The Houston Astros are a beloved team for many of us. I grew up in the “good ole days” of the Killer B’s, Shane Reynolds, and playoff appearances. I took it for granted that my team was the best team. The team to beat. The classy team. Not only were the Houston Astros highly competitive on the field, but they had a front office—and a roster—compiled of people who remembered to be decent human beings.
Today’s Astros are not “your daddy’s team.” They are no longer the class of the National League. Far from it. Today they are a team of players who underperform, are over-valued (based on salary), and habitually lose more games than they win. That’s ok. I can handle that. But even in the doom-and- gloom times of the 2000 Astros, or in the midst of harsh losing streaks, the Houston Astros of old—the team I loved as a child—never (or at least the icons) complained publically like this group.
When Jeff Kent was brought into town, Craig Biggio certainly didn’t lead the parade for a guy coming in and playing his position and essentially forcing him to move to the outfield. Intead he had faith in the front office to make the best decision for the team. The offseason that Wagner was sent packing, Bagwell and Biggio personally made a trip to the Dominican home of Octavio Dotel and pleaded with him to be in shape and work hard so they can be champions.
Those same two leaders, Bagwell and Biggio, knowing their skills were declining and feeling a sense of urgency to win now, voluntarily postponed getting paid in order to free up payroll to get the pieces to put them over the top and win a World Series. Today we don’t have that. Today we have superstars who, without actually saying it, are saying they wouldn’t mind leaving the Astros. We have an overpaid outfielder who is struggling to hit his (albeit very large) belt size essentially saying he doesn’t mind playing for a loser so long as he’s near his ranch. The good ole days are gone.
But possibly the most disturbing change in these Astros in comparison to “my” Astros is in the front office. I remember when Julio Lugo (allegedly) assaulted his wife. He was sent packing immediately because we wouldn’t associate ourselves with that kind of character. Caminitti had been traded largely due to character issues. But not these Astros. We trade FOR a player linked to steroids. (Yes, I know the Mitchell report didn’t get released until the day after the Tejada trade, but if the front office didn’t have the slightest inclination that that was coming, then that’d be a whole other essay.) We sign a player who’s been arrested for domestic abuse. We have a player physically confront the general manager in the lunch room. Sure, there’s a perfectly reasonable explanation for all of these signings, but why do we need to make such justifications for this team? It’d be one thing if these “bad boys” helped win a World Series. These guys are in the cellar in the National League.
And then there’s Max Sapp. In hind sight, he probably shouldn’t have been drafted when he was. He wasn’t a good prospect at any point during his professional career, and it unfortunately ended with his battle with viral meningitis. The Astros, much to my chagrin, stuck by his side throughout that fight, and always showed plenty of public support for him and his family. I thought so highly of the front office for everything involving Sapp. Until now. Sapp was on the verge of being cleared to play again by the doctors when the Astros decided it was time to release him. Sapp’s mother was distraught by this, stating the Astros had always said that Max had a place in their system when he was ready again. So, why, when he’s actually showing signs that he could return, do they turn their backs on him then?
Let me make this clear: I didn’t expect Sapp to come back, hit like crazy, and move up the ranks and into the bigs for a storybook ending. I expected Sapp to go to extended spring training, not hit very well or show much strength, and then, after a valiant effort, either retire from professional baseball or be outright released. Why not let him at least have that opportunity, Ed Wade? Why not let him say that he fought off death to have a shot to play baseball again? Instead, the Houston Astros, our Houston Astros, come off as a team saying “Max, you’ve always got a spot on this team….as long as you never consider taking us up on that offer.” Does that sound like the Houston Astros you remember? The ones you love? The ones you respected for so long?
Granted, I’m no insider and I’m certain I’m missing some key information. But that by no means doesn’t mean that this isn’t the public face of what used to be a respected major league franchise. It breaks my heart to see the state of the franchise in such shambles. I can handle poor seasons and terrible win-loss records. I’d still be a fan—chalk it up to trials and tribulations. But when we begin to sacrifice the morals that made us such a great thing to look up to, that’s when my fandom begins to falter. Drayton McLane, don’t worry about how rebuilding will affect how many people will attend your games and put money in your pocket. I’ll still come to games even you’re losing, and I won’t even do it with a paper bag on my head! But you’ll be hard pressed to find me supporting a team that shows no morals in its decision making process. Because that’s not the team I was raised to love. I want to cheer for the good guys. Whenever you’re ready, I’d appreciate you acting like it.