With the trades of Roy Oswalt and Lance Berkman last week, the talk has started about whether the Astros should consider retiring their numbers once they retire. Now as much as I like to the honor the history of baseball and some of the great teams and players, I most emphatically think that, no, the Astros should not retire their numbers.
I know that Drayton McLane likes his gimmicks, and that those gimmicks draw crowds, but the Astros, a team that has never won a World Series, has only been to the World Series once, and has no players in the Hall of Fame, really shouldn't have more retired numbers than the Cincinnati Reds.
The Astros have retired 10 numbers, nine Astros players and the number 42 which was worn by Jackie Robinson. The Reds, the first professional baseball franchise, a team with a number of World Series wins to its name, and which has had some of the game's greatest players have retired only nine numbers. Nine. The Reds haven't retired the numbers of their equivalents of Mike Scott, Jose Cruz, and Jimmy Wynn, they've retired the numbers of some of the game's great players, like Johnny Bench, Joe Morgan, and Frank Robinson.
The St. Louis Cardinals, another of baseball's great teams, have only retired 10 numbers. The same amount as has the Astros. Once again, there are no slackers on the Cardinals list. They retired the numbers of Stan Musial, Dizzy Dean, Ozzie Smith. These were great players not just for the Cardinals, but for all of baseball. And the same holds true for the Dodgers. The Dodgers have just retired 10 numbers, and those numbers belonged to the truly great players of the game.
No team has won more World Series, produced more great players, or done more for the history of the baseball than the Yankees. It would have been possible and justifiable for the Yankees to retired just about every uniform number. Yet they've retired just 17 numbers.
But the Astros, a team with no real history, which hasn't really produced any of the game's great players - Craig Biggio should make the Hall of Fame, and I would argue that Jeff Bagwell deserves that distinction, too - has retired as many numbers of some of the sport's great teams.
It's understandable that the Astros retired the numbers of Biggio, Bagwell, and Nolan Ryan. Not only were they great players for the Astros, but they were among the game's great players when they played. And retiring Larry Dierker's number is understandable. He's one of Houston's all-time top pitchers, he was a top-notch broadcaster, and he was one of their best managers ever, so he deserves it on the body of his work with the team - kind of like the Dodgers retiring Tommy Lasorda's number, or the Yankees retiring the number of Billy Martin.
But while Jimmy Wynn and Jose Cruz were good players for the Astros, they were never great players, and they were definitely never great players amongst their fellow players. Mike Scott was one of the game's most dominating pitchers for about a three-year stretch, but he faded away just as quickly as he burst into greatness.
Retiring numbers is a great way to honor the history of a team, and of the game. But at some point, the Astros have to start honor players who were truly great, not just those who are well-remembered and will bring a big crowd to Minute Maid Park for that very special night when the former player is honored.
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Besides, there's another, better reason not to retire the numbers of Oswalt and Berkman. The Astros have yet to retire the number of J.R. Richard, and if there was ever an Astro player that deserves this honor, it's Richard. He truly was one of the game's great players. He had a dominating strike out pitcher who could throw 100-mile-per-hour fastballs. He was stricken with a stroke while trying to prove to Tal Smith that he wasn't faking an injury. He nearly died, and was never able to return to the majors. His career was struck short way, way too early.
So if the Astros haven't retired the number of Richard, then nobody deserves to have their number retired. If the team's greatest player is going to be ignored time, and time again, then the rest of the team's former players deserve that as well.
But we're talking Drayton McLane here, and he loves his gimmicks. So if Lance Berkman ends up retiring after this season, then expect a Lance Berkman night at MMP next season where they will end up retiring his number. And you can probably expect the same when Roy Oswalt retires.
J.R. Richard will continue to be forgotten. But as long as Drayton McLane owns the team, as long as Tal Smith is the president, it's going to keep being that way.