Spec Richardson, Houston’s general manager, says his explanation of what happened to the Astros at the start of the season is simple. “Our players have not played up to their potential,” said Richardson, who made more deals during the off season than any other general manager. He said he would go back and make every one of them all over again.
On the biggest one, Rusty Staub for Donn Clendenon and Jesus Alou, he meant he would make it again last January when he counted on getting both players he dealt for. As it turned out, Clendenon “retired” and “unretired” and the trade was the biggest fiasco in baseball trading history. The Astros eventually lost both Staub and Clendenon. The lack of a fourth hitter in the lineup has been a problem, causing Manager Harry Walker to use young Doug Rader in that spot. It has put more pressure on the combative Rader than Walker or Richardson would have liked. If the Astros had either Staub or Clendenon, as Richardson figured they would have, Rader could bat in the fifth or sixth slots and not feel the need to carry so much of the load.
Richardson does not believe the poor start (9-15) proves anything basically is wrong with the club, unless it is short of pitching, a gamble he knew he was taking. He believes the team will go as “high as the pitching can take it,” which was the same thing he said before the season opened. “Some people say it is whether Jim Wynn can do this, or whether our infield can come through, or what will Joe Morgan do, or something or another. I don’t think those are the things that will determine how we finish. I think it will depend on how much pitching we have.” Richardson had shorted the starting pitching staff by trading off Mike Cuellar and Dave Guisti, but was betting on some young pitchers to come through.