Owner goals have mostly been something to laugh at since introduced a couple versions ago, but Houston is taking one of theirs seriously this year: build a championship team. That’s exactly what Houston feels they’ve achieved this year, after a heartbreaking defeat in the 1988 Classic Cup to the Virginia Mariners.
In 1987, Houston seemingly came out of nowhere, having won only 42 games in ’86 and 33 in ’85, to qualify for the playoffs from the 3rd position with 48 wins. Houston’s powerful lineup, led by 1B Ricardo Alanis, SS Ricardo Escobedo, and RF Tommy Shelby mashed their way to the Classic Cup championship while entering every series as the perceived underdog. Hitting has long been the strength of the Houston squads, but the most noticeable difference in the ’87 squad was the addition of SP Ricky Ganoung; finally Houston had a true ace for the first time since the mid 70’s and Ignacio Gasca.
Ganoung, however, was not the only reason Houston continued to defy the odds in ’87. The other 3 rotation spots were manned by IAFA signings Alfredo Perales, Ferdinand Modracek, and Nicodemus Volakis. As Gasca was also an IAFA signing from 1970, it’s safe to say that Houston has had some incredible success with this aspect of the game.
In 1988, Houston now owned 2 rings, and entered the season with high expectations: maybe the owner didn’t expect us to win a championship, but manager Melvin Lazaro expected his team to return to the Classic Cup. “We may have surprised some teams last year, but we didn’t lose anyone from that championship team. All our power hitters are back. All our table setters are back. All our pitching is back. The only thing that could derail us this year is unforeseen injuries,” Lazaro was quoted as saying prior to the start of the season.
Houston started slow in ’88, got hot and shot to the top of the standings, cooled off and fell out of a playoff spot, and then pushed hard at the end of the season to barely squeak into the ’88 playoffs, only one game ahead of 5th place Toronto. Lazaro remained confident in his team going into the playoffs, despite having lost back-to-back reliever of the year Ben Galloway midway through the season. Houston breezed past top seeded New Orleans and second-seeded Oakland to again reach the Classic Cup. In the Cup, Houston’s bullpen was finally exposed, and the team fell to the Mariners in 6 games.
In the ’88 offseson, Houston lost #3 starter Modracek, but they had a plan. Jonathan Ramon had been on GM Joe Woodring’s radar for some time, and he knew he had the assets to acquire this star pitcher. Once Modracek departed, Woodring quickly went to work to put together a package that San Francisco GM Tyler Montgomery couldn’t refuse, and refuse he did not. Houston acquired Ramon at the cost of pitchers Lee Yaworski, Royce Bensinger, Denilde Bernardino, Mathias Seneca, batters Kevin McNaul and Kyu-soo Yune, and a 4th round draft pick. Obviously this is a high cost, but it gives Houston essentially three aces in their 4 man rotation, which should be together for the next 3 seasons.
1989 will be a defining year for the Black Gold. Will Houston live up to their talented roster? With their top 3 hitters (Alanis, Escobedo, and Shelby) all heading to free agency after the season, this could be the team’s best shot at securing a third Classic Cup. Will the goal be achieved? Is this a championship team?
“Claro qué sí.” -Melvin Lazaro
Author- Joe Woodring GM of the Houston Black Gold