Saturday, October 6, 2012

We Are Your Astros?

The news Thursday night that Astros radio broadcasters Dave Raymond and Brett Dolan were not going to be brought back next season has set off a firestorm of reaction with fans. While on the surface it may have seemed like the type of overreaction often seen fueled by the immediacy of Twitter, the reality is that Astros fans have a legitimate reason to react this strongly.

While most of the reaction I saw regarding Dave and Brett was supportive of the duo, there was a handful who didn't see this as a great loss. Some of this stems from the fact that the antics of Milo Hamilton kept the pair from truly establishing an identity and legitimacy of their own. Even still, if you look outside of Houston you'll find that the former duo, and Raymond in particular, was very well thought of in the industry. While the radio broadcast team as a whole ranked in the bottom third of a poll conducted by FanGraphs, it was clear that Hamilton was considered to be a drag on their quality. Head over there and you'll see lines like "the quality of the broadcast has improved dramatically with less Milo Hamilton," "the road broadcasts are solid," and "many of the sentiments regarding Dave Raymond are reminiscent of those regarding Astros television broadcaster Jim Deshaies, who is decidedly excellent."

In addition to being well thought of as broadcasters, they had established a strong relationship with the team's fans. They freely interacted with many fans on Twitter, sharing interesting tidbits about the team that you won't find anywhere else as well as joking around and sharing laughs with many. They often made themselves available before games to meet and take pictures with fans, further strengthening the fans' connection to the team.

But I'll be honest here; the replacement of the team's radio team doesn't really make much of a difference in the grand scheme of things. This post isn't meant to lift Dave and Brett up as martyrs. I think if you asked even the most outraged fans they would tell you this was simply the straw that broke the camel's back. Astros fans have had to put up with a lot of really crappy stuff recently.

In addition to Dave Raymond and Brett Dolan, many of the faces and voices of the club have disappeared this season. Fans also have dealt with the loss of the ever interactive Sr. Director of Social Media, Alyson Footer, when she left to take a national position with MLB.com. Alyson worked tirelessly to connect the fans with the players and provide a behind the scenes look at the club. Also going away is Zach Levine, who essentially covered the team single-handedly (also, left-handedly) for the Chronicle this season. Levine had grown from the stats oriented lefty to a well-rounded, humorous writer who was also not shy to talk to fans. It's unusual for a beat writer to be so well liked by fans and hearing that Z was leaving was another blow to the fans connection to the team. I should also point out that, as of the time of this post, it is still unknown if the very popular and nationally recognized TV broadcast team of Jim Deshaies and Bill Brown will be returning next year, as well as sideline (dugout?) reporter Greg Lucas. It is speculated that JD will be back, but Brownie is said to be contemplating retirement. Greg Lucas is still in limbo as well.

The biggest blow to Astros fans is the imminent switch from the National League to the American League. It's a slap in the face to a team with over 50 years of history in the league. The Astros are the winningest NL expansion team by a comfortable margin and have long standing rivalries that are now meaningless. The team was held hostage as Bud Selig and the owners took their sweet time supposedly "vetting" Jim Crane. What many believe now is that Crane was basically coerced into negotiating away the Astros NL history in exchange for being approved as the new owner.

Fans have also had to deal with the repercussions of going through a scorched earth rebuild. Years of neglect had dried up the talent pipeline for the organization to the point that the Astros have essentially had to start completely over, reminiscent of our start as an expansion club. This has resulted in back to back seasons of record breaking losses for the club. What few marketable players the fans could root for were traded off in order to shore up the foundation of the talent pipeline. While more mature fans recognize that this had to be done, it doesn't make it any easier to root for the major league product that was left behind.


Astros fans now have to put up with being laughed at on a regular basis. Fans of rival teams laugh. Small children laugh. National media laugh. Hotel doormen laugh. Random people walking down the street in other cities laugh. Did I mention that even small children laugh? Every single one of those instances actually happened this season. And fans have no response. What are they to say? "Oh yeah, you just wait until 2015!"

While we're talking about getting laughed at, let's talk about what happened to the social media and marketing group after Footer left. The first rumbling that that wheels might fall off was when Astros players started tweeting links to buy game tickets. Fans don't follow players because they want to get sold stuff. There was also the time that Jed Lowrie batted cleanup. Except he really didn't. Or the time they congratulated JD Martinez for a homerun that Fernando Martinez hit. While JD was on the disabled list. Or the time they invited fans to lunch with Joe Niekro. Who's been dead for almost six years. (Screen shots taken from this post over at Tales From the Juice Box and this post at The Crawfish Boxes)

Through all of this change one thing is becoming clear. Jim Crane has set out to completely clear out any and all remnants of Drayton McLane's legacy and replace it with his own. That's why there's been so much turnover in the front office. That's why there's been so much turnover on the media side. That's why the uniforms are getting changed. That's why there are changes in the stadium (like the hideous new advertisement tower in left field). And that's why there are rumors that he had already decided on a name change before being hit with so much backlash. In the beginning they made a show out of using focus groups and surveys of season ticket holders, but even that has been thrown out the window lately. None of the season ticket holders we've had a chance to speak to have heard or seen anything at any point over the past year regarding the tv and radio broadcasters, for example. Those decisions were made without any consideration of the fans.

In my opinion, Jim Crane is treating this team like a selfish child with a new toy. He has shown no respect for the proud history of the team he has taken custody of, the city to which the team belongs, and the fans who have invested so much into the support of the team.

The last two years have been very hard on Astros fans, Jim. Don't play chicken with the few the team has left.

*Note: Following a series of tweets I posted following the news that Dave Raymond and Brett Dolan were not being brought back, Astros VP of Marketing, Kathleen Clark, invited my to discuss my thoughts with her via email. Clark was to respond to my thoughts by Friday evening but as of Saturday evening no response has been given.

*Update: Clark and I will be working out a time to discuss the "fan perspective" tomorrow.


19 comments:

Chris Perry said...

Undeliverable because her contract was probably not picked up either.

Anonymous said...

Honestly a lot of the issues we have faced the last 18 months are not due to Jim Crane, so I'll leave those out.

I think it also has to be considered the Crane is not the one guy running the show. This is a large ownership group so Crane cannot just make all the decisions himself.

Moving to the heart of this post though, the radio broadcasters, I think for the most part they were seen as an average crew. Fair or not working alongside Milo didn't allow them to endear themselves with the fans that much.

This decision seems to be an attempt to improve the team. We would have no problem if the Astros dumped Brian Bougesevic for a more talented Right Fielder so why is it such an affront to the fans that the team is trying to replace 2 average radio guys with some former Astros players?

John Royal said...

But anon, a lot of this is the result of Crane's actions. And while there may be a large ownership group, the guy making the decisions is Crane, and he's essentially doing whatever he wants, just as John McMullen did, despite also being part of a large ownership group.

But I think you miss the point of this post. In and of itself, replacing Brett and Dave isn't an issue. That happens. But how it happened, along with everything else, is what the primary issue is.

First you have the league change. Frankly I'm tired of the bitching about this, but people are upset. Then you have the discussion about changing the team name.

Then you have a team with a great social media presence, and everything is done to dismantle that presence. As soon as Footer departs, players start pimping season tickets. There are people running the twitter who don't know basic facts about baseball, or even the lingo. They don't even know who the players are that are currently on the roster, and then the team tries to pimp a lunch with a popular former player who has been dead for six years, and what wasn't mentioned is, that in that same team post pimping the lunch with Niekro, the name of Jim Deshaies, the team's TV long-time TV analyst as well as a former Astro, is misspelled.

Frankly, I would've had dynamited that damn hill back in 2000, so I'm not going to miss it, the same for that stupid choo-choo train, but amazingly, there are people who like them, and now they're probably gone. And then you take the best thing about the ballpark, the view of the downtown skyline, and you destroy it with a huge erector-set billboard that looks like something from the back pages of a high school yearbook.

And you might not like Brett and Dave, but lots of people did. They are well-respected in the industry, and those guys made every effort to get out in the Houston community and know the fans and sell the team.

So individually, each one of these items blows over quickly, but put them all together -- and lots of this happened within a timespan of a month or two -- and you're going to get anger from fans.

Maybe not the casual fan who goes out once or twice a year and thinks Carlos Lee was a good player, but the committed fans, those who listen to or watch all of the games and follow the team on twitter and who used to communicate with and enjoy Alyson and Brett and Dave, well they're going to fell pretty crappy when the once outstanding product they consumed is torn apart and destroyed.

And the person who can be blamed for most of this is Jim Crane because he makes the decisions, and he's the one who hires the people responsible for Joe Niekro coming back to life and joining the fans for lunch.

Anonymous said...

Same anon here, I should really make an account :P

I will agree with you on social media, it has been awful this year and I really hope that there are a lot of changes made over the year. I'm fine with blaming Crane and co for making some poor moves there.

I know that Brett and Dave are respected, they are consummate professionals and I am sure they will find other jobs soon. But they are not the best and I still stand by my statement that even if it was unfair very few fans saw them as a reason to listen. Milo, even with his shortcomings, was a guy that a lot of people made a point to listen too. Bringing in an Ensberg or Sparks could give the Astros that draw again.

Like it or not, attendance at games and viewership has dwindled over the last few years. Most of us who are left will, in all likelihood, stick around. The new ownership group must find a way to bring the casual fans back and bringing in someone exciting on the radio or adding people to the TV booth can help with that. Those may only lead to a small boost but it will help bridge the gap between now and when the team is competitive again.

If they don't work to change this the team won't be profitable which could cause problems paying back the debt or at least make the ownership group more hesitant to spend money on the team

Anonymous said...

Frankly, I don't know why Dolan and Raymond leaving is even a story. They were no-one when they got here, and no-one when they left. Boring is the word to describe them. Good riddance. The only thing that Crane and Luhnow are trying to change is 7 years of losing and boring baseball, including the announcing crew. I welcome Dierker, Ashby, Trupiano or whoemever the Astros hire. Can't be worse than fiddle-dee and fiddle-dum.

Juvenile Court Clerk - Bryan Trostel said...

Go back and read the fourth paragraph. This isn't about Dave and Brett leaving.

Juvenile Court Clerk - Bryan Trostel said...

I've gone back and updated the post above, but I want to point out here that the email bounce back was a computer related issue that has been resolved.

Anonymous said...

Maadimom,

I have been an Astros fan for 40 years. I currently live in the Austin area and go to spring training every year along with 10-15 games both at home and at least one away game. I hounded Jeff Luhnow at the beginning of the season because the Austin/San Antonio markets were not being shown the games on TV, and no radio stations had them either. I looked at purchasing the MLB package, but could not as the MLB says we're in the Astros market and the games are blacked out. He invited me to the booth with him where I met with him and the marketing person for an inning. I'll admit that after that, there were only a couple of games that were not shown here. Now that Comcast is involved with the team, I'm not guaranteed that the games will ever be shown again. Comcast does not operate here. I was sent a survey earlier where it asked a bunch of questions about location, frequency of game watching etc. At the end of the survey, I get a response to "call Time Warner and ask them to show the games." WTH?!?!? Are they really going to eliminate the entire Austin/San Antonio network from their viewing?

The MLB may say we're a Houston market, but the Astros don't. You can't even find any Astros gear here anymore. I've purposely looked everywhere I go. There are a few "off" shirts left at Academy, but none at the other stores. But, you rest assured that if I'm ever in need of something from the Rangers, I'll have no trouble finding that.

When/if you ever get your meeting, please mention some of these issues. I wouldn't think that they could afford to lose their fans from such a large area.

Imasalmon said...

Go to http://iwantcsnhouston.com and fill out the thing there. The channel is negotiating with carriers now.

Anonymous said...

I'm in total agreement about with the general theme expressed here. However, I always thought the radio duo was awful, only eclipsed in their dreadful mediocrity by Milo.

Anonymous said...

Well, I'll jump in here too. Seems to me that there are a lot of folks who really liked Dave and Brett. I did. And seems like those people can explain why they like them. The negative comments are mostly dismissive, broad claims with nothing behind them. I love the comment that they were "blah." They covered a team that rotted out from the core! So they were blah? I listened almost every single day and they made the games interesting, brought detailed description of the action and explained the strategic reasons behind moves as or before they happened. The had fun and told a couple funny stories now and then. Good lord, what the heck else are they supposed to do? Sing like Milo? Maybe talk about their lunches with sponsors? Perhaps they didn't tell you which groups were in attendance every night? Look, everyone is entitled to an opinion -- that's what makes this country great. I just don't understand why the folks who don't really listen or have any substantial comment feel so compelled to make blanket, uninformed criticisms as a way to bring up Ashby or Dierker. It's bizarre. This ownership group blew it. Again. And that's the point Bryan is making. They just make moves to make moves. And none of them have anything to do with making their product better. They claim all sorts of things and believe you will simply accept it. Most of you will. And if you don't accept it, they will continue to tell you that you don't understand. The fans know nothing. Only Kathleen Clark knows what we want. Of course, she doesn't know the difference between being dead and being alive. She doesn't know the difference between "leadoff" and "cleanup." But she can keep telling the morons that Dave and Brett weren't any good and you will eventually buy it. She can put up those garish signs and tell you it's for charity. Eventually, you'll believe it. Even though it's not true. Me? I'm done with these folks. They are distasteful and arrogant and DO NOT care about us fans. They want to run a MLB team like a shipping outlet and take as much money as possible. They don't care about winning or the fans or the people who make the thing go. Alyson. Tal Smith. Dierker. Dave. Brett. Bagwell. They'll ride Milo and his loudmouth, idiot shilling ways all the way to the bank and some of you will think Milo is telling you about the game. Enjoy it. I'm done.

Juvenile Court Clerk - Bryan Trostel said...

Regarding the social media group and the errant tweets: I don't think it's time to take up our torches and pitchforks just yet. Yes, the mistakes that were made were egregious, but Kathleen reached out to me in good faith and, after our discussion, I believe that concern is being properly addressed.

De said...

I think I love the anonymous person above me. Reveal yourself & let's get hammered together!

AGirlintheSouth said...

Bryan,

The new Director of Marketing, Scott Wakeman, reached out to me last week regarding Social Media and my earlier post about the errors and ridiculousness. I, too, got the impression that they are working to improve things so I will hold off stoning them to death until a new SM person is in place, but as I told Wakeman, getting spelling correct and being accurate shouldn't be hurdles they need to overcome. Those are bare-boned basics.

Anonymous said...

In regards to Brett and Dave:

Was the duo okay? Yes. Were they anything special? Not really? Milo may have been a drag on the duo during home games but still they were just okay. I have no problem with the organization group trying to upgrade from just okay. It's a wait and see game at this point and opinions will vary, but if the new group is an upgrade then that would be more than just making a move to make a move. I have no doubts that they were good people and were interactive with fans but I would expect the guys that are brought in now would be the same way as well.

As for Footer: I'm tired of seeing her name brought up here. She was great with the organization and decided to move on. We have no idea how she came to that conclusion or what went on behind the scenes so anything more than she chose to leave is speculation. I know that you probably don't intend it to be interpreted this way but by lumping Levine and Footer in the organizations media exodus rant paints a black eye on the organization and ownership group even though they very well could have had nothing to do with it (in Footer's case) and certainly didn't in Levine's case.

On the media mishaps:

The Niekro one was bad, and that was a big deal. Shouldn't have happened at all. Outside of that though, don't you think that we are being a little nitpicky when we pick on cleanup vs. Leadoff and J.D. Martinez vs. FMart. It was an embarrassing mistake yes but it seems like we are using a few incidents as a reason to say the organization doesn't care about the fans. I am a huge Astros fan, regularly view this site and TCB all the time, but I watch the games and the product on the field. I don't need to jump on twitter to read that FMart hit a homerun because I watched it. Outside of the Niekro gaffe (again not defending that one) these mistakes seem small, relatively insignificant and easily correctable.

In my opinion (just my thoughts and probably way wrong but just letting you know how I feel about it) they were focused on everything else going on (trades, managerial search, uniform changes, etc.) That they just tried to get by on the media side of things and would address that in the offseason.

On the uniform changes:

I can't really see that being lumped in this category as something negative as it seems like fans were pretty much in agreement that some changes needed to be made there.

Anonymous said...

"Jim Crane has set out to completely clear out any and all remnants of Drayton McLane's legacy and replace it with his own. That's why there's been so much turnover in the front office."

You don't think that its possible that the turnover in the front office had just a little to do with the fact that the organization had been in a downward spiral and finally hit rock bottom last year. Just maybe a few front office changes were necessary to improve the product that Crane and co purchased instead of keeping the guys that helped in taking it to the bottom.

Anonymous said...

I re-read your article, and although there have been some minor gaffes (Niekro, JD etc)it is of no massive offense to me. And I have been an Astros fan since 1971 (including being an Astros buddy on the field with Metzger, Rader, Dierker and the like). Frankly, I think the last 7 years have been as exciting as watching paint dry, and I'm glad Crane and Luhnow are shaking things up. My perspective on Dolan and Raymond is that we got rid of Alan Ashby who was a pro, and got two college announcers instead....and they remained that way. I prefer to see things half-full rather than half-empty, and I like the changes they are making and excuse the minor gaffes.

Rob said...

Is it the landslide of changes that's the issue? Because when you look at all decisions in isolation it is, mostly, ok. Mistakes were made but mistakes are always made. Beyond the PR mishaps, which were daft but I assume down to a transition in responsibilities, isn't everything a trade-off towards a, potential, bright future?

Anonymous said...

I agree with the last three anonymous takes, and Rob.