriate to give him the opportunity to see if it works or not.”
Bagwell was not in uniform for Sunday’s game against the Cardinals and will join the team Thursday in Pittsburgh for a workout. Houston starts the second half on Friday.
“Fans love Bagwell, so that’s the first thing. He’s a legend here,” center fielder Michael Bourn said. “(He) did a lot of damage here, so of course he knows how to hit.”
The Astros entered Sunday’s game with the second-worst batting average in the majors (.237), the worst on-base percentage (.295) and tied for 28th with just 57 home runs. Only Seattle and Pittsburgh have fewer hits than the 691 that Houston has managed this year.
“This is going to be interesting,” Bagwell said. “I’m going to give it everything I’ve got. I’m going to try to prepare the guys the best I can so that when they get in that batter’s box, they have the best opportunity to succeed.”
Star slugger Lance Berkman entered Sunday’s game hitting .252 and cleanup hitter Carlos Lee is batting .238. Each has 12 home runs. Second baseman Jeff Keppinger has the best average in Houston’s starting lineup at .279.
Berkman said it stings to know the struggles of the offense cost Berry his job.
“I haven’t hit and Carlos hasn’t hit like he can and others haven’t and it’s not Sean’s fault,” Berkman said. “It’s one of those things that when things aren’t going well with the players, you have to shake something up and the most expendable pieces a lot of times are the coaching staff.”
Though he was disappointed to see Berry leave, Berkman looks forward to working with Bagwell.
“Jeff has always been one of my mentors in the game and I’m excited that he’s going to be around more,” Berkman said. “I told him (Saturday) that he helps me more than anybody even when he’s not around just from all the things that he told me during the time that we played together. So it will be great to have him around and have his expertise available.”