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The End of An Era: Berkman, Oswalt Move On

Have the Houston Astros been loyal to their star players over the years?

This will always be weird.
This will always be weird.

I’m a relatively young baseball fan. I remember the ’94 strike as being a big deal, but I also remember video games like RBI Baseball mattering just as much. What I’m trying to say is I have some perspective on Astros history pre-2004, but am still young enough to identify this franchise with two players.

Craig Biggio and Jeff Bagwell.

Bagwell and Biggio.

No. 7 and No. 5

For a generation of Astros fans, they will always be the face of the team. But, the Astros have long been a franchise interested in keeping players around long-term. Just look at guys like Jose Cruz, Jimmy Wynn, Larry Dierker or Lance Berkman and Roy Oswalt.

Wait, do those last two guys really fit on this list? It was sneaky when it happened, because both Bagwell and Biggio were playing for the team, but Lancelot and The Wizard took over as the faces of the franchise about six years ago. They both crossed big milestones this season that put them in select company. Berkman was eight games short of 1,600 while Roy Oswalt pitched in his 300th game for the Astros in June. Let’s put those numbers in a little context.

There are 36 position players who totaled at least 1,600 games with the same team. Of those players, only 20 of them played with just one team in their entire careers. That includes Mr. Angel Tim Salmon and Mr. Padre Tony Gwynn. No mention of Mr. Met was found in the report.

The list of 20 pitchers with at least 300 games started with the same team gets miniscule when you look at the ones who played for just one. Mark Buerhle and Brad Radke are the only ones to spend their entire careers on the same team. That’s not to say this list doesn’t contain great pitchers. Roger Clemens, Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, Jack Morris and Charlie Hough all pop up, but they also all played for multiple teams.

At the same time, there were many teams who didn’t have any players fit either list in the past 30 years. Half the league hasn’t had a starter throw in 300 games and there were eight teams that didn’t have a position player appear in 1,600 games. Those lists include the expansion teams, such as Tampa Bay, Arizona, Colorado and Florida, but it also has Cleveland and the New York Mets.

Fact is, it’s getting harder for a player to play his entire career with one team. With the money that these superstar players command and the growing parity around baseball, teams cannot afford to keep expensive players on the roster for or years.

What’s most interesting is that pitchers are more likely to play for multiple teams. It seems like it’s harder for pitchers to both perform well over a long period of time without getting injured.

All this became more relevant when Roy Oswalt and Lance Berkman were both traded days before the July 31 trade deadline. Astros fans had to say goodbye to their most easily identifiable players that came up through the minor leagues and led the Astros to their first playoff series win and first World Series appearance.

Houston owner Drayton McLane seems willing to buy into a rebuilding effort. The Astros are already leaking attendance and are looking at a drop for the third consecutive year in tickets sold. While the economy going in the tank no doubt affected those numbers, having an Astros team without its two most marketable players will not help matters.

Maybe, though, the Astros are already pushing new faces into the limelight. Maybe the team is ready for Hunter Pence and Michael Bourn to be the franchise’s faces. Who knows what kind of marketing they’ll roll out for highly regarded prospects Jason Castro and Jordan Lyles in the next few years?

Until then, fans must say goodbye to the Berkman/Oswalt Era before people even realized it existed.

Images by eflon used in background images under a Creative Commons license. Thank you.