On Monday, the Houston Astros CEO and president George Postolos resigned from his position and returned to his consulting practice. He steps away from a team that is in quite a bit of disarray, both on the baseball side and the business side.
But, aside from the debacle that has become the CSN Houston negotiations, there is plenty to criticize about the Astros on the non-baseball portion of the team. From marketing to running off long-time employees, the business end of the Astros has taken a lot of heat in the last year.
Is that all Postolos' fault? Probably not, but he sure took a good amount of heat on Twitter from Chronicle baseball writer Jose Ortiz over it.
So, we decided to break down just what has happened to Houston's business side over the past year. Here are the biggest stories that have affected Astros fans in that time.
Alyson Footer leaves
The first sign of trouble, as longtime Astros online presence Alyson Footer was for-er, took a job with MLB.com as a national beat writer. She followed in Richard Justice's footsteps in going to MLB.com, but it was still a blow to the Astros coverage. Here's what we had to say about her leaving back in June of last year:
Since I've been a part of TCB, Footer has consistently been one of the best parts of the Houston organization in helping this site. She set up interviews, talked to us herself, put together the FanFest blogger event and then Blogger Night itself. Don't forget the Social Media Nights and all the other ways where Footer became so important for Houston fans who follow the team online.
It'll be hard to replace her, sure, but I'm confident that this new administration knows what it's doing in this area. We'll be fine, but that doesn't mean we won't miss her unique voice in the meantime.
Cue ominous music...
Community Partners billboard installed
Yeah, so one of the improvements to the ballpark last summer was a giant billboard thing in left field that ate up the entire view of the Houston skyline over the train tracks. People were not amused, tossing around words like "atrocity." Even the players got in on the bash job:
"I hate what they're doing to the outfield," former Astros star Lance Berkman told a sportswriter recently, while back at Minute Maid for a game as a Cardinal. For good measure, he repeated himself: "I hate it."
The billboards at least are for a good cause, as they raise money to open baseball parks around Houston. Still, it's a big eyesore on a park that already wasn't considered one of the most beautiful in baseball.
One of the biggest stories of last year were the new logo and uniforms Houston had planned for this season. Though the uniforms look great, a large chunk of that thunder was stolen when the logo was leaked online. And then leaked in Academy stores.
Okay, so this wasn't a big deal. News gets leaked in this day and age, what with all the Twitterers and Instagrammers and whatnot. Still, coupled with the baffling gaffes like the official Astros account tweeting out that J.D. Martinez, who was on the DL, hit a home run in a game, it reflected poorly on the business side.
Orbit's return leaked
Oh, and one more leak, as an astute TCB writer found a link to request an appearance with Orbit posted days before the new mascot for Houston was revealed at the big launch party.
I know Orbit is a beloved figure in Houston, but sometimes the things with the most nostalgia are often disappointing to us as adults. I know Junction Jack wasn't a popular mascot among adults, but he was popular with my three year old daughter and had he stuck around I'm sure she would have formed some nostalgic memories with him. That's not to say Orbit will be a terrible mascot I'm just weary of his return. Not all remakes end up being as good as the original.
I'm also a bit miffed by the fact that this re-branding was supposed to take elements of the past and update them. We still need to see everything, but I feel like this re-branding has been more of a retread than an update to branding from the past.
Everyone seems to like the rebranding efforts now, as the uniforms get high praise both from Houston fans and those outside the team. Still, this was more of a trend by this point than isolated incidents.
Luncheon with Joe Niekro offered
Yeah. This one was pretty bad. The Astros Facebook page promoed a luncheon with the former Astros hurler Joe Niekro. The only problem? He's dead. Here's Deadspin's take:
Jim DeShaies heads to Chicago
Now comes a big hit.
Jim DeShaies, one of the best TV broadcasters in baseball, was allowed to negotiate a deal with the Chicago Cubs. Houston had a chance to match, but was unable to keep him in Houston. What's more, the negotiations with JD revealed that Houston broadcasters had been working on one-year deals as standard operating procedure for years.
We're already starting to see some of the bitterness about the business side bleed over into this decision. Here was CRPerry's reaction to it:
Hopefully this situation was driven by behind-the-scenes issues that we will never find out about and that Deshaies made this decision because of personal reasons rather than because of the perceived blasé attitude of the Astros perpetuated by Twitter and the blogosphere. Regardless of the reasons for this parting, Astros fans and writers wish JD the best and will look back on the recent Fox Sports Houston tag-team as the best TV broadcasting team in baseball.
My take on things pointed the finger more squarely at the Houston Astros business side:
We've heard all the right things from this new front office and management team. We've heard Houston will spend money...eventually. We've heard that they value fans, but are cutting off fan favorites left and right.
Words are cheap. Actions matter.
Even if George Postolos says the Astros tried to retain JD, the action is that they let him leave. This new management team has no built up goodwill with fans. They have no history, so there's no way of knowing whether the Astros will turn into the new Florida Marlins or whether they are going to follow through with some of the promises they've made.
Kathleen Clark leaves
In the first domino to fall, Houston's director of marketing and strategy left the team to pursue a different business opportunity. Here's what we had to say at the time:
This isn't too surprising for anyone who followed the team in the second half of the season. The problems with Twitter, leaking the new uniforms and even the traffic situation for Paul McCartney were not all Clark's fault, but as head of that area of the team, she's the logical place to have accountability land on.
We haven't talked much about the McCartney concert. Did any of you go? From what I heard, the traffic around MMP was insane, with no cops or traffic guidance at a time when the Houston Dynamo were also hosting a playoff game down the street. Once guy I heard from missed five or six songs from McCartney's set because of all the jams. Anyone else run into that problem?
Clark may not have had a high profile role, but the rumblings behind the scenes were not good for her. Things like the McCartney concert traffic fiasco reflected poorly on her and the entire business side.
When she left, things were supposed to get better, since many assumed she was the problem. Or, at least, that's what they implied at the time.
Things didn't get better.
Larry Dierker ends relationship with Houston
The last hurrah of a groan-worthy year for the business side, franchise icon Larry Dierker decides to cut his ties with the team in a very public, very mean-spirited way. At the time, the sniping was two-sided, as Postolos claimed Dierker was just mad he didn't get the TV job:
Larry Dierker is describing the Astros new regime as, "cold, calculating and humorless." George Postolos has fired back with, "His remarks today are sour grapes." I'm guessing those two won't be seeing much of each other over the next few weeks, unless Postolos decides to participate in the April 1 softball game between Astros and Rangers ownership that will be one of Dierker's last appearances as an Astros representative.
More damning for Postolos is that after the very public blowup, Dierker met with Jim Crane personally and things seemed to have calmed down. No word on whether Dierker will still work with Houston, but it was a public black eye for a team that had too many of them lately.
This time, things pointed directly at Postolos, though.
College Classic foul ball fiasco
Yep, things did get worse for the business side. What's the worst thing that a team could do if it didn't spend money on payroll in the offseason and if there were rumors its owner didn't have the net worth to run a baseball franchise? How about taking away foul balls from fans at the College Classic because the team didn't buy enough beforehand? From John Royal over at the Houston Press:
Just when you think the Astros have run out of things to piss off fans, they come up with something new. During the games on Friday and Saturday, ushers and security were running around the stands and demanding that fans return all foul balls. To make matters worse, they blamed this on the college teams not bringing enough baseballs to the tournament so that the foul balls needed to be returned for further game action.
It was only on Sunday that the Astros acknowledged that they had only purchased 600 college baseballs for the classic, thus making it their fault and not the fault of the college teams. The Astros stated that this was the standard number of baseballs to purchase for such a tournament, but seeing as how 60-70 baseballs are used on average per game, that means Jim Crane's crew has a bit of a problem doing math as they would not have purchased enough baseballs if the higher end of that average was the number of balls used for each game.
Hey, at least they weren't messing up on Twitter any more, right?
Dynamic ticket pricing rolled out before anyone notified
Remember when fans logged on to try and buy single-game tickets to Opening Night?
Remember when they were instead gouged by a new "dynamic ticket" pricing model that the team had not bothered to explain or even notify fans about before they were being charged the higher rate?
Yeah, that was great.
"(Dynamic pricing) makes the biggest difference when you have a major event, and we have a major event at the start of the 2013 season," Postolos said. "We've been doing this for a couple of years. But people really haven't noticed before because we haven't had a game like this."
Yes, it makes a difference and yes, teams are moving toward it. But, no one has said that Houston is dropping prices for games where demand is low. That's not dynamic pricing, that's price gouging for big games. For a team that's about to lose 100 games for a third straight season, did the Astros need to anger fans by upping prices for the few good games the team might play in 2013?
Kelly George leaves
This last one reflects not necessarily as a bad thing on the business side, but can't be good for the working atmosphere with the team. Kelly George, who had been hired about nine months previously to head up the team's Social Media efforts, resigned herself to pursue a career outside the sports world with Boeing.
Now, she may have done this for a number of reasons, like her spouse getting a job elsewhere or a better opportunity to move closer to her family. But, leaving a job so soon after being hired, when so many people on the business side have been turned over lately...that's a bad sign.
None of these things and many other smaller notes covered the Astros with glory lately. But, compound that with the failures to get a deal done for CSN Houston and things look bleak for George Postolos. Someone had to be held accountable, right?