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An Open Letter to Richard Justice

Dear Mr. Justice,

Mr. Justice, do you mind if I call you Richard? Mr. Justice just sounds all formal, and I know that you’re not the formal type of guy.

Richard, first off, let me apologize. I know that it’s been a long time since I last wrote to you, but I’ve been busy. I’m moving in a couple of weeks, and it’s taking a lot of time to plan – it really takes a long time to pack up all of my old Astros media guides. Also, I’ve been spending lots of time on your colleague, Jesus Ortiz, and if you read him, which I’m sure you do seeing as you guys are big-shot pals at the Chron, you’ll know that reading him takes lots and lots of time and effort.

Now that that’s out of the way, let me get to the reasons behind my little letter.

I have some problems with your latest column, and I thought, what with the both of us being men of letters, that this would be the best way to address my problem.

It’s like this. You write: “In Drayton I trust. No, seriously. The Astros are in good hands. Drayton will get it right.”

Seeing as that statement leads off your column, I thought you might be doing a little of that sarcasm thing. But I read a little further and found this: “McLane has been the common denominator in the last 15 seasons. He’s so easy to mock that he may never get the credit he deserves for the way he has operated this franchise.”

This statement leads me to believe you’re actually serious, that you’re not employing that sarcasm thing. But I’m kind of slow – that’s what they say in some of the comments I get – so I read some more: “if Lance Berkman, Morgan Ensberg, Brad Lidge, Jason Jennings and Woody Williams had done what a lot of us thought they would do, almost no one would be complaining about the size of the payroll.”

You really are serious.

You go on to tell me of your faith in Drayton. About how Drayton knows that the fans won’t support a loser, about how he’s too competitive to allow the team to become an embarrassment. You tell me that it’s the fault of the baseball people who tell Drayton what he wants to hear, and not the truth. You suggest that he give Gerry Hunsicker a call. Or maybe Frank Robinson or Don Baylor. And you finish by telling me that what Drayton really needs to do is to fork out some cash and sign Curt Schilling and Kenny Rogers this off-season.

Richard, I think we’ve always been pals, but I’ve got to tell you something. And you know they say hearing the truth is hard. And this is going to be hard for you to hear, but...you’re an absolute fucking idiot. Did you really think Ensberg, Lidge, Jennings and Williams were going to perform better than they have? If so, maybe you should try reading this guy from time to time.

And besides that, what reasons has Drayton given for you to place all of this faith in him to set things right?

Richard, I hate to do this to you, but I’ve got to go to a column you wrote earlier this summer: “The owner never understood his general manager. He tried. He really did. The media got that part of the story wrong.

“He just never saw the guy do all that much…He didn’t want a general manager sitting around his office talking on the phone or sitting in some minor league clubhouse watching kids tie their shoes. He wanted action.”

The man you write of is Peter Angelos, the owner of the Baltimore Orioles. But doesn’t it sound kind of like someone else? Like maybe Drayton?

I continue quoting you: “Angelos never understood why baseball people said Gillick was so good. The man had no style. He talked in circles. He wanted players few others did….

“[Angelos] wanted to make a splash. Gillick wanted a certain kind of guy. He preached patience when any idiot knows action is better than patience.”

Does that description fit anybody you know, Richard? You damn Peter Angelos, but to me, it sounds a lot like Drayton McLane. Bill Wood worked to build a team from the farm system. Drayton wanted to make the big splash and signed Doug Drabek and Greg Swindell. Bill Wood preached patience, said these were young kids who needed seasoning. He was fired.

And Drayton let non-flashy types like Darryl Kile depart, while signing Jose Lima to big bucks. Drayton wanted players with style. No one else wanted Carl Everett or Vinny Castilla or Dan Wheeler or Geoff Blum, but Gerry Hunsicker did. But Drayton wanted the drug-addicted Ken Caminiti back. And if any player didn’t stick to the company line, like Mike Hampton or Billy Wagner, Drayton got rid of them, never mind the roles they had in the clubhouse.

So, what is it in this history of Drayton, Richard, that makes you put your faith in him to get it right?

Is it that he inherited from John McMullen a young team set to compete for a pennant? Is it that he inherited a franchise run by Bill Wood and Bob Watson? Is that he fired Bill Wood because Wood didn’t click with Drayton’s personality? Is it that Bob Watson left the Astros to work for George Steinbrenner? Is it that he fired Gerry Hunsicker because Gerry wouldn’t give Drayton credit for the work that Gerry did? Is it that Tim Purpura’s still got a job?

You want Drayton to give Hunsicker a call. Why should Hunsicker want to help Drayton, especially after Drayton tried to destroy his career? And why would strong personalities like Robinson or Baylor want anything to do with Drayton, or with this franchise? Drayton’s said nothing to indicate that he wants anything but yes-men working for him. He’s fired or traded anybody who wasn’t a yes-man, who wouldn’t toady up to him and call him the greatest thing since sliced bread. So, is there something I’m missing? Is there some reason why a Robinson or Baylor or Davey Johnson or Bobby Valentine would want anything to do with Drayton? Hell, Art Howe was too strong a personality for Drayton to deal with; what reason is there to think he’ll treat these people any differently?

And what makes you think Drayton’s going to fork over cash for Schilling and Rogers? Neither of these guys fits the pattern of guys that Drayton signs: Schilling’s got a big mouth and Rogers likes to attack camera guys. Not exactly the fan friendly, bland guys loved by Drayton. And both are really injury-prone and have missed lots of time this season. I don’t think this is what the Astros need to fix this starting rotation. And why would these guys, coming up on the end of their careers, want to play for the Astros when there’s some team out there with a chance to win a pennant might want them instead?

I hope that I haven’t been too harsh, Richard. But someone’s got to speak the truth. Just like someone’s got to speak it to Drayton, someone needs to speak it to you.

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John Royal

P.S.: Oh, Richard, if you’re going to write one of these columns, may I suggest that you hit the Chron’s archives and read the work of Ed Fowler? That guy knew how to let the owners have it. He didn’t care if they got mad at him. He didn’t care if they wouldn’t sit down for a hotdog with him. Hell, go back to the archives from the late-70s and 80s, to back when Dale Robertson was getting into fights with Dan Pastorini, or Fran Blineberry was exchanging thrown fists with Ladd Herzeg. That should give you an idea of how the press is supposed to work.

P.P.S.: Oh, and while you’re in the archives, send some of the clips up to Jesus Ortiz so that he can get an idea of what his job is supposed to be as well.

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