Who's the Man?

Lance Zierlein: I started an Astros Civil War

Jose Altuve continues to pile up massive numbers. Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

I would like to take this opportunity to apologize for my role in starting the Great Astros Civil War of 2018. It was unintentional. I promise. I didn’t begin my Twitter comments with hate in my heart—I simply said what I thought all Astros fans were thinking. I had no idea that so many of us are not on the same page.

It started innocently enough with a graphic that was re-tweeted to me.

Of course, I took one look at that tweet and retweeted it adding the comment:

“Uh...........‘real possibility’ ??? Yeah..... it's already a thing.”

Now, it was my understanding that we were all on the same page here as Astros fans. Remember that incredible World Series win and the subsequent celebrations? Remember Altuve’s three-homer game in Boston? Remember Altuve’s MVP season and third batting crown in four years? Yeah, that didn’t really matter to some of you who are ready for a Saturday Twitter scrap.

To begin with, my first thought was “Wait…. it’s Jeff Bagwell and not Craig Biggio? I thought it was probably Biggio.” I actually tweeted that and it definitely touched off a skirmish. The sabermetric watchdogs feverishly searched BaseballReference.com to hit me with as many forms of “WAR” as they could to prove that Bagwell > Biggio. Baggy’s 1994 was astounding. As baseball historian Bill James pointed out years ago, it was one of the great offensive seasons of all time. With that said, he never reached that level again for the rest of his career.

Bagwell‘s numbers were great, but also heavy on power (in the midst of the most infamously tarnished era in baseball) and light on production when it matters most—in the playoffs. Bagwell played in 33 postseason contests with a career batting average of .226 and an OPS of .685. As a point of reference, his career average was .297 with an OPS of .948. Altuve’s best season didn’t come in his fourth year. No, his best work has come over the last two seasons with this year’s MVP season as his finest.

Oh, and about the postseason. He’s played in 24 career playoff games with a batting average of .268, but an OPS of .842 which is higher than his .816 career OPS. Did I mention he has 7 postseason home runs to Bagwell’s 2? And Altuve is getting better with each passing season. Did Bagwell ever figure out how to quiet those hands and improve his contact? No. Did Biggio ever learn to lay off the slider away? No. Altuve, on the other hand, was so disappointed in his approach to curveballs that he worked tirelessly on it in the offseason and ended up hitting over .400 against the pitch this season.

There were Bagwell vs. Biggio battles. There were Bagwell vs. Altuve arguments and there was even an Altuve vs. Joe Morgan argument made by one fan that believed that Morgan was a better Astros second baseman than Altuve *eye roll emoji*. I understand the argument that Altuve hasn’t reached the statistical achievements of Bagwell or Biggio, but that’s an apples to oranges argument since we are simply waiting for time to pass so the sample size is more even. He’s on a Pete Rose pace in terms of hits. He doesn’t have to get to 3,000 hits or 400 home runs for him to match or pass Bagwell or Biggio as the greatest Astro ever.  No. Altuve did something in the postseason that will live with Astros fans forever. Altuve as the undisputed “greatest Astro” is just a matter of time. Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock.

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The media has mixed feelings about the James Harden trade. Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

James Harden was 100-percent exactly right earlier this week when he said the Houston Rockets were "just not good enough."

How could they be? Not when their moody superstar scorer, who makes about half a million dollars per game, shows up chubby, looking like a kielbasa about to explode in the microwave. Hey, some people eat when they're unhappy, it's a defense mechanism. In Harden's case, the only defense he's exhibited this season. At least he had a good excuse for missing pre-season training camp and alienating his teammates - he was busy partying with Cinnamon and Cherish in Atlanta and Vegas without a mask. Worst of all, he went into the tank his last four games in a Rockets uniform, standing around, arms folded, scoring fewer than 20 points each time, all Rockets losses. Fans in the front row were asking him to move, he was blocking their view of players who cared about winning. James Harden sabotaged his own team, a team that offered him $50 million a year to stay. Something that crazy could only happen in professional sports these days.

There's a saying that drives the American labor movement: "a fair day's wage for a fair day's work." It's the motto of the American Federation of Labor. The National Basketball Players Association is not a member. Harden's sulking on the court, cheating the Rockets and their fans, was unforgivable.

Harden, sitting out games while somehow being on the court, forced the Rockets to trade him - and quick - to Brooklyn. The trade, when you ignore the fine print and unindicted co-conspirators Cleveland and Indiana, sent Harden to Brooklyn in exchange for Caris LeVert (immediately flipped for Victor Oladipo), Jarrett Allen, three first-round draft picks and four swapped first-rounders. It's true, when you trade a superstar, you never get back equal value. The other team wins.

If it makes Rockets fans feel any better, the media in New York already has problems with their new problem child. I should say newest problem child. Kyrie Irving plays for the Nets.

"They (the Nets) gave up everybody! There's nothing left now. I just want to cry, It's awful," weeped WFAN Radio talk host Evan Roberts. For those who don't subscribe to weekly Arbitron ratings reports, WFAN is the most powerful, top-rated sports talk station in the Apple.

"You're leading down the road of doom. Harden and Durant could be gone in a year and a half. I'm not convinced this gives them a better chance to win a title. I'm living a nightmare again. They better freaking win."

Circle March 3 on your Rockets schedule. That's when the Brooklyn Nets, with their Big 3 of Kevin Durant, James Harden and possibly Kyrie Irving visit Toyota Center. I hear talk radio salivating over the record jeers that will cascade over Harden's name, although I'm not buying it. Fans don't think like the media does. I'm thinking that Rockets fans will welcome Harden back - one night only - with cheers.

Toyota Center public address announcer Matt Thomas: "Usually when former Rockets come to town for the first time since leaving, I give them a positive introduction. It's up to the fans how to react."

James Harden spent eight seasons with the Rockets. He is a spectacular player who watched other NBA players engineer trades so they could compete for a title. Harden didn't think the Rockets were good enough, and he's right. So he wanted out. We've all been there, a job we didn't like for a company we didn't like, for a boss we didn't respect. Harden wanting to be traded is understandable. How he went about it was deplorable. He hurt his co-workers.

Houston will make Harden pay for his disrespectful departure. He has an upscale restaurant set to open here. The name of the steakhouse will be "13." Harden's business partners may want to change that number ... before the restaurant's telephone number is disconnected. There are plenty of other restaurants in Houston. Rich people who can afford steakhouse prices hold grudges.

Rockets fans searching for a silver lining say, "We got two decent players and a whole bunch of precious first-round picks" for a malcontent who would rather be anywhere (except maybe Sacramento) than Houston." Yes, a bunch of first-round picks does bode well for the future. Anywhere, except maybe Houston.

Houston's draft war room isn't the most successful operation in the NBA. Over the past decade prior to 2000, under the direction of general manager Daryl Morey, the Rockets made 16 draft picks. Not one of them is still in a Rockets uniform, many of them have sought employment outside of America, some outside of basketball. Among their first-round whiffs: Nikola Mirotic, Terrence Jones, Sam Dekker - all out of the league. Best of all, Royce White, who played three whole games in his NBA career and finished with a scoring average of 0.00 points per game.

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