Six years ago the Houston Astros were in the World Series.
Scratch that. Six years ago a professional baseball team from Houston appeared in the Fall Classic, only to be swept in four games by the Chicago White Sox. Since then, the Astros have lost their identity, and more importantly, their fan base.
Houston's Minute Maid Park used to house 40,000 plus raucous fans that would pour their blood, sweat (literally), and tears out for the team. During their World Series run in 2005, an Astros ticket would fetch a pretty penny, but those days are a distant memory to fans now. Once a flourishing center of entertainment, Minute Maid now struggles to sell out at all.
Players that have long since left the team like Craig Biggio, Jeff Bagwell, Roger Clemens, and Andy Pettite used to provide for an interesting game every night. In their place now are the likes of Jeff Keppinger, Michael Bourn, Hunter Pence, and Carlos Lee. None of these players are terrible by any stretch, but they lack the name recognition that once was the calling card of the Astros. There has been a revolving door of everyday players that have come through Houston in recent years, and many fans would struggle to name the team's starters now.
Many of the issues that plague Houston today stem from a lack of leadership at the management level. The team's former owner, Drayton McLane, was known as one of the stingiest owners when it came to spending any sort of money on development. McLane made more than a couple of deals that left many of the Astros faithful scratching their heads. Enter Carlos Lee, who has singlehandedly sucked the organization of funds with his incredibly generous contract of $100 million over six years. Then there was Carlos Beltran and Miguel Tejada who were also offered huge contracts, only to stay with the team for a collective three years. There are plenty of more examples similar to these that have no doubt doomed the team from having success. Signing aging players for ridiculous sums of money is not the best strategy when it comes to winning. Even in 2005, the Astros were a veteran team with no real future. That's not to say that having a group of veterans to lead the way isn't important, but it is also key to have several young players that will be the future of the ball club.
As of right now, the Astros have a team that is playing just to survive until the Mayan calendar ends in late 2012. Players that are past their prime, or simply not polished enough to be on a big league roster have been staples in the Astros' lineup for the past several years. Their minor league farm system has long been in disarray, and the ownership's inability to sign some draft picks has become a detriment to the major league club as well.
With teams like the resurgent Cincinnati Reds, Milwaukee Brewers, and the St. Louis Cardinals in the Astros' division, there is little room for error in the course of the season. The Pittsburgh Pirates may be the only team in baseball worse than the Astros, but their problems also run deep within their organization and there is no reason to believe they will be solved anytime soon.
There is really not a quick solution to this team's issues, but with a new owner in Jim Crane, fans can only hope that he has a plan in place to rebuild a one-time championship caliber team. Rebuilding any professional team takes time and effort, and it has to start up top first. With the departure of McLane, many believe that a new era is underway in the Space City. Crane will be in the hot seat until he can prove to the team and the fans that he can turn this organization around. It won't be easy, but then again there's no fun in taking over a good team, right?