What a year it was for Houston! We voted down a plan to save the Astrodome, but our County Commissioners, who have let our iconic Eighth Wonder disintegrate, ignored the voters and — did nothing. Both the Astros and the Texans were the very worst in their respective major league sports. Gary Kubiak got canned. Bo Porter probably wished he was. The Houston Fire Dept. suffered its worst loss in its history when four fire fighters were killed. The snail that ate Houston was an imposter, and James Coney Island became JCI Grill.
So, as we say a good goodbye to 2013, we now know why 13 is an unlucky number. Just take a look: Former hand surgeon and TV star Michael Brown was in a court fight with his fourth wife and also with a flight attendant, then died under suspicious circumstances. The place without a sign, Marfreless, where everyone doesn’t know your name, face or fingerprints, closed.
In sports, it’s hard to know where to start with the Houston Astros. The last several years they have been the worst team in Major League Baseball. This past season they struck out more than any other team in major league history. They had the longest season-ending losing streak in more than a century: 15. (The 1899 Cleveland Spiders dropped their last 16.) The team’s 51-111 won-loss season was a record for defeats since Arizona had the same number in 2004. Alex Rodriguez made more in 2013 than all the Astros combined — a lot more. And he was MIA. The Yankees’ payroll was nearly 10 times the spending of the Astros, who shrunk their payroll to about $25 million. The team averaged a home “paid” attendance of 19,659 — their lowest since 1995 when they were still in the Astrodome. On Sunday, Sept. 22, the Nielsen Co. found that the Astros’ TV audience was 0.0 — a first in major league baseball history.
In the midst of this disaster, the front office came and went. The franchise dropped support for the Astros Wives Organization’s Black Ties and Baseball Caps Gala which raised money for the Houston Area Women’s Center. To be fair, the Astros did determine that commonly such affairs send 70 percent or better to their charity. Only about half the money raised actually went to the center, the rest for expenses. Then the new owner sued the former owner and some others involved in that fiasco of a TV network which has left 60 percent of the town unable to see either the Astros, which is just as well, or the Rockets. What a mess.
The Texans, who local sports media had hyped as worthy of the Super Bowl, imploded and head coach Kubiak got the axe. The Rockets are doing better. They inked Dwight Howard,. It would only be better if, like the Astros, more of Houston could see them on television.
A Little League game between the League City Americans and the Santa Fe All Stars turned so nasty that the Texas City police were called. Fans of the All Stars, who lost 8-0, suspected that an Americans’ bat had been dishonorably modified. An All Stars coach threw the bat in question on the ground, cracking its barrel. Said bat was sent to Little League national headquarters in Pennsylvania for inspection. The HQ found nothing wrong. After his son’s North Shore High School football team lost to Cy-Fair 9-7, Manuel DeLeon allegedly attacked coach David Aymond for not playing DeLeon’s son more. It took two officers to wrestle the father off the coach. But Owls well that ends well: The Rice Owls won the Conference USA football championship, their first outright championship since 1957.
Guy V. Lewis, UH’s long-time basketball coach and architect of Phi Slama Jama, finally got in the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame at age 91. Good Sportsmanship Awards: 13 year old Zach Whitener scored a hole in one at the River Ponte Golf Club in Richmond on the same day his dad, Lonnie, did likewise. It happened on Father’s Day.
Congrats to the students at College Park High School in The Woodlands for winning the FIRST Robotics world championship in St. Louis. The team, Texas Torque, beat out 397 other teams with their robot. But can it run the wishbone offense?
Look at that S car go: Panic broke out among Houston’s snail watchers when word spread that the giant African snail — a voracious mollusk that poses a potential health threat to humans — had come to town. The alarm made the papers and local TV. Turns out the big snail found in a Houston garden is beneficial, not bad. It was a rosy wolf snail, a predator of snails that devour garden plants.
On “The Voice,” Danielle Bradbery, a Cypress teen, was crowned the show’s Season 4 winner after almost three months of competition. At 16 years old, she’s the youngest person to take the title and the only one without a previous record deal. Bradbery received a singing contract and is now making recordings.
Money talks, Skilling walks: Enron honcho Jeff Skilling got10 years chopped off his 24-year prison sentence in return for 42 million of his stolen dollars given back to duped shareholders and employees, and a promise that his high-priced lawyers would quit filling appeals. See if you can cut the same deal.
Who guards the guards? Burglars broke into the northeast Houston home of Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia. The burglars got away with one of his personal weapons — a .357 Magnum Smith & Wesson revolver. The FBI said two men broke into the Houston home of an FBI agent, stealing government firearms and the agent’s credit cards. The loot included a Remington 870 short-barreled shotgun and a Glock-22 handgun. Sheriff’s deputies recovered the stolen Glock during a traffic stop, and the driver of that vehicle was questioned. The shotgun was still missing. The theft of government property, as these two weapons are, is a federal felony.
But our grand winner for 2013 is the Topic of Cancer (missionaries to the savages division): New opulent (read extremely and unnecessarily expensive) offices of M.D. Anderson Cancer Center researchers Giulio Draetta and Lynda Chin (who is married to M.D. Anderson President Dr. Ronald DiPinho). While the rest of the cancer center was undergoing major surgery on its budget, Chin successfully requested “variances” from the University of Texas System to fund an office renovation that cost somewhere between $550,000 and $2 million, and included items such as a $7,755 Knoll sofa and a $5,000 lounge chair. Publicly, Draetta offered a bizarre explanation: “Lynda and I were both extremely concerned about moving to Texas, having never lived here and being heavily influenced by the Harvard community.” Privately, in an e-mail obtained by the Cancer Letter, he dismissed the project’s critics, asking senior faculty and administrators to counteract “the message coming from these losers.” Wow, these losers (that’s us) need to learn something from Harvard. Like condescension, arrogance and living well off the taxpayers.
Ashby spent the year at firstname.lastname@example.org