Dana Brown to take over as GM of the Houston Astros, a well-earned but dubious honor
In joining the reigning champions, Brown becomes MLB's only Black GM
Dana Brown, who leaves an Atlanta Braves organization stocked with young talent after four years as vice president of scouting, has earned the surprisingly dubious honor of overseeing the baseball operations department for the reigning champions. By taking the job with the Houston Astros, he joins White Sox executive vice president Ken Williams as the only Black heads of baseball ops in MLB.
After 75 days without a general manager and just a few weeks before spring training camps open, the Astros hired Brown to replace James Click. Almost exactly three years ago, Click was hired to replace Jeff Luhnow, who was fired following the commissioner’s report about the Astros’ sign-stealing in 2017. The team was coming off a year in which they fell one game short of another championship — which is to say they were already a dominant force, a budding dynasty, albeit one about to face a new kind of challenge as the most hated team in baseball.
Under Click, the winning continued: an ALCS appearance in 2020, a pennant in 2021, a World Series victory (which might or might not have proven something about their capacity for clean success) in 2022. But by the time the confetti rained down in early November, Click’s contract had already run out, and rumors abounded about a rift between Click and Astros team owner Jim Crane. Negotiations for a new contract fell apart shortly after the season ended; evidently even a championship ring did little to engender loyalty to the deliberative, analytically minded man who led the team through an era of intense public vitriol and a pandemic.
Hence: Dubious. Brown enters a role in which job security is contingent not on results but on his relationship with Crane.
Still, the opportunity to lead a preeminent franchise is certainly well-deserved.
Brown, 55, has been a scouting supervisor for the Pittsburgh Pirates, a scouting director for the Expos-turned-Nationals and special assistant to the general manager with the Toronto Blue Jays. Most recently, he oversaw an era of drafting in Atlanta that netted, among other promising prospects, last year’s National League Rookie of the Year award winner, Michael Harris II, and the runner-up, Spencer Strider. Under GM Alex Anthopoulos, whom Brown worked with in Toronto as well, the Braves have built sustainable success through deftly identifying promising players and signing them to long-term contracts early in their careers.
The Astros, meanwhile, have explicitly prioritized not necessarily retaining key contributors but, rather, building a pipeline of endless replacements. Both approaches have proven effective in recent seasons as Atlanta won a title of its own in 2021.
With Brown in the front office and Dusty Baker, who agreed to a one-year contract earlier this offseason, at the helm in the dugout, baseball’s current top team is run by Black men — and that stands in stark contrast to the rest of the sport. Baker and the Los Angeles Dodgers’ Dave Roberts are the only Black managers. At the GM level, Brown stands alone.
At the 2021 general manager meetings, Williams gave an impromptu and impassioned condemnation of the lack of diversity in the upper echelon of team executives. At the time, he said he would not seek another contract when his current one runs out, citing his “dismay with the industry I’ve given my life to not valuing people that look like me enough.”
Commissioner Rob Manfred was asked about the lack of diversity during the 2022 World Series, which featured no American-born Black players for the first time since 1950.
“We continue to work hard with our pipeline program to identify candidates that we can present to the clubs that provide them a choice in terms of diversity,” Manfred said. “We are adding new programs all the time in this area to make sure that we have great candidates. At the end of the day, they’re individual club decisions.”
The World Series Champions will now have a Black manager in Dusty Baker and a Black GM in Dana Brown.
A rare combo in professional sports. https://t.co/Saa4n0l8E2
— Chancellor Johnson (@ChancellorTV) January 26, 2023
The lack of Black players on the field reflects waning interest in baseball among young Black athletes in this country, but Williams was identifying a different issue: the lack of upward mobility for people of color within the sport. As executives get younger and more likely to come from unconventional professional backgrounds outside of baseball, a double-standard has emerged. White men are promoted quickly if they show promise, while women and people of color struggle to overcome their lack of experience.
In this way, Brown — who played professionally and spent decades working in baseball while establishing himself as an expert evaluator for a thoroughly modern front office before getting his first opportunity to lead a team — represents the kind of unicorn that it takes to reverse, or at least buck, these trends. For now, anyway.
Crane has indicated in the past that he felt rushed to appoint someone after Luhnow. The commissioner’s report detailing the Astros’ sign-stealing violations was released on Jan. 13, 2020; Click was hired less than a month later.
So perhaps it stands to reason that earlier this week, he addressed the vacancy by saying, “We’ll take our time and get it right.”
But Click’s effective dismissal was something Crane could’ve seen coming, considering he engineered it. Rather than act expediently to install a better fit for whatever vision he had for the role, Crane seemed content to conduct most of the offseason himself, reportedly spearheading free-agent signings this winter while letting former player Jeff Bagwell act as the face of the front office in media conferences.
That puts Brown in something of a strange position, rushing to get up to speed on a team built entirely without his input.
The Astros, who won 106 games last year and have since added José Abreu, are going to be good again this season. It remains to be seen whether Brown will be given a real opportunity to make them good in his own way.
Follow Yahoo Sports' Hannah Keyser on Twitter @HannahRKeyser.