THE PALLILOG

The weekend that could have been for the Astros

Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

It would have been a battle of the reformed cheaters series this weekend with the Astros and the Red Sox playing at Fenway Park. Oh well. Memorial Day will mark the end of two full months of the baseball regular season without any baseball. I'm. Slowly. Going. Crazy.

While the 2017 World Series champs won't be playing the 2018 World Series champs, the 2019 World Series champion Washington Nationals will hold a virtual ring ceremony Sunday. MLB Network will televise it live basically because it has nothing better to show. Sunday is May 24. The Nationals woke up May 24 last year with their record at 19-31.

Alex Bregman has been sitting on 99 career home runs longer than anyone would have remotely envisioned in February. I'm sure Bregman doesn't have 99 problems, but he decided his agent was one. Bregman has dropped agent Brodie Scoffield, evidently in large part because Scoffield took his business into the Klutch Sports agency fold in which LeBron James has an interest. One of LeBron's production companies will be putting together a documentary tentatively called "Sign Language." Correct, about the 2017 Astros' scheming.

NBA

For a guy nicknamed "The Truth" Paul Pierce came across as full of baloney more than truth this week when he was dismissive of James as one of the five greatest players in NBA history. Magic Johnson is of course a legend of the game, as is the late Kobe Bryant. Neither was greater than LeBron. Truth: Paul Pierce grew up a Lakers fan in Inglewood, site of the Forum where Magic played all his home games. Anyone around here who wants to make the "Magic and Kobe both finished with five rings while LeBron only has three argument" must then accept that Hakeem Olajuwon automatically rates behind Shaquille O'Neal and Tim Duncan.

Rockets Rewind

This was a fun week on the calendar for some very happy anniversaries in Rockets' history. Wednesday marked the 25th of Mario Elie's "Kiss of Death" shot in game seven of the Western Conference semifinals at Phoenix. Before Mario's make, brilliant Suns' point guard Kevin Johnson missed a free throw leaving the score tied at 110. K.J. had been 21 for 21 at the foul line for the game, but missed attempt number 22. Huge difference having the ball tied vs. down one.

Even though Elie's shot wasn't a buzzer beater, since the "Kiss" was a critical moment on the path to the Rockets' second championship, I lean to it as the most dramatic moment in franchise history. There is a strong argument though for Thursday's memory lane stroll, the 34th anniversary of Ralph Sampson's twisting foul line jumper at the buzzer to dethrone the Lakers in the Western Conference Final. The Rockets won that series four games to one, winning game five on Ralph's heroics after Hakeem Olajuwon had been ejected midway through the third quarter after throwing down with Lakers' fringe guy Mitch Kupchak.

Friday's anniversary pales in comparison to those two but is far from inconsequential. In the Rockets' very next game after the "Kiss of Death," Robert Horry hit his only field goal of the game with :06.5 on the clock to give the Rockets a 94-93 win at San Antonio in game one of the Western Conference Final. Sean Elliott missed a contested eight-foot runner before the buzzer for the Spurs. Just before Horry's shot Elliott missed two free throws (the second looked very choke-y). That Rockets-Spurs series is remembered for Hakeem Olajuwon's decimation of regular season Most Valuable Player David Robinson. Somewhat lost from memory banks a quarter century later, the road team won the first five games of the series before the Rockets closed it out at The Summit in game six.

Final Stretch

With NASCAR having returned last weekend I don't know whether that means the Indy 500 was prematurely postponed, but that Memorial Day weekend tradition will not happen. August 23rd is the rescheduled date.

Doubt I'll watch much of it, but I'll take Phil Mickelson and Tom Brady over Tiger Woods and Peyton Manning in their 10 million dollar coronavirus relief fundraising match Sunday. Hopefully zingers are flying around like golf balls because otherwise watching four guys walking a round is not very exciting.

Buzzer Beaters:1. So Carlos Correa claims to hope to try MMA someday. No chuckling. It's not as if he's injury prone or anything. 2. "The Last Dance" was fantastic, but are we not all now a little bit "Jordan-ed" out? 3. Top sex symbols of the 90s (sorry Carmen Electra, at least you beat them all today): Bronze-Heather Locklear Silver-Cindy Crawford Gold-Pamela Anderson

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Good news for Jose Altuve. Photo by Harry How/Getty Images.

One never knows how things will play out but of the known General Manager candidates, Jim Crane nailed it in hiring Dana Brown out of the Atlanta Braves' organization where he was Vice President of Scouting. The 55-year-old Brown's scouting and development pedigree is stellar. The Braves have been a talent-producing machine in recent years. Obviously all the credit isn't Brown's but his four years with the Braves preceded by a productive pipeline he was part of in Toronto speak highly of him. Not that it was or should have been the guiding principle to Crane's decision-making, but the Astros now have the only African-American General Manager in Major League Baseball (Ken Williams is Executive Vice President of the Chicago White Sox).

Brad Ausmus is a super-smart guy, but if had he gotten the GM gig it would have been in large part because he was teammate besties with Jeff Bagwell. While “It's not what you know it's who you know” plays a role in many, many hires, it would have been a poor rationale for tabbing Ausmus. Maybe Ausmus would have done a great job. Maybe Brown does a lousy job. Brown was the much more strongly credentialed candidate. While Bagwell has moved way up Crane's confidante list, Brown played college baseball with Craig Biggio at Seton Hall.

Speaking of Halls…

If I could tell you as absolute fact that exactly two members of the 2023 Houston Astros will someday make the Baseball Hall of Fame, who are you picking? Jose Altuve isn’t a lock just yet but he is obvious pick number one. So for the second spot are you going with Alex Bregman or Yordan Alvarez? We’ll get back to this a couple of paragraphs down.

As was basically a given, former Astro (and Phillie, Met, Red Sox, and Brave) Billy Wagner was not elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame this week, but as I suggested last week the voting returns were very favorable toward Wagner making the Hall next year, or if not next year in his final year of eligibility on the Baseball Writers Association ballot for the Class of 2025. “Wags” in the Class of ’24 is looking good. Wagner jumped from 51 percent to 68 percent “put him in” votes. The only guy this year to get the necessary 75 percent for election is worthy third baseman Scott Rolen. Two years ago Rolen got 53 percent of the votes needed, last year 63 percent, before getting the call to Cooperstown with 76.5 percent this year. Wagner going from 51 to 68 to 75-plus looks likely. Of course it’s not as if Wagner can pad his case with a good 2023 season, but this is how the process works. The other ballot returnee well positioned to make it next year is former Colorado first baseman Todd Helton. Unlike this year there’s a sure-fire first time ballot guy going in next year. Third baseman Adrian Beltre will undoubtedly wear a Texas Rangers cap on his plaque.

As expected Carlos Beltran didn’t come close to election in his first year of eligibility, but drawing 46 percent of the votes sets him up well to eventually get the Cooperstown call. Beltran was a fabulous player and his Hall credentials are solid. However, no one reasonable would argue that Carlos Beltran was as good or better than Barry Bonds. In his first year of eligibility back in 2013 Bonds garnered 36 percent of the vote. There has been some turnover in the voter pool over the last decade, but it's clear that Beltran’s central role in the Astros’ sign stealing scheme was not held against him to the extent that PED use (actual and/or suspected) was held against Bonds and Roger Clemens. And Alex Rodriguez. And Sammy Sosa. And Manny Ramirez. And others. Foremost right now that’s encouraging for Beltran, but it’s also encouraging down the line for fellow Astros of 2017-18.

What does this mean for Jose Altuve?

If Jose Altuve retired today (perish the thought!) he’d have a good case for the Hall. He had superstar seasons in 2016, 2017, and 2022, and has five other seasons that while not in the realm of his three best certainly rate as excellent. If you judge a player by his five best seasons, there aren’t 10 second basemen in the history of the sport who’d rank ahead of Altuve. Among those who clearly would: Joe Morgan, Rogers Hornsby, Eddie Collins, and Nap Lajoie. Among those four only Morgan played more recently than 1937. Then there’s a group of arguable guys like Jackie Robinson, Ryne Sandberg, Roberto Alomar, and yes Craig Biggio. Altuve has had the prime of a Hall of Famer. What sort of final numbers will he accrue? In late May or early June he should reach the 2000 hit plateau. How many more prime years does Altuve have left before inevitable decline? His career batting average is .307. Four years ago it was .316. Will Altuve retire a .300 hitter?

Bregman or Alvarez? Bregman gets extra points for being an everyday third baseman as opposed to a left fielder-designated hitter, but by age alone Yordan is the better play. Bregman turns 29 on opening day this year. Yordan doesn’t turn 26 until late June. When Bregman was 25 (2019 season) he put up a season more valuable than Alvarez’s tremendous 2022. In the three years since Bregman hasn’t approached that level, though his big second half last season could be a springboard back to that stratosphere. Yordan is in that stratosphere and figures to stay there for a while if his health holds up.

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Stone Cold ‘Stros is the weekly Astro-centric podcast I am part of alongside Brandon Strange and Josh Jordan. On our regular schedule it airs live at 3PM Monday on the SportsMapHouston YouTube channel, is available there for playback at any point, and also becomes available in podcast form at outlets galore. Such as:

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