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.
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.”