Many Astros fans were shocked at the news that radio voices Brett Dolan and Dave Raymond had been dismissed from the team the day after the season ended. With the retirement of longtime play-by-play voice Milo Hamilton, it was assumed by many that Dolan and Raymond would finally be given their chances to show what they could do now that they didn't have to cater to Hamilton.
Nobody's really quite sure of what happened to bring about the dismissal of Dolan and Raymond, though it is just kind of presumed that the two were caught up in Jim Crane's seeming desire to rid the organization of any person associated with previous owner Drayton McLane. So in search of some answers, I met up with Dolan shortly before Christmas.
"So, did we see it coming?" Dolan asked. "We knew it was a possibility towards the end. There were so many changes in that time of the organization, top to bottom, almost a complete turnover. Our jobs are a little more public. I don't know if that's good or bad."
But as to the reasons for their dismissal? That's as good a question as any, and it's one that Dolan really can't answer because the Astros didn't really offer up much of an explanation besides the current format they had with Hamilton just wasn't working and the team wanted to go in a different direction.
"There weren't a lot of people with broadcasting backgrounds [in the front office], so I wanted to know how I was being evaluated, or Dave," Dolan said. "We were told the current format just wasn't working. And both Dave and I agreed, the current format, it wasn't working."
And the front office was really into marketing and branding, and they wanted Dolan and Raymond pushing that side of things. They also wanted the broadcasters stressing the positive, no matter how bad things were out on the field.
"This front office was less interested in hearing criticism of the team," Dolan said. "I think we did our best to present the positives until games where there weren't [any positives]. I think there were fans that wanted more criticism and analysis, but I don't think that would've served Dave or myself well. But ultimately [in terms of our jobs], it probably wouldn't have mattered."
Just about everyone who listened to the Astros on the radio the past seven years knew the format wasn't working. But blaming that on Dolan and Raymond was a bit strange since they weren't the ones who wanted the format. They were brought in as part of a plan to set up the retirement and replacement of Hamilton, something that Dolan called "a five-year plan that stretched into seven." Neither he nor Raymond were traditional baseball analysts, and they weren't in the position to offer up how-to knowledge on the 3-2 breaking ball or pick-off moves.
Their job for home games was to set up Hamilton, set up the conversation and let Hamilton draw from his vast history of baseball broadcasting, to have a baseball conversation. On the road the two alternated, with one doing play-by-play one night then switching off to offer up commentary on the next. And even then, that wasn't the original plan because the original plan included former radio color analyst Alan Ashby (perhaps soon to be back with the Astros).
"It was going to be Milo and Ashby and another person to do games on the road," Dolan said. "Then it turned into two new people and no Ash with Milo, so it became different, a change, even though one of us would've been there regardless. So from that regard, I don't know if we fully understand the challenge."
Not only did Dolan and Raymond have to step into a position where they were working with Hamilton, who is rumored to be difficult to work with, they also found themselves stepping into the firestorm that arose when the popular Ashby, a former catcher and former analyst with the team, was let go. Replacing Ashby wasn't easy, and they found acceptance from the fans to be difficult because of that.
"We just tried to do our thing," Dolan said, and by last season, he says, fans were coming up to him and telling him that, though they'd once hated him, they had come to like his work on the games.
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But doing their thing was difficult when dealing with a front office that, on the business side, didn't really have much experience, knowledge or understanding of baseball.
"It's challenging," he said. "That's the easiest way of saying it. The current group's doing things differently. And differently is evidenced in different ways. Primarily, when we're on the air, we're just doing our thing. We're not impacted a lot by what's going on. But I hope going forward that the front office cultivates a lot of baseball people, because I think it makes a difference. I do, but maybe others would disagree with me because people are compiling front offices like they're putting together their baseball side, or they're bringing people with different backgrounds. Some of them have come from business or banking or businesses not traditional to maybe moving up in a baseball front office. I just hope with all of the new people they're getting that there's some real good baseball people."
The worst thing to Dolan, besides losing his job, is that he and Raymond never really got their chance to do it all on their own: "That was the disappointing point," he said. "We never really had that one full year together."
In a week or two, there'll be more of our discussion, with Dolan talking about interacting with the fans, his highs and lows with the team, etc.