What do you call in 133 home runs, 533 RBIs, and a .287 average over five and a half seasons?
For Astros fans it’s called a $100 million exercise in futility.
Those are Carlos Lee’s numbers over his five and a half seasons in an Astros uniform. Included in them are three 100-RBI seasons and four years with 24 or more homers. All part of a 14-year career that officially came to an end on Thursday.
Despite the numbers, there is no way to happily spin Lee’s time in Houston.
Offered the largest contract in Astros history, six years for $100 million, he did the unthinkable (and it seems, unforgivable). He signed it.
Lee was brought in to extend an era of success whose time had already passed. Signed after the 2006 season, the Astros were a team in decline from its World Series year of 2005 and there was nothing he could do to postpone it.
The closest he came was in 2008 when he drove in his 100th run of the season on August 8, one night before an errant pitch broke Lee’s hand, ending his season.
The Astros were never a factor in a playoff since, and Lee spent the next three and a half seasons in an Astros uniform as the team sank away from contention, eventually to the only two 100-loss seasons in franchise history.
The overweight and unproductive in his final year Lee became a symbol to Astros fans of all that was wrong with the franchise. Fans vilified him for his contract, his appearance and general lack of enthusiasm and effort on the field.
For a team that watched Craig Biggio and Jeff Bagwell give everything they had on the field for two decades it was too much to bear.
There were no tears shed when he left the team in the middle of the 2012 season, and to many Astros fans, the best thing Lee did was retain enough value for Jeff Luhnow to get Matt Dominguez from the Marlins for him last July.
If Dominguez progresses and performs the way the Astros hope, that’s a better legacy than the one he would otherwise have in Houston, the face of the post-World Series Astros-in-decline.