The Astros Blueprint Begins To Fade

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For the Astros, all of a sudden the blueprint isn’t as simple as plugging a bunch of numbers into the machine and achieving the desired result. With the resignation of CEO George Postolos there’s speculation that the Astros “united front” of rebuilding by detonating the entire organization isn’t as united as it was portrayed to be. There’s also talk that Nolan Ryan now has an opening with the Astros to be the team president since the Rangers have mitigated his CEO role and he was unhappy about it.

To put an end to the speculation on both ends, Postolos is not a baseball guy. He’s a business guy who assisted Astros owner Jim Crane in getting the franchise. Losing him is irrelevant.

Ryan has ties to the Astros fans from his days pitching for them, but think about it logically: He would be leaving the Rangers because his say-so was supposedly undermined by the promotion of GM Jon Daniels to head of baseball operations and Ryan is now seen as a figurehead, but going to the Astros and working for GM Jeff Luhnow and placating the fans who are angry at the team being so supernaturally terrible would be the epitome of a figurehead move. Luhnow certainly wouldn’t listen to Ryan’s old-school baseball theories and the stat people in the front office would roll their eyes at him when he was out of the room. It wouldn’t be a lateral move, but a step down into the “old man” status he so clearly loathes. In actuality, the one place aside from public relations in which Ryan could help the Astros is on the mound. Since he could throw 90-mph years after his retirement, there’s a pretty good chance that he could still throw in the 80s even at age 66 and would have the pitching savvy to do better than what the Astros are currently tossing out there.

Dismissing the departure of Postolos and the talk of hiring Ryan, the Astros are coming to the inevitable conclusion that the fans being onboard with this expansion-style rebuild was fleeting. They’re not going to pay to see a product that is so blatantly and intentionally not of Major League quality, nor are they going to sit happily while the owner scoffs at the fans wanting him to spend more money to at least make the team cosmetically better. It’s easy to draw up the plan for a teardown and reconstruction without accounting for the blowback from such a decision. There’s support for what Luhnow and Crane are doing and that support will not waver in places like the halls of Baseball Prospectus and Keith Law’s house, but that doesn’t mean they have carte blanche to do whatever they want with the fans merrily going along with it sans complaints. Ryan might quiet them briefly if he was hired, but how long would that last while his suggestions were being ignored and Crane was trotting him out as a human shield to protect him from fan and media vitriol? Fans don’t go to the park to see the team president do his presidenting. Most probably didn’t know who Postolos was and while they’d know Ryan, that wouldn’t perfume the stink that these Astros are generating.

The key for Crane is twofold: 1) can he stand the constant attacks he’ll be under as the team gets worse before it gets better? And 2) Can Luhnow find the talent to make the club viable again?

On the first front, Crane is probably not accustomed to people talking to or about him the way they currently are. Rich, successful businessmen aren’t pleased about criticism and when it’s an alpha-male Texan where any small concession is seen as a sign of weakness and can cost money and clients, it’s magnified.

Regarding Luhnow, because the Astros are going to have so many high draft picks and are pouring most of their resources into development, it will be hard not to get better and show signs of significant improvement eventually. Whether that will yield the results that are expected in a replication of the Rays or the new “genius” in the Moneyball sense remains to be seen and it’s not guaranteed to happen. Already there should be concerns that their hand-picked manager Bo Porter is starting to look overmatched and was rightfully mocked because he didn’t know a fundamental rule of the game last week against the Angels. To make matters worse, his coaches didn’t point out to him that what he was doing was illegal either. That he got away with it only made it look worse.

There are similarities between another Texas team that was purchased by a brash rich man who didn’t want to hear what didn’t work in the past as Jerry Jones bought the floundering Cowboys from Bum Bright in 1989. Jones said some stupid things as Crane has, but he also had the foresight and guts to fire Tom Landry and hire Jimmy Johnson to put him in charge of the entire on-field operation. Of course it helped that Troy Aikman was sitting there as the first pick in the 1989 NFL Draft and that Johnson was a ruthless wizard with moving up and down the NFL draftboard and dispatching those who couldn’t or wouldn’t help him achieve his goals as rapidly as possible. But the key for those Cowboys was the Herschel Walker trade in which Johnson fleeced the Vikings for a bounty of draft picks that he used to put a Super Bowl team together in four years.

Jeff Luhnow is not Jimmy Johnson in terms of personality nor intensity, can’t trade up and down the MLB draftboard, and he doesn’t have a Herschel Walker equivalent on his roster to trade. Porter is not Johnson in terms of on-field strategic skill and in threatening and pushing his coaches and players to get it done or else.

Unless there’s some past business animosity between the two, I wouldn’t be surprised if Jones has called Crane as Al Davis used to call Jones during the Cowboys’ 1-15 season in Jones/Johnson’s first season running the team and told him to keep his chin up. By “chin up” I don’t mean Jones is suggesting to Crane to have the ill-advised, multiple plastic surgeries Jones has had as he’s aged, but to keep his chin up in response to the raking he’s getting for the atrociousness of his team. Not only does Crane need to keep his chin up, but it had better be able to take a punch as well because they’re starting in earnest now and won’t stop until there’s a marked improvement in the on-field product. And that’s a long way away.

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An RG III Win for the Redskins Renders Rob Parker an Irrelevant Footnote

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Rob Parker’s ridiculous query as to whether Robert Griffin III was a “cornball brother” is evidence of the inherent stupidity of Parker himself. Anyone who’d seen Parker on ESPN’s First Take or read his writing before knew what he was prior to his insipid comments about Griffin. Now that stupidity is known to the masses. Parker became a national name through the cheapest of means and the attention he coveted has resulted in widespread awareness that he’s clueless about sports and uses controversy to stand out from the crowd. That he’s doing so as one black man questioning the racial bona fides of another black man is made worse by Griffin being a worthy role model for the community on and off the field even if he might be considered a “cornball brother” by Parker or anyone else.

The NFL rules of today are designed to protect the quarterback and prevent the “lessons” that went on years ago and had to be endured by Troy Aikman, Steve Young, John Elway and Hall of Famers from 10 years ago and beyond. They have also served to let rookies like Griffin and Andrew Luck enter the league and produce rather than struggle and be benched as they failed to learn quickly enough or took too brutal a beating.

For Griffin to be diminished by someone like Parker and have loyalty to his background called into question because he might or might not have a white fiancée; because he might or might not be a Republican; because there’s a lot Parker doesn’t know, is more despicable than what Parker actually said. Parker, if he wanted answers to his questions, should’ve had the courage to ask Griffin directly rather than use it as a topic for a show. But then he might’ve gotten an actual answer and that’s the last thing he wanted because he doesn’t care about Griffin’s personal life or his politics. He was using him.

Let’s say all of Parker’s questions (presented in the tone of accusation) received a response in the affirmative. Would it be reason to criticize someone who graduated from Baylor University in three years and may or may not be a Republican and may or may not have a white fiancée? What would he have to do to not be a “cornball brother?”

Griffin’s story, unlike that of another Washington phenom Bryce Harper, doesn’t have the phoniness crafted to sell it as someone “special” in every aspect of his life. Harper’s tale, including having passed the GED without studying, strikes of creative public relations nonsense. Griffin, in opposition to Parker’s passive aggressive insinuations and the faux storyline surrounding Harper, appears real. The Harper story is destructive because it puts readers and influential youngsters into a position of feeling unworthy because they couldn’t pass the test in similar fashion and fail to see the reality that it’s likely not even true. Griffin should be held up as an example and not used for selfish reasons by a hack seeking notoriety.

Griffin’s brilliant season and star presence is singlehandedly changing the culture of the Washington Redskins. Whereas they were a dysfunctional mess with accompanying coaching changes, front office restructurings, past-their-prime star players signed to outrageous contracts by owner Dan Snyder to piece together a winner without a payoff, they’ve turned into a place where players will want to go specifically to play with Griffin.

Parker asserting that Griffin is not “down with the cause,” or “not one of us,” or “he’s kind of black, but he’s not really like the kind of guy you really want to hang out with,” and the firestorm that followed is missing the true point of contention that Parker was denigrating someone he should’ve been crediting. Parker was indulging in inaccurate armchair sociology. Would it be negative for Griffin to use his own mind and beliefs to come to a political affiliation? To decide whom to marry? To shun going with the crowd to fit in due to skin color or other factors of birth that are only relevant because someone like Parker brings them up?

On the field, players looking at the Redskins as a destination aren’t going there to hang out with Griffin away from the football field. If they’re looking for someone with whom to party or to go where the girls are, they can go to play with the annual team that signs the useless journeyman Matt Leinart.

Griffin can lead the Redskins to the playoffs on Sunday. That will go further in garnering positive perception than being “down with the cause.” Winning and leading can attract other players to want to join him in Washington. None of his teammates or the Redskins fans will care about his personal life or politics. They’ll be riding along with him and not using him as the equivalent of a promotional gimmick as Parker did. It will also quiet the footnote to Griffin’s season overtly referencing Parker’s incendiary and unnecessary attack on one who should be celebrated for what he is and not ridiculed for what, in the view of one talentless face in the crowd with a forum like Parker, says he is or should be.

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