Remembering Bill Wood: The Astros' Best-Ever General Manager

There have been a lot of nice things written about new Astros GM Jeff Luhnow. And with good reason. He's restored a sense of sanity to the front office. There's a feeling that an adult's now running things, and with the work he's done so far this season, i.e. the Jed Lowrie trade and what is looking to be a stupendous draft, the future is looking bright for the Astros.

This has gotten me thinking about a man I believe has largely been forgotten by Astros fans. That man being former general manager Bill Wood. Sure, everyone knows the Astros ripped off the Red Sox when they traded Larry Andersen for Jeff Bagwell, but I'm willing to wager that most fans don't remember the man who made the trade. That man being Bill Wood.

Wood was only the GM for a relatively short time, taking over when Dick Wagner was fired after the 1987 season and then being fired by Drayton McLane following the 1993 season. So it's really hard to comprehend just what he meant to the Astros following his departure. But no one did more to make the Astros contenders in the `90s and into the 2000s than Bill Wood.

Look at the players who were on the major league roster of the team purchased by Drayton McLane. Jeff Bagwell was in his second season, as was Luis Gonzalez. Craig Biggio was at second base and Ken Caminiti was ensconced at third. Steve Finley, who Wood got from the Orioles in his second-greatest trade, was roaming centerfield with Eric Anthony in right field. Pete Harnisch, also part of the Orioles trade, was in the rotation, as was a very young Daryl Kile.

Shane Reynolds was just making the move from the minors to the majors. Kenny Lofton had been traded the year before as part of the Astros ever-continuing quest to find adequate catching. Bobby Abreu and Richard Hidalgo were making their way up the minor league food chain. And Billy Wagner was drafted in the first round a year later, Wood's last as the GM.

Before he was GM, Wood was the team's Assistant GM the year Biggio was drafted in the first round, and he was the farm director from 1979 to 1985 -- back when the farm system was producing the likes of Dave Smith, Glenn Davis and Bill Doran. In other words, this is a man who did an awful lot of good stuff for the Houston Astros in his career, and he's a man whose name should be mentioned with Gerry Hunsicker when it comes to fondly reminiscing over great Astros general managers.

Sure, he made some mistakes. Like trying to turn Curt Schilling into a closer, then giving up on him -- it's nice to remember the Bagwell/Andersen trade, but at least the Red Sox got some use out of Andersen. Wood traded Glenn Davis to the Orioles for Finley, Harnisch, and Schilling and while the Astros got lots of use out of Finley and Harnisch, Davis was a pure bust who never did anything for the Orioles.

He also traded Kenny Lofton to the Indians for Eddie Taubensee. And while it's easy to slap your head and wonder about how such a stupid trade could be made, it needs to be remembered: The Astros had acquired Steve Finley who looked like he was going to be the centerfielder for many, many years. The Astros, however, did not have a serviceable catcher with Biggio being moved to second, and it was thought Taubensee would be that catcher.

Wood was fired after the 1993 season. But it was his work that made the playoff runs of the `90s and later possible. Eric Anthony was traded for Mike Hampton who became a mainstay of the rotation. Steve Finley and Ken Caminiti were traded for Derek Bell, Doug Brocail, Ricky Gutierrez and others. Biggio, Bagwell and Reynolds were mainstays of the team into the 2000s.

I've been impressed by the work of Luhnow and his crew so far this season -- though I'm not too pleased to see Brett Wallace back in the minors so that Carlos Lee and Matt Downs can play. But while we give Luhnow much-needed and much-earned praise for his work since taking over, the man who is the greatest general manager in team history, and without a doubt the most underappreciated, Bill Wood, needs to be remembered.

Bill Wood was the man who put the team into position to experience the excellence that it did in the 1990s/2000s (and he played key roles with the 1979-81 and 1986 playoff teams). So give thanks to Bill Wood, and let's hope that in 20 years we're talking about Luhnow in the same manner that we should be talking about Wood.

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John Royal is a native Houstonian who graduated from the University of Houston and South Texas College of Law. In his day job he is a complex litigation attorney. In his night job he writes about Houston sports for the Houston Press.
Contact: John Royal