Seeing True Character

added 9/4/2005 by Scott Barzilla

Columnist note: I’m still waiting to hear back from Philip on the interview. Currently, he is 7-7 with 3.04 ERA in Corpus Christi. The season is coming to a close soon, so I expect to hear from him soon.

Website note: Anyone who knows the status of John Lauck, resident of New Orleans and writer of Astroday, please contact darrell@astrosdaily.com or ray@astrosdaily.com. We are all very worried about him. Thanks

I hope all of you will excuse me if I put the baseball aside for the time being and discuss what is probably on all of our minds. Katrina has done its damage and that damage is completely unfathomable to most of us. As a lifelong Houston resident, I have seen a couple of hurricanes and several tropical storms. I’ve also read Isaac’s Storm and seen what storms have done elsewhere. Nothing could have possibly prepared me for the sites of New Orleans, Mississippi, and Alabama. I’m sure many of you are in the same boat.

My wife is from Baton Rouge and graduated from Tulane University in New Orleans. Of course, she is taking this hard like anyone with ties to the city. New Orleans is one of most colorful cities in our great country. When you think of cultural centers in the U.S., it is one of the first places you think of. In the last week, all of us have seen extreme positives and negatives in human nature.

Tremendous Generosity

Generosity on the part of Houstonians really shouldn’t surprise me. Houston seems to be taking in more New Orleans residents than any city in the area. The Astrodome is a perfect short-term home for those displaced by the storm. The Stadium isn’t used and it has easy proximity to public transportation. However, there is now overflow into the George R. Brown Convention Center and the Reliant Center next to Reliant Stadium and the Astrodome.

Houstonians stepped up the plate when Tropical Storm Allison caused a lot of flooding in some areas in town. For those outside of Houston, it would seem like a tropical storm shouldn’t cause that much damage. Allison was unique in that regard. People donated money and their time without provocation. The same was true when 9/11 hit in 2001.

On the weekend after New Orleans residents were evacuated to Houston, several families opened their homes to evacuees without batting an eye. Schools throughout the city are taking in displaced students from Louisiana. Students at my school like all schools pressured the administration to allow them to do something. In addition to donating goods and money, they have agreed to help these students feel welcome and get acclimated. Many of you can probably tell similar stories.

The Downside

I hate to get political on a baseball site, but one of George Bush’s main campaign points was that he could be counted on in times of crisis. Really? We knew about this storm a week ago. Why did it take a week to get assistance into New Orleans? It took 48 hours to get help to India and Sri Lanka. It took less than 24 hours to get help to New York after 9/11. Those tragedies happened without warning. Katrina was in the gulf with Category 5 winds more than 24 hours before it landed. Sure, FEMA and the National Guard couldn’t go into New Orleans before the storm left, but they could have been mobilizing in the meantime.

Then, our esteemed Speaker of the House (Dennis Hastert of Illinois) suggested days after the storm had passed through that we shouldn’t spend money rebuilding New Orleans. It’s funny to me that people that are liberal or moderate can question the war in Iraq and be considered unpatriotic while conservatives in Congress can be crass and immediately move to defeatism in the name of fiscal responsibility. You talk about your double standards.

Of course, everyone has heard the stories of looting and lawlessness. I find it sad that many outside of the South have used this as an excuse to bolster their beliefs that we are somehow backwards. No one looted when Houston won championships, but it seems to happen in a lot of other places (Boston, Chicago, and Detroit in particular). What would happen if you took away food, shelter, water, and electricity for five days away from thousands of citizens in those towns? I’d bet there’d be some issues there too.

Sports Response

Les Alexander gave 250,000 thousand dollars personally and organized a three day effort to bring supplies to the displaced storm victims. Bob McNair agreed to match up to a million dollars in Red Cross donations and also gave more money personally to the effort. Drayton McLane certainly is under no obligation to give money at all or to broadcast how much he is giving. Under the circumstances, criticizing him for a lack of response is a bit premature, but when I heard he had cut ticket prices in half for Louisiana residents I was a bit bemused.

The University of Houston, Astroworld, the Museum District, and many other places were letting in Louisiana residents for free. Half-priced tickets seem like a good deal at first, but many of these people don’t follow baseball closely and don’t have a lot of excess income to spare. Free tickets would have made for a nice distraction from the tragedy they have suffered. Half price tickets seem like a nice gesture, but most of them can’t afford to do that right now. The problem is that Drayton McLane probably knows this. He may be donating from his personal coffers, but the response from the Astros as an organization has been minimal (at least publicly).

Louisiana is within the Astros fan base, but most residents follow football more closely than baseball. Giving free tickets away might have been a hit for him at the gate, but it would have earned him thousands of new fans. Sometimes in business you have to look past today to reap the benefits. People remember kindness and they remember misers. It’s hard to call Drayton a miser, but he certainly doesn’t appear to be as kind as Leslie Alexander or Bob McNair.

As we see from the title, tragedy reveals true character. At the end of the day, Drayton McLane is worried most about making a buck. They say that Rockefeller and Morgan donated large sums of money at church on Sunday. On Monday through Saturday they worked their employees to death and paid them paltry wages. Privately, Drayton may be giving more than McNair and Alexander combined. If he is then he deserves a lot of credit. Yet, what we do publicly means more in many instances than what we do privately.

In that regard, there is a big difference between being generous and appearing to be generous. The Texans and the Rockets have been generous and I suspect people will remember that. Drayton McLane’s “generosity” was empty because he knew it really wouldn’t put him out any. I suspect people will remember that as well. Machiavelli said that people were easily fooled. I suppose that Drayton may believe this. Of course, in times like this it is a lot more comforting to think the best of people rather than the worst.

Scott Barzilla is the author of “Checks and Imbalances” and “The State of Baseball Management.”