added 8/29/2002 by Greg Lucas
As many of you know, I take e-mails from Astro fans from my field-level position at Minute Maid Park during Fox Sports Net telecasts. Actually, I receive letters every day and answer them all which, as far as I know, makes Astros telecasts still unique in major league baseball.
At the same time, I am pleased to add this feature by answering questions, and am ready to tackle the first submissions...
Is the majority of the feedback about the announcers positive or negative? Is negative feedback forwarded to the announcers?
I can honestly say most of what we receive is negative, but the volume is low. It tends to be directed to only one or two of the members of the Astros announcing crew, which includes both radio and television.
Jim Deshaies gets the most positive responses. His humor and style seems to be very well received. Ironically, when other announcers attempt humor they are generally criticized for it. Right now, Jim is almost untouchable.
When the letters are written as constructive criticism I will forward them on. When they are nothing but complaints I do not. When the letters are positive toward either the whole group or even a particular announcer I will also forward those up the line. When the letters indicate a preference for one announcer over another I may forward the letter to the announcer being praised, but not up the line. Those sort of letters should go directly to the Fox Sports Net general manager or the Astros Director of Broadcasting, not from me since I am part of the announcing crew.
What is the idea behind the large knob at the bottom of today's bats, this is a change from the past. Sammy Sosa's bats have a very large knob. Is this an advantage for him?
It is actually about a whole roll of tape that makes that large knob. It serves as a pad of sorts. There is nothing illegal about doing it, nor does it really do anything except give Sammy more cushion.
All of amateur baseball, college included, uses aluminum bats. How does this affect Major League Baseball, if at all? For instance, are college-trained pitchers less inclined to throw inside because an aluminum bat doesn't break at the neck when hitting an inside pitch?
There is no question that the aluminum bat has given hitters more ability to handle pitches on the handle and thus "jamming" a hitter doesn't always work. But the bats have been modified in recent years and the disparity in performance is not as great as compared to wood. Professional coaches, however, do have to work with young pitchers to convince them not to be reluctant to pitch more inside than they did as amateurs since virtually all of them have memories of giving up hits on balls that would break wooden bats.
It's been said that baseball over-expanded in the 1990s, perhaps so MLB could collect the application fees to pay off its collusion penalties ($200+ million) from the late-1980s. Do you think that was the reason, and did expansion by four teams in the 1990s overly dilute the MLB talent pool, especially in pitching?
That may have been a factor, but there were some cities that (on paper, at least) appeared to be legitimate markets. There is no doubt that the talent pool was severely drained. However, time takes care of that. There are a number of solid young major league pitchers now, and there are more hard throwing ones.
What do you think of Bud Selig's performance as "Commissioner" of Baseball so far? Many commentators say that there's a clear conflict of interest since his ownership of the Brewers is in a blind trust, though his daughter Wendy "runs" the team. Is this good for baseball?
It seems to be obvious that he is not the ideal commissioner, but he was the one owner who was willing to take over the job, and the owners wanted someone who could represent them (not necessarily the game of baseball) in the office. His seeming conflict of interest, to me, is minor. The fact that he was (is) an owner is more of a conflict than how the Milwaukee Brewers are actually being run. He is not as independent as the office of commissioner was originally conceived.
How much time do you spend getting ready for the broadcast of a game? What all do you have to do to get ready for a game?
Obviously, that varies greatly.
Bill Brown has an extensive filing system of notes and anecdotes that he keeps up throughout the year. I have a similar system using a computer database which I continue to keep up out of habit, even though in my current role as sideline analyst I have little need to actually use it. All of us are normally at MMP by 3:30. Stopping by Jimy Williams' office is a part of the routine for Brownie and Bill Worrell.
I am normally arranging my pre-game interview taping which we actually do about 4:30. Time is spent talking with players and coaches about the last game or perhaps the pitcher the Astros will face that day. Filling in the scorebooks with all the lineups and numbers and reading the pages of pre-game notes is part of the routine. Producer Murphy Brown (who has been in the television truck since about 2pm) will come to the booth and go over what the Bills will talk about on the pre-game show and game open. Game elements such as graphics will be discussed as well as any special events coming up.
The whole thing really starts in the morning when newspapers are read and internet sources are checked. These are normally newspaper sites. In my case I will also answer any e-mail I received from the night before that I couldn't get to during the game. Normally I shut down in the last of the 8th to prepare for a post game interview should the Astros win.
The play by play announcers generally do the most pre-game prep work. Both Brownie and Milo have systems they have used for years. As indicated due to my play by play past I continue to prep as I always did. Jim Deshaies does little in advance, but is on the computer searching for news and information throughout the game. Alan Ashby in the radio booth does more advance work and also hits the computer throughout the game for scores and other stories.
Bill Worrell keeps up with road games off television and likes to pick up information from pre-game conversations around the batting cage or in the clubhouse. Neither he, nor Milo on the radio side, use the computer, although BW has just acquired one for his home.
I know I have probably gone into far more detail than needed, but I thought you would like to know that there is a lot more to Astros radio and television than the game.
How often are you or your computer nearly hit by a foul ball? How about the camerapeople?
As you know, I sit at field level to the first base end of the Astro dugout and am vulnerable to foul balls. So far my computer has never been threatened, but the camera manned by Robin Barrow has been nailed twice and I have deflected a screamer by Daryle Ward.
Robin is very conscious of the danger. In fact, last week when he saw a very young baby and mother sitting in the stands behind the dugout, he left his spot to warn her to be very conscious of the field at all times. He hates to see very young children or even worse, babies, sitting in that hard foul ball area.
I live in New Orleans and was wondering which Zephyrs do you think have earned a September call-up.
Well, the Astros don't do it exactly that way. They will call up a limited number of players who they think may be able to help the club down the stretch. It won't be a reward for having a good year in New Orleans.
As I write this, the names have not been released, but a promise to Morgan Ensberg will bring him back. Plus, a couple of pitchers and possibly a catcher. That may be it. However, unless an emergency occurs, nothing may happen until the Zephyrs are finished with the post season.
Please rank the Astros' players in terms of their congeniality and their accessibility to the everyday fan.
The Houston Astros have always been the best group of players to work with I have been associated with in professional sports.
I have been a play-by-play announcer for the San Antonio Spurs, Houston Rockets, Indiana Pacers and Texas Rangers over the years. I have also had dealings with the Dallas Mavericks and Dallas Stars. Since I started working with the Astros in 1995, I can honestly say that they, as a group, have been the easiest.
Randy Johnson was a bit reclusive, Derek Bell was moody and others are somewhat shy and retiring. For a while, Moises Alou was a bit tough to deal will, but by his last two years in Houston, he was very easy to deal with. Carl Everett was no problem at all in Houston.
Regarding post game interviews, we try to spread them out. Obviously players like Biggio, Bagwell, and Berkman have a lot to do with many Astro wins, but we can't be interviewing the same players all the time. So whenever someone else who isn't going to be spotlighted as much is productive, we seek them out.
By the way, our situation on television is different than the radio network. Sometimes, radio has problems getting players to wait around for the interview. We do ours immediately and it is also much shorter, so I never get turned down. (I did get turned down a couple of times back in the days when we also did visiting players.)
How does a young Roy Oswalt compare to other young pitchers you've seen over the years?
Roy Oswalt is a great favorite. He should be. For his experience, he is the best young pitcher I've seen.
As I write this, he is going for his 17th win tonight, and was 14-3 last year. That is pretty amazing. Plus, he seems to be the same every game. When Roy is on the mound you know what you are about to get. Keep that arm healthy and he will be one of the best ever.
Do you think it's about time to abolish the DH, and raise the height of the pitcher's mound back to 15 inches? (Bob Gibson's been out of the game a long time, after all.) Is this possible? Could it be done as part of the current labor negotiations?
I would like to see it abolished, but there is little talk about that now. Even with interleague play we seem to be adjusting to the two sets of rules. I am only sorry it is used in so many amateur leagues, and on the high school and college level.
After the 2000 season, when the Astros got shelled in Enron Field, we've had a few really great pitcher's duels there this year (a 1-0 shutout yesterday, for example). What changed?
I think the park now known as Minute Maid Park is the home to a team with better pitching, for one thing. Secondly, the pitchers are making hitters put a lot of balls in play in centerfield. Note the number of putouts by the centerfielders and the number of triples hit that way. How many truly cheap homers have been hit this year at home? Two? Three?
There have not been many bloops into the front row. Any ball that goes more than five or six rows deep has gone far enough to be a home run anywhere. I am also not sure that when the roof has been open the wind has been as strong toward left field as it was in 2000, but we'd have to check a meteorologist to confirm that.
Well, that wraps up the top questions for this time. I'll be back again. In the meantime, don't forget www.foxsports.net with the keyword Astros Booth. I am always checking that out, game or not.
You can submit your own questions for this column by email to firstname.lastname@example.org.