There were two outs in the ninth inning and the Astros were losing 5 to 4. The bases were loaded and the count to the batter was 3 and 2. One more strike and the season would be over without making the playoffs. A single might score two runs and would lock up a playoff spot for the Astros. There was much at stake with this next pitch.

From the press box, the Astros announcer described the action, “There’s Craig Biggio watching as the pitcher winds up and throws a fast ball …fouled away. The pitcher gets his sign from the catcher, winds and fires … strike three called.”

Craig Biggio was fuming that his star player would take a called third strike in that situation. The game was over and the 2025 season was over. This was Craig Biggio’s 15th year as manager of the Astros. It had now been 5 years since Biggio’s Astros had won back-to-back Galaxy Series when they beat the Mercury Heat and the Saturn Rings.

The next day, Biggio sat down with the Astros owner, Jeff Bagwell, and General Manager, Lance Berkman, to discuss the 2025 season and what changes they wanted to make for 2026. Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio had been together as players, coaches and now as manager/owner for about 35 years. They have been with Lance for 25 years. The three former players had an excellent relationship as a management team because they communicated very well with each other. They all knew that some changes would be necessary. Player salaries had been increasing every year while the home run hitting days of the Astros have been on the decline since the last Series win.

Biggio, Berkman and Bagwell invited their consultant, Mike Goodfriend, to facilitate the meeting. They had come to trust him as a facilitator and they appreciated his 35 years experience in facilitating strategy and process improvement meetings. In fact, the Astros were his only client, now. He and his wife spend most of their time traveling to places like Australia, Japan, and the Moon. But as an Astros fan for so many years, he enjoyed serving his favorite team. His retainer was only about $5 million per year; nothing compared to the average player salary of $125 million per year.

What would it take to turn this team around as a winner in the box score and at the box office? Mike started the meeting by asking Jeff, Lance and Craig to evaluate the current state of the Astros. Some of their feedback included:

  • The team was an aging power hitting team that wasn’t producing as many runs as they did during the Galaxy Series run. However, some of the young players have showed some great promise including some speedy outfielders from the AAAA farm club.
  • The annual player payroll of $3.75 billion was higher than the league average and the average ticket price of only $1,150 was lower than the league average
  • More fans were watching on their VR (visual reality) sets or their head cams instead of coming to the games
  • They would soon need a new stadium since Microsoft IBM Field, their 25 year old stadium, was showing its age
  • Naming rights contracts for 1st base (Gallery Furniture 1st base) and left field (Coca Cola left field) were due to expire without any real prospects.

Mike paused to reflect, “It sounds like the club has lost its momentum on the field and at the box office. By your comments, it seems that you believe that the club no longer has ‘the edge’ of excellence on the field and in the back office...and it's showing up in sales at the ticket office. My question to you is do you think you’re the right leaders to turn this around?”

The Killer B’s (as they were once affectionately referred to as players) had looks on their faces like they had just been intentionally beaned by a 100 mph fastball. It looked like Craig Biggio might be ready to “charge the mound.” Jeff Bagwell stood up with a very intense look on his face and looked Mike straight in the eye and then turned to his management team saying, “Gentleman, I’m an optimist and I’m determined. I wouldn’t have hired each of you if I didn’t believe you were the same way.” He paused for the better part of 90 seconds as if he was creating a vision of the club’s future in his mind during that silence. He continued, “We can regain that edge and that momentum and once again become a baseball club known for our excellence. I remember a quote from a long time ago by Zig Ziglar, ‘An optimist is someone who goes after Moby Dick in a rowboat and takes the tartar sauce with him.’ Mike, get the rowboat and the tartar sauce ready - we’re going to make it happen here and we need you to help us.”

Well the Killer B’s went about their work in a workmanlike fashion just like they did as players every day in their 162-game season. Mike took them through a series of steps. They created a vision for the future, “To be a major league baseball franchise recognized for its superior quality, excellence and performance."

Then they developed a strategy to help them acheive their vision and differentiate them with fans as a better choice for their sports or entertainment dollar. Some elements of their strategy included:

  • Surround a small nucleus of power hitters with a club of young, excellent fielding players with a lot of speed who hit for average.
  • Build lineup teams who will achieve excellence in “small ball” processes (stolen bases, the hit and run, the bunt and run, the squeeze play).
  • Build a pitching staff that produces more groundballs for an infield of excellent fielding position players than fly balls for our outfielders with excellent speed.
  • Create processes for fan participation/learning (such as fan “councils”, baseball camps, baseball announcer tryouts, etc.)
  • Construct interactive movie screen size baseball theaters where fans can watch Astros baseball and build a baseball community through relationships and activities at these theaters.

Craig Biggio then reflected, “Mike, I feel great about what we’ve accomplished but the real challenge is going to be following through and executing this strategy."

Mike replied, “Thomas Edison said it best, 'Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.' Most organizations fail in achieving excellence not because of a poorly designed strategy, but because they don't follow through on changing the process and implementing it in the organization."

The group then went to work after the meeting and sponsored several “Line Drive” teams. These were teams that had a specific purpose to identify specific, targeted process changes around the strategy and a plan for implementing them. A couple of examples are as follows:

  • Craig Biggio formed a “Line Drive Team” of assistant coaches and players to develop small ball capabilities. The group selected specific small ball processes to improve such as the hit and run play (when the runner on first takes off for a steal while the batter tries to make contact and hopefully hit it to a hole in the infield or to a spot vacated to cover second to tag out the stealing runner) and the squeeze play (when a runner on third takes off for home plate during the pitch and batter bunts the ball so they can’t get the runner coming to home plate). For example, the entire hit and run process was mapped out from signs given by the third base coach to lineup design combinations to techniques for hitting to a spot.
  • Jeff Bagwell formed a team of publicity people, radio announcers and season ticket holders to develop process steps for allowing fans to become a “Voice of the Astros.” This fan participation process included a contest format where individuals of any age could sign up for an audition. 15 individuals would be auditioned for a half inning each game in a radio booth and would pay a fee for the audition. Each participant would receive a copy of their audition tape. The tapes would be judged and one “Voice” would be selected for a future game in the bottom half of the fifth inning. They also developed steps for publicity, website recognition of individuals and corporate sponsorship.

So did all that effort by the Killer B’s end up being a story that ended happily ever after? Well the Astros made great improvements at regaining their competitive edge of being an excellent organization. They won the Earth League title in 2026 but lost in the Galaxy Series to the Saturn Rings. But they accomplished so much:

  • The fan surveys indicated that the Astros were successful in transitioning to a small ball strategy focused on speed and movement through stolen bases, hit and runs and squeeze plays.
  • Game attendance increased by 15% and the stadium revenue per fan increased by 25%
  • They were successful at expanding the infrastructure for baseball games where 42,000 fans could experience a game at Microsoft IBM Field while as many as 5,000 fans experienced the game with other fans at Astros Theaters. Fans built relationships with other fans, interest groups were formed, and a fun family day extended beyond the ballpark.

The Astros made progress towards their goal of being an excellent baseball franchise. As Aristotle said, “Excellence is an art won by training and habit. We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”

© Michael R. Goodfriend, Goodfriend & Associates, Inc., 2003

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