Posts Tagged ‘Tal Smith’

What’s Behind the Blame for Tal Smith?

January 15, 2012

Ex-Astros President Tal Smith and former Astros Manager Bill Virdon

In reaction to the column I wrote this week on “Moneyball,” a reader identified as Gary has written the following as a comment on the article:

“Stats can tell you about 90% of what you need to know about established players. Projecting amateurs and minor leaguers is a different story. And, I’m sorry, but this must be said – Tal Smith has all but destroyed the Astros. It’s obvious the game passed him him by decades ago.”

Gary, forgive me, but when anyone tells me something is obvious that I still don’t see, I have to question: Am I just stupid here? Or do I first need to raise some questions of my own before I jump to that conclusion. So, please indulge me.

Are you saying that the current shape of the Astros roster and the longstanding decline of talent in the club’s minor league pipeline is all the result of Tal Smith’s out-of-touch inability to judge, sign, and cultivate competitive talent with no help or interference from his owner or supportive staff? Are you suggesting that Smith has no idea what is needed to make a contemporary MLB team competitive for a pennant and World Series trip through the playoffs? Are you suggesting that our worn out saddle on the now-in-its-last-year-multi-season contract with Carlos Lee is the fault of Tal Smith’s out-of-touch senior view on major league baseball?

I’m not writing today to simply defend Tal Smith. He doesn’t need any help from me on that score. I am writing to question any conclusion that the Astros’ current status is the result of poor judgment on Tal Smith’s part, with no help from circumstances and decision-making that went far beyond his individual control as President of Baseball Operations.

I don’t claim to know Tal Smith in-depth beyond our occasional baseball discussions over the years, but I have to admit to some favorable impression of his ideas on what a baseball club needs – and I have been very impressed with his open and routine use of external consultants over time on the assessment of both contract players and amateur prospects. Tal always maintained his lines with out-of-the-orgnization people like me. He never criticized anyone within his decision-making loop to me for anything that didn’t work out as he might have hoped.

It’s hard to see how any employed top baseball person in any organization today can deal with the impact of owners or market prices on talent coming into play and overriding any best laid plans of the hired baseball planning leader, but I would certainly like to know what the best modern solution to these ills might be. Unless you, or someone else, can show us how Tal Smith was not up-to-speed in specific terms as a baseball operations leader, I’ll just have to place myself in the “stupid” category for my failure to see the obvious.

Now, once upon a time, Cy Young pitched in the first World Series of 1903. On days he didn’t pitch, he helped sell tickets at the gate to the other games played in Boston. Not once did I ever hear Tal Smith say, “We need a Number One Starter in our rotation who also knows how to make change.” Had Tal said something like that, I would have had to agree. He needed to retire.

What’s really behind the bitterness that some people seem to have for Tal Smith? Is it simply the fact that the franchise went a half century with Tal Smith prominently in the picture without winning a single World Series?

Easy targets are hard to miss.

How much longer will it be before some Smith-hater decides to celebrate their resentment further by proposing that the Astros level Tal’s Hill from the centerfield landscape at Minute Maid Park?

Still, I have to finish where I started: I just wonder what you have in mind when you say that it is “obvious the game passed him (Tal Smith) by decades ago?” Do we simply reach that conclusion based upon age? If that’s it, you’ve got me too.

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!