1 Houston Astros Even without Moises Alou, the 1998 division champs hit too much to miss

March 29, 1999

Astros third baseman Ken Caminiti would seem to be one of the
least likely people to have a fluffy show dog named Charmaine, a
petit basset griffon vendeen. Caminiti looks more like the owner
of a bulldog or a Great Dane. He's often scowling, and if his
uniform isn't dirty by the third inning, it's because he's not
playing. Take a look at his forearms, and you half expect to see
Olive Oyl in tow. His haunts once included tattoo parlors and
still include garages, where he likes to hang out and restore
cars. He is, in a word, tough.

Caminiti will tell you that Charmaine, who finished second in
her group at the Westminster Kennel Club show in February, is
tougher than she looks. "That dog has attitude," he says.
Caminiti might be the opposite. Under his gruff exterior beats
the heart of a softy. His most prominent tattoo, on his chest,
bears the names of his three daughters, on whom he dotes. When
he was deciding where to sign as a free agent in the off-season,
he turned down bigger bucks from the Tigers ($21.5 million for
three years) to accept a two-year, $9.5 million deal from
Houston, for which he played from 1987 to '94. "That's where my
daughters go to school," says Caminiti, who was a member of the
Padres last season. "I only got to see them two months last
year. And my two best friends, Bags [first baseman Jeff Bagwell]
and Bigg [second baseman Craig Biggio], are here."

Last year that pair helped the Astros set a franchise record by
scoring 874 runs, 97 more than the old mark, set the season
before. In 1998 Bagwell was his usual dependable self, and
Biggio had one of the best seasons ever by a leadoff man. He hit
51 doubles, three triples, 20 homers and stole 50 bases. Without
any help, Biggio put himself into scoring position in roughly
one sixth of his plate appearances. "He makes things happen,"
says Caminiti. "He's the kind of guy who can win a game by
himself. Not too many guys can do that."

Houston, however, took a big hit in February when leftfielder
Moises Alou tumbled off a treadmill during a workout and tore
his left anterior cruciate ligament. He will probably be
sidelined for the entire season. "We're obviously going to miss
what Mo does on the field, but that's just half the story." says
Biggio. "He's a guy who's great in the clubhouse. We're going to
miss that part as much as we're going to miss anything else."

Caminiti, whose average dropped 38 points last year, will be
counted on to help. "He should pick up some of the RBIs," says
manager Larry Dierker. "And he gives us a tough lefthanded bat
in the middle of the lineup, and that's something we needed from
time to time last year against the better righthanded pitchers."
Indeed, the Astros hit 21 points lower (.275) against righties
than lefties, the biggest such differential in the National
League.

Alou's injury unsnarls a logjam in the outfield. With Derek Bell
a fixture in right, last year's centerfield combination of Carl
Everett, who had a career year, and Richard Hidalgo, who showed
tremendous promise as a rookie, put Dierker in a quandary: how
to divvy up three spots among four men. "We talked this winter
about the problem we might have with bringing all four guys
back," says Dierker. "Everett and Hidalgo clearly proved that
they deserve a chance to be every-day players. If we didn't
trade any of the four, it was going to be difficult to keep them
satisfied. But we decided not to, and that turned out to be a
good decision."

The Astros most newsworthy nontrade involved Roger Clemens.
After losing rented ace Randy Johnson to free agency, Houston's
failure to land the Rocket leaves them without an established
No. 1 starter. "I'd like to have [Clemens]," says Dierker, "but
there's only so much you can do on a $50 million budget. I'm
satisfied with our pitching the way it is." Righties Shane
Reynolds and Jose Lima and southpaw Mike Hampton had 46 wins
between them last season, and Dierker thinks Reynolds, who had
19 victories, is "one season from being considered a
Number-1-type starter."

Another sticking point in the Clemens nondeal was Houston's
reluctance to trade 23-year-old righty Scott Elarton to the Blue
Jays to obtain the Rocket. The 6'7", 240-pound Elarton will be
the Astros' fifth starter this year, and when his skills catch
up with his size, he could make Houstonians forget about Clemens.

Regardless, Houston feels confident it can win with the pitching
it has. "We don't need a Number 1 starter," says Bagwell. "I
think our offense is good enough to carry us." That's where
Caminiti, who turns 36 in April, comes in. He was plagued by
injuries last year, and he's clearly not the same player he was
in 1996, when he won the National League MVP award. Still, he
drove in 82 runs and played in the World Series for the first
time. When asked if he's happy with the way he performed in '98,
his answer is a quick "Hell, no." But, after taking a moment to
ponder his new situation, he adds, "I'm going to try to learn
how to be happy this year. It's a tough game. The more pressure
you put on yourself, the tougher it is. I'm just going to have
fun and play."

Who says you can't teach an old dog new tricks?

--Mark Bechtel

COLOR PHOTO: JEFF CARLICK/SPORTSCHROME Despite losing out on Clemens and being devoid of a bona fide No. 1 starter, the Astros rotation is still in good hands with pitchers like Hampton. COLOR PHOTO: RONALD C. MODRA

By the Numbers

1998 Team Statistics (NL rank)
1998 record: 102-60 (first in NL Central)

BATTING AVERAGE .280 (2)
RUNS SCORED 874 (1)
HOME RUNS 166 (6)
OPP. BATTING AVG. .256 (5)
ERA 3.50 (2)
FIELDING PCT. .983 (8)

Scoring Threat

Craig Biggio has scored 505 runs over the past four seasons, the
most of any major leaguer over that period. The next-highest
totals in the last four years belong to Chuck Knoblauch (481),
Barry Bonds (474) and Albert Belle (448). Since 1900 only 16
players have scored 500 or more runs over any four-year period;
14 of them are Hall of Famers (the exceptions: Biggio and Red
Rolfe).

Player Years* Runs

Babe Ruth 1927-30 592
Lou Gehrig 1930-33 582
Chuck Klein 1929-32 557
Ted Williams 1939-42 541
Charlie Gehringer 1934-37 534
Red Rolfe 1936-39 530
Hank Greenberg 1937-40 522
Joe DiMaggio 1936-39 520

Player Years Runs

Al Simmons 1929-32 515
Jimmie Foxx 1932-35 514
Earle Combs 1929-32 511
Craig Biggio 1995-98 505
Mickey Mantle 1954-57 503
Paul Waner 1927-30 503
Eddie Collins 1912-15 502
Stan Musial 1946-49 500

*Highest four-season tota l listed for each player; Williams
again scored 541 runs from 1946 to '49

Next Up...

Say this about catcher Mitch Meluskey: The guy's a quick
learner. When he sent Meluskey to the minors last March, Astros
general manager Gerry Hunsicker told him that he wouldn't be a
major leaguer anytime soon unless he worked on his defense and
his handling of pitchers. Meluskey, a switch-hitter who batted
.353 for Triple A New Orleans last year, did just that, and now
he'll split time behind the plate with Tony Eusebio. "His upside
is enormous," says manager Larry Dierker. "He could be one of
the best offensive catchers in the league. But if he's going to
make it with this team, it's going to be because of his defense."

Projected Roster With 1998 Statistics

Manager: Larry Dierker (third season with Houston)

BATTING ORDER B- PVR BA HR RBI SB

2B Craig Biggio R 8 .325 20 88 50
CF Carl Everett S-R 89 .296 15 76 14
1B Jeff Bagwell R 15 .304 34 111 19
3B Ken Caminiti[1] S-R 66 .252 29 82 6
RF Derek Bell R 32 .314 22 108 13
LF Richard Hidalgo R 116 .303 7 35 3
C Mitch Meluskey(R)* S-R 224 .353 17 71 2
SS Ricky Gutierrez R 288 .261 2 46 13

BENCH

IF Bill Spiers L-R 325 .273 4 43 11
OF Dave Clark L-R 339 .206 0 4 1
OF Glen Barker(R)[#][1] R 353 .280 6 54 31
C Tony Eusebio R 362 .253 1 36 1
IF Tim Bogar R 425 .154 1 8 2

STARTERS PVR W L IPS WHIP ERA

RH Shane Reynolds 23 19 8 6.7 1.33 3.51
LH Mike Hampton 48 11 7 6.6 1.46 3.36
RH Jose Lima 43 16 8 7.1 1.12 3.70
RH Sean Bergman 142 12 9 6.2 1.31 3.72
RH Scott Elarton 219 2 1 6.2 1.05 3.32

BULLPEN PVR W L S WHIP ERA

LH Billy Wagner 25 4 3 30 1.18 2.70
RH Doug Henry 184 8 2 2 1.27 3.04
RH Jay Powell 225 7 7 7 1.35 3.33
LH Trever Miller 298 2 0 1 1.44 3.04
RH Xavier Hernandez[1] 307 6 6 1 1.26 3.57
RH Chris Holt[##] 263 8 12 0 1.30 3.52

[1]New acquisition (R) Rookie B-T: Bats-throws
IPS: Innings pitched per start
WHIP: Walks plus hits per inning pitched

PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 154)
*Triple A stats [#]Double A stats [##]1997 stats

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)