Though he felt a little uneasy early this season in his new broadcast analyst job for the Houston Astros, Geoff Blum has acclimated well.
A utility infielder who spent 12 seasons in the majors, Blum’s easy-going, personable and intelligent style always seemed to make it possible he’d end up a broadcaster or an analyst.
But what makes this particular fit even better is Blum spent five seasons over two stays in an Astros uniform and was once a member of the Killer B’s with Jeff Bagwell, Craig Biggio and Lance Berkman.
Blum, who retired in 2012, is set to call 80 games this season and believes he’s in the “perfect situation.”
Well, it’s almost perfect.
There is the matter of Blum’s Game 3 heroics in the 2005 World Series, which helped sink the Astros as the White Sox took a 3-0 lead. Blum’s 14th-inning solo home run off Astros pitcher Ezequiel Astacio at Minute Maid Park ended a stalemate in the longest game in World Series history and propelled the White Sox -- who open a four-game series at Houston on Friday night -- to a series sweep.
While many Astros fans remember him fondly, Blum said there’s a small faction who isn’t pleased by his presence.
“That’s the interesting part,” Blum said with a laugh. “There is a certain part of the fan base that welcomed me because we did have a good run while I was there. But there was some interesting feedback from other fans who weren’t too happy.”
But the organization is pleased to have Blum as an analyst.
The opportunity only arrived because of a “perfect storm” of events, Blum said.
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After he retired, Blum had the chance to call two games in September for the Arizona Diamondbacks. He also filled in as an afternoon drive-time radio host in San Diego and found himself comfortable behind the microphone.
When Jim Deshaies left Houston for the Cubs and two of the team’s radio jobs also opened, Blum sent in his tapes. As it was explained to him by the Astros in the interview, his tapes, knowledge of the community and the “equity” he built in his five seasons in Houston was enough for the team to hire Blum in late February.
It’s just another example of Blum’s good timing.
White Sox first baseman Paul Konerko remembers another instance well -- he was disappointed as he had just returned to the dugout after grounding into a double play in the 14th inning.
“It felt like no one was going to score,” Konerko said. “Blummer had some pop, but it was a very dead game from like the ninth or 10th inning on. Just boom. It just happened really quickly. When he hit it, I don’t think anybody thought it was a homer. It was such a low liner that you’re hoping that it would get down and all of a sudden it hit over the fence and you realize, ‘S***, we can win now.’ ”
Gibby has company
White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf loves to ask friends to name the two players in World Series history who have homered in their only at-bats.
Kirk Gibson, with his pinch-hit two-run homer off Dennis Eckersley in Game One of the 1988 classic, is the obvious choice.
But nobody ever guesses Blum.
Perhaps that’s because his heroism was so unexpected that even Reinsdorf ---frustrated by Konerko’s double play and a 5-all game that was well into its sixth hour --- left his seat and had his back turned to the field when the utility man homered to put White Sox ahead. The South Siders scored again and won 7-5 after a World Series-record 5 hours, 41 minutes.
“I was beside myself thinking we were never going to win this game,” Reinsdorf said. “I couldn’t take it any more … I didn’t see the swing. I didn’t see the ball go over the fence. I looked up on the monitor and saw the ball go over the fence. Once it ended I remember thinking for the first time we could win the World Series.”
Pitching coach Don Cooper was frustrated to a point before Blum’s homer.
He watched as the teams’ used a World Series-record 17 pitchers. He knew there wasn’t anybody left in the White Sox bullpen except for Mark Buehrle, who had pitched two days earlier. But Cooper also knew the White Sox weren’t in a dire spot like the Astros, who faced a 2-0 deficit.
“If we lose it’s not the worst thing,” Cooper said. “But Blum hitting the home run, they were down to one of their last guys. I don’t think they wanted to bring that guy in. But they had to because they were out of their best ammo. We were out of ammo at that time too. But life, energy, we had a chance to get up three.”
Blum has vivid memories of the ordeal.
He was a starter for the Astros for two seasons and had plenty of friends left on the team. He spent part of batting practice joking with old teammates and suggested he might hit a pinch-hit home run. Houston was also set to host its first-ever World Series game.
“It was nuts, it was crazy,” Blum said. “It was a good vibe … I never had seen that place packed the way it was.”
His at-bat also marked only the second time Blum played for the White Sox in the postseason, the other coming 21 days earlier in the AL Division Series against the Boston Red Sox.
Blum remembers how loose the White Sox were before the game because catcher A.J. Pierzynski had found a Killer B’s poster, made copies and plastered them all over the visiting clubhouse.
That energy lasted until the teams hit extra innings. A National League player for the majority of his career, Blum knew to be ready to enter the game at any point after the fifth inning.
So even though it had been 21 days and it was after midnight, Blum was prepared when Astacio threw him a 2-0 fastball at the knees. He lined the pitch down the right-field line and just over the fence.
“I was sitting on the outside part of the plate,” Blum said. “It was down and in the happy zone for a lefty and I just barreled it. … Complete elation. It was amazing. I don’t remember touching the bases or anything until I high-fived Aaron Rowand. I was the last man on that roster that season, but every guy leapt off the bench in pure joy. Guys were constantly coming by ‘I can’t believe. I can’t believe it.’ ”
Eight years later, Reinsdorf is still in disbelief he didn’t see the swing. He settled for catching the flight of the ball on the television monitor in his suite, a few steps from his seat.
“I can still see that ball go over the fence,” Reinsdorf said. “I was laughing.”
Given the circumstances of his heroics, some might consider Blum to be in an awkward spot with the Astros.
But Blum isn’t uncomfortable at all.
Perhaps its because this is hardly a fish-out-of-water scenario for him.
Blum didn’t attempt to hide his feelings in 2005, nor does he now. He wasn’t sure the White Sox were a great fit when they acquired him from the San Diego Padres for minor-leaguer Ryan Meaux right before the July 31 trade deadline.
Blum was happy with the Padres, who won the National League West title in 2005.
He and his family still reside about 75 minutes north of San Diego year round. His wife, Kory, had also just given birth to triplets, all girls.
So when Blum heard he had been traded, he didn’t want to leave.
“I kind of questioned the move,” Blum said.
What made the trade more palatable, Blum said, is when he learned the White Sox sought him out. He knew he was wanted even though the White Sox held a 14 1/2-game lead in the American League Central.
Third baseman Joe Crede, who had four homers and 11 RBIs in the 2005 postseason, was struggling a bit with the bat and a sore back. The club saw Blum as the perfect complement.
“There wasn’t this expectation that we were going to make drastic changes at the deadline,” then-assistant general manager Rick Hahn said. “But we did target a guy like Geoff who could provide us a left-handed bat, who obviously had some history pinch-hitting. I’m not going to tell you we envisioned him hitting a game-winning home run in the 14th inning of Game 3. But we certainly knew it was someone who could come off the bench and provide you with the big hit and was a nice complementary, flexible piece for the roster that was performing well at the time.”
Blum’s persona played well in the clubhouse as well.
“He fit right in once he got over,” Konerko said. “He’s a personable guy, fun guy, positive.”
Konerko can see how those same traits and Blum’s utility role lend themselves to his new job. Because Blum had to be ready for any and every scenario, he was forced to pay close attention to every aspect of the game, Konerko said.
“Those guys know the game and see the game from all different angles because he had to be ready for anything,” Konerko said. “Those guys always make good TV people because they’re on top of all the pitching changes, everything that could be possibilities.”
While being approached by a disappointed fan is always a possibility, Blum is more concerned about his job.
At first, he was nervous about what to say and how to approach his role. But working with Astros play-by-play man Alan Ashby and taking notes from Padres analyst Mark Grant have helped him get comfortable.
Now the challenge is to not make a snap judgment, Blum said. He also knows patience is required because of the youthful makeup of the Astros roster.
“I used to be those guys,” Blum said. “You have to keep in that harshness and that judgment because they’re developing at this level.”
It’s just another aspect of a tricky spot Blum is ecstatic to be in.
He knows some of the more passionate fans might be down on his presence.
But given the choice, Blum never would have left the Astros in the first place.
The 2002 and 2003 seasons, when the Astros twice finished in second place, were two of the best of his career.
Rather than bring Blum back for 2004, the Astros shipped him to Tampa Bay, which had lost at least 92 games in each of its first five seasons.
So if anyone ever talks about Game 3, Blum brings up about the trade.
“It was just payback for trading me to Tampa Bay,” Blum said with a laugh.