Assistant Purpura takes over immediately

Updated: November 2, 2004, 1:30 PM ET
Associated Press

HOUSTON -- Tim Purpura has wanted to be a general manager for over a decade. He never expected to get the job, at least not so soon and not in Houston.

When Gerry Hunsicker resigned as GM of the Houston Astros on Monday, Purpura immediately assumed the position vacated by the man who was the architect of five playoff teams in nine years.

Purpura, 45, worked under Hunsicker in each of those seasons, never guessing that his boss would leave after one of the most successful stretches in franchise history.

"I have very large shoes to fill," said Purpura, who was Hunsicker's assistant and the team's director of player development. "Realistically, I thought I'd have to go somewhere else to have this kind of opportunity."

Hunsicker, 53, resigned less than two weeks after the team came within one win of reaching the World Series for the first time. He plans to remain with the Astros as an adviser through next season.

"I will look with pride at what we have accomplished," Hunsicker said. "We almost got there, and I know we are going to get there real soon."

Hunsicker came to the Astros in 1995 from the New York Mets, where he was the No. 2 person in baseball operations. He previously worked with the Astros as traveling secretary, minor league pitching coach, scout and assistant to the general manager.

During his tenure, Hunsicker earned acclaim for consistently keeping the Astros competitive despite their budget constraints in a medium-sized market.

Hunsicker's clubs won four NL Central Division titles and finished second three times, including this past season. He might have done his best job this year, signing Andy Pettitte away from the New York Yankees and luring another Yankees starter, Roger Clemens, out of retirement to join his buddy.

When the Astros went into a midseason slump, Hunsicker swung a trade for All-Star center fielder Carlos Beltran and fired manager Jimy Williams. He turned to Phil Garner, who had been out of baseball for two years after spending 10 seasons managing terrible teams in Milwaukee and Detroit.

The move worked. Houston reeled off 36 wins in the final 46 games to clinch the NL wild card, beat Atlanta to win a playoff series for the first time in club history and came a few outs from knocking off St. Louis in the NLCS.

"Gerry did an excellent job this season," Astros owner Drayton McLane said. "He's one of the best in the game at what he does."

But Hunsicker had been considering a life without baseball, if only briefly. He had one year remaining on his contract and said the subject of a contract extension came up last week in a meeting with McLane.

"I told them at the start of that meeting that next year would be my 10th year and that was a long time staying in one place," Hunsicker said.

He wasn't interested in an extension and said that Purpura was ready to assume the top job.

"He has got the ability," Hunsicker said. "He is willing to take on this challenge. He is just waiting for the opportunity."

Purpura has been in the Astros organization for 11 years, including stints as assistant director of minor league operations and director of player relations. Now he's on top.

"I had no idea something like this might happen," he said. "When I was told, I was absolutely blown away."

He joined Houston after spending two seasons on the staff of the Arizona Fall League. He also was an assistant in player development with the California Angels and headed special projects for the San Diego Padres' minor league department.

Over the years, Purpura interviewed for general manager jobs with Anaheim, Pittsburgh and Cincinnati. But he always held out a slim hope that he might get a chance to take over when Hunsicker left.

"In my heart, this is where I always wanted to be," Purpura said. "It all comes down to me wanting to be an Astro."

But now comes the hard part. The Astros face an offseason full of tough decisions, with most moves contingent on convincing Beltran to stay in Houston.

Beltran is perhaps baseball's most coveted free agent after a huge postseason in which he hit .435 with a league record-tying eight homers, 14 RBI and 21 runs scored in 12 games. Only a handful of teams will be able to afford Beltran's soaring price tag -- the Yankees likely chief among his suitors.

"We're going to continue our pursuit of Carlos as judiciously as we can," Purpura said.

The Astros will also likely make a decision soon on whether to retain Garner, who was given a contract only to the end of the season after taking over at the All-Star break. Garner, who was conspicuously absent during the hastily called news conference, met with team officials later in afternoon.

"I've met with the club ... it was a scheduled meeting," Garner said. Hunsicker's resignation was "somewhat rather unexpected. But I've known Tim for a lot of years, and in some respects, I knew him better than Gerry when I first got here."

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press