Is Tal Smith Incompetent or Is This Some Kind of Parallel Universe?

I remember a classic Star Trek episode where Kirk ends up in an alternate, but parallel universe. Everything’s the same, but different. He’s still the commander of the Enterprise, but instead of seeking peace, the crew seeks war. The biggest change is that Spock is evil and emotional. More recently, there’s the South Park episode where a portal to an alternate, parallel universe opens and a good, kind, caring Cartman appears.

I bring this up to note that all week I’ve been trying to write a post about why I think one of the biggest problems with the Astros is Tal Smith. I’ve been trying to write about how Smith did a great job with the Astros in the 70s, back when the team was in bankruptcy. How he took a laughingstock of a franchise with limited resources and turned into a winner. But that I don’t think his work since returning to the ballclub when Drayton McLane took over is really all that stellar.

Here’s the problem: I can’t quite figure out what it is that Tal Smith does for the Astros besides collect a paycheck. He’s supposedly president of baseball operations, which would make you think that he plays some role in hiring and firing the managers, the coaches and the general managers. And that he has something to do with the minor league operations, and the scouts, and the draft.

And occasionally there are hints that Tal Smith is the one who advises Drayton on certain moves, like hiring Cecil Cooper and Ed Wade. But if he really had Drayton’s ear, don’t you think he would have been fired after the debacle that was Tim Purpura? Or after Drayton discovered that he’d just signed his number one draft choice Chris Burke to big money only to discover that he didn’t really have the arm to play shortstop?

Surely a great baseball mind like Tal Smith wouldn’t have advised that Drayton junk a season so that a washed-up second baseman could pursue 3,000 hits. Nor would he have advised that Drayton hire a two-time failure as manager like Jimy Williams to replace the popular Larry Dierker. If Tal Smith was running things, then surely the Astros would have made the move into Enron Field Astros Field Minute Maid Park with a pitching staff that wasn’t comprised of guys like Jose Lima who liked to give up fly balls down the lines. If Tal Smith was really the one whispering into Drayton’s ear, then the Astros would have never wasted money on a guy like Carlos Lee when the team’s true problem was starting pitching, and it’s hard to imagine that he would have let valuable talent be traded for an aging, over-the-hill shortstop before first finding out just how old the guy was.

But I just know that, despite the rumors and the title, Tal Smith really doesn’t have anything to do with the Astros because, if he did, there’s no way that this guy who built a farm system that made a bankrupt franchise with no money to spend on free agency into a playoff contender in 1979 would have let his owner allow the current farm system to be decimated and to become absolutely devoid of prospects.

So for most of this week I’ve struggled to write a post about why it’s actually Tal Smith, and not Ed Wade or Cecil Cooper, who should be held responsible for the mess that the Astros are in. But I know it's not possible because Tal Smith would have never let a ball club he was president of become a collection of overpriced, aging sluggers who don’t hustle while letting his pitching staff fall into disarray and allowing the farm system to disappear into nothingness.

So I can only assume that, despite what the Astros say, he's actually retired. Well that, or I'm actually stuck in some alternate universe – like that alternate universe with Bad Spock or Good Cartman – where an incompetent Tal Smith is running things. And I'd like very much to know how to get back to the universe with the Good Spock, the Evil Cartman, and the competent Tal Smith. – John Royal


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