The Pallilog

Astros search for a manager enters the homestretch. Who will it be?

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This time next week Jim Crane will have hired or be closing in on hiring the Astros' new manager. Who is it going to be? Considering Crane himself doesn't know yet, how the heck should I know? The candidate pool is deep in quality, four former big league skippers (none of whom have won a World Series) and at least three others who have never managed in Major League Baseball.

Dusty Baker. 70 years old. Over 22 seasons he steered four different franchises to the postseason. Tremendous people skills. I always felt his teams took on his upbeat but intense personality. Not a tactical wizard and a questionable resume re: handling of several pitchers. That's not a dealbreaker If Brent Strom is still the pitching coach.

Buck Showalter. Organized and prepared as all get out. Taken three different teams to the playoffs. More coincidence than anything else, the Yankees and Diamondbacks won the World Series...the season immediately after they fired Showalter.

John Gibbons. Low key personality. Two American League Championship Series trips with the Blue Jays.

Jeff Banister. LaMarque high school grad, played at UH. Back-to-Back AL West titles with the Rangers before their roster fell apart and the Astros took over the division. Also a lifetime big league batting average of 1.000. One at bat, he singled.

Any of those four would be a highly credible hire.

Those seeking experience by getting experience: Raul Ibanez, Will Venable, and Eduardo Perez. Where the Astros are, I would lean away from them. Incumbent bench coach Joe Espada is a more credentialed candidate than those three, but Espada was on A.J. Hinch's staff when the Astros are confirmed as cheaters, so can't see Crane going with him.

The experienced big league managers would command more money. That should play zero role in the choice, even though if the Astros stay largely healthy and avoid precipitous performance declines, you or I could manage their roster to 90 wins. Who is best equipped to navigate the S.S. Astros through some stormy seas bound to hit? Because, A. that's baseball, and B. they'll face some unusual stuff in their role as the lying, cheating villains of MLB. Can't know the answer to that.

Rockets fading from the spotlight

The Texans disintegrated on the field in Kansas City, the Astros' integrity turns out to have in part either disintegrated or been non-existent, leaving the Rockets among the big three to uplift the city's sports spirits over the next couple of months. Problem, relatively few seem to care. Glaring numbers of empty seats (even though sold) at Toyota Center, lower TV ratings, and a palpable lack of buzz to them. No shame in a 27-16 record, but that's not close to special and things just seem a bit stale. Dog days of midseason or larger problems?

The Rockets enter the weekend closer to the Draft Lottery than to the Western Conference leading Lakers. The Rockets are at best b-list contenders, waaaay more likely to get bounced from the playoffs in the first round than to win the West. They may be in serious trouble relative to this season's aspirations, and going forward.

Recent deep shooting slump aside, James Harden is a phenomenal offensive force, and Russell Westbrook is a force of nature. But a Harden/Westbrook backcourt headlines a non-championship caliber defense. And there just aren't good enough players around them. Harden is 30 years old, Westbrook is 31. Eric Gordon and his balky knee and erratic jumper, also 31. Over the next three seasons the Rockets are on the hook for those three guys at an average of about 106 million dollars per season.

For two straight off-seasons, the Rockets have been cheap with construction of the bench. Whatever the extent he's been following owner Tilman Fertitta's marching orders, among teams that fancy themselves contenders General Manager Daryl Morey has produced the worst bench in the NBA.

There are a bunch of teams with better overall talent, there are lottery teams with better young talent. It all adds up to the best guess being Head Coach Mike D'Antoni parts ways with the Rockets after the season. How good a job will the Rockets job be for the next coach? The answer might be, not very, in terms of pursuing an NBA championship.

While not being a big deal, it won't look good on the Rockets side if/when Chris Paul makes the All Star Game and Russell Westbrook doesn't.

Buzzer Beaters

1. If you were Kelvin Sampson would you leave UH for the Rockets? 2. The Pro Bowl is Sunday! 3. Things on TV I'd watch before the Pro Bowl: Bronze-Real Housewives of Anywhere Silver-A full XFL game Gold-Three hours of test pattern

Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

Simply put – and I realize I am last in on this, but I only write once a week and I also sleep in weekday mornings, mainly to avoid bad news – Major League Baseball should vacate the Houston Astros' 2017 World Series title.

I understand there is some Astros fatigue right now, but this sign-stealing saga has generated more reader mail than any issue in recent memory. In fact, if I paid out $1.25 to every Astros-related Ask The Slouch submission, I'd be writing this column at a loss.

Plus every time another layer is pulled off this Astros scandal, something tells me we will find something else sordid. Eventually, we'll discover the Astros also had a hand in the Great Chicago Fire, the kidnapping of the Lindbergh baby and the Watergate cover-up.

So, how far have we fallen as a once reasonably-minded group of revolutionaries pulling away from British oppression?


1. The Astros – following the lead from Wall Street to the White House – not only decided to flimflam repeatedly, but once caught, took a "get over it" stance.

2. Many Astros opponents, unhappy with Commissioner Rob Manfred's let's-just-move-on jurisprudence, have spoken of taking justice into their own hands – by throwing at Astros batters; of course, this follows the old Latin "an eye for an eye and a 90 mph fastball at your head for a tooth" credo.

3. Naturally, we can gamble on how many times Astros betters are hit by a pitch. At William Hill sports book, the latest over-under season total is 81.5; there's something very American about the ability to wager on players getting assaulted by beanballs.

Meanwhile, we heard last week, pitifully so, from Astros owner Jim Crane and Astros players, all of whom stepped to the plate and said nothing – apparently they cannot speak unless they know what pitch is coming.

(We did not hear from defrocked general manager Jeff Luhnow or defrocked manager A.J. Hinch, both currently relocated in MLB's new witless protection program.)

Harry S. Truman famously had a sign on his desk that said, "The buck stops here." Crane's version of that is, "The buck stops down the hall and to the right, in an office adjacent to the men's restroom."

Crane contended that the electronically-aided sign stealing "didn't impact the game." In his defense, I'll say this: If I played on the Astros, I probably would hit .000. And if I knew what pitch was coming every time, I'd still probably hit .000.

The Astros' spring training apology tour can be summed up in a dozen words:

"We're sorry, but we're not THAT sorry – we are still the champions."

Manfred acknowledged he could've stripped the Astros of their title, but he said, "There are a lot of things that happened in the history of the game that arguably could be corrected, and I just think it's an impossible task for an institution to undertake."

No, it's not an impossible task.

You know what's an impossible task?

-- Making a full-bodied Cabernet Sauvignon without a single grape.

-- Leaving Tallahassee, Fla., Monday in a hot air balloon and landing on Mars by Friday.

-- Convincing Skip Bayless he is wrong about anything.

This was a simple task: The World Series champions had gamed the game for the entirety of their title season. They broke MLB rules in wide-scale fashion, again and again – it's called CHEATING. If a high school kid scores 95 on a biology test and it's discovered he had the answers beforehand, do you still give him an 'A' on the exam?

You vacate the Astros' championship. Case closed.

Like Baretta used to say, "Don't do the crime if you can't do the time."

Manfred said even putting an asterisk on the Astros' title doesn't make "that much difference."

Let's test that.

Example A: The Houston Astros are 2017 World Series champions.

Example B: The Houston As*tros are 2017 World Series champions.*

* Actually, they're not – they CHEATED.

I've got to say, short of taking the Astros' title away, Example B looks a whole lot better to me than Example A.

Ask the slouch

Q. You recently wrote, "March showers bring April flowers." Did you get permission from the EPA to update the original expression, "April showers bring May flowers"? (Dudley Chase; St. Inigoes, Md.)

A. Listen, pal, I have been ahead of the climate-change curve since getting drenched in a Las Vegas rainstorm on St. Patrick's Day 1999.

Q. I just read your book, "Hold On, Honey, I'll Take You to the Hospital at Halftime." Please tell me you wouldn't really wait until halftime. (Ray Hauley; Valatie, N.Y.)

A. I did. And my first ex-wife did not wait until game's end to leave me.

Q. You wrote that you hate the XFL, yet you pick XFL games on YouTube. Are you a hypocrite? (Jason Karlin; Chicago)

A. The Greek actor Hypokritḗs was a hypocrite; I'm just trying to make a living in an ever-changing media universe.

Q. What is Michael Strahan doing these days now that he is no longer playing football? It's like he dropped off the face of the earth. (Steve Owings; Spokane, Wash.)

A. Pay the man, Shirley.

You, too, can enter the $1.25 Ask The Slouch Cash Giveaway. Just email asktheslouch@aol.com and, if your question is used, you win $1.25 in cash!

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