- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 20, 2006

The Houston Astros have an important announcement to make.

We know it’s important because their manager and GM used words like “significant” and “amazing” to describe it.

Drum roll, please.

Ladies and gentlemen, with their 13-12 victory over the Brewers on Tuesday, the Astros evened their all-time franchise record — compiled over 44 sweltering seasons — at 3,507-3,507. That’s right, folks, the ‘Stros are now officially a .500 team.

Inasmuch as they haven’t tasted .500 since they were 6-6 in 1962, their inaugural year, “this is a pretty amazing event,” general manager Tim Purpura gushed.

To which manager Phil Garner added, “It means the franchise has been pretty successful. … It’s a pretty significant milestone.”

Pretty, pretty, pretty. Seems like they could have come up with a better adjective than that for such a momentous occasion. There is, after all, a certain ambiguity about the word “pretty.”

“A pretty amazing event” could be amazing — or it might not be. Pretty, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.

And from where I’m typing, well, I’m not so sure 44 years of mediocrity is cause for celebration. And that’s what a 3,507-3,507 record is — average-ness in its purest form. How did we ever get from “winning is the only thing” to a .500 mark signifying a franchise “has been pretty successful”? (Probably the same way we got from Coke, with trace amounts of cocaine, to caffeine-free Diet Coke.)

I mean, what’s the greatest thing a .500 team has ever done — in any sport?

Has a .500 team ever won the Super Bowl? No.

Has a .500 team ever won the World Series? No.

Has a .500 team ever won the NBA championship, the Stanley Cup, the NCAA basketball title? No, no and no again.

So why would any team be making a big deal of the fact that, after nearly half a century, it had finally Broken Even?

Answer: Because the Astros don’t plan to rest on their laurels. Next stop, .501.

A .500 record is … the 2005 Washington Nationals. It’s Jim Scott in 1913. Who is Jim Scott, you ask? Precisely my point. Scott won 20 games for the White Sox that season. He also lost 20 games. That’s why no one remembers him.

A .500 record is utterly forgettable — kind of like the Astros’ history. If a tie is like kissing your sister, a .500 mark is like taking your first cousin to the prom. Everyone loves a parade, but not for this, not for 3,507 wins and 3,507 losses.

So what, exactly, is the greatest feat a .500 team has ever accomplished? Well, the Cleveland Browns won the AFC Central in 1985 with an 8-8 record. That’s the summit, folks, that’s Everest — unless you count the Los Angeles Galaxy’s MLS championship last year after a 13-13-6 regular season. But since just about everybody makes the MLS playoffs, even the team Will Ferrell coached in “Kicking and Screaming,” are the Galaxy’s exploits really anything to get excited about?

(Almost-.500 teams, on the other hand, have fared better, achievement-wise. For instance, the ‘70-71 Baltimore Bullets, forbears of the Wizards, reached the NBA Finals despite a 42-40 mark. But .500 teams, teams that haven’t been able to make up their minds whether they’re winners or losers, have almost invariably been consigned — and rightly so — to the dustbin of history. Or maybe it’s the dustbin of the Elias Sports Bureau. One or the other.)

Still, Garner says, the Astros’ deed is not to be denigrated.

“I don’t think there are many franchises who play over .500 at this point,” he notes. The number, since he brought it up, is an even dozen — 12 of 30 — which made Houston the 13th winningest team in baseball, all-time, going into last night’s game against the Brewers.

In the on-deck circle, believe it or not, are the Braves, who need to go 93-69 this season to inch over .500. Something tells me they won’t be setting off any fireworks at Turner Field if and when it happens. Just as the Indianapolis Colts didn’t last fall when their record went from 389-390-7 to 390-390-7.

Clearly, the Colts didn’t find the event the least bit “significant” or “amazing” — or even “pretty significant” or “pretty amazing.” It was what it was, a 24-7 victory over the Ravens in Week 1. There are still a few things in sports, but only a few, that are better left unsaid.

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