From the archives: The end of an era, or the Houston Astros and loyalty

Mike Stobe

Remembering Lance Berkman and Roy Oswalt for their lost Era of Astros Baseball.

Ed. note: Back in 2010, I was asked to participate in the TwinsCentric's Trade Deadline Primer. As part of that, I wrote an essay at the beginning of the Astros section talking about the changes upcoming and reflecting on Lance Berkman and Roy Oswalt. Since Oswalt announced his retirement today, it seemed fitting to repost this here.

I'm a relatively young baseball fan. I remember the '94 strike as being a big deal, but I also remember video games like RBI Baseball mattering just as much. What I'm trying to say is that I have some perspective on Astros history pre-2004, but I am still young enough to identify this franchise with two players.

Craig Biggio and Jeff Bagwell.

Bagwell and Biggio.

No. 7 and No. 5

For a generation of Astros fans, they will always be the face of the team. But, the Astros have long been a franchise interested in keeping players around long-term. Just look at guys like Jose Cruz, Jimmy Wynn, Larry Dierker or Lance Berkman and Roy Oswalt.

Wait, do those last two guys really fit on this list? It was sneaky when it happened, because both Bagwell and Biggio were playing for the team, but Lancelot and The Wizard took over as the faces of the franchise about six years ago. They will both cross big milestones this season that put them in select company.

Berkman will play in his 1,600th game with Houston somewhere in August while Roy Oswalt will pitch in his 300th game for the Astros in June. Let's put those numbers in a little context.

There are 36 position players who totaled at least 1,600 games with the same team. Of those players, only 20 of them played with just one team in their entire careers. That includes Mr. Angel Tim Salmon and Mr. Padre Tony Gwynn. (No mention of Mr. Met was found in the report.)

The list of 20 pitchers with at least 300 games started with the same team gets miniscule when you look at the ones who played for just one. Mark Buerhle and Brad Radke are the only ones to spend their entire careers on the same team. That's not to say this list doesn't contain great pitchers. Roger Clemens, Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, Jack Morris and Charlie Hough all pop up, but they also all played for multiple teams.

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At the same time, there were many teams who didn't have any players fit either list in the past 30 years. Half the league hasn't had a starter throw in 300 games and there were eight teams that didn't have a position player appear in 1,600 games. Those lists include the expansion teams, such as Tampa Bay, Arizona, Colorado and Florida, but it also has Cleveland and the New York Mets.

Fact is, it's getting more and more rare for a player to play his entire career with one team. With the money that these superstar players command and the growing parity around baseball, teams cannot afford to keep expensive players on the roster for ten or twelve years.

What's most interesting is that pitchers are more likely to play for multiple teams. It seems like it's harder for pitchers to both perform well over a long period of time without getting injured.

All this became more relevant when Roy Oswalt went public with his trade demands in May, and Lance Berkman told the media he'd be willing to be traded "to help the team." Astros fans might have to say goodbye to their most easily identifiable players. Fans have seen these two come up through the minor leagues and lead the Astros to their first playoff series win and first World Series appearance.

Oswalt began the season just seven wins behind Joe Niekro for the franchise's all-time lead. He's also the Astros all-time leader in WAR for pitchers and is second in strikeouts behind only Nolan Ryan. As for Berkman, he became the third player to score 1,000 runs as an Astro, behind both Bagwell and Biggio.

Berkman is the all-time leader in on-base percentage and is tied for second in batting average. He passed Biggio on Houston's home run list last season and sits in second place behind Bagwell. He's also third in RBIs behind Biggio and Bagwell, but may not get a chance to move up on the list if he's traded.

Whether that happens will come down to if Houston owner Drayton McLane is willing to buy into a rebuilding effort. The Astros are already leaking attendance and are looking at a drop for the third consecutive year in tickets sold. While the economy going in the tank no doubt affected those numbers, having an Astros team without its two most marketable players will not help matters.

Maybe, though, the Astros are already pushing new faces into the limelight. Maybe the team is ready for Hunter Pence and Michael Bourn to be the franchise's faces. Who knows what kind of marketing they'll roll out when highly regarded prospects Jason Castro and Jordan Lyles have some time in the big leagues?

Until then, fans will just have to play a waiting game with Houston GM Ed Wade to see if the Berkman/Oswalt Era will end before people even realize it existed.

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