Some Thoughts on The New Astros HOF

Pecan Park Eagles
Colored our skies
We never played a game there,
We didn’t idolize.

 

What’s Important to Remember during this Astros HOF Start Year 2019?

This is a time of opportunity ~ a time to start pulling together the hodge-podge ways people have been honored by the club in the past, as is the way these things normally go everywhere, and to replace or clarify them relative to a new and more dynamic system that fairly outlines ~ in a firm but growing way ~ how people shall be honored in this Hall of Fame that portrays the accomplishment of individuals who have contributed to the greatness of the Houston Astros over the years ~ hopefully, from the beginning through today.

Without the goal of building this picture of what the club wants the HOF to be, selecting inductees will only be easy in the early years. Once the easy picks of popular, accomplished Astros players is exhausted, and if there is no growing system in place, the selection committee will devolve into a political process that may be guided more by the agility, knowledge, and power of the members supporting each candidate. And that’s why, at least, the concept of a system for searching the width and depth of people in the data base is needed as the framework dancing in everyone’s heads as early as possible.

This year’s class as an example: The 2019 inductees are as follows: Bob Aspromonte, Jeff Bagwell, Craig Biggio, Jose Cruz, Larry Dierker, Gene Elston, Milo Hamilton, Joe Morgan, Joe Niekro, Shane Reynolds, J.R. Richard, Nolan Ryan, Mike Scott, Jim Umbricht, Don Wilson and Jimmy Wynn.

What does the list communicate? Several things:

(1) 12 of the 14 inductees were very good to excellent well-known and popular Astro ballplayers;

(2) 4 of these 12 players were already members of the Cooperstown Hall, but only 2 of these were lifelong Astros;

(3) All 9 of the Astros whose numbers have been retired were inducted; and,

(4) 2 “Voice of the Astros” media announcers were also selected.

The 2019 selections impress!

The initial number inducted is high, but it almost had to be. It also may have helped the club deal with a long and thorny problem. ~ The Jim Umbricht #32 retirement. When two-Astro-season pitcher Umbricht (1962-63) died of cancer in April 1964, the young franchise and all of its fans were deeply shocked and grieved. The club administrative culture reacted by making his #32 uniform the first such number to be retired as our salute goodbye. So with it came the fact that his small performance numbers in two brief seasons had nothing to do with making him deserving of the honor as a player. He was simply a very decent and beloved young man who died way too young and his shocking early death was going to be memorialized in a way that usually goes to performance on the field.

The Umbricht #32 number retirement also underscores what happens when permanent decisions are made from an emotionally based occurrence. Three years later, in 1967, when former short-term Astro Walter Bond died of cancer as a member of the Minnesota Twins, there were a few murmurs of support in Houston for retiring his former Astros # too. ~ Cooler heads prevailed ~ and it didn’t happen, but it still shows the power of precedent when there is no system of guidance in place.

System Building Questions to Resolve: 

This may be the best time for the Astros to decide, if they haven’t already, about future player number retirements and the inscription of player names in the sidewalks of Minute Maid Park:

(1) Should the Astros stop retiring numbers? Or should they keep up the practice and allow it to be an automatic ticket into the Astros Hall of Fame?

(2) Should the Astros keep adding names to the Astros Walk of Fame on the sidewalks? If so, does that action  mean that those people are going into the Astros Hall of Fame Alley inside the ballpark too?

Start Compiling Candidate Lists:

For future consideration by the Selection Committee, start compiling lists of potential candidates by their category of performance. These may come from any source involved in the selection process ~ and they may be as open or closed as the Astros will allow them to be ~ as long as the nominating party tries to include how each new name fits into the developing set of standards that are also evolving for induction candidates.

So, what kind of people should the Selection Committee be looking for?

First, The Players:

(1) The No-Brainers: Players who made the Baseball Hall of Fame, completely or mostly, as Astros;

(2) Players who had very good careers, completely or mostly, as Astros;

(3) Players who established significant records in baseball as Astros, even for a single season;

(4) Players whose presence on the team were the sine qua non factor for the Astros in a championship season;

(5) Players whose good careers on the field were over-shadowed by their contributions to social causes enriching our quality of life in the greater Houston community. This fifth entry applies to all persons qualified as candidates for the Astros Hall of Fame.

Second, The Owners: These people are the ones whose very different blends of leadership, energy and passion for the game move so fast on necessary actions that they rarely, if ever, stop to hear the question, “What have you done for us lately?” ~ Does the name Judge Roy Hofheinz ~ and bringing MLB to Houston ~ and building the first indoor AC-cooled baseball stadium ~ and naming it The Astrodome ~ and then proclaiming it “The Eighth Wonder of the World” ring any Quasimodos? These people are the masters of logistics as a tool of purpose ~ and not the other way around. ~ And how is it that a huge success in the field of logistics, Jim Crane, moves into MLB ownership with the Astros and moves right away into a straight short term bulls eye shot as the club captures the 2017 World Series after decades of trial and disappointment?

Third, The Presidents: These folks are called upon to pull an entire organization into winged flight to victory, even when the forces in flight sometimes have differing views on which parts of the sky are theirs. ~ The name Tal Smith jumps immediately to mind. ~ Tal was the legacy gift of former MLB executive Gabe Paul, who came to Houston in 1960 as the first Houston General Manager. Paul left Houston only months later, but young Tal Smith remained here for 35 of his 54 career years in baseball, eventually serving the Astros as both their GM and President ~ in a three shift of time involvement that led to Houston’s first successful run at winning baseball in the late 1970s and early 1980s ~ and the club’s first NL pennant and World Series appearance in 2005.

Fourth, The General Managers: All these great ones have to do is identify, sign, nurture and plug in home grown talent over time ~ or else ~ save the money and throw it in with a few prospects to acquire some already dividend-paying star for immediate use. When it works, the GM looks like a magician with a rabbit that he pulls from his hat. ~ Jeff Luhnow was that man in 2017, when the Astros won their first AL pennant, and then took the World Series from the LA Dodgers in seven games.  his hat. ~ Jeff Luhnow pulled out that 2017 rabbit, but it didn’t fool Sports Illustrated. They saw it coming in 2014.

Fifth, The Field Managers:  Think of former Astro managers like Bill Virdon (1975-82), Larry Dierker (1997-01), Phil Garner (2004-2007), and A.J. Hinch (2014-present). ~ All Virdon did was introduce winning baseball to Houston ~ the kind that almost got the Astros to the World Series in 1980. ~ All Dierker did was lead the Astros to the playoffs in four of his five managerial years. ~ All Garner did was actually get the Astros to their first World Series in 2005.

Sixth, Media: Gene Elston and Milo Hamilton, both Ford Frick Award winners at Cooperstown, were no brainers this time, but their inductions should not be perceived as an automatic media inductee every year. Inducting a media person every year is a disservice to the goal of basically honoring the players and reducing an annual media induction to being something that becomes more of a resume aspiration than a reward for exceptional Astro service on a level equivalent to the work of players ~ which they were not. The only one out there in my book that now that strongly qualifies as a media candidate is retired 30-year TV play-by-play guy, Bill Brown, and he was one of the best ever. Brown’s just a matter of time. ~ How much time? ~ You guys and the Astros have to decide.

That’s it. ~ Coaches, Scouts, Other Administrators, and Support Personnel need to be honored in some appropriate other way. As I see it, the Astros Hall of Fame primarily should aim at honoring the players and the key people who serve as the driving force of ownership, top level administration and management of the product on the field from the franchise’s inception (two years prior to its first season of play) to the present time: (1960-2019).

Doing this kind of job intelligently and passionately is a longtime time love of mine. So, please feel free to contact me if I’ve said anything of interest that needs clarification. I will be happy to respond as best I am able ~ without any need for credit or further invitation for inclusion in the official selection committee business. I’m just an elder Houston fan who would like to see the job done right.

And look! ~ I don’t even own an axe grinder. ~ You guys don’t need me to build this Hall right. I just didn’t think it would hurt you to hear from me. Fact is ~ you don’t even need to read or remember a single word I’ve expressed here today. I just needed to write them. And this being my home turf at The Pecan Park Eagle, well, … you know how that goes. ~ I bought into “why not say them here.”

The Bottom Line:

The Houston Astros deserve a Hall of Fame that rises ~ and remains over time ~ above the pale of petty personal politics. Set it up to succeed as a “see to shining see” walk for fans at Minute Maid Park of all the key players and other people over time who’ve really and truly made the entire history of the Houston Astros a local fan’s joy to behold and embrace!

1. Who Dat

That’s me, Bill McCurdy, on the right, with the late Cardinal and last Houston Buffs owner, Marty Marion, in 2003 at a meeting in St. Louis of the St. Louis Browns Fan Club. I was a Browns fan as a kid in Houston. Marion also was the last manager of the Browns in 1953.

Regards,

Dr. Bill McCurdy

Former Board Chair/Executive Director

Texas Baseball Hall of Fame

2004-2008

houston.buff37@gmail.com

713.823.4864

******************************

 

Bill McCurdy

Principal Writer, Editor, Publisher

 

 

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2 Responses to “Some Thoughts on The New Astros HOF”

  1. Mike McCroskey Says:

    My very first baseball glove was a Rawlings Marty Marion autograph glove. I think I was about 6 or 7.
    As to the Astros Hall of Fame, I have two words: Cesar Cedeno. If you ever saw him play, you would know why.

  2. Larry Dierker Says:

    Very good summary Bill. You may have noticed the number 17 has not been worn since Lance Berkman retired. Given this year’s crop of inductees, I suppose he still has a chance.

    Solly Hemus felt that Marty Marion was a better shortstop than Phil Rizzuto.

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