Is This the Year for Jeff Bagwell? Probably Not

Categories: Baseball, Sports

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There will likely once again be no Hall of Fame induction for Jeff Bagel
The new inductees into the Baseball Hall of Fame will be announced early next month. So let's just get this out of the way now: Jeff Bagwell's name will not be one of the inductees. Craig Biggio's name will likely be announced, but Bagwell, the best player in Astros history, will be left out once again.

The Hall of Fame ballot was mailed out to voters last week, and it's a crowded ballot. There are 34 names on it, with 17 of those names (including Biggio and Bagwell) being players who were also on last year's ballot. Voters can only vote for a maximum of 10 players, and a player must receive 75-percent of the votes cast to be inducted -- Biggio missed by two votes last year. There were 571 ballots cast last year, and 50-percent of those ballots contained the maximum 10 names.

It's not yet known how many eligible voters will actually vote this year, but it's safe to say that 75-percent of those who vote won't be voting for Bagwell, who is in his fifth year on the ballot. There's been much speculation in years past about why Bagwell can't get the required number, most of that speculation centered on steroid rumors.

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Rockets Fans, Meet Your New Best Friend: Root Sports Southwest

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Tonight I will leave work after my show is over, I will settle in, fix myself a plate of whatever tasty treats my girlfriend Amy has prepared for dinner, sit down on the couch and do something that I've been unable to do since the end of the 2011-2012 NBA season:

I will watch a local Houston Rockets broadcast from the comfort of my own home!

It almost sounds weird to say it, it's been so long since I've been able to do this, and I feel like Red in Shawshank Redemption. I mean... Bill, Clyde, and Bull, complemented by the dulcet tones of Kevin Eschenfelder and Calvin Murphy on the pre and post game shows.... I mean.... This is the excitement only a free man can feel!

And damn if it isn't a great game on tap tonight as well, a battle between the teams with the two best records in the league, the Rockets and the Memphis Grizzlies!

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Astros Contemplating Ball Park Changes

Categories: Baseball, Sports

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Astros trying to win back fans
The Astros announced a couple of weeks ago that they're considering possible changes to Minute Maid Park. Changes such as finally bulldozing that monstrosity known as Tal's Hill, providing more high-end food options, and moving the bullpens. And there's also a discussion about starting an Astros Hall of Fame.

Some of the changes are needed. Tal's Hill is one of those mistakes that should have been erased from the blueprints in the park's design phase, and it's amazing that it has survived as long as it has. The bullpen layout has always been kind of strange -- sticking the visiting bullpen in a dark cave just always seemed a bit off. If the changes mean a better environment for baseball, and for fans, then let's do it. (Though the craving of some fans for a high-end dining experience at a baseball game makes absolutely no sense.)

But the Astros Hall of Fame idea is a bit much. There's already the Walk of Fame. The team's already seemingly retired the jersey of just about every player to ever wear the Astros jersey for more than two seasons, so a Hall of Fame seems kind of redundant when added to everything else. Of course, the real reason for the Hall of Fame idea is to get fans to come back out and cheer on the team by celebrating team greats. It's exactly what Drayton McLane did when he went about retiring the jerseys of all of those team icons, and Minute Maid Park would undoubtedly be packed by fans once again longing to cheer Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio and Nolan Ryan and Lance Berkman and so on.

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CSN Houston Is Gone and the Rockets Are Back on TV

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So long, farewell, we hardly knew you.
The time has finally come. On Monday night, after two years, Houston Rockets games will once again be legally available to a majority of the Houston-area viewing public. Roots Sports Houston, an undoubtedly inferior product to CSN Houston, takes over as the rights holder for Rockets and Astros games, and the games will be available on DirecTV, U-verse and Comcast, as well as any other satellite/cable system that was distributing CSN Houston.

This is a short-term win for the Astros and Rockets, and for the fans who desperately wanted to watch the games. But in the long term it's going to be a huge loss for the teams, and in many ways, it might be an even bigger loss for fans of Houston and Texas sports who want to do more than just watch the Astros and Rockets.

What made the network so valuable, what helped to drive up the price of the Astros, wasn't the price it was paying for media rights. What made the network valuable was the money it would make off of the cable and satellite distribution of the network, coupled with the money the network would make off of advertising. And as owners of the network, this money would go to the Astros and Rockets, and since it was money being made off of the network, it was money that would not be part of revenue sharing with MLB and the NBA.

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Zapruder Analysis of Portly Chevy Exec Butchering World Series MVP Presentation (VIDEO)

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...y'know, technology and stuff
If you're wondering where baseball ranks on the compelling, blog-worthy content scale for me (as a writer) right now, here is all you need to know:

As I type this, we are less than an hour removed from the first Game 7 road win in a World Series since 1979 (the "We Are Family" Pittsburgh Pirates!). The 2014 World Series' Game 7 came down to the final out, with the suddenly dynastic San Francisco Giants (three titles in five years) beating the small-market Kansas City Royals 3-2, with the Royals leaving the tying run on third base to end the game.

Series MVP Madison Bumgarner closed out the win with five innings of relief to run his series record to 3-0 with a microscopic ERA of 0.43. (All the other Giants starters had a combined ERA of 9.92.) It was truly an historic individual performance, and a dramatic ending to a World Series.

And still, I was cobbling together a post about the first College Football Playoff rankings instead, because baseball just doesn't do it for me these days (and gets less traffic than football year round in Houston).

Thankfully, though, there is a prize for the World Series MVP. It's a Chevy truck, and fortunately someone has to present the truck to Bumgarner. And lucky for all of us, Chevy chose Rikk Wilde to handle the honors.

Who? Rikk Wilde, that's who...

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Lance Berkman Goes (Back) to College

Categories: Baseball, Sports

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Guess who's gone back to college?
It's a beautiful October Tuesday afternoon in Houston, Texas. There's a high, blue sky. The humidity is nonexistent and the temperature's in the mid-70s. It's a great day for outdoor activities, and the Rice Owls baseball team is going to take full advantage of it for a day of afternoon practice.

Players slowly emerge from the clubhouse into the dugout and then onto the field. They come out first singly, then in pairs, then groups of players come out. Some put on gloves and grabs balls and start playing catch, while others go up to the batting cage and start taking swings. An older gentleman emerges from the clubhouse into the dugout, looking to be in his late thirties. He's wearing gray shorts, a white Rice T-shirt. There's a blue Rice cap on his head, sunglasses on top of the cap, and there's a touch of gray in his beard, but there's no mistaking Lance Berkman.

Rice coach Wayne Graham has long said that star pupil Lance Berkman was welcome to return as a coach whenever he desired. And Berkman, finishing up his first year of retirement from Major League Baseball, has taken Graham up on his offer, kind of. Berkman's not really a coach. His actual title is student assistant because Berkman's not officially on the coaching staff. Berkman's a student at Rice, 40 hours short of his degree, and he's decided to finish what he started back in the 1990s before he was drafted by the Houston Astros, so now he's working on his kinesiology degree while spending his free time with the baseball team.

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Like Monty Python's Black Knight, CSN Houston's Not Dead Yet

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CSN Houston's not dead yet
Walking out from a concert at the House of Blues on Monday night, I couldn't help but notice that the lights were still burning brightly inside the offices and studios of CSN Houston. Earlier that day, a bankruptcy judge had heard evidence regarding the financial worth of the troubled network so he can decide whether to approve the plan that will ultimately kill it. But the network lived through the night. As of now, after the judge heard evidence throughout the week, the network lives on until at least October 21.

The CSN Houston saga is a long, drawn-out affair that most Houston sports fans wish would've ended long, long ago. Most of us living in the Houston area haven't been able to watch two seasons of the Astros on TV. We've also missed two seasons of the Rockets, and guess what, the NBA regular season is fast approaching. There's a plan in place to replace the network with Root Sports Houston that would make the Astros and Rockets available on DirecTV and U-Verse as well as on Comcast. But until that plan's approved by the bankruptcy judge, the broadcast rights to both teams remain with CSN Houston.

Houston sports fans care not about legal battles. They don't care about how much of its $100 million secured loan made to the network that Comcast should receive in bankruptcy, or the value of Comcast's contract to air the network. They don't care about whether the Rockets or Astros are ever actually paid the rights fees they've not received since the middle of 2013. They don't care about whether AT&T or DirecTV are paying any money to purchase the network, or whether anybody will be on the hook for damages. The fans care about one thing: seeing the damn games on television sometime in the foreseeable future.

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The 2014 Houston Astros: The Good and The Bad

Categories: Baseball, Sports

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The Astros haven't made the World Series yet, but the team's definitely better
And so another Astros season is in the books. Another season of good, and bad, of head-shaking stupidity and inexplicable thinking. Of outstanding individual performances and huge steps back. The team made the cover of Sports Illustrated, which projected the Astros would win the World Series in 2017. But it's still 2014, so let's take a quick look at some highlights and lowlights of the season.

THE HIGHLIGHTS:

1. The Astros won 70 games, a 19-game improvement over last season. The team didn't lose 100-plus games for the first time in four seasons, and the team finished in front of the Texas Rangers in the AL West standings. The Astros were only the fourth worst team in the majors this season, beating out not only the Texas Rangers, but also the Colorado Rockies and the Arizona Diamondbacks.

2. Diminutive second baseman Jose Altuve entered the Astros record book. He owns the team record for most hits ever in a season. He's also the first Astro to ever win a batting title, playing (despite the express wishes and orders of the Astros front office) yesterday to hold off Detroit's Victor Martinez. Altuve played nearly every game this season, and he was an All-Star.

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The Chron's Evan Drellich Does a Great Job With a Tough Beat

Categories: Baseball, Sports

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In which I say nice things about the Houston Chronicle
I remember a Astros game from way back in the early 1990s, back when the team was really bad, but rebuilding. I don't remember the exact year, or the exact day beyond it being a midweek day game against the Montreal Expos (I think it's this game). The Dome was empty and lifeless, and the game wasn't on television. I remember the game because of a Ken Caminiti play, Caminiti drifting under a pop foul, falling into the stands to make the catch and the out.

It was a spectacular play. One of those plays that's makes even jaded video guys and sportswriters stand up and loudly applaud. The next day I checked the Houston Chronicle, and the game story by Neil Hohlfeld captured the play, and the game, in vivid color. I saw the play in person, but the description of the play was such that even if I hadn't been there, I'd be able to recreate the thing in my head.

Hohlfeld, who died several years ago, was always my favorite Chronicle beat writer. He was on the beat before everything went internet, but he had the ability to capture the game, to keep readers on top of the news about the team, better than just about anybody who posts day-to-day on the web. He didn't try to curry favor with management, or ownership, or with the players -- not that I could tell, at least. I even remember the team fan club getting mad at him when he mocked some of their banners that hung in the Dome.

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Root! Root! for Root Sports Houston!

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Say hello to the new name of CSN Houston.
If Judge Marvin Isgur approves the bankruptcy plan proposed for CSN Houston, Houston sports fans will be able to watch the Rockets this season. They'll no longer be able to watch the Dynamo, or any of the Houston-centric sportscasts aired by CSN Houston, but the return of the World Poker Tour should make up for that, right?

Word came down Tuesday that if the plan is approved, 75 of the network's 105 employees will lose their jobs. That includes most of the on-air talent and the behind-the-scenes personnel such as camera and graphics operators, producers, statisticians and other support personnel. These people aren't required for DirecTV/AT&T operations because with these entities, local product is strongly discouraged.

Most of Houston never had the chance to see CSN Houston because of disputes between network owners and the other various cable/satellite providers over the cost of distributing the network. AT&T/DirecTV will tell you the cost was too high. Astros owner/network partner Jim Crane says that that price point was established by Drayton McLane and Les Alexander so they're the ones at fault, and Crane has filed a lawsuit against McLane alleging fraud because of this. And if you talk to McLane, he'll strongly dispute this contention. But no matter who was at fault -- something that may be known only after many years of lawsuits -- the fact remains that over 60 percent of the Houston market was unable to view the network.

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