Astros Now For The Byrds

added 8/18/2012 by Bob Hulsey

Vanity. All is Vanity

Diving into the Book of Ecclesiastes offers a fresh perspective on being an Astros fan. There is nothing new under the sun. The lowly Rangers have, for a time, been made great and the great have been made lowly. Baseball's worst franchise, the St. Louis Browns, moved to Baltimore and were one of the best franchises for about 20 years before stumbling again. The lowly Montreal Expos moved to Washington DC and now have the best record in the National League. The Astros are moving leagues and might, if the Crane/Luhnow experiment fails, be moving out of town.

But it is all vanity. It is all chasing after the wind. This magnificent and maddening pasttime is the toy department of life, something to take our minds off the real troubles of illness, emptiness, joblessness, poverty and strife. So we actually care how some AA pitcher is doing and whether he might someday be an ace or merely a number five starter. We trot out an endless parade of nouveau statistics to assure ourselves that we can predict his future while really trying just to save our sanity.

Vanity. All of it.

That isn't to say that some meaning and purpose can't be found in those who make baseball their profession or that some life lessons can't be revealed in a tale like Josh Hamilton's or J.R. Richard's or Jim Abbott's. But what happens on the diamond, for most of us, is simply a way to pass a few hours of our lives that we didn't know what else to do with. It takes less commitment than feeding the homeless or comforting the sick.

There are days I wonder how closely I would follow the Astros if I didn't have to recap their activities for this website. Every night seems a numbing repeat of previous nights.

"Pitcher (fill in the blank) did relatively well in the early innings and while (fill in the blanks) were able to produce some offense, it wasn't enough to overcome the (fill in the blank)s because of one meltdown inning where some bad pitches and bad defense conspired with a failure to get the big hit that doomed the Astros to yet another loss, the xxth defeat in their last xx games."

Sometimes my treadmill seems to offer more variety than the Astros do. The dwindling attendance at home games indicates some of you have moved on better than I have (and are probably not reading this since you've successfully found other pursuits). Will season's end be a blessing or a curse?

Ownership is pleading with the fans to "stick with us" while offering them few tangible reasons to do so. Trading away the few veterans left on the club and replacing them with waiver claims may be a successful long-term strategy but, in the short term, it further frustrates anyone who might actually care to root root root for this season's undermanned Astros. Why care if this year's team succeeds when management obviously doesn't?

When Luhnow took over the Astros, he didn't trade the remaining vets during the winter as some expected him to do. Not only did he plug the gaping hole at shortstop but he brought in veterans like Livan Hernandez to try to make the team competitive. They were a .500 team in spring training.

I believed back then that Luhnow was cagey enough to realize that keeping a few veterans around and not making the Astros a complete embarrassment was a better way to start his professional track record as a baseball general manager than having a fire sale and presiding over a laughingstock.

For a while, it worked splendidly too. The Astros were 22-23 in late May and there was talk the Astros might hold onto some veterans for the rest of the season. But then they were blown out in Colorado and the spiral began. They won two of three on the road against the White Sox but then came the perfect Cain.

June was disappointing but that was just the warm up act. The Carlos Lee trade, welcome as it was, also seemed to signify that the dismantling had begun. That's not to say that any of the trades Luhnow made afterward was wrong but I think the sense in the clubhouse was that this season had been surrendered and it made the freefall worse.

I sometimes wonder if Brad Mills had been told what would happen over his managerial tenure in Houston during his job interview with Ed Wade, Tal Smith and Pam Gardner if he would have decided life was better as a bench coach in Boston. I wonder if he tosses and turns at night believing he, not Bobby Valentine, would currently be managing the Red Sox if he had not foolishly jumped aboard the SS Astro Titanic.

I'm sure he'd stoicly tell you now that the thought never crossed his mind because Mills is skilled at deflecting conflict. But it must gnaw at him. When they post your name in the Baseball Register for all eternity, there's not an asterisk in the managerial record that says "but he never had a realistic chance". I do hope Mills will get an opportunity to prove his mettle as a big league manager in an organization that actually tries to win. Casey Stengel got that chance in 1949 after nine years finishing with second-tier clubs and look what he accomplished.

In Boston, at least Mills would have talents like Adrian Gonzalez and Dustin Pedroia in the lineup. In Houston, Mills doesn't have so much as a Coco Crisp.

Having to view the abomination that is the 2012 Astros on a daily basis from the front row makes me sad for Mills. But should I be? At least he has a job and is drawing a nice salary. Is that worth the humiliation attached to being manager of the Astros?

Vanity. All is vanity. All is chasing after the wind. There's a time to sow and a time to reap. A time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing. Turn, turn, turn.

Update: After posting this on Saturday afternoon, the Astros fired Mills and two coaches Saturday night. Mills handled it with his usual (and frustrating) class. As I wrote above, I hope he someday gets another managerial gig with an organization that actually wants to win. He deserves it.

Can't imagine who would want to take a managerial job where absolutely no hope exists of producing a winner for the next 3-5 years but I'm sure Luhnow will find somebody ambitious or desperate enough to do it. I wouldn't recommend they buy a house in Houston though. Not until the front office gets serious about fielding a major league ballclub. The best managers in the history of the sport couldn't win with what is presently on the roster.