REAL TALK

Astros intervention: an honest conversation about the one luxury Houston can no longer afford

Someone has to say it. Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images.

Astros catcher Martin Maldonado appears to be a really good guy. His teammates cherish him. He’s a clubhouse leader. He may have been the last Astro that Carlos Correa said goodbye to before signing with Minnesota.

Maldonado even has the best nickname on the team: “Machete,” for the way he cuts down would-be base stealers. Or used to, anyway.

But this is now. Maldonado is batting .086, with only three hits in the 12 games he’s started at catcher. That's starting to be a valid sample. With most of the Astros’ 1-8 hitters mired in a collective slump, Maldonado’s almost non-existent offense is a luxury the team can’t afford.

Jose Altuve is on the injured list with a hurting .167 average. Yordan Alvarez is swatting .245, Kyle Tucker is at .179, defending AL batting champ Yuli Gurriel is struggling at .218, and Aledmys Diaz is down to .167.

But we expect those guys to break out and get their batting averages up where they belong, where we expect, where they’ve been before.

Maldonado, not so sure. Last year he hit only .172 for the AL champ Astros. Now the Astros have a starting catcher with a .210 lifetime average, over the age of 35, in obvious decline, who has become, in Little League parlance, practically an automatic out.

Maybe it’s time, huh?

Maldonado has carved a 12-year big league career out of being a light-hitting defensive catcher with a strong accurate arm and command of calling a game. You dare to run on him and there’s a good chance you’ll be heading back to the dugout in shame. Base-stealing just isn’t a part of the game these days. The number of attempted steals per game is at a 50-year low. Maldonado’s greatest strength has been neutered. He can't gun out runners who aren't running.

As Jimmy Buffett alludes in A Pirate Looks at 40, Maldonado’s occupational hazard is his occupation’s just not around anymore.

With Altuve sidelined and most of the lineup hitting around or below their weight, it’s somewhat a miracle that the Astros are keeping their heads above water at 9-9.

Crunching Maldonado’s numbers doesn’t help. He’s played five years with the Astros and his average in Houston is only .188. His career on-base percentage is .289. Slugging is .346. In 12 years he has only 81 homers. Tuesday night, Maldonado went 1-4 and his batting average skyrocketed 21 points to .086. He’s not merely a weak hitter, no, he’s an historically easy out.

At various times in his career the New York Times called him “arguably the worst hitter in baseball,” and Sports Illustrated said, “he quite possibly could be the worst-hitting everyday player in MLB history.”

Maldonado has gotten worse since those criminal complaints were made.

Yeah, but he’s a defensive wizard, nobody’s better behind the plate, right? Twelve years, one Gold Glove.

Maybe it’s because “Maldy,” as announcer Julia Morales affectionately calls him, is a fan favorite, or because he’s been a cog in the Astros’ recent glory, or the pitching staff vouches for him, but there’s been no collective cry from fans to bench him.

Or perhaps this is the reason: as puny and ineffective as Maldonado has been at the plate, Astros second-string catcher Jason Castro, certainly not in Maldonado’s league defensively, amazingly enough has an even lower batting average, .053.

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This is getting out of hand. Photo by Ronald Martinez/Allsport/Getty Images.

Dr. Rick warns his patients, young homeowners who are turning into their parents, you can expect to pay more for snacks and drinks at a movie theater. It's the same deal at a professional sports venue. Three years ago, I put a down payment on a cheeseburger at Toyota Center ... I still have three more payments to go before I get it.

But this is ridiculous. The PGA Championship, the lesser (least) of golf's majors, is charging $18 for a beer, a 25-ounce Michelob Ultra, at Southern Hills Country Club in Tulsa. It's $19 for a Stella Artois. You can buy a six-pack for less at the supermarket. Aren't there laws against price gouging, like during a hurricane? Isn't Tulsa where the Golden Hurricanes play? Get FEMA in here. Did tournament directors get together and ponder, how can we piss off our fans? Sure, it's Tulsa and there's not much else to do, but that's no excuse.

Charging $18 for a beer makes the concession stands at Minute Maid Park look like a Sunday morning farmer's market. A 25-ounce domestic beer during an Astros game is $13.49. A 25-ounce premium beer is $14.45. Yeah, that's high for a beer, but at Minute Maid Park there are lots of hands in the till. Aramark wants to make a profit, the taxman has big mitts, and the Astros want their cut, too. Look, you want to sign Kyle Tucker and Yordan Alvarez to an extension or not? Then drink up and don't complain. Some quiet grumbling and head-shaking is permitted, however.

You know the PGA Championship is charging too much for a beer when even the rich pampered players take notice. "18 (!!!!!) for a beer ... uhhh what," former PGA Championship winner Justin Thomas tweeted. "Good thing I don't drink a lot."

Like he will be in line for a beer at a public concession booth, anyway.

Of course there will be fans sneaking in beer in baggies strapped to their ankles, like stuffing your pockets with store-bought Snickers before going to the movies. It doesn't have to be this way. The Masters, the most prestigious golf event, charges only $5 for both domestic and imported beer. I know it's a gimmick, part of The Masters mystique along with pimento sandwiches for $1.50, but still it's a welcome gesture. You never lose when you treat the public fairly. When Mercedes-Benz Stadium opened in Atlanta, Falcons owner Arthur Blank insisted that food vendors charge the same inside the stadium as they do at their regular restaurants. Same thing when Denver International Airport opened, fast food restaurants couldn't jack up their prices to their captive customers. Here? There needs to be a loan window outside the Cinnabon booth at Bush-Intercontinental.

Except for the Masters in Augusta, golf's majors aren't tied to a city. A major comes to a city maybe every few years or in most cases never. There's no need to ride into a city like the James Gang, rob the local bank, and high tail it out of town. Golf should be the last professional sport to stick it to fans. While the game has made strides to open its arms to lower-income youths, golf remains an elitist, extremely expensive sport for regular folk. Equipment is expensive, private courses are exclusive and country clubs are exclusionary. Public courses are less expensive but still expensive and crowded. Plus there's never been a professional sport more dangerously dominated by one person than golf. I can imagine network executives on their knees praying that Tiger Woods makes the cut and plays on weekends. Otherwise, TV ratings go straight into the toilet, you know, like whatever team Mattress Mack is betting on. (I joke because I love, and frankly a little scared.)

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