Carlos Lee’s “Hollow” Astrobituary

by Andy 

This is the way the Carlos Lee era ends
Not with a bang but with a burp.
…and a fart.

-T.S. Eliot

I understand the irony of plopping T.S. Eliot’s “The Hollow Men” into a “Farewell Fatty” blog posting – fact of the matter is, Carlos was anything but hollow. As cliché as it is to incorporate dictionary definitions into… well… anything, I thought it was a tad bit apropos to incorporate the definition of “hollow” to see if it fits.

Hollow: (hol-oh) adjective: having a space or cavity inside; not solid; empty

I’ve used a lot of words to describe Carlos Lee – but never hollow. Carlos doesn’t seem too hollow to me. As a matter of fact, he seems pretty full. Carlos seemed like he was full of hamburgers, full of fried chicken, full of Snickers and, sadly, full of unfulfilled hope.

We’ll get back to that.

I think Drayton McLane felt obligated to sign Carlos Lee. McLane and Lee were bad for one another and should have left each other alone in the first place. As you might remember, the Giants offered Carlos Lee more money, but Lee opted to join the Astros because he had a ranch close by.

In 2006, a year removed from the organization’s first appearance in a World Series, the Astros went 82-80. They struggled mightily with the bats. In the off-season, Roger Clemens retired and Andy Pettitte, who also flirted with retirement, instead defected to the Yankees. Jeff Bagwell was long gone and Craig Biggio, who lost a few steps, was winding down his career. Perhaps McLane felt like he needed to make a splash to keep fans interested in coming to the ballpark. Perhaps, and this is my assumption, McLane felt like he needed to make up for losing Carlos Beltran two years prior. Whatever it was, no one was able to talk McLane out of making a huge mistake… and in November of 2006, the Astros signed Carlos Lee to a 6 year contract that would be worth $100 million.

At the time of the signing, I wasn’t concerned with Carlos Lee’s ability to hit. I was concerned that he’d get slow, fat and be a defensive liability. Make no mistake about it, Carlos is a professional hitter in every sense of the word but is as one dimensional as they come – do you want a player like that as the cornerstone of your franchise? The Astros did. To be fair, I found that Carlos’ inability to do anything well other than hit to be the least offensive aspect of his game.

…plus, in his last season with the Astros, his defense at first base was actually better than decent.

Things weren’t so bad in the beginning. As a matter of fact, we all liked Carlos. At least, I did. He was what he was. Was he overpaid? Sure – but that had nothing to do with me. He was fun. He was always smiling. He was the loosest player the Astros have had since Lima Time. Awesome.

Carlos was a lovable character. He was fat, but he was our fat guy. He was the guy in the fraternity that was assigned to carrying the keg. We thought it was funny that he left wing-sauced fingerprints on baseballs. We thought it was adventurous that he’d “try everything fried at least once” at the county fair. And we didn’t mind seeing his butt-crack because we all know that it is difficult finding pants that fit.

He even had his own fan club: The Los Caballitos. They wore sombreros and rode around on broomstick horses. (I have a story about them and I’ll post it within the next few days.)

In reality, Carlos Lee wasn’t as bad of a baseball player or as out of shape as we made him out to be. As a matter of fact, he was a damn good player at the beginning of his contract. In his first season in Houston, he went .303/32/119 – that’s pretty good! His best season was cut short due to a broken finger. After 115 games, Carlos had 28 homeruns and 100 RBI – he was on pace for around 40 homeruns and 140 RBI. That would have been a monster season and those projected numbers could have been juicier considering he was having a particularly hot August before the injury.

All things being equal, he had only one bad season. It was 2010, he hit .246 and looked sluggish – that’s really when things went downhill.

But despite the fact that Carlos was putting up decent numbers, the Astros stunk – in his first season, the Astros finished 72-89. And, as we’re all well aware, the Astros stunk a lot in the last 5 years. As a matter of fact, in Carlos Lee’s 5 ½ year tenure in Houston, the Astros had only one season of winning record baseball – 2008. That year, the Astros finished 86-75 and were 3rd in their division – that was the best they’d do with Carlos Lee in the middle of the batting order.

Carlos Lee made $12.5 million that year. But, really, who cares?

…I’m not sure the money bothered me that much.

There wasn’t any fire. There wasn’t any desire to win.

It wasn’t Carlos’ fault, it was all McLane’s. There was a serious lack of passion coming from Carlos Lee and it appeared to be obvious before he ever signed with the Astros. McLane was at fault. He shouldn’t have signed Carlos to “the man” money when Carlos wasn’t capable of being “the man” and had never shown any interest in being “the man.” Simply put, I never got the impression that Carlos hated to lose. Like McLane, I think Carlos “wanted to be a champion” but didn’t have the passion or the desire to put in the work to become a champion.

Biggio, Berkman and Pence showed a desire to be “the man.” Lee – not so much.  

Carlos was the highest paid second fiddle in baseball. He was a complimentary piece on several years worth of bad teams.

I got the impression that Carlos enjoyed playing baseball – but I never saw much passion from Carlos Lee. It was Carlos’ picture all over the city, it was his fan club out in leftfield, it was his jerseys on sale in the team shop – it was Carlos Lee who was supposed to take the Astros to the next level and he didn’t. And I have serious concerns on whether or not he ever gave a damn.

Houston could have been Carlos’ – but he just didn’t give a damn.

The stats were there. But where was the fire? Did he make the players around him better? What did he do for the winning culture Houston had developed prior to his signing? Did he live up his contract? Did he carry himself like a team leader?

As ridiculous as it sounds, I wanted to see fire and anger but all I saw were smiles. I wanted to see him break a bat or beat the sh** out of a water cooler. I wanted to see someone who showed up early to spring training and someone who showed up on time from the All Star break. I wanted to see a guy who hated losing but, in reality, I’m not positive whether Carlos ever loved winning or even hated losing. I saw a guy who was having blast while his team was in the process of embarrassing themselves. I saw a guy who had a lot of fun while his team lost 106 games in 2011.

So, hell yes, I’m resentful towards Carlos Lee.

And, hell yes, I’m glad he’s gone.

In his 14 years in the majors, Carlos Lee has 12 postseason plate appearances. They came with the White Sox in 2000 when Carlos Lee was just 24. The Seattle Mariners swept the Chicago White Sox, who won the AL Central crown with a 95-67 record, in the divisional series. That’s it – that was Carlos’ only playoff experience. Now, at 36, he had to opportunity to play with the first place Dodgers and, instead of chasing the ring, he decided to stay loyal to the team that hamstrung themselves with his bonehead contract.  

When Carlos signed with the Astros in November of 2006, Houston was his fourth team in 3 years. Until that point, no one wanted to build around Carlos. No one else thought he could be “the man.”

On Independence Day, he was traded anyway. He was dealt to the Marlins for two prospects. The Marlins were one of ten teams that Carlos didn’t have in the “unapproved” column of his no-trade clause. Astros are still footing the bill, though.

Hollow works. Despite all of the fanfare and the hope – Carlos left us all feeling hollow. He left us feeling empty. Maybe I can use “hollow” to describe Carlos Lee after all. 

This is the way the Carlos Lee era ends
Not with a World Series Championship or even a winning record 
but with a burp.
…and a fart.
…and a lot of hollow feelings

-T.S. Eliot

But, not to worry, as Carlos settles down in Miami, I’m sure he’ll find that they’ll love him. They’ll think it’s funny that he leaves wing-sauced fingerprints on the baseballs. They’ll think it is adventurous that he “tries everything fried at least once” at the county fair. And they don’t mind seeing his butt-crack because they all know that  it is difficult finding pants that fit. 

He’s their fat guy.

Maybe this go around, he’ll act like he cares. 

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Posted at 6:49pm


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  1. thehoustonsportscounterplot posted this

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