added 4/20/2009 by Scott Barzilla
Quite frankly, discussing the current Astros is getting to be depressing, but the organization does do some things right and those things were on display this Saturday. Our local SABR chapter leaves its respite at Molly's Pub once a year to come to the old ballyard. The Astros have been very accomodating and this Saturday was no different. The feature act was an interview of Jimmy Wynn conducted by Dave Raymond.
I've never met Brett Dolan and I'm certain he's a good guy, but my choice for voice of the Astros after Milo finally retires is Raymond. It's probably because he comes to all of the off-season SABR meetings and is about as a good a guy as you would like to meet. There is no air of pretension about him which makes him a breath of fresh air in comparison with his predecessor. At any rate, hearing from both of them made the experience worth the drive. Usually, a thirty minute trip to the ballpark isn't a chore, but the deluge on Saturday made the effort nearly impossible.
Those of you that read my columns know I tend towards the critical, so I thought I would take a break from that this time and talk about what the Astros are doing right. It came up during the interview and it rings true even after the fact. If the Astros do anything well, they make sure their former players play an important role in the current operations. Granted, we may not want them making day to day decisions necessarily. However, having them around is a good example for the younger players.
For instance, Raymond relayed a story from Spring Training involving Jeff Bagwell. Apparently, a few unnamed players were in a hurry and decided to park in the handicapped parking spots in the player/management parking lot in Kissimmee. Other current players saw them do it and said nothing. Bagwell jumped down their throat and scolded them as if they were children until they sheepishly moved their cars. It's funny how Bagwell ends up being more of a clubhouse leader than anyone on the team and he isn't even in the clubhouse.
I was also struck by the stories that Wynn told about how the players would sit for hours after the game and talk about what they could do to get better. Raymond joked that many of today's players practically pull a hamstring getting out of the clubhouse at breakneck speed. I suppose there are reasons for that beyond the implication that they don't care. The media pressure is more intense than it was back then and clubs now scale back on the food and have banned alcohol in the clubhouse. Still, with today's players lack of knowledge about the past, it is a wonder that some teams don't want their past stars around.
I suppose I'm a sucker for good stories about great players just like a lot of fans are. Wynn told stories about Hank Aaron and Willie Mays as if these things happened yesterday. In particular, a couple of stories involved Bob Gibson and the way the game used to be. I can't help but think that the Astros players are more respectful in general because they have some of those older players around to remind them of how the game should be played.
Of course, the two couldn't stay the whole time, but an Astros representative was there to announce the addition of something called "Astros Authentics." The idea is to sell items that have been used in an Astros game. Naturally, most of the items belong to players no longer on the team, but they now sell game used jerseys, balls, bats, and other items. I'm sure they make a pretty penny off of it, but for those that like to collect those things it is a welcome addition.
Naturally, no meeting is complete without the ballgame itself and this one was a beauty. It was the Astros best overall performance of the short season. The Astros made sure all of the SABR guests got a free throw blanket since that was the particular give away at this game. The most enjoyable part of the evening was discussing baseball with the other SABR members that sat next to me. We waxed poetic about the Yankees get drubbed, the prices for tickets at some stadiums in comparison with Houston, and of course the $10.50 beer that was for "sale".
The setting was different, but the meeting was pretty close to the meetings we have once a month. For those that have read this far, if you are interested in attending a meeting please feel free to email me below. We always have an interesting guest speaker from some part of the baseball world. The meetings in the off-season usually have some of our local baseball celebrities in attendance. Naturally, anything that can take your mind off of what is going on during the current season is warranted.