Hiring people of color has been a vexing problem for M.L.B., which has pipeline programs to encourage diversity but cannot demand specific hires by its teams. Brown said he always sensed a sincerity from Selig and his successor, Rob Manfred, who reassured Brown after his impressive, but unsuccessful, interview with Seattle and congratulated him after his hiring in Houston.
“To be able to hug Manfred and say, ‘Hey, you were right,’ it was unbelievable,” Brown said. “So you don’t take it lightly because you know there were people throughout your career who were pulling for you, and kept reminding you that, ‘Hey, there’s an opportunity coming.’ And then when you get the opportunity, it’s like: ‘OK, it’s time to roll. It’s time to use everything that I’ve learned and apply it.’”
Brown’s final flourish in Atlanta was an owner’s dream: Not only did he draft center fielder Michael Harris II and starter Spencer Strider, who finished first and second in National League voting for the Rookie of the Year Award last season, but both players signed long-term contract extensions.
The skill to find talent and keep it will determine Brown’s legacy with the Astros. He has already spearheaded a long-term deal for starter Cristian Javier (five years, $64 million), and said he plans to be in contact with Scott Boras, the agent for the cornerstone infielders Jose Altuve and Alex Bregman. Those players can be free agents after 2024, with outfielder Kyle Tucker and starter Framber Valdez eligible the following year.
Player development has been critical for the Astros, who have lost stars to free agency — George Springer, Carlos Correa, Gerrit Cole — but replaced them with high-impact prospects. But as part of their punishment for the sign-stealing scandal, the Astros were stripped of their top two draft picks in 2020 and 2021.
If the team withers in the coming years, the loss of those players — whoever they might have been — could be an important reason. In that case, Brown understands, the blame will fall to him. His mandate, his path to a happy retirement, is to make sure that never happens.
“People are not going to do the digging and the homework and say, ‘Well, it wasn’t him, there was this gap,’” Brown said. “They’re just going to say: ‘Oh, you had a good team, and then the team fell down. What happened?’ So I have to fill that gap but without complaint — which I’m fine with. I’ll take the challenge.”