In case you haven’t heard, your Astros are all about the Root! Root! Root! this year.
They’re rooting inside the clubhouse. They’re rooting on the field. They’re rooting on El Grande. They’re rooting on billboards. They’re rooting in videos.
And now, they’ve come up with a cutting-edge trend that can be accessed from the one device we use more than any other. Yes, folks, now your Astros are ready to Root! Root! Root! from their phones.
A series of Mobile Wallpapers are now available here and on Astros.com. The wallpaper features 13 different players, and all you have to do is choose the one you want and save it to your mobile device. The players available for wallpaper are Jose Altuve, Brian Bogusevic, David Carpenter, Jason Castro, J.A. Happ, Chris Johnson, Carlos Lee, Wilton Lopez, J.D. Martinez, Bud Norris, Wandy Rodriguez, Jordan Schafer and Wesley Wright.
Exactly 10 years ago, rumblings of a possible Major League Baseball players strike were prevalent in every city, as fans braced themselves for what looked to be an inevitable shutdown. The disputed topics centered around the predictable (money), the hot-button (steroid testing) and the absurd (the owner of the Minnesota Twins thinking he could actually get away with doing away with his team).
Unlike 1994, when the union and the owners were so far apart and negotiations were so contentious that a strike was inevitable, this time, in 2002, players were overwhelmingly against a shutdown (although they’ll probably deny it to this day). This was a different time than in ’94: not even a year had passed since the tragic events on Sept. 11, 2001, the economy was in the proverbial toilet, a war was brewing and people were, in general, frazzled.
Many players voiced a similar sentiment: “If we strike now, we’re done. The fans aren’t coming back.”
The Astros were, at that time, contenders every year. They had won the division in 2001 and were talented enough in ’02 to remain competitive and take the division race down to the wire. There were plenty of young players on that team, but there was a strong veteran presence as well. Many of those veteran players were against a union strike. They wanted to keep playing, realizing the number of years remaining for them to get to the postseason, and win the World Series, were dwindling.
Jeff Bagwell, in particular, was one of those players. He had a few years remaining on his contract, but recent shoulder surgery made his future, and his longevity in the game, a lot less certain. He had already begun the process of passing the leadership baton to the next generation. “Our time is getting shorter,” he said. “This is Richard and Lance’s team now.”
By “Richard” and “Lance,” Bagwell was referring to Richard Hidalgo and Lance Berkman, two rising young stars who were drafted and developed by the Astros and considered to be the future of the organization. Bagwell and Craig Biggio mentioned, often, that the team was in very good hands because of those two players.
Hidalgo’s career, obviously, didn’t pan out the way Berkman’s has. Nonetheless, “Doggie” was a popular figure in Houston back then. He debuted with the team when it was still playing in the Astrodome, and he holds the distinction of scoring the first Astros run at the new downtown ballpark, via the first Astros home run hit in ballpark history.
Hidalgo will be in Houston when the next homestand begins, sparking an impromptu special edition Alumni First Pitch. On Monday, April 30, Hidalgo will throw out the ceremonial first pitch prior to the Astros-Mets game (coincidentally, the Astros traded Hidalgo to the Mets in the middle of 2004). Instead of “Flashback Friday,” we’ll call this one “Memory Monday.”
Can’t wait to see “Doggie” again. Woof!
As is the case with just about everything in life, nothing stays the same forever.
Times change. Trends change. Hairstyles, clothing, music (and the devices by which we listen to that music) all change.
Baseball has changed as well, even if the differences aren’t as glaring as the contrast between bell bottoms and leisure suits in the 1970s and parachute pants and sky-high bangs in the ’80s. Baseball has changed in more subtle ways, due in large part to the escalation of salaries paid to players these days.
Pitchers arms are worth, essentially, millions. Like any other valuable asset, the rightsholders to those arms are protective of their commodity. In turn, the rightsholders — also known as Major League organizations — often treat those arms with kid gloves, careful to not overuse or abuse the investment.
A couple of generations ago, on the other hand, pitching was viewed not so much as a science as it was a responsibility. Starting pitchers, quite simply, were supposed to finish what they started. Specialized relief pitchers — lefty specialists, setup men, setup men to the setup men — were largely unheard of. If you pitched the first inning, you were also expected to pitch the ninth. It didn’t always work out that way, of course — it’s not like bullpens are a new thing — but there was a sense of pride with a starting pitcher, and a sense of failure when he wasn’t still on the mound for the last out.
Larry Dierker debuted as a Houston Colt .45 on Sept. 22, 1964, his 18th birthday. He was done as a pitcher by age 30, largely due to the wear and tear on a right arm that endured 2,333 Major League innings.
Dierker retired in 1977 after a brief stint with the St. Louis Cardinals. When he left the Astros, he held a record that still stands today: 106 complete games. It’s likely a record that may never be broken. That’s not because the Astros will never have another pitcher who could show that kind of endurance. It’s just that those pitchers won’t be allowed to finish that many games. Their arms are too expensive. Why take the risk?
Pedro Martinez, arguably the most dominant pitcher of his generation, recorded 46 complete games during his stellar 18-year career. Greg Maddux, also in a class of his own through the 1990s, recorded 109 complete games — over 23 years. By contrast, Hall of Famer Warren Spahn, whose career lasted 21 years from the mid-1940s to the mid-1960s, recorded a whopping 382 complete games, well over half of his 665 career starts.
Dierker wasn’t in the same class as Spahn, of course, but they came from the same old-school style of pitching: you start what you finish, or you didn’t do your job.
The one season Dierker spent with the Cardinals was the only time he spent away from the Astros. After retirement, he worked for the ticket office for a spell. Then he moved up to the broadcast booth, where he spent nearly two decades as an announcer. He was hired to manage the Astros in 1997, and after that five-year run ended, he slowly worked his way back into the fold as a good will ambassador for the team. All of the alumni functions that have taken place over the last decade are largely due to his leadership.
Dierker threw out the first pitch before the game on Friday, a day when the Astros wore the same Colt .45s uniforms Dierker sported during his debut all of those years ago. Many former players will be honored throughout the 50th anniversary celebration this year, but no one has given more time, knowledge and loyalty to this organization than Dierker.
It’s always nice to see “Sluggo” at the ballpark. Enjoy the images of his first pitch, along with other highlights from the day that was: