Thursday, February 11, 2016

Thursday Morning Hot Links

Hear's wut ewe knead too no:

*Jexas went to the prospective season ticket holder dinner last night.

*One day after hernia surgery, Evan Gattis walked a mile and is optimistic about his recovery time.

*Gattis' surgery frees up Spring Training ABs for younger players.

*Drellich says of Gattis' recovery the door is cracked for young guys, but it isn't wide open.

*Anthony Castrovince asks a question of all 30 teams. For the Astros: Will Gattis be ready for Opening Day?

*Here's a great profile on Lance McCullers from Tampa Bay Online. McCullers has been literally chopping wood three days a week to improve his grip and forearm strength and ran to the gym in every Italian city he and his new wife visited on their honeymoon.

*Giles and Fister are the headliners of the small group of new Astros going to camp.

*Keith Law ranked the Astros' farm system 17th in baseball (Insider subscription required).

*In 1994 Bill James predicted Hall of Fame elections for the next 25 years.

*Preston Tucker's high school retired his jersey.

*J.D. Martinez signed a 2yr/$18.5m deal with the Tigers.

Before you go: Lance McCullers has a custom PS4 controller...

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Wednesday Night Prospective Season Ticket Holder Dinner

Wednesday night Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow took time to speak to prospective season ticket holders at a dinner hosted at Minute Maid Park. Reliving the thrill ride of the 2015 season conjured up all the warm memories which made this past season so fun. It worked so well on me that I think I may actually take the season ticket holder plunge. Luhnow not only discussed what has happened but what he is expecting to happen in 2016.

Spring training in Kissimmee is going to be exciting to watch. When you have so many excellent players fighting for spots there’s bound to be some disappointment with who makes it to the opeming day roster. However, shuffling is inevitable. Something that worked in spring training might not work on 10 day west coast road trip. With Evan Gattis out for part of spring training that makes room for some of the other guys to possibly step up and take on first base. Commenting that a lot of what happens at first and third base will depend on how Jon Singleton performs in Kissimmee, Luhnow said they may throw another option in the mix before Spring Training starts (since we don’t have enough). In discussing this Luhnow also said “There’s a chance that Tyler White makes our opening day club.”

Mike Fiers, who was just the extra guy in the Carlos Gomez trade, had never pitched in the ninth inning in the majors, yet delivered Minute Maid Park’s first no hitter August 21, 2016. Luhnow called it the greatest experience of his baseball life. Knowing that most people pay more attention when their team is on offense, Luhnow said that the starting pitching has been and will be exciting to watch, noting that lots of people came out last year specifically to watch Dallas Keuchel pitch. He expects that the starters and relievers will be part of the must see action.

One question presented had to do with arbitration and possible resentment from a player like Keuchel for not signing a long term contract. He answered talking about risk assessment. The flexibility of having a year to year contact and not signing something like an 8 year, 100 million dollar deal helps them avoid the risk of losing production in later years yet stuck paying the same amount regardless of production.  Luhnow also said that when the right circumstances present themselves they want to talk to all of the great players about extending the relationship beyond the control they have.

Quick note about season tickets: I personally have never been a season ticket holder because I tend to be picky about what games I attend based on opponent, any promotions or giveaways that may be going on, etc. However I did learn that they have a game exchange option so that may be worth it if that is anyone else’s hesitation.

Wednesday Morning Hot Links

The biggest news of the night was the news that Evan Gattis had hernia surgery and is out for 4-6 weeks. Drellich says in the article that the "injury is not considered severe," which is exactly what they said about Carlos Gomez at the end of August.

So, 4-6 weeks. It's February 10, so if it's the minimum four weeks then he misses the first two-ish weeks of Spring Training. If it's six weeks he misses, he'll return about two weeks before Opening Day. Though Gattis texted McTaggart that he's optimistic he'll be ready for Opening Day "or shortly thereafter," that's not a lot of time to get ready for the season, and it's going to take some time to build up his strength. This should make Jon Singleton and A.J. Reed feel a little more confident heading into Spring Training.

More immediately, Gattis has an arbitration case in six days. It's unclear whether the recent surgery will be considered in determining his value for 2016.

*The Astros won their arbitration case against Jason Castro, meaning he'll make $5,000,000 in 2016 instead of $5,250,000. In baseball economics that seems like a petty number to argue over. But no one has ever told me that I'm worth a quarter of a million dollars less than I thought, so who am I to judge?

Here are your non-league-minimum salaries for 2016:
Rasmus: $15.8m
Gomez: $9m
Feldman: $8m
Keuchel: $7.25m
Fister: $7m
Neshek: $6.5m
Gregerson: $6.25m
Valbuena: $6.125m
Sipp: $6m
Castro: $5m
Altuve: $3.5m
Singleton: $2m
Marwin: $2m
Fields: $900,000

*Hardball Times on the science behind the crack of the bat.

*I've been sort of bored with this offseason - maybe call it a cautious excitement - but we've posted some history stuff about the Astros. Yesterday it was about Bob Watson and the one millionth run scored. Friday it was about the robbery in 2000 Spring Training. I have a couple of more posts in the works, but if there's a weird/random piece of Astros history you want explored, you can email it to astroscounty at gmail dot com or leave it in the comments. (Note: I've gone back and tagged as many pieces like these with the History Lesson tag. Feel free to peruse.)

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

History Lesson: Bob Watson and the One Millionth Run

It is not rare to see a player sprint from second base to score a run. It is fairly rare to see a player sprint from second base to cross the plate after a teammate hits a home run. Yet that's precisely what Astros outfielder Bob Watson did on May 4, 1975 against the Giants. Why? $10,000, a $1,000 Seiko watch, and one million Tootsie Rolls were at stake.

The 1975 Astros were coming off three straight seasons in which they finished .500 or better for the first time in their young history. But 1975 wasn't going so well. At the end of April they were 8-16 in the middle of a 16-game road trip that would encompass both coasts, ten games out west, then three in Montreal, and three in Chicago. They had taken three of four from the Padres to open the homestand and headed to Candlestick Park for three weekend games. Houston lost the series opener on a walkoff, then the Saturday game was postponed by rain, making Sunday a double-header against the Giants.

Ninety-nine years after the foundation of the National League - and the first run scored by  the Philadelphia Athletics' Wes Fisler - a radio newscaster named Mark Sackler had used the Baseball Encyclopedia to count up how many runs had been scored in Major-League history. He figured that in 1974 MLB had to be close to a million runs. Sackler predicted May 4, 1975 as the day that the one millionth run would be scored.

The promotion picked up steam. Stan Musial got in on it: "I think it's a great promotion for baseball. Baseball is a great game for statistics."

There was some controversy over the whole to-do: why was Major League Baseball selling out for Tootsie Rolls, a "small-time candy company?" It wasn't until Joe DiMaggio explained that it was fun and that he had eaten Tootsie Rolls as early as six years old that the promotion started to pick up steam. And when Ernie Banks promoted it, then it became okay. Fans were allowed to pick the who and when would score the one millionth run, and there was a countdown in every single ballpark. Rockefeller Center served as a command center for spotters at every game, phoning in each run that was scored. There was a contest for fans to predict who would score and win, and the winner would get a million Tootsie Rolls and a million pennies, as well.

Teams bought into it, as well. Marty Appel, the Yankees' media relations director at the time, said, "We were hoping it was us. We weren't winning pennants then and it would've been a nice moment."

Watson told Brian McTaggart that the Astros knew what was happening, too. "We knew there was going to have to be 10 runs scored or something."

Dave Roberts took the mound for the Astros facing the Giants' John Montefusco. It was 0-0 when cleanup hitter Bob Watson led off the top of the 2nd. He worked the count full, then drew the walk, and then stole second base. Jose Cruz drew another walk to put runners on 1st and 2nd with nobody out for catcher Milt May's plate appearance.

Five minutes earlier Oakland's Phil Garner hit a double that scored Claudell Washington at Comiskey Park. The One Millionth Run countdown was stuck on 1.

During the second inning of the Astros/Giants game, the Yankees' Chris Chambliss was thrown out at home by Brewers' first baseman George Scott. "I would have made a little part of history," Chambliss said after the game, "I guess that's the only way I'll make history."

Meanwhile the Twins' Rod Carew was trying to score from third on a flyball to right when Al Cowens' perfect throw nailed Carew at the plate, who also injured himself on the slide. Interestingly enough, Cowens' official pick for the player to score the one millionth run? Rod Carew.

Milt May had been acquired following the 1973 season from the Pirates in exchange for Jerry Reuss, and hit a then-career high .281 for the 1974 Astros. But he wasn't a power-hitter. Until that May 4 double-header, May had hit 21 home runs in 1153 career plate appearances.

Cleveland was down 7-0 in the bottom of the 6th against Baltimore with one out when left fielder John Lowenstein hit a double to left. Mike Torrez had him picked him off but threw the ball away, allowing Lowenstein to advance to third base. "I thought about trying to steal home," he said, "but we were behind by so much that if I didn't make it I might as well just keep on running, so I didn't even try to get in."

But the counter was stuck at 1, so May decided he was swinging. "I was not a power hitter," said May, "Maybe I should've had that approach more often." May launched the ball towards the fence in right field.

Watson wasn't sure if the ball had enough to get out, "When the ball was hit," Watson said, "I had to hold up because it looked like Bobby Murcer had a play on it. I went back to second to tag, then I ran hard when I saw it was over." It was the 22nd home run of May's career.

The Reds were playing the Braves at Riverfront Stadium in front of 51,000 Cincinnati fans. A big part of the reason the countdown was at One that Sunday afternoon was because of the Braves and Reds. Dave Concepcion scored on a Johnny Bench single in the first inning. The Braves answered with two runs in the 4th. At the time Milt May was batting in San Francisco, Concepcion was in the process of hitting a solo home run off of Phil Niekro. "I was flying around the bases," Concepcion remembered. "I never in my life ran faster. I saw everybody jumping and cheering and thought, 'I got it! I got it!'" The Reds celebrated at the plate, thinking Concepcion had scored the one millionth run in baseball history.

At Candlestick Park, the bullpen was behind third base. Watson said, "I got to third and the guys were saying, 'Run, run, run!'"

"Then somebody said I came up short," Concepcion said. "I think I missed by eight yards."

Thirty seconds past 12:32 Pacific Time, Watson crossed the plate as Concepcion was rounding third base. "If I hadn't have run and didn't listen to the guys in the bullpen, he would have scored the 1,000,000th run...I think I beat Concepcion by like a second and a half," said Watson. It took six minutes to get from 999,999 to 1,000,000 runs, and then five runs were scored within 26 seconds of Watson's.

"I was so happy when I got into the dugout," Concepcion said, "it really broke my heart when I saw on the scoreboard that Watson won." For his effort, though, promoter Ted Worner gave Concepcion a lifetime supply of Tootsie Rolls and a watch.

Watson gave the one million Tootsie Rolls to the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts - his kids were allergic to chocolate - and donated the one million pennies ($10,000) to charity. But the $1,000 platinum Seiko watch, which he has never worn, is still in his safety deposit box. "I would never sell it - it's one of a kind," said Watson. The game was stopped and Milt May's bat, home plate at Candlestick, and the spikes Watson was wearing when he crossed home plate were then given to the Hall of Fame.

"I was upset," Watson said. "I wasn't going to let them take my shoes because in those days it took you a long time to break your shoes in. This was May 4, I had just gotten my shoes broken in, and then they took them."

Years later, it was determined that Watson had not actually scored the millionth run, but he was allowed to keep the watch.

"It got me on the map a little bit," said Watson, "and I ended up being the answer to a trivia question."

Associated Press: May 5, 1975 (also this edition)
Milwaukee Journal: May 5, 1975
The Day: May 5, 1975
Gadsden Times: May 26, 1975
New York Daily News

Monday, February 8, 2016

Monday Morning/Weekend Hot Links

Now that Murderball is over for another six months, the world can all move on...

*Fox Sports' Jon Morosi has the biggest storylines of 2016 - including one about the Astros' staying power.

*This David Schoenfield piece says not to accuse the Astros (and Cubs) of "tanking" - the word that won't die in 2016.

*Sports on Earth's Anthony Castrovince: Rebuilding vs. Tanking

*This time no one is laughing when Jim Crane says he expects the Astros to make the playoffs. This time the AL West is the expectation.

*Nick Cafardo says the Astros have inquired on free agent reliever Tyler Clippard.

*Former Astro Freddy Garcia is calling it quits after 15 seasons.

*The Astros and Nationals' Spring Training complex is being built in "record time."

*The Western Louisiana Ramgers made a Super Bowl commercial.

Friday, February 5, 2016

History Lesson: Robbery in Kissimmee

It was just bad luck. We were in the wrong place at the wrong time.
-Minor-Leaguer Mike Rose.

In March 2000 the Holiday Inn off of US Highway 192 in Kissimmee, Florida was about 15 minutes from Osceola County Stadium - the Spring Training home of the Houston Astros. Highway 192 is indistinguishable from any other major road near Orlando - lined by hotels leading to the Walt Disney World Complex. That Holiday Inn was also the home of about 80 minor-leaguers of the 110 Astros in Kissimmee for Spring Training. Players in Major League camp stayed in condos or homes in the area.

"It's like a dormitory situation," said Assistant GM Tim Purpura, "They're real comfortable with each other. In one room they're watching TV. In another room they're playing Play Station, just hanging out."

At around 10:30pm on Sunday, March 12, 2000 five players had just finished watching Who Wants To Be A Millionaire in Morgan Ensberg's room. Also in Room 254 was infielder Keith Ginter, outfielders Derek Nicholson, Eric Cole, and catcher Michael Rose. Ginter's girlfriend, Alicia Szczerba, was also in Room 254, there after having dinner with her college roommate, the wife of one of the players in the room. Next door in Room 252 was infielder Aaron Miles.

Szczerba got a call from a friend in another room asking for a cigarette lighter. When she went to deliver the lighter, two men with semiautomatic handguns - one in a ski mask, the other in a green bandanna - stormed into Room 254 and tied up the five players and Szczerba with plastic zip ties, duct-taped their mouths, and covered them with the hotel bedding. While the robber in the ski mask - Richard Cook -  collected money, cell phones and other valuables, the one in the bandanna - Alexander Williams - pressed a gun to the back of Ensberg's head and asked, "You a tough guy? You a hero?" After an hour, the men heard the door to Room 252 close. "We'll be right back with some company," they said, and left the door open.

Infielder Aaron Miles had just returned from dinner and was alone in his room when the robbers burst in. They demanded money, which Miles was in the process of giving when the phone rang. Mike Rose had managed to untie himself, had shut and locked the door, and was calling to warn Miles.

Once Rose realized he was actually speaking to one of the gunmen, and not Miles, he hung up and called 911 but the call didn't go through. He then called the front desk and at 11:04pm the police were called and quickly surrounded the hotel. Cook jumped off the second-floor balcony, losing a semi-automatic handgun in the process. Cook ran through the pool area, southwest through a Sports Authority parking lot where the police dog lost his scent. A black bag with two pistols and cash were later recovered.

None of this was immediately helpful to Miles, however. For half an hour Williams held Miles hostage, telling police that he would kill Miles and then himself before he surrendered. Miles offered to let him use his Astros uniform as a disguise to help him escape. Williams turned to look out the window, and Miles saw his opportunity.

"(Miles) felt he had a chance to maneuver the gun out of (the gunman's) hand and was able to get his hand on the gun," said Purpura. "(Miles) tried to steer the gun away from himself and get control, and they went back and forth."

Miles had lunged for the gun, and officers heard the struggle from outside the room: Miles had slammed the gunman against the wall and wrestled him to the ground. With his free hand the gunman punched Miles in the head repeatedly and bit him. Miles bit Williams on the forearm Police used the butt of a shotgun to break the window and get in.

The two police were in the room with Miles and the gunman, yelling for him to drop his weapon. After not complying the officers opened fire with a 9mm gun: through the cheek, both shoulders, and stomach.

But the rest of the hotel didn't know who had been shot. "I heard those shots, and I thought Aaron was dead. Then he came out of the room with the guy's blood all over him and a big chunk of skin taken out of his back."

"We're downstairs in the parking lot, and you hear this, pop-pop-pop-pop-pop-pop." Ensberg told ESPN, "And we're like, 'Aaron's dead.'"

Miles ran through the broken window and down to the parking lot, and bear-hugged Rose. "He nearly broke me in half," said Rose. "He had the guy's skin in his teeth, blood all over him."

Nicholson said the team was jubilant. "We mobbed him like we won the World Series. He's got his fist up, like, 'Yeah, wooooohoooooo,'...We were all going off...Everyone wanted to kill that guy."

Williams had been shot in the mouth, literally shooting out some of his teeth. He had also been shot in both shoulders and in the stomach. Williams was helicoptered to Orlando Regional Hospital and required four hours of surgery. He spent three weeks in a coma and was partially paralyzed. Miles got a tetanus shot and antibiotics for the bite. Both gunmen were caught and sentenced to life in prison.

Police said the robbery wasn't targeted at the Astros players specifically. "This looks like a crime of opportunity," said Commander Fran Iwanski, "We don't think the suspects knew the victims were ballplayers or that the team was staying at the hotel." At trial they found the players had purchased the weapons from a nearby Wal-Mart and had staked out the hotel, waiting for people to gather in a room.

"Other than the mental trauma of it," Purpura said the next day, "they're all in great shape."

"Other than the mental trauma of it" is like saying "Other than that Mrs. Lincoln, what did you think of the play?" Morgan Ensberg still has scars on his wrists and the ordeal greatly affected him:
When I'm on the field, I'm happy. I'm protected. I'm doing something I love doing. But unfortunately there's two sides of me.

Ensberg and Ginter made their Major League debuts on September 20, 2000 against the Cardinals. In 2000 Ensberg's mind cleared. He had posted an OPS of .755 and .765 in his first two seasons, and in 2000 hit .300/.416/.545 for Double-A Round Rock. Ensberg would have the more successful Astro career, hitting .266/.367/.475 in seven seasons.

Ginter hit .333/.457/.580 in 2000 for Round Rock, and played in 13 games for the Astros from 2000-2002. He was the player to be named later in the 2002 trade with the Brewers that acquired Mark Loretta.

Aaron Miles was sent to High-A Kissimmee - where the robbery took place - for the 2000 season and hit .292/.352/.386. He was selected by the Chicago White Sox in the December 2000 Rule 5 draft and went on to hit .281/.320/.352 in nine Major-League seasons.

Catcher Mike Rose asked for his release from the Astros four days after the robbery. He played in 27 Major-League games from 2004-2006 with three different teams and played in the Diamondbacks, Red Sox, Royals, A's, Dodgers, Rays, Cardinals, and Indians, and Rockies organizations.

Derek Nicholson hit .311/.405/.444 in 116 games for Single-A Michigan in 2000. He played in the Tigers organization until 2005 and returned to the Astros for the 2006 season. He never played in the Majors.

Eric Cole hit .291/.349/.497 for Round Rock in 2000. He played in the Rangers organization in 2002 and returned to the Astros' organization in 2003. He never played in the Majors.

NY Times
Orlando Sentinel
Crawfish Boxes (Note: I had most of this completed when I came across TCB's post. It is excellent.)
Orange County Register

Friday Morning Hot Links

*Be sure to read Jexas' write-up of the Town Hall with Hey-J Inch.

*Read the 3rd in our Cups of Coffee series on Larry Yount.

*The Astros outfield is solid, writes Brian McTaggart. You can never have too much pitching. Or outfielders. Or infielders. Or catchers.
The fact that four out of the five guys are basically center fielders or can play all three positions gives us a lot of flexibility to mix and match. I think it's about the best combination of outfielders in the league.

*Here's something we all want to believe know: The Astros' future is bright.

*Former Phillies great Roy Oswalt will be inducted into the Round Rock Express Hall of Fame.

*Commissioner Rob Manfred slammed writers who judge Hall of Fame-eligible players for PED use based on their appearance.

*Today in Obviousness: MLB has greater parity than the NFL