added 9/4/2002 by Greg Lucas

Greg Lucas, longtime Astros and
Fox Sports broadcaster


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 latest submissions...


Hi Greg,

What is the attitude or confidence level in the clubhouse the last few days (or weeks) with the way the team is playing in regards to their strong chances of taking over the NL Central? It seems to be growing, from a fan's perspective. The 'Stros have always had a 'business as usual' type attitude because of their success of the last 5 years. I would love to hear that there is some excitement and even some competitive spirit, if you will, going on in there.

Also, is there some dissention with Hidalgo and J. Williams regarding the playing time that Richard has had this year - or lack thereof (I know he's hurt now - But the sitting out and all that).

Thanks so much,

Scott in Bmt

The Astros are still very much "business as usual" as you described it. There is a frustration after losses, but no extreme joy when a game is won.

The players do keep up with what is going on with St. Louis. The big-screen television [in the clubhouse] will always have the Cardinals game playing if it is available. All baseball players know that with so many games to be played that getting "up" for a game, such as may be the case in football or basketball, isn't possible, nor necessarily productive.

As far as Richard Hidalgo is concerned, he certainly would prefer to play. But at this point of the season he knows why he is not. Richard is not 100% healthy, but Merced simply has been getting the job done better.


Mr. Lucas,

What do you think is the real problem with Richard Hidalgo? Can he return to the kind of productivity he displayed in 2000, or is it time to give somebody like Jason Lane a chance to play RF?

GLEN A. MAYNARD

I am convinced that if Richard dedicated himself to getting into top-flight shape during the off-season and became perhaps more of a student of hitting (and his hitting in particular) he could still be a star player. However, as anyone attending a game during the last two years can easily see, he has been seriously overweight.

He has developed some very poor habits as a hitter, and has not taken well to some coaching suggestions. If Richard does not come to spring training in the best shape he has been in in several years, Jason Lane could be breathing down his neck for playing time.


I thought that your analysis of why we are getting better-pitched games at MMP was right on the mark.

Don't you agree that the club's number-one priority this winter should be a speedy center fielder? We can have great pitching and a lot of fly balls to the centerfield area, but it won't help unless there is someone there who can catch the ball. Lance has made some great plays this year, but if he can't play first, he should be in left.

W. Wade Porter

I think the club considers trying to find a speedy centerfielder a high priority. Lance has done a much better job than many would have expected. He can play the spot. But if he could move to a corner at the same time the club was able to add speed to the lineup, it would make for a much better balanced team.


Can any one position player ever really equal the contribution that Bill Spiers made to this ballculb? Vizcaino and Merced together come close, IMHO, but I don't see a single player adding what Spiers did. Your thoughts?

Darrell Pittman

I would have to say that Vizcaino may have done a real Spiers job this year. He actually has played shortstop better than Bill could have -- and better than HE did last year for that matter. Don't forget: even before last year Spiers was injured a number of times and could not play many games in a row.

Merced is extra. Both have had some big hits. Viz has played well defensively at all the positions he has played. And Merced has shown he is not an "old" 35 year old who can only pinch hit.


Do you think the new agreement between the owners and players will really fix the game of baseball, or is it just a temporary bandaid? What do you see as good and bad about the agreement?

Shelly S.

The best part of the agreement is there is one. We did not have to go through another strike. How much it will help, only time will tell.

What will be more important will be for owners to be more conservative in awarding contracts. From what I have read in the agreement, and the comments of others, I think the deal is certainly closer to a band-aid than a solution, but it will help some clubs, and it won't really hurt the high dollar clubs like the Yankees that much.

Personally, I would have preferred a salary floor that required each club to spend a minimum amount on players and/or player development. But once a floor would have been negotiated, the players felt that might open the door for a real salary cap in the next negotiation.

Of course, a floor and cap would eliminate the need to have a luxury tax and would force the owners to reconfigure revenue sharing on their own. That might open up even more problems than we now have.


What determines which fans in the stands are depicted on TV?

Also, When Mark Loretta joined the team, he took uniform number 8, which had been Gregg Zaun's number. Was this done with Gregg's permission?

Susan Pittman

The Fox Sports Net cameramen are always on the lookout for fans with signs, good-looking women, happy families, small children, fan clubs (like the O's Bros and/or Blum's Blondes, etc.) But in addition, regular everyday fans are used in crowd shots with no special reason behind them.

As for the number situation, Zaun, who attended the same California high school as Loretta, knew that Mark wore number 8 in Milwaukee. He gladly gave it up since, in his words, it wasn't very lucky for him since he was only hitting about .215. Gregg had no long term tie with the number so it didn't matter. He now wears #2.


Do you think that Mark Loretta can really help us down the stretch? Is giving up prospects like Tony Franklin really worth it?

Thanks,

Rachel Allford

It was Wayne Franklin, the lefty, that was surrendered. Wayne had been given some looks by the Astros but was not impressive as a reliever. He was given a chance to start in New Orleans and did well. But his stuff is the same and may not be quite major league calibre. In other words, to the Astros, he was not in the plans. Losing him for Loretta was not considered a loss.

The Astros may be interested in trying to sign Loretta after the season if he impresses in the final month and acknowledges that he is no longer a $5-million a year player.


Mr Lucas,

What do you enjoy the most about your job?

Randall K.

To be honest, I enjoy doing what I am doing right now... talking with the fans by e-mail and finding out exactly what they are thinking. I am able to find out how much the average fan knows about the game, as well as find out how much the "superfan" knows about the inner workings of the game; not only how it is played, but how it is run.

When I do work in the booth as either the play-by-play or analyst, the information I gain from hearing from the fans, and what they want and need to know, normally is part of the telecast. Some of that is evident in my field-level commentator work, but most comes in the form of return e-mails since I don't have a full time open mic on the field.

I really like talking baseball and trying to report either facts or opinions based on what I know about the inner workings of the club and sport without betraying confidences, or not being able to see both sides of an issue.


See you next time, hopefully after the Astros have caught the Cards. In the meantime, the Fox Sports website -- FoxSports.com with the keyword phrase "Astros Booth" gets you in touch anytime.

Greg Lucas


You can submit your own questions for this column by email to astrosdaily@yahoo.com.

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