T for Tom

Damn you, Selig.

Posted in Uncategorized by johnsontoms on November 17, 2011

Like scratching an amputated appendage, it doesn’t feel real until you look at it directly. Something was there, should be there, but isn’t. And much like the old traditional tune “Long Black Veil”, we “spoke not a word when the order had come.”

We’re voiceless. We’re motionless. If the rest of Astros Nation is anything like me, they can’t even find words to explain it. Trying to look forward to comprehend what it will feel like, I draw blank. I’m trying to remember how wonderful it felt, watching Roger Clemens come to bat in a World Series game, wearing the red and gold, that dirty uniform that said Houston across the chest, and remember how much pride I felt that we played baseball the way it was intended – to match nine players against nine players. We were the Senior Circuit, the arbiters of Baseball, America’s Pastime.

And now here we are – slumming it with the Junior Circuit.

It’s been a long road downward since that World Series, and there’s no way say thank you to Commissioner Bud Selig for placing the coup de gras on top of the same year that our most bitter rival wins the World Series: we’ll never play them again, except – hold your breath – in the World Series itself. And that’s where it becomes real; the Houston Astros are a member of the American League. Baseball has, obviously, two divisions of play that are separate in more than name – they abide by a difference of rules, most of them revolving around a single dominant rule: the use of the designated hitter, that dirty substitution that allows teams to sit their worst hitter while on offense. And don’t let me hear that it’s the pitcher, and they’re trying to preserve their prize arms – the rule does not limit the team’s manager from DHing anyone, and in the past position players have been substituted instead of the pitcher. And now the Astros, as a home playing American League team, can use that dirty rule.

Against the Rangers, Athletics, Mariners, and Angels. Baseball’s worst division. It’s only fitting that baseball’s worst team is now a member. In the end, maybe this will bolster our efforts. But that is little consolation for a team mired in defeat, lack of talent, little fan draw, and slow profit.

Drayton McClane purchased the Astros in 1992 and wanted to win, the only way he knew how: spending money, large sums on free agents that at times worked out. Most did not. Jose Lima in 1996, trade for Randy Johnson in 1998 for half a year (trading away, amongst others, Freddy Garcia and Carlos Guillen), Ken Caminetti who later died of substance abuse, and later Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte. In the only few trades that worked out we acquired Jeff Bagwell from the Red Sox in what is still considered the most lop-sided trade ever, and thankfully he became the face of the franchise.

1998 should’ve been the year. The Astros had Lima, Bagwell, had just traded for Randy Johnson at the deadline, and with Craig Biggio in his fourth year led the National League in wins. They were the best. And baseball, the cruel bitch she is, let those Astros lose in the NLDS to the San Diego Padres. The Big Unit didn’t resign and that was as close as they got for eight years.

Things started turning around when the few homegrown players they owned performed to expectations. Bagwell was still there, and combined with Roy Oswalt, Lance Berkman, and Biggio, the Astros were on their way, winning more games than all but the Yankees during a five year stretch to start the decade. What they needed was just a little more pitching and that’s where McClane went back to spending the big money – he brought in Clemens, Pettitte, and got the Astros first NL Pennant out of it in 2005 after a climactic battle with the Cardinals in that year’s NLCS. Unfortunately that wasn’t their World Series to win, losing to the White Sox in four games. And then the walls came down.

All the money and trades that it took to get that pennant depleted the system, and over the next six years the Astros went from the winningest NL team to the worst, mired under Ed Wade as general manager to watch the farm system run dry, the professional players that were left underperformed consistently, every free agent that was purchased never met expectations.

This wasn’t the way it was supposed to be.

The Astros were supposed to win that World Series in 2005. They had the Rocket, his friend and longtime teammate Pettitte, the Killer B’s, Oswalt in his prime. Even the year after when they spent $120-million on prized outfielder Carlos Lee, it was supposed to solve the offensive struggles. They were supposed to dominate the league for years.

But they didn’t.

-Bagwell underwent the worst injury-handling by a team ever, eventually being forced to retire.
-Clemens fled for more money back with the Yankees. Worse, he persuaded Pettitte to do the same.
-Carlos Lee immediately plummeted in performance.
-Berkman and Oswalt began to decline and were eventually traded.

And the Astros became the worst team in the National League, ran so poorly that the owner began finally to acknowledge all of the previous attempts to buy the team, finally giving in to sell. And Selig, seeing his opportunity, told them to switch leagues. If they wouldn’t switch, they wouldn’t sell. The MLB can do that. So they switched.

And now, I don’t know what to say. As a child we all have dreams, and though mine wasn’t to play baseball, it was to forever watch and chronicle my life by the success and failures of my team – the Houston Astros. Everything that’s been said about baseball and America was true me. It’s the pastime. And for a Terrence Mann to have put it so eloquently in Field of Dreams (written by W.P. Kinsella, “Shoeless Joe”), “There has always been baseball. When there was depression, the people went to baseball to feel better. When there was war, there was still baseball. For all that America has been through, the one constant has always been baseball.” It is the climax of physical and intellectual virtue, and my team, those damn Astros, played it the proper way. They won, they lost, they created rivalries, broke records, and inspired millions. Hell, they even built the world’s first domed stadium to showcase their franchise.

And now the dream is over in its 49th year. Some dreams end up where they should, but I guess most die in the fire.

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