As the Houston Astros approach the 1oth anniversary of their last trip to the postseason two members of their 2005 World Series team have announced their retirement.
While Roy Oswalt and Lance Berkman were each traded from the Astros years ago as the team entered a youth movement, both men will be given the chance to be Astros for at least one more day in a sign and retire ceremony on April 5.
Over the past few years it has been commonplace for teams to hold these ceremonial retirements as a way for players and teams to reunite and allow the player to officially retire as a member of the organization where they spent the bulk of their careers.
The ceremonies also give a chance for the fans of the players to say one final good bye to players that they used to root for. And as a special treat the Astros have announced that a commemorative item will be given out at the gate to recognize the event.
Over the years I attended many games that Oswalt and Berkman played in and of the two I was a bigger fan of Berkman’s.
Even after he was traded I would still cheer for Berkman when he would visit Minute Maid Park and bat for the opposing team. Of course there were fans that would boo him as well which I never really understood.
If you like a player it should not matter what color his jersey is since he is still the same player you once cheered for under it and many players do not get the choice of where they are traded to.
Speaking of trades, I was actually at Minute Maid Park on the day that Lance was traded to the New York Yankees.
This was the start of the Astros trading away all of their players to get younger but for some reason it felt like Berkman would be safe. After all he was a hometown player who went to the local university and had played his whole career with the Astros.
But on that day as the texts started rolling in, and the whispers that he had been traded turned to screams of disbelief it was apparent that the Astros were entering a new era where no player, no matter how popular, was safe.
It was also the day when the college kids who spent every game dressed up in their puma suits in honor of Berkman’s nickname, the “Big Puma,” took them off for the last time and tried to make sense of what had happened.
I had envisioned Berkamn getting to be like Cal Ripken Jr. who grew up in Maryland and played his entire career with the Baltimore Orioles before retiring on his own terms.
Of course, Ripken was a first ballot Hall of Famer from a generation of players that we just won’t see repeated.
In fact Derek Jeter, who has spent his entire career with the New York Yankees, very well could be the last player to spend his entire career with a single organization.
Baseball is a changed game and even players with dedicated fans who dress up in puma suits are not spared the trade deadline ax.
Of course on April 5 those puma suits can be dusted off as the “Big Puma” comes home for one last time.
They will be honoring a player in Berkman who after graduating from Rice University, played a dozen seasons in Houston before spending the final three years of his career with the New York Yankees, St. Louis Cardinals and Texas Rangers.
Of course getting traded away from the Astros was not a completely bad thing as Berkman earned a World Series ring during his time in St. Louis but something tells me he would have preferred winning it with the home town team.
Berkman was voted to the All-Star Game six-times and hit .296 with 326 home runs and 1,090 RBIs over his 12 seasons with the Astros. He led the National League in doubles in 2001 and again in ’08, while also leading the NL in RBIs in ’02, when he finished third in NL MVP voting.
As for the all-time Astros records Berkman ranks first in slugging percentage (.549), second in home runs, third in RBIs, walks and runs scored, and fourth in games played.
Sharing the retirement stage with Berkamn will be Roy Oswalt who was the ace of the pitching staff for the Astros for many years and had the honor of being the de facto Opening Day starter for most of his years with the club.
I never really followed Oswalt in the same way that I followed Berkman and will admit that his being traded did not affect me in the same way. But, I am sure that for many Astros fans at the time there was a great sadness felt when the announcement of Oswalt being shipped to the Phillies was made.
Of course the Phillies was not Oswalt’s last stop of his career. After spending his first 10 big league seasons with the Astros, Oswalt spent the last four years bouncing around with stints with the Phillies, Rangers and Rockies.
Oswalt finished in the top five of the National League Cy Young Award voting during five of his 10 seasons with the Astros.
Oswalt recorded back-to-back 20-win seasons in 2004-05 and finished 143-82 with a 3.24 ERA during his time with the Astros.
As for that last trip to the postseason for the Astros, Oswalt helped guide Houston to the World Series in 2005, earning National League Championship Series MVP honors after going 2-0 with a 1.29 ERA in the six-game series victory over the Cardinals. That performance also earned Oswalt the gift of a bulldozer from then team owner Drayton McLane.
Oswalt finishes his career as the Astros’ all-time leader in win percentage (.636) and ranks second in both wins and strikeouts.
There is little doubt that the time for both men to retire has come. One could probably make the case that they should have retired at least a season or two ago as injuries turned both men into a shell of their former selves where performance at the plate and velocity on the mound just wasn’t what it used to be.
Of course it is hard to decide when to hang up the glove for good when playing baseball is all one has ever known.
As for their post baseball lives Oswalt is going to work for his agent as a vice president and Berkman has been mentioned as a possible successor to Rice Owls coach Wayne Graham.
In the meantime there is one more plate appearance at Minute Maid Park awaiting both men so that their careers can end where they began. Chances are there won’t be a dry puma eye in the house.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to get some tickets for the farewell to Berkman and Oswalt game.
Copyright 2014 R. Anderson