Sabbatical

added 10/14/2006 by Scott Barzilla

I don't think I've written a column in several weeks. Some people are wondering where I've been and others are happy I've gone away for awhile. Before I dive headfirst into the off-season issues I'll first talk about some hard learned life lessons and how they relate to the Astros current situation.

I was called to work for a Catholic school this year. Suddenly, 40-50 hour weeks from public school turned into 60-70 hour weeks. Teaching is always the first assignment, but it was very important that I coach volleyball for them. The team was coming off of a 0-24 season and needed someone to inject some life into the program. Now, my first season is winding down (last game is on Monday) and I've learned a lot from running my first program.

As a stat guy I have always downplayed the importance of chemistry, but as a coach I've learned it is so important. Of course, coaching 20, 30, and 40 something men is a lot different from coaching teenage girls. So, I'm not sure how much I can translate lessons about chemistry to the Astros, but the experience has been an eye opener. There have been dramatic squabbles between teammates and the normal teenage mood swings that have called me to be counselor more than coach.

The one thing that does translate was the tension between committment level. I had a range of personal committments that ranged from one girl showing up to every practice in the afternoon while training for a marathon in the morning to girls being more interested in kissing their boyfriends than showing up to games. This causes obvious tension. Of course, professional athletes have a more uniform approach to their craft. Yet, some are more team oriented while others are more interested in getting their payday.

The thought of committment level came up when the rumors about the Astros going after ARod started to crop up. There is no doubt that Arod is committed, but what is he committed to? Every team he has been on has gotten better after he left. ARod always puts up numbers, but even a numbers guy can't ignore this fact. Of course, there are a lot of reasons for that, but the implication is clear. Beyond the numbers, there are guys that make their teams better and guys that just don't seem to have that effect.

The hardest thing I had to do this year was kick someone off the team. The parents were very upset because they felt the decision was unfair. Simply put, we were a better team without her there. The core of the Astros has been together for a long time, but Tim Purpura must make some tough decisions with some of these players. It becomes harder when these players are good people who conduct themselves in a professional manner. He will be judged by this off-season more than the past two because he now has the power to make changes. Can he say goodbye to those players that are holding the team back?

Leading a program requires some tough choices. Sometimes you have to cut loose someone you like. This brings us back to looking more at performance than character. It's funny how things come full circle. Kicking off an unlikeable and disruptive force is easy. Cutting a good kid that just doesn't have the skills is something else. Certainly the Astros have jettisoned their fair share of jackasses in their day. This off-season has them looking at good guys that give their all, but somehow come up short.

In the coming weeks, I will be looking at all of the positions except first base and second base (because Berkman and Biggio are entrenched there). In all cases, the players there are likeable guys that are dedicated to their craft. I've been accused of being biased against certain guys and that might be true. However, those biases are always based on performance and not likeability. We will start with catcher because it is the first position on the diamond. Here's hoping that the club looks long and hard at all of the spots.