I'm A Loser Baby . . . So Why Don't You Shoot Me
added 10/29/2001 by Todd Brody
I have avoided writing this column for a while. Work has made it easy for me. I have been busy at my day job. And I didn't want to write this column while I was still mad. But I had a few minutes over the weekend to reflect upon the season, and on the Astros' continued failure to win in the post-season, and I can delay no further.
The Astros will never win in the post-season so long as the present core of the team remains. The core of the Astros, and I define the core as being Jeff Bagwell, Craig Biggio, Billy Wagner, and Shane Reynolds (and Brad Ausmus to a lesser extent), are all losers. These are the people that are supposed to lead the team through their veteran presence. None of them, however, have been able to win a post-season series, much less take the team to a world series. All of them have faired poorly in their own post-season performances. And most important, all of them have seen improbable persons on opposing teams lead those teams to victory. Jim Leyritz, hitting two home runs against Billy Wagner and Scott Elarton. Walt Weiss and Marcus Giles stealing hits away from the team. And most recently, Paul Bako single-handedly beating the Astros with his offense. After years of losing to teams the Astros could have beaten - should have beaten - I believe that the Astros have a sense that the fates have conspired against them. I think that players like Biggio and Bagwell believe that they will never win a post-season series. And this mind-set contaminates the clubhouse and, most important, the younger Astros.
I knew the moment that the Astros lost game one against the Braves this year that they had no chance of winning the series. The Astros had the lead and they blew it. Bad managing, bad relief pitching, awful fielding. This was a typical post-season loss for the Astros. No way the Astros were going to come back. Not with history against them. Some of the radio sportscasters in New York were saying that the Astros would win at least one game, maybe two; that the Astros would show some heart. But any long-time Astros fan knew that this would not be the case. The Astros don't have any heart. And they haven't had any post-season heart for a very long time.
And it is not that the Braves were the better team. The Astros were a far superior team than the Braves this year. The Astros should have won. But they let players like Marcus Giles, and Paul Bako, and Julio Franco beat them.
What makes the Astros' playoff collapse worse this year is the fact that the Yankees, in the same situation, and facing a tougher Oakland team, were able to come back and win that series. The Yankees aren't any better than the Astros. The Astros certainly have better hitters than the Yankees. But the Yankees have supreme confidence in themselves. They have come back from such deficits before. They know that they have the ability to come back. The Astros have none of that confidence. History conspires against the Astros. History works in the Yankees' favor.
So where do the Astros go from here. The first move -- and it was the correct move -- was to get rid of Larry Dierker. Sure, Dierker is the most successful manager in team history, but as I have said time and time again, winning the Central Division is not the goal the team should be shooting for. The ultimate goal is to win the world series and Dierker is continually outmanaged by his counterparts in the playoffs. Moreover, the Astros need a manager who doesn't have the losing mentality that Dierker has developed.
The larger question is what to do with the players. You can't get rid of Biggio and Bagwell. Yet, no one will be happier than me when Craig Biggio finally hangs up his spikes. It is clear to me that Biggio is not the player to bring a world series to Houston. He continually collapses in the playoffs and he isn't the vocal leader to inspire other players to succeed. Biggio hangs his head after every unsuccessful playoff at-bat and the Astros don't need this from their veteran leadership. Bagwell, at least, showed some heart during this last playoff series against the Braves. And let's face it, he is still the best first-baseman in the National League. He isn't going anywhere. But Biggio has been one of the greatest post-season disappointments in Astros history. This, alone, may prevent him from making the hall of fame one day.
So what would I do during the off-season if I was Gerry Hunsicker? If I were the Astros, I would find a way to trade Reynolds and Wagner. The Astros should be able to find plenty of teams that would want players of this caliber. And the Astros should be able to get plenty back in return. In trading these players, the primary goal should be to obtain a centerfielder for the team. My top three choices would be Carlos Beltran, Jose Cruz Jr., and Gabe Kapler. I think that prying Beltran from the Royals might be too expensive and Cruz Jr., therefore, becomes the more likely choice. And let's face it, it would be pretty exciting to hear the Enron crowd shout Cruuuuuuuuuuuuuz every time he comes to bat. From a purely emotional perspective, having Jose Cruz, from Bellaire H.S. and Rice University, roaming centerfield for the Astros would be pretty great.
The other thing that I would do would be to upgrade at third base. Vinny Castilla had a very nice year for the Astros but if Jeff Cirillo is really available from the Rockies (and everyone says he is), Cirillo would be the preferable player. The Astros need players who can hit linedrives as well as homeruns. Too many times last year, the Astros suffered because they couldn't bring home that one player sitting at second base. And Castilla is too hit or miss. Cirillo, who doesn't strike out much, would be perfect batting second between Biggio and Bagwell. Combining Wagner and a position prospect should be sufficient to bring Cirillo to Houston. I would start Adam Everett at shortstop but resign Jose Vizcaino and give him the occasional start. Julio Lugo can be packaged to bring either Cruz Jr. or Beltran to the Astros.
Finally, if I were Gerry Hunsicker I would exercise the option on Pedro Astacio, assuming that he recovers from his injury, and try to trade Dave Mlicki. Astacio is the far superior pitcher. He only costs three million more than Mlicki and he would be a very solid pitcher behind Wade Miller and Roy Oswalt.
At the beginning of last season, I correctly predicted that the Astros would make the playoffs. Of course, I could have never predicted the way that the Astros found success last season. Wade Miller and Roy Oswalt were unbelievable. And Carlos Hernandez pitched like Cy Young for a few games as well. The Astros young pitching is very promising. Unfortunately, the Cardinals and Cubs are both going to get better next year and the Astros are going to lose key personnel from this year's team including Moises Alou.
I think that the Astros, with some personnel changes, can continue to be competitive and can win the division. But if the Astros ever want to win the world series (or at least a post-season series), they need to purge the losing mentality from the team. History is no excuse.