Thank goodness for Julia over at Julia’s Rants; otherwise, I’d never know when the newest MLBlogs “Latest Leaders” list had come out. I’d boycotted Mark’s blog until Albert Pujols was no longer named at the top.
It’s not something I necessarily strive for – being on the leaderboard – but it’s something that’s definitely humbling, and which I very much appreciate.
For those of you unfamiliar with Julia, she’s basically the MLBlogs team captain. She roots us all on, comments on very nearly every blog, and has an enormously-catchy enthusiasm that helps many of us get through the slow times, when we begin to debate whether or not we truly want to do this. If you haven’t already, I highly recommend you check her blog out.
Upon hearing the news that I was #20, I was thrown into a quandary. There have been several players to don the number for the Astros, including the longest-tenured #20 in club history, Tony Eusebio, a backup catcher that probably only a true Houston fan could love – and who all true Houston fans love.
But I opted to go a different way, and began to write a long apalogue about Cesar Geronimo, who I had watched growing up – in his Cincinnati years, after he’d left Houston – and whose signature had graced the glove I’d worn in Little League. My father had always joked that Cesar couldn’t catch because he wore four Gold Gloves. I didn’t get the joke at the time, but it stuck with me.
Then I realized that my glove had actually been signed by another Astro who had gone to the Reds and won multiple Gold Gloves – Cesar Cedeno. By the time I was old enough to go to and remember Reds games, Geronimo was either in Kansas City or out of the league entirely.
Other names flashed through my memory – Lee Maye, Dave “Soup” Campbell – but I kept coming back to one man. The only Houston Astro to be inducted to the Hall of Fame wearing #20. Who – if there was a Hall of Fame for white afros – would be in on the first ballot.
Sutton didn’t spend much time in Houston. He signed as a Free Agent before the 1981 season, and in late August the following year, we was sent to the Milwaukee Brewers for Kevin Bass, Frank DiPino, Mike Madden, and cash. Anyone who has read my About Me knows that, without that trade, I might never have become a Houston fan at all.
To top it off, he helped pitch the Brewers to their only World Series appearance (though he was shelled by the Cardinals in the Series), playing with current Astros skipper Cecil Cooper.
Houston’s pitching staff in the strike-shortened 1981 season was insane. In addition to Sutton, the rotation boasted Joe Niekro, Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan, lefty Bob Knepper, and Vern Ruhle. The bullpen had Billy Smith, Dave Smith, and Joe Sambito.
No starting pitcher that year had an ERA over 3.00. Ruhle’s 2.91 was the highest, and the average ERA+ was 139. With a full year of baseball, there’s no telling how well this team could have done, despite a questionable offense led by Tony Scott, Jose Cruz, and then-first baseman and former Gold Glove outfielder Cedeno (not Geronimo.)
Sutton threw 158.2 innings that year, going 11-9 with a 2.61 ERA, 1.015 WHIP (with three fewer hits or walks, he would have had a WHIP under 1.00… coincidentally, three is the exact number of intentional walks he was asked to issue). He walked just 29 batters – the fewest ever in his career, including 1988 when he walked 30 despite pitching just 87.1 innings with the Dodgers – and struck out 104 (also the fewest in his career, but who’s counting?)
Old Black & Decker followed up his 1981 campaign by going 13-8 in 27 appearances in 1982, pitching 195 innings and striking out 139 to 46 walks, a 3.00 ERA and a 1.103 WHIP before being traded to the Brewers.
To commemorate my #25 ranking on MLBlogs’ Latest Leaders list, I will dedicate today’s post to a former Astros great who wore jersey #25. This one is pretty easy – after all, the jersey is retired because of one Jose Cruz.
The Astros lost their Spring Training game today. Again. That’s seven losses in a row (not counting exhibition games against Venezuela and Panama), and twelve games since our last win, which was coincidentally the first Spring Training game of 2009.
I’ve put a positive spin on it until I was blue in the face All I can say now is, “Ibid.”
- It’s still early. It’s a long Spring Training, and it is – after all – just Spring Training.
- Our farm system ranks 30th out of 30 teams. Most of the minor league guys in our camp are not likely to make the team out of Spring Training, but they’re still getting at-bats.
- Four players – LaTroy Hawkins, Roy Oswalt, Carlos Lee, and Miguel Tejada – are involved in the WBC and are not with the team.
- We have more pitchers than our roster will fit. Our bullpen is largely set, leaving a host of guys vying for one or two open spots. In many cases, those guys are not ideal major league pitchers.
The list of
excuses reasons goes on and on, and many of them are legitimate. But aren’t these very same factors affecting the teams against whom we’re playing, too? Aren’t we all on some sort of level playing field?
Last year, the third-worst team in the Grapefruit League was the Philadelphia Phillies. They’d go on to be World Series champs (after dispatching the second-worst team in the Grapefruit League, the Dodgers, in the NLCS). And so on and so on and so on.
I’ve said it all. It’s all been said. I feel awful for Alyson Footer, who has to continually find some sort of positive thing to say. I have the luxury of not having to write at all, or of being able to go back and talk about something completely unrelated to the Astros’ 2009 Spring Training.
She doesn’t have that choice.
My thoughts have bounced from place to place, trying to think of something. I’ve wondered if a manager was ever fired during Spring Training. I’ve wondered if, with Carlos Lee and Miguel Tejada returning from their teams’ early WBC exits, we should just play our Opening Day lineup every game and hope they jell. We could pull them after five or six innings to give at-bats to the other hopefuls.
I’ve wondered if we shouldn’t make a trade (Tejada to the Yankees being just one possibility) or pick up a free agent. Any free agent.
Chris Rosenbaum, a catching prospect in the Angels’ system, has a blog. In his most recent entry, in discussing Minor League camp, he says this:
So, if you are in doubt, run. Somewhere. Anywhere. Even
if you go to the wrong location, at least you will not have wasted as
much time trying to find the right location than if you were walking.
This is beginning to seem more and more like good advice for the Astros. I’m beginning to agree with everyone who wants us to pick up Pudge Rodriguez (though I’m still a fan of J.R. Towles) or Pedro Martinez (though I’m still a fan of… oh, who am I kidding?)
We don’t really have the payroll flexibility to pick up either one right now, but that’s sort of a double-edged sword. Depending on the contract Martinez would want, the chances are good that he’d pay for himself on a one-year deal in ticket sales and merchandising alone.
No one’s going to pay to watch Russ Ortiz and Brian Moehler pitch. Anyone who goes to those games would go no matter who is pitching. People will pay money specifically to see Pedro Martinez, however. With a good year, he could get the 10th-most strikeouts in the history of major league baseball. He’d join four former Astros on that list, those being the top three all time: Nolan Ryan, Randy Johnson, and Roger Clemens, as well as Don Sutton.
Even if he doesn’t entirely pay for his own contract, he’d get us all excited about the Astros again. Right now, it’s painfully hard to be excited. I hear people who keep saying, “Looks like we’re poised to do it again! Fall way behind in the first half and then come storming back in the second!”
I don’t want to do that anymore.
I’m sick of being dead in the water in July and having to race at the end to catch up. You all know the stories – in 2005, before we stormed back to capture the NL Pennant, the Houston Chronicle ran this incredibly irresponsible photograph:
Or last season, when we were as many as 16 games back, as late as August 30th. Dead last in the NL Central as late as July 26th. But the best second half in the National League put us in the thick of the wild card race, which we eventually lost to the Milwaukee Brewers, at least in part due to some bizarre scheduling which placed our “home games” against the Cubs in Milwaukee (Miller Park is 90 miles away from Wrigley Field) while Hurricane Ike tore the Houston area apart.
Not really pertinent here, but let’s take a moment to remember what Cubs pitcher Ryan Dempster said while the Cubs were waiting to hear about their series with the Astros. Ryan was waiting at Wrigley Field. The Astros were at home with their families during a hurricane, still trying to determine if everyone had made it out safely:
We’re all big boys hereWhatever the situation that is thrown at us, we’ll handle it
very well. … Nobody said it was going to be easy. Sometimes you’re
going to hit speed bumps. This is a big one, but it’s all right. We’ll
be just fine.
Anyway, my point is that I’m getting rather tired of watching the team get their tail ends handed to them, only to rally back at the end of the season and have a go at it. Our farm system is depleted – there’s no help on the way right now, outside of precious few standouts.
We need to compete now.
And I can’t help but wonder if making a move – any move – might not at least be a signal that we’re trying.
And even if you go to the wrong location, at least you will not have wasted as much time trying to find the right location than if you were walking.