A Clubhouse Divided?

I give Richard Justice lots of grief. But the guy is connected with the Astros, and when he starts writing about problems in the Astros clubhouse, well, let’s just say that I’m going to listen. I’m not sure how widespread the problem is, probably because Justice doesn’t elaborate too much, but it’s very clear who two of the participants are, Cecil Cooper and Roy Oswalt.

Justice originally wrote of some problems between the two last month, when Oswalt went out to pitch an inning injured, then had to leave the game. Oswalt claimed he told Cooper that he was injured, but that Cooper told him to pitch anyway. Cooper claimed that Oswalt said he could go another inning.

The two said they talked and things were worked out.

Well, maybe they did. But then came Sunday’s game against the Yankees. A game that Oswalt was starting, and a game in which Cooper decided to sit Lance Berkman, Kaz Matsui and Ty Wigginton. Oswalt didn’t like pitching a game where he felt the best players behind him were on the bench, especially with there being a day off on Monday.

When asked about this before the game, Cooper told Justice that Berkman was injured and couldn’t play. After the game, while Oswalt was complaining, it came out that Berkman was hurting, but that he was willing to play the game.

Justice writes that he doesn’t think this is a serious problem. He thinks it’s just a communication problem between the two, and that they will work it out. But I’m curious about something else Justice wrote last week about Oswalt. And about how Oswalt has been off because he changed his style of pitching because the Astros brass asked him to do this. Justice doesn’t specify which brass, so it could have been Tim Purpura, Phil Garner and Dave Wallace who requested this, or it could have been Ed Wade, Cecil Cooper and Dewey Robinson.

What makes it really interesting is who Oswalt consulted last week about his pitching problems. He didn’t go to Cooper or Robinson, the pitching coach, he went to Lance Berkman. Berkman has seen all of Oswalt’s game as an Astro, more than Cooper and Robinson, but to me, it’s interesting, and telling, that the team pitching ace is going to the first baseman for pitching help, and not to his coaches.

As I said, I’ve given Richard Justice lots of grief, but I think he’s pinpointed a big problem for the Astros. There’s a divide in the clubhouse, and it appears that it might be between the players and management.

And before you think I’m reading too much into incidents between Cooper and Oswalt, I offer one more example, and once again, this is from last week.

Some of you might remember that the Texas Rangers designated starting pitcher Sidney Ponson for assignment last week. And some of the Astros thought that Ponson would be a good addition for the team. But instead of approaching Cecil Cooper and Ed Wade, these players went to Chron beat writer Jose de Jesus Ortiz and asked him to make the case for Ponson to management.

This is funny to me. It just seems that if the players want the team to add another player, they should be able to talk to management about it, and not have to go to the press. Players go to the press about these matters when they can’t approach management. So between this and the incidents with Roy Oswalt and Cecil Cooper, I’m sensing that the Astros locker room is a locker room divided.

I’ve got no solutions. I just remember that incidents like this didn’t happen when Jeff Bagwell was the team leader. And it just makes me miss, again, the greatness of Jeff Bagwell. Then again, maybe I’m reading something into something that is absolutely nothing. Let’s hope so. Because I don’t want Drayton doing to Roy Oswalt what he did to Billy Wagner, trading him for nothing. – John Royal

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