Astros Say Goodbye to Tal Smith and Ed Wade

GM Tal Smith (L) and Manager Bill Virdon took the Astros to their first National League Post-Season Games and Championship Series in 1980.The 'Stros came oh-so-close.

As a public figure, Tal Smith is both a baseball gentleman and a historian scholar of the game as it is best played by winning clubs. He knows the people (past, present, and prospective), the skills they differentially need to possess for success, and he understands the strategies involved in building a club around pitching, power slugging versus station to station hitting, and defense. He also know Houston and the climate and temperament of the local fans.

Over the weekend, however, Astros President Tal Smith and Astros General Manager Ed Wade ran into something their years of successful time in the baseball administrative saddle could not spare them. New club owner Jim Crane wants a clean sweep and change to his own way of doing things and Sunday he terminated both men from their long time positions.

Baseball people expect this sort of thing to come down upon them eventually. And Tal Smith, who has been with the Astros in some capacity almost from the very literal start of the franchise in 1962, has felt the local bite of termination previously. Back in 1980, when the Astros were just coming off from their one-game-away-miss flirtation with the National League pennant, then owner John McMullen fired Tal as Astros GM in days after season’s end, without ever clarifying his reasons for separating the brain power behind the talent drive that put Houston’s success as a winner on the baseball map behind a wonderful field manager named Bill Virdon. Sometimes baseball club owners don’t even need a drum to show that they are now marching to a different beat. They just beat up on the those with familiar identities and faces in the name of change for change’s sake.

Such seems to be the present fate of both Smith and Wade. I don’t know Ed Wade beyond the speaking acquaintance stage, but I felt he did a good job accomplishing what former owner Drayton McLane, Jr. wanted in peeling back the aging payroll and getting improvement in scouting and minor league talent started in the right turning-around direction, but I can also understand how new owner Crane might now want a new GM as his fresh face on change. I’m also sure that Ed Wade will land on his feet somewhere.

Tal Smith is flanked by former Astros Cesar Cedeno (L) and Enos Cabell (R) at the 2007 Induction Banquet for the Texas Baseball Hall of Fame. (Photo by Bill McCurdy.)

Several adequate biographies on Tal Smith and Ed Wade are available on line. Just Google their names and pick one out.

My own enjoyment of Tal Smith’s company has been on the quiet e-mail exchange side of stories about players and strategies from earlier eras. My personal appreciation of the man also extends to the roles he played in building winning baseball into the Houston commitment and his relevantly keen ability for assessing the kind of talent that will be needed five years down the road on the roster that exists now. Tal Smith is just one of those baseball guys who understands the dynamic of aging when it comes to meting out multi-year contracts for big bucks. As Astros fans, we can only hope that the Smith-Wade successors will also be talented in that same direction.

Tal's Hill at Minute Maid Park was constructed as a quirky reminder of the outfield hilll that once existed at old Crosley Field in Cincinnati. (Photo by Bill McCurdy.)

Tal Smith also was the principal baseball executive involved in the design of both the Astrodome and the venue we now know as Minute Maid Park. With the former, Tal had to deal with the unexpected visual problems created by the original clear roof and the painting of these panes that killed the grass and created the need for “Astroturf.” With Minute Maid Park, Tal’s vision and creativity crawls all over everything from Tal’s Hill to the Crawford Boxes to the sweet retro look of the ballpark’s architecture.

Tal, we wish you well with whatever you choose to do now through Tal Smith Enterprises. Just know that we longtime fans are aware that any success the Astros now have will be building upon the foundation for achievement that you have been planking into place in Houston for nearly a half century.

Thanks for the memories and good luck, old friend!

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4 Responses to “Astros Say Goodbye to Tal Smith and Ed Wade”

  1. Shirley Virdon Says:

    Bill, thank you for putting into words the many talents that Tal possesses——–unfortunately, in baseball today, that talent only counts if you are lucky enough to mold a champion on a budget with which even a “wall street genius” would struggle!

    Tal will be just fine———just as he was after the 1980 fiasco! As the old saying goes: “The cream always rises to the top!”——-and I believe it will this time also. I’m sorry Mr. Crane isn’t aware of what talent he had available ———that kind of loyalty and talent doesn’t come in the same package very often!

  2. Tim Gregg Says:

    Major League Baseball would be well served to retain Tal Smith’s services, if only to ensure dignity and decorum remain a part of the game.

    He’s truly a treasure and an institution.

  3. Stan Ludwick Says:

    Tal,

    You were considered a true friend of both Ralph and Evelyn Ludwick
    and “Doc” Brelsford. I am writing this to let you know I have followed your career with the Astros and I wish to let you know how much I, and my family. appreciate what you have done over the years for the Houston Astros and the fans of the franchise. I hated to see you go out this way and just wanted to wish you the very best in whatever you do. In my estimation you were the best GM the franchise ever had and I know you had the Astros best interest at heart at every turn….Good luck and God bless.

  4. Mark Wernick Says:

    Bill, this is a bittersweet moment for me. The sweet comes in the opportunity to celebrate an extraordinary career. The bitter is that I’d prefer Tal Smith had left when he was ready to leave. I was 14 years old when I obtained my first Houston Colt .45s year book, where Tal is featured as the team’s farm director. Many people may not remember that the team’s first GM wasn’t Paul Richards, it was Gabe Paul, and Tal Smith was a Gabe Paul man. Very few of Paul’s people survived his abrupt split with Roy Hofheinz in 1961. It’s a testimonial to Tal Smith’s competence and staying power that he endured all these decades, with but a brief stint with George Steinbrenner and the Yankees interrupting his 50+ years as a Colt .45/Astro legend. I always felt a sense of reassurance knowing he was around as a steadying hand of historical continuity in our team’s identity. I suspect in 2013 this team will be unrecognizable to me. Tal, I wish you well in whatever direction you choose to go next.

    And speaking of Bill Virdon, I have a question for him which I hope his wife Shirley, who I’ve observed follows this blog, might pass along to him for me. Today for the first time, I discovered that Bill Virdon’s playing career seemed to end after the 1965 season – EXCEPT for 6 games and three plate appearances in 1968. That’s right, after a 2-year absence from the game, Bill Virdon came to bat three times in 1968, and he went 1-for-3 in those three at-bats. His lone hit was a homerun!

    I can fill in a few details from Retrosheet:

    The game was against Cincinnati on July 23rd 1968. The Pirates trailed the Reds 5-3 going into the bottom of the ninth. With one out and Jose Pagan on base via a walk, Bill Virdon pinch-hit for Dock Ellis and hit a 2-run homer off Ted Abernathy to tie the game, which the Pirates eventually lost in extra innings.

    http://www.retrosheet.org/boxesetc/1968/B07230PIT1968.htm

    I very much would love to hear the story behind those three 1968 at-bats. How did Bill’s activation again as a player come about, and why was it so brief?

    I might add, his last full season, 1965, seems to have been an excellent season. Why retire after such a good year, at the relatively young age of 34?

    Many thanks for any answers to my questions Mr. Virdon may choose to offer.

    Mark Wernick

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