John Granato: Rick Smith's personal life aside, we all still have a job to do

GM Rick Smith struggled at his job before his wife became ill. Bob Levey/Getty Images

Rick Smith’s revelation that his wife is battling breast cancer brought a wave of emotion and reaction Sunday evening. Everyone is rooting for her. Here’s to Tiffany Smith and her fight against that insidious disease.

Everyone was not as kind to Rick. One media member accused him of using his wife’s illness as a shield for being demoted and found that to be “gross,” “disgusting” and “abhorrent.” “The guy was getting demoted anyhow. The Texans and Rick are using his wife as a prop.”

This media member has also had a season-long feud with the Texans organization over having had his credential pulled. His feelings about Rick may not be tied to that fact but it’s certainly useful information.

The fact that Tiffany Smith has breast cancer is not new news. I and other media members have known about this for months. The family did not want it to be public knowledge so we kept it under wraps to honor their wishes. That was their prerogative. We, I am proud to say, acquiesced. I am not sure that would have been the case in other media markets. If it’s news you run with it in other places. The wishes of those who have been affected be damned.

After having tweeted that I and other media members  knew for a while about Tiffany’s illness, I was asked

“John, seriously, if everyone knew this behind the scenes and still added the stress of him and OB fighting... isn’t that kinda SHI__Y?”

“I would kick someone’s ass for that if I was Rick.”

First, I don’t know how many media members knew about Tiffany’s illness. Could be just a few. Could be more.

Second, I knew but I was still critical of Rick as a general manager. The two can be mutually exclusive. Rick Smith wasn’t bad at his job BECAUSE his wife was sick. Rick Smith was bad at his job AND his wife was sick. But it’s not like Rick has been working under these conditions for years.

It’s my understanding that Tiffany was diagnosed this year. His reign as GM dates back to 2006 and they’ve been a mediocre franchise over his tenure. The winning percentage bears that out. They’ve been a playoff team but they’ve also been one of the worst teams in the league a few times and a middling franchise most of all. His middle to late round picks have been putrid at times and even his famous first round picks have been less than stellar lately. His infamous tiff with O’Brien didn’t begin months ago. It’s been an ongoing topic on Kirby for some time.

Is all of this criticism harsh so soon after the revelation his wife is sick? I don’t think so.

You’ve seen Bob McNair. He’s been battling cancer for years now. Has anyone eased up on him? The onslaught after his “inmates running the prison” statement was nothing short of brutal.

O’Brien’s son turned 15 this summer. He’s battling a neurological disorder called lissencephally. Only those of you with a special needs child can understand what the O’Briens have to do day in and day out to make life as normal as possible. Have the media and fans relented because he’s got tough personal issues? No and we shouldn’t. He’s had to answer questions about his job almost daily for weeks now.

If you have personal issues at home your boss still expects you to perform. If you’re an insurance salesman and can’t sell insurance because your wife is sick, your boss will eventually find someone who can and it’ll probably be sooner rather than later.

If you can’t fix cars because you have a special needs child and it’s become a great distraction in your life, your boss will find someone who can fix cars.

My mom died of cancer last summer. I was back and forth to Chicago numerous times. I still had my show to do and commercials to sell (yep, commercials are part of the job). I got through it and I hope it wasn’t too intrusive for the listener. I’m hoping you didn’t even notice the difference.

That’s life and this is the life for Rick and Tiffany Smith now. The fact that the organization is calling it a “leave of absence” instead of his release is their business. If that’s the way the McNairs want to handle it, then so be it. They are, by all accounts, very close and fond of Rick and his family. If they want to keep paying him then they should. It’s their money. They can do what they want with it.

As for them using her illness as a “prop” I don’t believe that for one second. The media has been ripping Rick for months. He could have used the “cancer” card at any time. In fact I think it was admirable that he waited until the season was over. This team did not need more bad news. I don’t believe I’ve ever seen a team with more injuries and off-field disaster and distractions than this Texans team. Rick kept it to himself for all this time but it wasn’t going to be a secret for long. If I knew about it a while ago someone was going to report it soon enough. He was able to reveal it how he wanted to and that’s a good thing.

Will he be back as Texans GM someday? Hopefully Tiffany will beat this and we can argue that point then. Godspeed Tiffany.

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The Astros are utilizing a 6-man rotation. Composite Getty Image.

The Astros should schedule an Old-Timers Game, if not annually maybe every other year. Only the Yankees have regularly played Old Timers Games and it’s a highlight in the Bronx every season. The Astros have plenty enough history to welcome back an ample number of guys to make for a fabulous event. Maybe they could tie it into their now annual Hall of Fame Weekend. Anyway, don’t you feel that if Jose Altuve took part in an Old Timers Game in 2050 he’d bang out a couple of hits, and then if the Astros played him in the regular game he’d line one more hit somehow, at age 60?

After missing the first 43 games of the season while recovering from his broken thumb, Altuve went 0 for four in his first game back, but has since been generally fantastic with his OPS through nine games played at 1.013. It won’t stay that high, but Altuve is a direly needed upgrade to the Astros’ offense which has been utterly mediocre. Offense is the reason the Astros continue to look up at the Texas Rangers in the American League West. The Rangers’ offense has been fantastic, outscoring the Astros by a whopping 100 runs through the first third of the season.

As the regular season entered its middle third this week, the Astros are in the middle of playing a game in 17 consecutive days. It’s their longest stretch of the season without an off day. They are inserting Ronel Blanco as a sixth starting pitcher in the rotation for a couple of turns. The point of mixing in a sixth starter isn’t that the Astros are teeming with guys who belong in a big league rotation. The 29-year-old Blanco is not a notable prospect. This is about lightening the load a little on two guys: Cristian Javier and Hunter Brown.

In becoming a rotation mainstay last season, Javier blew past his previous biggest season workload by nearly 50 innings. He’s on pace to go another 25 innings beyond that this year without even accounting for the playoffs. Hunter Brown last year set his professional high with 130 innings pitched encompassing work with the Space Cowboys and Astros. Brown is on pace for about 170 innings this regular season. That’s a significant jump, and of course the Astros are hoping for another postseason of multiple rounds. Javier, Brown, and Framber Valdez are the three most critical pitchers on the staff, and the Astros hope they remain healthily so for several more years.

Lance McCullers’s latest recovery setback makes his plight increasingly sad. Well, except for him on payday. The odds now lopsidedly favor McCullers never again pitching a near fully healthy and effective season. His only one to date was 2021 (until he broke down in the playoffs), the year before his five year 85 million dollar contract kicked in. McCullers pulls down 17 mil this year (And again next year. And in 2025. And 2026), exactly two and a half times what Framber Valdez makes. I reckon Framber’s representation is aware of this, as it is of the five year 63 million dollar deal the Astros struck with Cristian Javier. Framber is more than three years older than Javier, but has been better, and can hit free agency after the 2025 season, the same time Javier could have gone to market.

Timing isn’t everything but it darn sure can matter. The Astros’ two best relief pitchers through May were Hector Neris and Phil Maton. Neris enters June with a 1.19 earned run average, Maton even better with a teeny-weeny 0.68 ERA. Maton has been especially amazing, given that last year while not pitching very well he posted his career best ERA at 3.84. His 2022 ended ignominiously when after giving up a hit to his brother Nick in the regular season finale, Phil took the ding-a-ling of the week award by breaking his pitching hand punching his locker, sidelining him for the postseason. The Hurt Locker won the Academy Award for Best Picture in 2010. Now Maton is up for Best Pitcher (per inning worked). Both Neris and Maton were James Click acquisitions. Both become free agents after this season.

Up next

Four games with the Angels at Minute Maid Park through the weekend mean the amazing Shohei Ohtani is in town. It’s “Sho-time” on the mound Friday night in a doozy of a pitching matchup with Framber, with Ohtani batting in at least three of the four games. In one player the Angels have a pitcher as good as Cristian Javier and a hitter better than Kyle Tucker. And the Angels will probably miss the playoffs again anyway. And then lose Ohtani in free agency. After the Angels series the Astros are on the road next week. They start with four games at Toronto against the Blue Jays’ very potent lineup, then it’s three at Cleveland vs. the Guardians whose offense has been pathetic so far this season.

Walk this way

Geek Astro factoid of the week: Jeremy Pena drew two walks in Tuesday’s win over the Twins. In his rookie season, Pena had only one two walk game, also in May, also against the Twins. Tuesday’s bases on balls finally got Pena into double digits for the season. He has just 11 walks drawn (largely explaining his weak .307 on-base percentage) vs. 50 strikeouts.

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