Hey, look who I ran into.
You never know who you’re going to bump into when you stop by clubhouse manager Dennis Liborio’s office, the unofficial center of the Houston baseball universe. Not only do players go there for bats, balls, haircuts (yes, haircuts. Every couple of weeks, I believe on Sundays, a hairdresser comes in, sets up shop in the back room and trims a little off the sides for whoever needs it) and other equipment needs, it’s simply a place where people stop by to chat with Dennis, who has been with the Astros for about 30 years and pretty much knows everyone in baseball.
When the Phillies are in town, you’ll find Larry Andersen in Dennis’s office before batting practice. When it’s an ESPN game, Joe Morgan usually pops in. Both President Bushes have spent time in Dennis’s office, as have a slew of former Astros who have stayed in the biz, either as broadcasters, or coaches, or front office staffers — such as Charley Kerfeld of the reigning World Champ Phillies.
Most park it in the big blue comfy seat located in the center of the room, but on Wednesday, an old friend made a beeline for Dennis’s chair, as he did for the majority of his 20-year career. Craig Biggio isn’t a frequent guest in the Astros’ clubhouse these days, but when he does stop by — as he did this time, with his 16-year-old son, Conor — he knows how to make himself right at home.
Soon after Biggio arrived, Astros owner Drayton McLane strolled in and the two chatted for a while, talking mostly about the draft and the sky-high signing bonuses that are awarded to the top-shelf picks. Both men, as you can imagine, think that part of the game is getting a tad out of hand.
“What did you sign for?” McLane asked Biggio, the Astros first-rounder in 1987.
“One-hundred thousand,” Biggio said proudly.
“Too much!” McLane responded with a laugh.
In baseball circles these days, much of the conversation is focused on the upcoming draft, which begins next Tuesday [June 9] at 5 p.m. CT. Biggio will represent the Astros, who have the 21st pick overall. All 30 teams are sending a notable representative to make their first selections, which will be broadcast live from the MLB Network Studio in Secaucus, N.J.
The group includes several Hall of Famers, including Al Kaline (Detroit), Bill Mazeroski (Pittsburgh) and Billy Williams (Cubs). Many former superstars will be there as well, including Seattle’s Jay Buhner, Cleveland’s Ellis Burks, Cincinnati’s Eric Davis and the Yankees’ Tino Martinez.
“That’s a pretty impressive group,” Biggio said. “This is great for the game.”
The Astros, like all teams, are currently knee-deep in pre-draft meetings to prepare for the big day — or should I say, three days — next week. I’m going to sit in on some of these meetings to get a taste of everything that goes into getting ready for Draft day, and I’ll also be blogging and Twittering from inside the draft room next Tuesday and probably Wednesday. I’ve never been on the inside before and I’m looking forward to watching the process unfold. And, of
course, I’m looking forward to sharing that insider view with you.
If you didn’t get a chance to watch the video chat session Brian McTaggart and I conducted Wednesday afternoon, you can find it on the third panel on the Astros web site. It will also be posted in the video section of my “Footnotes” blog, which you can find here.
Right now, we’re running the Spring Training reports in that section but our goal is to replace
those with more current videos in the near future. First up will be today’s chat session.
McTaggart and I answered approximately 25 questions during the 45-minute chat. A wide variety of topics were addressed, including rumors surrounding a couple of the more popular players. The recent Roy-Oswalt-to-White-Sox speculation was front and center, and Brian and I did our best to address, and squelch, any notion that the two teams were in talks regarding the star right-hander.
General manager Ed Wade has a policy to never discuss trade rumors with media, either to conform or deny. It’s a sound practice, considering discussing players under contract with other teams is against Major League Baseball rules. But Wade, as well as White Sox GM Kenny Williams, set aside this policy because they felt this was a special case. Both sides confirmed there have been no talks at all, about any players, including Oswalt.
The reports began to surface after a high-level White Sox executive was spotted at several Astros games during Houston’s recent road swing through Pittsburgh and Cincinnati, and the assumption, seemingly unconfirmed, was that the executive was scouting Oswalt.
Perhaps the White Sox/Jake Peavy trade that was apparently completed and then called off fueled the rumors that they were now targeting another front-line starter. That part I don’t know. I do know that every team has advance scouts in every ballpark this time of year. It’s standard practice.
The story gained more steam when Oswalt was quoted as saying he would invoke his no-trade rights if the Astros and White Sox did complete a deal.
The Astros made it clear, in no uncertain terms, that they are not talking to the White Sox and they’re not shopping Oswalt. Confirmation from the White Sox side should be enough to put this one to bed.
I’m fairly certain Mark Teixeira’s Yankees aren’t going to be pursuing Lance Berkman anytime soon, either.
Trade rumors are part of baseball, and in general, they’re a part of why this game is fun for the fans. In today’s 24-7 news cycle fueled by the Internet, there is never a shortage of rumors, innuendos and speculation. Most of it is harmless. Every once in a while, however, it can be flat incorrect, and sometimes, cruel.
I read a recent report on SI.com that stated quite bluntly that the problem in Houston was not manager Cecil Cooper, but rather GM Ed Wade, who, according to the report, is meddling and negative and “puts everyone in a defensive mode,” including Cooper.
It goes on to say that Shawn Chacon’s actions last year involving “pushing Wade down last year” were “cheered” by other players. I read that and thought, if this is true, and I missed it, then I really had no business covering the Astros for as long as I did. So I made my way around the clubhouse to poll the players who were on the team last year. I told them about the report and the reaction was unanimously one of surprise.
“If anything, we understand (Wade is) somewhat hamstrung by the payroll,” one player said. “But we’ve always been impressed with the job he’s done, especially after he went out and got Randy Wolf last year when everyone else had counted us out of the race.”
And I can assure you, no one was cheering Chacon when he “pushed Wade down,” wh
ich is sort of like saying Yao Ming is “slightly” taller than Tiny Tim. The act was violent, it was beyond inappropriate, and not a single player was anything but disgusted that it happened.
From the homepage:
Miguel Tejada wants to remain an Astro
Jose Valverde continues to make progress
Surprising news out of Atlanta: Braves release Tom Glavine
And Wade says he’s not interested: