From the birth of Houston sports talk radio up until 2006, Houston had become a baseball town. People would call sports talk shows across the dial to talk Astros baseball, from strategy to hot stove. It appeared that fans and media alike had fallen in love with Houston baseball and it would be here to stay but the struggles that followed would change that perception. The Astros have scuffled since that point and it appears they have lost the devotion of the fans they once had. Fans are now apathetic and while there is a strong network of Astros fans, you no longer listen to sports talk hoping to catch a great deabte about baseball. Most of the baseball being discussed on the radio airwaves revolves around making fun of the Astros, former owner Drayton McLane and former GM Ed Wade. Can Houston media fall in love with the Astros again, like it did during the glory years of the 90’s to mid 2000’s?
I remember waking up in the late 90’s and listening to sports talk and hearing how the Astros had acquired Randy Johnson minutes before midnight, shocking the baseball world. Sports talk radio stations were inundated with calls for the next few hours with callers excited about what the future held for the Astros and their expected playoff run. Fast forward eight years and another radio station later, I recall listening to different host try to explain how the Astros were within a game of going to the World Series after starting the season 15 games under .500. Callers again flooded the airwaves excited and confused about how the Astros had gotten to this point. Now to the present, two weeks ago and two additional sports radio stations later, I remember hearing a daytime host begging for Astros callers and turning it into a literal joke. Times have changed and in a time where the Houston Texans, not the Oilers, are making playoff runs, the Astros are dead to a lot of people that once craved Astros’ information. It took a savvy marketing ploy by new owner Jim Crane to send a bolt of interest through the fan base. But that will soon evaporate, leaving the sports talk hosts of Houston to beg for conversation about a once proud franchise.
Why has this happened? Where did it go south? Those are questions that could have multiple answers but really are irrelevant now. There are a few sports talk show hosts in town that still believe in the Astros as a serious product and push them as such in their conversations and segments. Yet, many others don’t want to, or believe, the Astros should be taken very seriously. I’m certainly not blaming those sports hosts exclusively, the Astros share equal blame, if not more, for the disinterest in the ballclub. They’ve made mistake after mistake and even now when they pull off a good move, most in the media snicker and wait on the next questionable decision to give them another opportunity to poke fun at the club. To be fair, since the team of Crane/Postolos/Luhnow took over, quite a few of the hosts around town try to take the club and baseball in general a bit more serious but still too often they find poking fun a lot simpler. This attitude feeds the wrong information to the casual fans who don’t see that signing Jack Cust adds a player who has a great on base percentage over his career and on a non-guaranteed contract. Instead they are fed certain bits of information that lead the casual listeners to believe this is another Kaz Matsui or Bill Hall signing. Their excuse is often that the callers drive the show and those callers don’t really care about the Stros, maybe if they explained the method behind the madness it could spark debate or maybe if the club was taken as more than a joke, callers would do the same and the conversation could be about real baseball.
What will it take to get sports talk listeners to talk Astros, again? The reality is it will take the Astros to begin winning consistently which will make the media pay attention. The Astros need to make it hard for sports talk hosts to crack barely funny jokes and spend less than half a segment talking about trivial baseball matters and focus on real strategy, recognizing what each move really means. I realize it will take a while but it will also take some of the local hosts to get serious about MLB and realize there is more to sports than the NFL and college football. There needs to be an effort to take the Astros as a serious entity now that they have a direction and leadership. Enough with the Ed Wade jokes and McLane humor, those gentlemen are no longer here which means it’s time to talk Astros, once again.