Cheering like a proud papa

Ex-Astros GM Hunsicker cheering team on

CHICAGO -- When Game 1 of the 101st World Series begins Saturday night at U.S. Cellular Field, the man who had a lot to do with putting together the National League champion Houston Astros won't even have a ticket to the game.

Former Astros general manager Gerry Hunsicker, who was succeeded on Nov. 1, 2004, by Tim Purpura, will be home in Houston watching the team he helped build play in its first World Series.

"It's been very gratifying to see this team succeed and especially rewarding to see some of the young players develop," Hunsicker said Friday. "Finally, I think the organization is getting the national recognition it deserves, and that's a credit to the great people in the organization who have worked so hard for so many years."

Hunsicker was GM of the Astros from Nov. 10, 1995, until the two sides parted company following the 2004 season, ending Hunsicker's stint as the longest-tenured GM in franchise history.

Of the 25 players on the World Series roster, 23 were originally acquired, drafted or signed by the Astros under Hunsicker's stewardship. The only players who preceded Hunsicker's time in Houston are Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio.

Under Hunsicker, the Astros made the playoffs five times in nine years despite not having the biggest budget in the league.

Despite those constraints, Hunsicker was still able to build a contending team year after year. He made blockbuster deals for Randy Johnson (in 1998) and Carlos Beltran (in 2004), signed premier free agents (Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte), but also found serviceable talent that proved helpful without breaking the bank, such as Brandon Backe, Mike Lamb and Jose Vizcaino.

Hunsicker admitted feeling proud that so many players he helped bring to Houston are in the World Series.

"Obviously after spending so many years and following their careers closely, you can't help but development an attachment and a desire to see them succeed," Hunsicker said. "They've worked so hard and they deserve this."

Though he still pulls for the Astros, Hunsicker has kept a low profile. He hasn't come out to Minute Maid Park other than "touching base periodically" with old friend Phil Garner. Hunsicker has kept busy running his thoroughbred racing operation.

Hunsicker has an interest in a dozen or so racehorses, including three broodmares he owns. One of his 2-year-old thoroughbreds, Extra Bases, recently won a race and had a fourth-place finish in a stakes event. Another 2-year-old filly, Lonesome Girl, will make her first start on Saturday at Woodbine Race Course in Canada.

"It [horse racing] has been good for me," Hunsicker said. "I wish I had the deep pockets though, because thoroughbred racing can be an expensive pursuit."

Baseball could be back in Hunsicker's future. A few teams have GM vacancies, and on Monday, Hunsicker met with Stu Sternberg and the new Tampa Bay ownership group at Sternberg's New York office.

"It was a more of a discussion than an interview," Hunsicker said. "We exchanged ideas and philosophies."

Hunsicker plans to watch the World Series and keep tabs on his horses for now, waiting to see what baseball opportunities might come his way this winter.

"We'll see what happens," he said. "Right now, I'm a lot like everybody else in Houston -- thrilled to see a World Series."

Jim Molony is a writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.