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Rocket's departure doomed the Astros

The heads have now rolled in Houston, courtesy of owner Drayton McLane's swift and decisive justice (which makes me wonder if you can get guillotines at rolled-back prices at Wal-Mart).

Gone is Tim Purpura, the only general manager to win a league pennant in the state of Texas. Gone is Phil Garner, who has the only two postseason series wins in the club's history. Done and gone.

And you know what? The guy who may be most to blame, he escaped. He's off in New York, I hear. Guy goes by the name of Clemens; alias of The Rocket. Hear he's already wearing stripes. Oh, wait, I'm hearing those aren't prison stripes. They are pinstripes.

Yes, Roger Clemens. The guy who attracted crowds and helped Garner win both those playoff series and helped get Purpura to the World Series. It seemed the Astros got everything they wanted when Clemens, who grew up in the Houston suburb of Katy, finally agreed to come out of his first retirement to pitch at home in 2004. He won another Cy Young and the Astros went places they'd never been before.

It put the future of the Astros in Clemens' hands. Placing the future of the club's direction in a player's hands ties those of the manager and the GM.

You know the rest of the Clemens story. He came up lame in the 2005 World Series, then decided to retire again, only to give the Astros hints he'd return for a shortened 2006 season to keep him fresher longer. The Astros waited around and held back dollars, which held up the building of their roster, waiting for Clemens. He eventually came back, pitched like the Rocket and the team got a late blast, before finishing 1 ½ games back of the fading Cardinals.

And then the winter cycle repeated itself. Clemens said he probably wouldn't pitch in 2007, but didn't make it clear that his third retirement would stick. The Astros tried to comply with some veiled suggestions from Clemens that they improve their offense and went out and spent $100 million on Carlos Lee. Then, when they finally decided they couldn't hold out hope for Clemens any longer, Purpura tried to shore up the pitching staff by trading away talented young pitching prospects such as Jason Hirsh and Taylor Bucholz for Jason Jennings. In retrospect, it was a bad trade. All GMs make 'em. They usually make them when they have to hurry to react to another situation. In this case, it was Clemens.

And so the Astros of 2007 were built from this plan: What to do in case Roger is willing to return and how to react if he didn't. Then, of course, it got worse for the Astros when Clemens decided to go pitch in New York again, perhaps lured by the desperate state in which the Yankees found themselves in May.

It's all led to a lousy season in Houston. The highlights at Minute Maid Park this year: Craig Biggio's 3,000th hit (soon followed by the announcement he'd retire), Jeff Bagwell's number retirement and the Jimmy Buffett concert in April. They were all exciting moments, but none of them really had to do with winning games or being competitive.

All of that said, when McLane reached the decision to fire one of his management team members, he made the right decision in firing the other, too. No sense in bringing in a GM and making him inherit a manager. That's just a recipe for prolonged misery. No sense in keeping the GM if you are going to fire the manager and hand pick his successor. No, McLane at least realizes that Clemens is gone, Bagwell is really retired, Biggio will join Bagwell in another month and now is as good a time as any for the Astros to completely start over.

The next question for McLane is if he's really willing to sit in his seat at Minute Maid Park for all the painful processes involved with overhauling an organization.


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