Monday, October 01, 2007

What now for the Astros?

The local baseball team's otherwise-forgettable 2007 season ended on a memorable note yesterday, as 43,832 people - the largest crowd in the history of Minute Maid Park - witnessed the Astros defeat the Atlanta Braves 3-0. They were there, of course, to see Craig Biggio play the last game of his 20-year career. Biggio, who notched his 3,060th hit in yesterday's game, has now officially retired.

He, along with Jeff Bagwell, were the face of the Houston Astros for so long that it is going to be hard to think of the Astros without them. But their era is over, and now it's time for owner Drayton McLane, new manager Ed Wade and new general manager Cecil Cooper - the "interim" was removed from his job title a few days ago - to plan for the next era. Coming off a 73-89 season - only their second losing season since 1991 - there's clearly a lot of planning that needs to be done.

For starters, the team has to hit better. The team's .260 season batting average was 12th in the 16-team National League (although it is a tiny improvement over 2006, when their .255 season BA put them at the very bottom of the league). They also need to pitch better; their team ERA of 4.68 was, likewise, 12th in the league. Fixing the team's broken farm system is also a priority. To that end, a flurry of coaching changes were made on Sunday, including the reassignment of director of player personnel and scouting Paul Ricciarini.

In spite of the disappointing season, the Astros did do well in one rather important category: attendance. An average of 37,289 people attended each Astros home game this season, putting the Astros 7th in the NL in attendance and bucking a trend whereby Houston's fickle, fair-weather fanbase usually deserts teams with losing records. Of course, Craig Biggio was the big attraction; people wanted to come out to see the legend play his last season. Next year, Drayton McLane is not going to have this box office advantage.

His team is actually going to have to start winning again.

Biggio finishes his career 20th in major league history in hits (3,060), 12th in runs (1,844) and fifth in doubles (668). Here are some more of his career numbers, if you're interested in that sort of thing. His retirement, unfortunately, also brings to a close a rather unique local blog.

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