Saying Goodbye To the Greatest Era of Houston Astros Baseball

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Saying Goodbye To the Greatest Era of Houston Astros Baseball
Bob Levey/Getty Images

It seems all too familiar.

It’s way too soon to be doing this again.

Three-and-a-half years ago during a seven-month span, Houston Astros fans witnessed the retirements of legends Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio , officially ending the Killer-B era, the most honorable in franchise history.

On Saturday, Astros’ faithful, again, faced the end of an era, this one being the most productive in the club's history.

From 2001-05, the Astros averaged 88 victories, collected a NL Central pennant (2001), its first postseason series victory (2004), and its first National League pennant (2005).

In three days, Houston’s front office traded its final-major links to the franchise’s historic five-year run as pitcher Roy Oswalt and outfielder-first baseman Lance Berkman were traded in separate deals—left-handed pitcher Wandy Rodriguez is the only player remaining from the World Series squad .

It’s not easy to part ways with positive history but that’s what the NL Central’s second-to-last team did.

It’s also not easy for fans to let go of homegrown talent, which they learned to love during the final stages of the Biggio-Bagwell era and adopted as the next generation to root for.

On Thursday, Houston traded Oswalt to the Philadelphia Phillies for left-handed pitcher J.A. Happ and two minor-league prospects, one of those prospects turned into first baseman Brett Wallace , who was a Blue Jay and has been involved in three major trades in the past two seasons—Matt Holliday from Oakland to St. Louis, blue chipper Michael Taylor from Toronto to Oakland, and Roy Halladay from Toronto to Philadelphia.

Oswalt, Houston’s 23rd-round pick in the 1996 amateur draft, started opening day for eight consecutive seasons—two of those years (2004 and 2005) Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte were in the rotation—and, unfortunately, fell two wins shy of breaking Joe Niekro’s franchise record of 144.

Serving a decade with the Astros, Oswalt went 142-82 with a 3.24 ERA, earned three All-Star selections, and earned the 2005 NLCS MVP honor by collecting two wins while allowing only two-earned runs in 14 innings against the St. Louis Cardinals.

“(Oswalt) represents a proud era for the Astros,” Houston Chronicle columnist Richard Justice wrote on Thursday.

On Saturday, the Stros officially traded Berkman to the New York Yankees for reliever Mark Melancon and infielder Jimmy Paredes.

Berkman, Houston’s first-round selection in 1997, will leave as the franchises’ finest switch hitter.

Fat Elvis learned to stroke from both sides because his father idolized Mickey Mantle.

At times, Berkman’s awkward, right-handed swing, which produced a .262 average, was criticized. But the lefty stroke, which hit .307 and 284 homers, silenced doubters.

Currently, Berkman ranks second in franchise home runs (326—Bagwell hit 449), second in RBI (1,090), and third in base hits (1,648). The Big Puma’s career OPS (.959) is higher than Bagwell’s (.948).

During his 12-year tenure, Berkman made five All-Star teams, smashed six post-season homers, and sits second to Yogi Berra in one-liners.

“I’m a little nervous, a little apprehensive about this whole thing,” Berkman was quoted in MLB.com’s Bryan Hoch article on Friday. “I’m from Texas. Heck, I played at Rice. This city is like the womb.”

The loss of Oswalt and Berkman will not be measured in stats or awards; it will be wins and memories.

Since 2001, when Oswalt and Berkman began playing together, the Astros won 802 regular-season and 13 postseason games—prior to 2001, the franchise collected only eight postseason victories.

The truth, Oswalt and Berkman may have more an importance in the franchise’s winning history than Biggio and Bagwell.

That sentence was tough to write considering Biggio is probably the most popular Astro of all-time.

Biggio became my favorite player when Houston made its late-1990s playoff runs, I explain to people who ask how I became an Astros fan in Upstate New York.

As time progressed, I formed attachments to the franchise’s young players, Oswalt, Berkman, Adam Everett , and Brad Lidge , who became big parts of the organization's success.

Now, all of those attachments are gone.

Currently, the future is Hunter Pence and Jason Castro .

Last August, I saw Pence take batting practice at Citi Field in New York. The sound of the ball off his bat was different than any other player.

Pence placed ball after ball in the left field bleachers. It was a show.

Pence has great character but is all-around awkward in the field and has certain flaws that pure hitters, like Berkman, don’t have.

Castro flew through the minor league system and may be better than scouts initially thought.

Unfortunately, for the Astros, that’s it when it comes to future hype. Not much to get super excited about.

That’s why trading Oswalt and Berkman needed to be done, even if Drayton McLane had to keep paying their contacts—Houston will pay $11 million of the remaining $23 million of Oswalt’s contract, $4 million of $7 million still owed to Berkman this year (according to Astros' writer Alyson Footer, Berkman requested that his 2011 team option would not be picked up by his new team).

To McLane’s credit, he’s doing the right thing, even though the thought of rebuilding and giving away seasons kills him.

The Houston owner knows Oswalt and Berkman made him enough money to earn the chance to play for a contender as their careers dwindle.

McLane also knows fans aren’t stupid.

Fans see Berkman’s power numbers and batting average declining rapidly. They watch the radar gun and know Roy’s low-70s curve ball isn’t as effective when the fastball dips into the low 90s.

McLane could be selfish, some will argue McLane has been during the last three seasons, and keep Oswalt and Berkman in Houston and, next season, use the same slogans to sell tickets at Minute Maid Park.

But Houston’s fans are ready for youth.

Some fans argue its taken too long for McLane to board the rebuilding train.

But that’s water under the bridge. Now is the time to move on toward the future.

To be honest, I clapped and said, “Good job Houston,” when I read the front page of ESPN.com which stated the deal to Philadelphia was finalized.

It’s finally time to say goodbye to the greatest era in Houston Astros' history and begin adopting the future players.

Two months ago, I thought my MLB elegance was switching to the Tampa Rays—reasons for this switch were due to a recent move to Tampa, FL, which turned into a move to Wilkes-Barre, PA.

But because of the recent transactions, I have reason to watch the Astros again.

Now, I can attach myself to young players and learn to root for them.

Hopefully, the rest of Astros’ nation treasures the successful past, thanks Oswalt and Berkman for their loyalty, and is ready for a new era of Houston Astros baseball.

I know, I am.

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