Posts Tagged ‘Houston Astros’

Astros Turn Up Heat on Interchangeable Parts View of Game

January 4, 2012

In Modern Times, Charlie Chaplin played one of our first decision-making scientists.

It figures that new Astros General Manager Jeff Luhnow and the club’s new “Director of Decision Sciences,” Sig Mejdal, are both trained engineers by academic training. You see, this newly identified field of “Decision Sciences”  is all about organizing all usable information into comparable variables and measurable patterns in all areas of the team’s organizable decision-making. Think of it as “Money Ball” or “Billy (Beane) Ball” to the nth degree – a structure which brings the design concept of interchangeable parts down to even such specifics as “how does the presence of staff who steal paper clips and post-em pads effect the overall goal of the club’s financial stability and morale for reaching the World Series.

Perhaps, I reach too far on that last one, but that’s how measurable systems go. When they succeed on the gross level of things, it becomes the property of their nature and the impulse of the egos of those who run and build them to look for new objective credit-dispersing areas to measure.

Given the logistics-driven background of new Astros club owner Jim Crane, it is not surprising that he and his on-site alter ego, CEO George Postolos would put themselves shoulder and wheel behind this fairly new to baseball approach way of doing things. I don’t have any problem with them trying to do these things beyond the one element that was never fully developed and explored in the Brad Pitts movie version of the Money Ball approach – and that one thing does trouble me.

“Money Ball” made the old-time scouts and the player-centered manager, Art Howe, seem like the bad guys for relying too much on hunches and impossible to measure qualities about a player’s heart for winning. If decision science takes things to that extreme, it really won’t matter who wins the World Series. There won’t be anyone around left to really care.

Nevertheless, SABR, the Society for American Baseball Research, stands as an example of how both the engineering and emotively driven narrative elements of architectural interest in the game may co-exist in one organizational form. Some of us in SABR even find ourselves bearing a dual attraction for things that are both measurable and mysterious. It is in the nature of human attraction that we are most magnetized by subjects which continue to mystify us for a lifetime. If not, how else do you honestly explain the fact that so many of us are still married?

Welcome to Houston, Sig Mejdal. Hope this isn’t your first rodeo, but if it is, don’t worry. The Houston version of the real rodeo takes place at another venue far away from Minute Maid Park. No decision scientists need apply.

Astros Say Goodbye to Tal Smith and Ed Wade

November 28, 2011

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!

Jim Crane and the Several Dwarfs

November 7, 2011


Hi Ho!  – Hi Ho!

It’s off – to work we go!

With a rookie here!

And a rookie there!

Hi Ho! – Hi Ho!



Unsure! – Just where!

We’ll hang – our threads with care!

Working old fatigue?

Or a brand new league?

Who knows? – Just where?



We cannot strain – our brain!

To slow  – or fast complain!

Goodbye, McLane!

Hello, Jim Crane!

Please keep – us sane!



Please spend a buck! – Or two!

On our sweet futuroo!

Sign a pitching gnome!

For your nice new home!

Hi Ho! – Hi Ho!

Astros’ McCurdy Coming Along Fine

September 9, 2011

Ryan McCurdy, Catcher

In the middle of all the doubt and distrust generating from the way the delayed sale of the Astros to Jim Crane is working out, the bright spot remains the play of the kids that have been brought up to pay out the end of the 2011 season as the face of the future Houston Astros. Some of these players, like Jose Altuve, J.D. Martinez, and J.B. Shuck, are home-grown Astros products all the way. Others are recent trade-acquired prospects like Jimmy Paredes, Brett Wallace, Mark Melancon, Henry Sosa, and David Carpenter. The Astros had to give up stars like Roy Oswalt, Lance Berkman, Hunter Pence, and Michael Bourn to get these latter new guys, and a few others, like a fellow named “Singleton”, who isn’t here yet, but these energetic and productive young guys are fast becoming our clearer and clearer dream portrait of how successful the future of the Astros can be, if only …. (You fill in the rest of the blanks here for a complete true thought).

One of the babies who isn’t here yet bears a name that’s very familiar to me, so, it’s only natural that I’m quite attracted to the prospect that there may be somebody out there who is capable of taking our family name where I could never bring it. Ryan McCurdy (no relation to anyone here at The Pecan Park Eagle) is the young man out of Duke University whom the Astros signed as a catching prospect during the 2010 season.

Ryan McCurdy hit only .148 in 20 games for Rookie League Greeneville and Class A Tri-City in 2010, but this year, he just finished the 2011 season at Tri-City of NY-PA League with a.328 batting average (33/102) with 6 doubles and 17 RBI. At age 23, he’s now moved up to finish the year on the roster of Lexington in the Class A Sally League.

And who knows? Maybe Mr. Jason Castro will leave a little open space for a second young catcher on some future roster of the Houston Astros? Let’s hope that all our young guys come through so strongly that right decisions on who to keep are the biggest problem facing the club.  By then. let’s hope that the franchise has a clear stable head with deep enough pockets and the business and baseball savvy they will need to lead this train of talent to where the City of Houston wants to go in the fairly near future.

Need I spell out where we want to go with our local efforts in major league baseball? It’s a place we’ve visited once, with a “close, but no cigar” result. Well, all we want is to finally win a few of these battles – and to be in contention every year, more often than not. Is that too much to ask for the 4th largest city in the United States?

My late dad once gave me some advice as a young man about buying cars that I think also applies to major league baseball franchises and just about anything else we pay big bucks to own. Dad Said: “Never buy a car you cannot afford to drive.” 

The application here is obvious: You don’t buy a major league franchise for $680 million dollars, if you cannot afford to run the organization as though it were really worth that much money. Just as you don’t buy a Cadillac to hide in the garage and never drive for the sake of protecting your investment, you don’t buy a major league club to hide away and depreciate in value because you could not afford to drive it to the winner’s circle at the World Series.

If you are the new owner of the Astros, get behind the kids and help them develop as the best team of major leaguers Houston could assemble!

Go Ryan! Go McCurdy! Go All! Go Astros!

2011 Astros: A New Quick Look

August 13, 2011

Mr. Bright Spot, Jose Altuve, started his MLB career a few weeks ago wearing his baseball pants the right way, but now, as I noticed in Friday night's Dodger game, someone or something has caused him to pull the legs down nearly over the shoes like all the other poorly dressed players of this era. Guess he doesn't care that the move to conventional style simply makes him look less like Phil Rizzuto and a whole lot shorter than he really is.

Where do the 2011 Houston Astros stand? Let’s start with the easy stuff.

With a record of 38-81, .319 through the ten inning, 1-0, loss to the Dodgers in LA last night, August 12th, they rest dead last in the NLC, a full 30 games behind division leader Milwaukee and 13 game behinds the next club above them, the Chicago Cubs. – Their record is the worst in MLB, by far, as one of only two clubs that haven’t yet (if ever) won 50 games on the season and the only team that has yet to reach the 40-win mark. The Baltimore Orioles have 45 wins; all others have at least 50 wins to date.

With 43 games left on the schedule, the Astros must now go 43-0 the rest of the way to finish at .500 for the year, an improbability that borders on certainty.Equivalently probable and certain is the guarantee of a losing record season and virtually certain bottom-feeder finish as the worst team in baseball, by record, and most likely too, they will become the first team to be eliminated from pennant contention and wild card qualification.

That being said, the Astros “Kiddie Corps” that now inundates the active roster has shown us some encouraging moments over the past three weeks or so. We would have to be blind not to see the potential of  Jose Altuve at 2nd base, Jimmy Paredes at 3rd base, and J.D. Martinez in left field. Just look at what they’ve done in their very short runs as big league rookies.

Jose Altuve is impossible to ignore. Anyone who goes 29/85 for a .341 average staring out would be. He’s an energized modern version of the old style pepper pot middle infielder that we used to value so highly in the Phil Rizzuto-Pee Wee Reese era. Solly Hemus was our local Buffs version of Altuve back in the late 1940s – and Solly went on from here to do the same thing at the MLB level for both the Cardinals and the Phillies. I see Altuve very much in that same light, but he’s going to have to learn how to draw more walks to get there. He has only two walks next to his 85 official times ay bat and that’s a pattern you don’t want booked in permanent ink in every MLB pitching book on you. Altuve is getting away with it now during this first run through the league, but, if he cannot, or will not, allow more walks, that fact goes into a pitcher’s book as one of the first items on the adjustment list. A pitcher can do  a whole lot with a batter that he knows is not going to walk. Let’s hope that someone in the Astros organization can help Altuve with the walk issue. It could be the difference between a long successful career – and no career at all.

Jimmy Paredes is athletic, quick, and fast – the kind of naturally reflexive performer who always has the potential to excel if he can figure out his own best talents and sharpen them to a high execution rate. I like the fact he switch hits too. Combine that ability with the fact that he also can hit to all fields, drive the ball into the gaps, and also hit with some pop and you may begin to see his small early stat sample as the harbinger of things to come. Hitting .275 (11/40), Paredes’ eleven hits include a double, a triple, and a home run.

J.D. Martinez is hitting only .250 in 13 games (12/24), but his work includes 4 homers, 4 doubles, and 14 RBI _ pretty good power numbers for a young guys starting out. He will need to cut down on the “K”s from his current rate of 11 per his first 48 times at bat, but more importantly, he needs to figure out why it’s happening and adjust – because we know big league pitching is going to adjust to his power-hitting production and cut down on the pitches that make it easy for him.

We haven’t seen enough of outfielder J.B. Shuck or even Brian Bogusevic to get excited, but both appear to be prospects for the pasture lands. I do like what I’ve seen with some of our younger pitchers. Fernando Rodriguez did a brilliant job of pitching himself out of that bases loaded, nobody out situation in the 9th at Dodger Stadium last night. I also like what I see in the stuff of David Carpenter – in spite of his second loss last night in the short-term.

Where things stand now is simple. As Astros fans, we need to be patient and enjoy the changing face of the future. There are talented younger men now taking the field with either “Astros” or “Houston” streaming over the heart sections of their baseball jerseys and we need to give them our full support. It’s going be a long ride out of this valley and we may as well relax and enjoy the trip without loading our horses with bags of fool’s gold expectation.

Let’s give GM Ed Wade and new owner Jim Crane the time and opportunity to show what they are going to further do. As I heal from my personal disappointment over the trade that sent Hunter Pence to the Phillies, I get more into this grove of thinking “younger quality players in greater numbers” as more than a fix, but as a condition we need to build into a farm system that works to stay in that  shape over time. Wade effectively says he wants that condition to be in place and we may only presume at this point that Mr. Crane shall want it too. We shall see.

The only thing I want from GM Wade is this qualified commitment: The next time you decide to move one of our major players, if there are any again, anytime soon, could you please at least try to first work a deal with some club other than Philadelphia?

Have an ice (not a typo) weekend, everybody.

POSTSCRIPT: I just received this interesting not from good friend, fine baseball writer, and baseball obscuria historian extraordinaire Al Doyle of Oshkosh, Wisconsin: ” Your boy (Ryan McCurdy) is 22 for 67 (.328) with 12 RBI at Tri-City of the New York-Penn League.  Amazingly, Ryan hasn’t walked yet, but he’s continuing to pile up the hit by pitches (4) as he did in college.  It will be interesting to see how far this McCurdy goes in the professional ranks.”

Ryan McCurdy

Well, young Ryan is only my boy by namesake coincidence, but I can’t help pulling for him to make it to the big leagues because of our fairly rare, shared family name. Like Altuve, Ryan McCurdy also needs tt walk more, but he seems to already be near Biggio-capacity in the art of attracting those non-lethal HBP rides to first. Ryan McCurdy is a catcher and, as many of you blue nose baseball historians already know, there was another pretty good MLB catcher back in the 1930s by the name of Harry McCurdy. Maybe it’s time for some namesake continuity. This one signed with the Astros out of Duke University a couple of years ago.

The Psychology of Losing

July 27, 2011

A Not-So Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Future.

If you are member of the Astros baseball community, and I’m talking about everyone from players to serious fans here, you almost have to go through a disastrous season like 2011 to get a full handle on how much we all, even sportswriters, know about the psychology of losing. For example, how much have you heard lately from certain  pundits that, just as winning teams always find a way to win, losing teams always find a way to lose?

Makes brilliant good sense, right? All you have to do to fully appreciate the truth of that little axiom is to find your favorite club resting under the pointed end of the game outcome stick, game after game, day after day, night after night. It grows clearer and clearer. Yep! There’s Rule No. One in The Psychology of Losing Baseball Manual: (1) Losing clubs find a way to lose.

The next thing that happens with losing clubs sometimes gets set in motion a year earlier than their wins and losses demise. Once management sees that their club is overripe with age and expensive player contracts, they start trying to move these burdens away from the roster, if possible. The goal is to get something younger of value by way of trade before the heavy talent is simply lost to free agency or retirement – and to bite the bullet of acceptance that rebuilding means that losing may increase for a while with younger talent. Here comes the Bill Veeck Law that becomes our second rule of losing Baseball: (2) Get rid of the older players that your club can finish last without.

The next factor we all have to deal with in losing baseball is the double-edged sword of our sport’s long season. It is both our blessing and our curse. The long season in baseball gives a struggling team a lot of time and opportunity to come back (See New York Giants, 1951). The long season also gives a truly bad team a lot of time and opportunity to stink it up on the field.  (Look no further than our 2011 Houston Astros).

Jokes abound, Did we really need to give up rain and winning baseball during the same blistering hot summer?

It’s the long season that leads to Rule No. Three: (3) Finding the face(s) of tomorrow’s hope and put him, or them, on the roster now. Can you spell Jose Altuve?  I can – and I also like what I see. Had he come up as a shortstop, rather than a second baseman, he would have reminded many of us even more of the reincarnation of  Phil Rizzuto – another symbol of winning during the long summer angst-night of our wailing discontent.

Rule Number Four is easy enough: (4) The worse we finish this year, the easier it gets to show improvement next year.  At this writing, the Astros are nursing a five-game losing streak, sitting on a won-loss record of 33-70, .320 winning percentage record. At this rate, the Astros are on track to finish at 52-110 and a record loss total in club history for a single season that includes their first dip into the century total for losses.

Rule Number Five only works if this season turns out to be an anomaly to our more usual experience of winning more than losing: (5) Grin and Bear It (for now).  The club has 59 games left to play in 2011. Because this kind of losing is abnormal for Houston, we are free to kid over the fact that the Astros would have to win 48 of their remaining 59 games to finish at .500 for the 2011 season.

If we are still in this same position this same time next year, none of us will be kidding. The continuation of losing at this level into a second year, without significant signs of improvement, will invite Houston baseball people into the sixth rule of losing baseball psychology: (6) Recurrently losing baseball clubs play to empty ballparks.

Except for aberrant places like Wrigley Field, most baseball fans in most other cities, including Houston, will not continue to support teams that show they are committed to losing baseball as a way of life.

Take heed, Mr. Jim Crane. What happens next is on your watch.

2005: "Where you ever as bad as these guys?" ~ 1998: "Never!"

Astros 2012 Opening Day Lineup?

July 20, 2011

Corpus Call Up of Jose Altuve May Image Opening Day 2012 Lineup.

I have to admit to some renewed interest in seeing another 2011 Astros game with the call up of second baseman Jose Altuve from Corpus Christi yesterday. I felt really good about the trade of Jeff Keppinger for a couple of pitchers from the San Francisco Giants that may may do us some good in the near future. “Kep” was a good player, but he had no future with a club that is only now really getting started on the long road to competitive recovery. General Manager Ed Wade’s move also opened the door for little 5’7″ Jose Altuve, the “hittingest fool” in minor league baseball, to join the Astros and play out this otherwise dead season showing and learning what he can do as a major league second baseman.

I like that strategy., Mr. Wade. I like it a lot. Besides, what’s the alternative? Playing out this losing hand with expensive veterans and no chance for recovery? I don’t think so. When you wake up one morning and see that a 30-game win streak won’t even get you to .500 ball in late July, it’s time to do something else..

Based upon a limited continuing application of this same formula, the following is a potential 2012 Opening Day lineup we may see next year:

2012 Houston Astros, Opening Day

Michael Bourn, cf

Jose Altuve, 2b

Jason Bourgeois, lf

Hunter Pence, rf

Brett Wallace, 1b

Koby Clemens, 3b

Jason Castro, c

Jiovanni Mier, ss

Jordan Lyles, p

The problem is – we don’t really know how far Masseurs. Jim Crane, Tal Smith, and Ed Wade are prepared to go with this pare down on age and payroll for the sake of rebuilding around affordable, gifted youth. “Gifted” is an important component to that strategy. The club cannot afford to simply put young guys out there. Houston fans assess quickly “who’s got talent and who does not” and they won’t come watch for long in numbers if the young guys don’t fairly quickly show that they can cut it.

The second factor is the club’s unmovable veteran payroll – and we all know we are talking Carlos Lee here. Lee is a good guy, but a deficit to any real plan for change. Wish we could find a 2011 playoff competitor who grew desperate enough to deal for him now and take something of the 2012 portion of his salary off the Astros hands too. I say, if the opportunity arises, deal him if you can find another club to take on any part of his salary on the balance of this year and next. If we have to pay him, anyway, let’s pay him to be somewhere he least hurts the youth movement.

The next question is: Are Hunter Pence and Michael Bourn also available for trade? We are getting a lot of rumor-writing about Pence out here. If it were me, Hunter Pence is the one veteran I would work like crazy to avoid training. Hunter Pence is the best player we’ve got, the embodiment of the new Houston Astros, and a guy whom the fans love. We would have to get two or three can’t miss prospects to make trading him worthwhile, but his loss would still reverberate in immeasurable ways to all areas of the franchise. I’d prefer to see the Astros rebuild around Hunter Pence rather watch them try to do it without him.

Michael Bourn is another matter. Second to Pence, our gold glove center fielder is a keeper, but, at what cost? He signed with agent Scott Boras prior to 2011, posing the obvious question: What’s it going to cost to re-sign Michael next time? Michael isn’t worth a franchise hold up on the level that Scott Boras likes to play things. If we lose Bourn, we’ve always got Jason Bourgeois.

I like the rest of that youthful lineup – and I like it with Pence and Bourn even better as the “veteran” anchors, if possible. I replaced Chris Johnson at 3rd base with Koby Clemens because I haven’t been very impressed with Johnson’s adjustments as a hitter to the adjustments that big league pitchers have made to him – nor am I fond of  Johnson’s defensive skills. The other thing is – I think it’s time to give Koby Clemens a shot at showing what he can do as a major league bopper – and you have to play him somewhere to make that audition possible.

Jiovanni Mier is my only dubious pick. I don’t know if the guy is ready, but, if not him, we need to put some young shortstop prospect out there who’s got a chance at being a superior fielder, but a much better hitter than Adam Everett or Tommy Manzella.It would be nice if could stumble upon the next Derek Jeter, if there is one.

At any rate, this is my first throw rug take on 2012.

What do the rest of you think?

Famous Last Astro-Words

June 23, 2011

Former Houston GM Paul Richards

This first quote is not exactly famous, but it should be, and maybe, someday, it will be. A group of us were talking at dinner a couple of nights ago prior to the Tuesday, June 21st, meeting of SABR, the Society for American Baseball Research. The general subject was this terrible 2010 Houston Astros club, a team now well on its way to the first 100-loss season in franchise history. That’s when somber member Harold Jones, not intending to be funny, offered the best one-liner that any of us have heard, so far, on why this is a tough club to watch.

“It’s not the Astros’ bad record that makes watching them play ball so tough;” Jones offered, “it’s the fact that it takes them so long to lose.”

Of course, Harold is pristinely right. The 2010 Astros don’t just get blown away in the first inning and never come back. They keep it close, most of the time, until the game is turned over to the pen in the late innings. Then it’s exactly as things unfolded the very night that Harold Jones made his sanguine observation. The Astros led the Rangers in Arlington, 4-2, but Texas tied it up late and then won it dramatically on a walk-off homer in the bottom of the 10th.

It hurts to lose like that. In many ways, this season would be easier to bear if fans didn’t have to watch so many games slipping away late due to bad relief pitching or missed slugging opportunities with men on base. As Harold Jones said, the Astros just take too long to lose. They dangle hope on a string, sometimes even closing the slack to only a one-run deficit at the end, but, in the end, they mostly do what bad clubs do. – They find a way to lose. – The 2010 Astros are a cheap-working club of AAA, at best, rookies, affordable journeymen, two pretty good outfield stars, two or three excellent rookie prospects, and one gargantuanly over-paid veteran who simply needs to eat up the extra full season that remains on his contract and go away. For now, they remain the only club we have – the club that takes too long to lose.

Speaking of other famous last Astro words, we only have to look back a week or so to manager Brad Mills to find another great quote. According to Mills, the firing of popular pitching coach Brad Arnsberg was due to “philosophical differences” and the skipper wasn’t lying. He simply wasn’t explaining the details that have leaked out anyway since then. They boil down to a simple point of crisis between the two men – one in which manager Mills was sure to win the “Battle of the Brads” with pitching coach Arnsberg.

Arnsberg believed in staying with his starters as long as possible, a pattern of thought still shared by some fairly successful managers, like fairly recent Astros skipper Larry Dierker – especially on a club with the least reliable relief staff in the majors. Mills, on the other hand, apparently lives closer to the “Captain Hook” side of things and is more inclined to pull a starer when he smells trouble or tiredness.

The difference between the two men apparently had never been resolved.It finally came to a head in the start that Wandy Rodriguez made early last week. In brief, Mills wanted Wandy out of the game; Arnsberg wanted to leave Wandy in. Arnsberg balked on the order to remove Wandy and Mills then fired Arnsberg for this specific expression of philosophical difference – which he had a right to do, whether you agree with him – or not.

That’s baseball.

Speaking of even more recent quotes, Astros third baseman Chris Johnson spoke with all the authority of one who understands probability after last night’s rally-win over the angers in the ninth inning last night. After pinch hitter Matt Downs cracked a two-run homer to cap a four-run rally and 5-3 win over the Texas Rangers, Chris Johnson summed it up well with these words: “We knew we were going to hit another home run this season.”

Thanks for the optimism, Chris. With 86 games left for the Astros to play in 2010, some of us fans were not quite as sure.

We could go all day on famously remembered last Astro-Words, but, at the end of the day, my favorites would still have to be these offerings from the great icon of all Houston sportswriters, the sanguinely wonderful and funny Mickey Herskowitz:

(1) MH’s first visual impression of the Astrodome upon approaching the structure in a car in 1965: “It looks like a giant underarm deodorant stick that has been buried, heads up, in the ground.”

(2) MH’s observation on the original installation of zippered-together sections of Astroturf on the Dome surface infield: “Now Houston has the only infield in baseball with its own built-in, infield fly.”

(3) MH, quoting an angry Paul Richards on the latter’s reaction to his firing as the Houston General Manager by club owner Judge Roy Hofheinz:

Mickey Herskowitz: “Try to let it go, Paul. Sometimes the Judge is his own worst enemy.”

Paul Richards: “Not while I’m alive, he’s not.”



Astros 1st Round Draft History

June 7, 2011

"Biggio" (Prints Available from artist Opie Otterstad) was the most successful 1st round choice in franchise history (1987), but J.R. Richard (1969), Billy Wagner (1993), Lance Berkman (1997), and Brad Lidge (1998) weren't too shabby either.)

Astros 1st Round Draft Picks: 1965-2010

Year↓ Name↓ Position↓ School (Location) Pick↓ Ref
1965 Alex Barrett Shortstop Atwater High School
(Atwater, California)
4 [10]
1966 Wayne Twitchell Right-handed pitcher Wilson High School
(Portland, Oregon)
3 [11]
1967 John Mayberry First baseman Northwestern High School
(Detroit, Michigan)
6 [12]
1968 Martin Cott Catcher Hutchinson Technical High School
(Buffalo, New York)
3 [13]
1969 J. R. Richard Right-handed pitcher Lincoln High School
(Ruston, Louisiana)
2 [14]
1970 Randy Scarbery* Right-handed pitcher Roosevelt High School
(Fresno, California)
7 [15]
1971 Neil Rasmussen Shortstop Arcadia High School
(Arcadia, California)
12 [16]
1972 Steve Englishbey Outfielder South Houston High School
(South Houston, Texas)
9 [17]
1973 Calvin Portley Shortstop Longview High School
(Longview, Texas)
20 [18]
1974 Kevin Drake Outfielder Cabrillo High School
(Lompoc, California)
15 [19]
1975 Bo McLaughlin Right-handed pitcher Lipscomb University
(Nashville, Tennessee)
14 [20]
1976 Floyd Bannister Left-handed pitcher Arizona State University
(Tempe, Arizona)
1 [21]
1977 Ricky Adams Shortstop Montclair High School
(Montclair, California)
14 [22]
1978 Rod Boxberger Right-handed pitcher University of Southern California
(Los Angeles, California)
11 [23]
1979 John Mizerock Catcher Punxsutawney High School
(Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania)
8 [24]
1980 no first-round pick[a] [3]
1981 no first-round pick[b] [3]
1982 Steve Swain Outfielder Grossmont High School
(El Cajon, California)
15 [25]
1983 Robbie Wine Catcher Oklahoma State University–Stillwater
(Stillwater, Oklahoma)
8 [26]
1984 Don August Right-handed pitcher Chapman University
(Orange, California)
17 [27]
1985 Cameron Drew Outfielder University of New Haven
(West Haven, Connecticut)
12 [28]
1986 Ryan Bowen Right-handed pitcher Hanford High School
(Hanford, California)
13 [29]
1987 Craig Biggio Catcher Seton Hall University
(South Orange, New Jersey)
22 [30]
1988 Willie Ansley Outfielder Plainview High School
(Plainview, Texas)
7 [31]
1989 Jeff Juden Right-handed pitcher Salem High School
(Salem, Massachusetts)
12 [32]
1989 Todd Jones Right-handed pitcher Jacksonville State University
(Jacksonville, Alabama)
27§[c] [32]
1990 Tom Nevers Shortstop Edina High School
(Edina, Minnesota)
21[d] [33]
1990 Brian Williams Right-handed pitcher University of South Carolina
(Columbia, South Carolina)
31§[e] [33]
1991 John Burke* Right-handed pitcher University of Florida
(Gainesville, Florida)
6 [34]
1991 Shawn Livsey Shortstop Simeon Career Academy
(Chicago, Illinois)
29§[f] [34]
1991 Jim Gonzalez Catcher East Hartford High School
(East Hartford, Connecticut)
40§[g] [34]
1991 Mike Groppuso Third baseman Seton Hall University
(South Orange, New Jersey)
44§[h] [34]
1992 Phil Nevin Third baseman California State University, Fullerton
(Fullerton, California)
1 [35]
1992 Kendall Rhine Right-handed pitcher University of Georgia
(Athens, Georgia)
37§[i] [35]
1993 Billy Wagner Left-handed pitcher Ferrum College
(Ferrum, Virginia)
12 [36]
1994 Ramón Castro Catcher Lino Padron Rivera High School
(Vega BaiaPuerto Rico)
17 [37]
1994 Scott Elarton Right-handed pitcher Lamar High School
(Lamar, Colorado)
25[j] [37]
1994 Russ Johnson Shortstop Louisiana State University
(Baton Rouge, Louisiana)
30§[k] [37]
1995 Tony McKnight Right-handed pitcher Arkansas High School
(Texarkana, Arkansas)
22 [38]
1996 Mark Johnson Right-handed pitcher University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa
(Honolulu, Hawaii)
19 [39]
1997 Lance Berkman First baseman Rice University
(Houston, Texas)
16 [40]
1998 Brad Lidge Right-handed pitcher University of Notre Dame
(Notre Dame, Indiana)
17[l] [41]
1998 Mike Nannini Right-handed pitcher Green Valley High School
(Henderson, Nevada)
37§[m] [41]
1999 Mike Rosamond Outfielder University of Mississippi
(Oxford, Mississippi)
42§[m] [42]
2000 Robert Stiehl Right-handed pitcher El Camino College
(Torrance, California)
27 [43]
2001 Chris Burke Second baseman University of Tennessee
(Knoxville, Tennessee)
10 [44]
2002 Derick Grigsby Right-handed pitcher Northeast Texas Community College
(Mount Pleasant, Texas)
29 [45]
2003 no first-round pick[n] [3]
2004 no first-round pick[o] [3]
2005 Brian Bogusevic Left-handed pitcher Tulane University
(New Orleans, Louisiana)
24 [46]
2005 Eli Iorg Outfielder University of Tennessee
(Knoxville, Tennessee)
38§[p] [46]
2006 Maxwell Sapp Catcher Bishop Moore High School
(Orlando, Florida)
23 [47]
2007 no first-round pick[r] [3]
2008 Jason Castro Catcher Stanford University
(Stanford, California)
10 [48]
2008 Jordan Lyles Right-handed pitcher Hartsville High School
(Hartsville, South Carolina)
38§[s] [48]
2009 Jiovanni Mier Shortstop Bonita High School
(La Verne, California)
21 [49]
2010 Delino DeShields, Jr. Outfielder Woodward Academy
(College Park, Georgia)
8 [50]
2010 Mike Foltynewicz Right-handed pitcher Minooka High School
(Minooka, Illinois)
19[t] [50]
2010 Michael Kvasnicka Catcher University of Minnesota
(Minneapolis, Minnesota)
33§[u] [50] 

We will have to wait and see how some recent picks like Jason Castro (2008), Jordan Lyles (2008), Delino DeShields, Jr. (2010), and brand new pick George Springer (2011) turn out in the long run, but there is some evidence on the board that the club, indeed, has successfully picked some pretty nice nuggets from the always larger larger pile of Fool’s Gold choices every now and then over time.

The list of actual Astros picks itself hardly reads like the walls of the Hall of Fame, but I’m guessing something similar would be the same pattern we saw with just about any major league club. With all the weight we place today on scouts with strong player evaluation skills, experts remain fallible, and the draft remains governed by many factors other than accurate talent assessment.

Signability of the individual player, a player’s failure to develop and mature, poor instruction and guidance by the club, the random occurrence of career altering or ending injuries, and “luck” all seem to get into the act in one form or another. I have a personal hunch that one big influence upon the development of a successful major leaguer is the presence of a significant positive mentor in the young player’s developmental years. He may be a  manager, a coach, a special instructor, or maybe even a veteran teammate, – but he’s somebody who helps the younger player develop a skill, correct a problem, or simply be the fellow who somehow guides the youngster into believing in himself and taking responsibility for his own behavior. He’s the impact guy, the mentor, the gatekeeper/teacher/big brother who turns out to be the difference-maker in a young draftee’s future.

Maybe I’m making too much of the mentor factor, but I don’t think so. These young kids are going to learn something from several somebodies along the way – and what they learn is going to shape their careers, for better or worse.

Back to the breakdown on Astros picks: The club has chosen 55 players in the first round through 2011. This year’s 2011 choice, outfielder George Springer, is not shown on the chart. Of the total #1 picks, 24 have been pitchers, the highest number for any position; 21 of these pitchers were right-handed; 3 were left-handed. Nine catchers have been selected, while eight shortstops, nine outfielders, two first basemen, and two third basemen were taken also. The Astros also have selected one player at second base. Thirteen of the players came from high schools or universities in the state of California, while Texas with five players and Tennessee with three players, follow in second and third place. Houston also has drafted one player from outside the United States: Ramon Castro from Puerto Rico was chosen in 1994.

Kid Lyles off to Flying Start

June 1, 2011

 The debut of 20-year old Jordan Lyles as a right-handed pitcher for the Houston Astros against the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field reminded many of us of the time 18-year old Larry Dierker made his first big league start against the San Francisco Giants at the Astrodome on September 22, 1964., back when the club was still known as the Colt .45s. It just happened to have been young Mr. Dierker’s 18th birthday. His Houston teammates even brought a  birthday cake to help the kid celebrate the occasion.

Like Mr. Lyles, Dierker failed to pick up a win in his first start. In fact, he was gone after only two and two-third innings of work after giving up four runs (two earned) on five hits and three walks. On the bright side, Larry fanned three Giant batters, most notably, striking out future Hall of Fame great Willie Mays in the first inning. On the much brighter side, you could see from his size, athletic posturing, and performance the hope for much better days ahead in his baseball pitching career. Like Mr. Lyles long after him, Larry Dierker instantly became the club’s best fan reply in Houston’s search for a baseball tomorrow.

Let’s hope that Jordan Lyles brings at least as much to the Houston baseball table as Larry Dierker once did. Short of a breakthrough to a Hall of Fame level of accomplishment, and an avoidance of injuries that, as with Dierker before him,  also put an early end to his career, we could hardly ask for more.

Jordan Lyles

The kid seems to have it – and a mature head on his shoulders too. At least, that’s the demeanor-image that comes through loud and clear and calmly over the HD television screen. The kid’s a cucumber. He didn’t fall apart after his costly throwing error in the eighth inning – and he didn’t cry or throw a double-jointed hissy-fit in the dugout when manager Brad Mills pulled him with nobody out in the eighth. He took his place, waited, and watched. And he was rewarded for his personal temperance in the top of the ninth when his new Astros teammates bombed the Cubs for a six-run spot that also spared him from the jaws of a major league defeat in his first rattle out of the box. Afterward, Lyles was even able to express his happiness to FOX Sports Houston interviewer Greg Lucas that teammate Fernando Rodriguez was able to pick up his first major league win in relief. Everything that happened last night pointed to the early opinion that Jordan Lyles, like Larry Dierker long before him, just might be a great new member of the Houston Astros family.

As with all things, time will tell. In the meanwhile, we shall close with the Baseball Almanac version of the box score from Larry Dierker’s first game on September 22, 1964. Have a nice day in the knowledge that the Astros now are only three and one-half games away from escaping the cellar in the National League Central,

Baseball Almanac Box Scores:

San Francisco Giants 7, Houston Colt .45s 1. – Game played on Tuesday, September 22, 1964 at Colt Stadium in Houston.

San Francisco Giants ab  r   h rbi

Kuenn lf 4 0 3 1
Lanier 2b 6 1 2 0
Alou rf 5 1 2 0
Hart 3b 4 1 1 0
  Pagan ss 0 0 0 0
Mays cf 4 1 1 1
Cepeda 1b 4 1 2 3
Haller c 4 1 2 0
Davenport ss,3b 5 1 1 0
Estelle p 4 0 0 0
  Murakami p 0 0 0 0
Totals 40 7 14 5
Houston Colt .45s ab  r   h rbi

Kasko ss,3b 5 0 2 0
Morgan 2b 1 0 0 0
Aspromonte 3b 4 0 3 0
  Jackson pr,ss 1 0 0 0
Bond 1b 5 0 0 0
Wynn cf 3 0 0 0
Staub rf 4 0 0 0
Beauchamp lf 4 0 0 0
Grote c 3 1 1 0
  Bateman c 1 0 0 0
Dierker p 1 0 0 0
  Yellen p 0 0 0 0
  Giusti p 2 0 1 0
  Gaines ph 1 0 0 0
  Jones p 0 0 0 0
Totals 35 1 7 0
San Francisco 0 3 1 3 0 0 0 0 0 7 14 2
Houston 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 0 1 7 3

San Francisco Giants IP H R ER BB SO  Houston Colt .45s IP H R ER BB SO

Estelle  W (1-1) 8.0 7 1 1 6 4
  Murakami  SV (1) 1.0 0 0 0 0 0
Dierker  L (0-1) 2.2 5 4 2 3 3
  Yellen 1.0 2 3 3 2 0
  Giusti 4.1 5 0 0 0 3
  Jones 1.0 2 0 0 0 2

E–Pagan (20), Mays (5), Kasko (14), Bond (12), Wynn (7).  3B–Houston Grote (3,off Estelle).  HR–San Francisco Cepeda (31,2nd inning off Dierker 0 on, 0 out).  SH–Estelle (1,off Jones).  SF–Kuenn (2,off Dierker).  Team LOB–13.  Team–13.  WP–Dierker 2 (2).  U-HP–Lee Weyer, 1B–Jocko Conlan, 2B–Doug Harvey, 3B–Tony Venzon.  T–3:02.  A–5,608.

Baseball Almanac Box Score