The Houston Astros have been a successful baseball team right from the word go. They started their life as the Houston Colts .45s when they were formed in 1960. The change in name occurred 5 years later as a sign of support for the space programme based in Houston, with the city’s stadium being coined the Astrodome as a result of the team’s new name.
The name befitted the futuristic look of the dome, and the groundskeepers soon adopted spacesuits as their uniform to keep in line with this image. This enclosed dome is unlike any other of its kind, and has been coined the eighth Wonder of the World.
The Early Years
The team had a successful start to its career, scoring their first .500 season in 1969, but it was in the 1970s that they really secured their reputation. Fred Gladding was the star pitcher who set the pace for the rest of the team.
He played in 63 games in 1970, which was also the year that three of the other pitchers hit over .300. The season of 1972 was the Astros’ best showing to date. With three different managers, including Leo Durocher, to oversee their progress they finished in second place in the NL West, 84-69. 1975 was a poignant year for the team.
Tragically one of their team members, Don Wilson, committed suicide. That same year they also adopted the colours which would remain with the team until 1993. These orange, navy and yellow uniforms, nicknamed the Rainbow Guts, had a black band round the sleeve with the number “40” written in white to honour Wilson.
The same year, Bob Watson scored the 1,000,000th run in baseball history. Many other players across the country were keen to take this title, so Watson had to secure it by running around the bases after he had scored a homerun. In the middle of this year the team gained a new manager, Bill Virdon, who was an ex-Pittsburgh Pirates player.
The early ’80s
The Astros had never been renowned for their big hitting, having only scored 49 homeruns as a team, but rather their skills of speed and pitching, leading the National League with 190 steals. J.R Richard, Enos Cabell and Jose Cruz Sr. were the stars of the team at this time, and their combined efforts meant that the Astros led the League for most of the 1979 season. But the Cincinnati Reds eventually caught up with the Astros and took the National League West title.
Nolan Ryan signed with the team at the end of this season, becoming the MLB’s first million-dollar salary player. Joe Morgan was also brought back, providing guidance to the younger members. These two signings were the improvement that the team needed, and the following season they won their first NL West Championship, with a 93-70 record.
The NL Championship Series which followed this, when the Astros played against the Phillies, has often been regarded as one of the best postseason series. The last four out of the five games went to extra innings. In the decisive game the Astros initially took the lead, 5-2, but in the tenth innings they lost out to the Phillies, 8-7.
The 1981 season started well after the team signed Don Sutton. They faced the Dodgers, managing to win the first two games. However, the Dodgers managed to overthrow the Astros in the final leg of this series, resulting in them becoming the first team in history to lose a five game series. After this loss the Astros’ performance began to wane. One outstanding moment, however, came in 1983 when Nolan Ryan became an all-time strikeout leader.
The 1986 Season
After their poor season in 1985, Al Rosen was sacked as general manager and Rob Lillis as manager, and the two were replaced by Dick Wagner and Hal Lanier respectively. Lanier seemed to put a rocket up the team, with them winning the first thirteen of nineteen contests.
Throughout this season the Astros had a great many highlights: Jim Deshaies, in a game against the Dodgers, managed to hit eight consecutive strikeouts at the start of the game, and the team also managed to take five “come-from-behind” wins. They also reached the National League Championship Series, with their opponents being the New York Mets.
The Mets had 108 wins under their belt and were seen as the guaranteed winner of the World Championship. By Game 3 the Astros were winning, 5-4, only for the Mets then to take the lead, 6-5. Game 6 was the signature game of the series. Initially the Astros took the lead in the first inning, 3-0, but then neither the Astros nor the Mets scored again until the ninth innings, when the game was tied.
In the fourteen innings the Mets managed to take the lead, but the Astros rallied round on the sixteenth innings to take the title, 7-6. This game set the record for being the longest in MLB postseason history. Although this record was broken in 2005, it is still the longest League Championship Series game.
A Turn for the Worse
After this spectacular season things took a dramatic turn for the worse. Lanier was sacked as manager and the team went on a fire sale, which included icon, Nolan Ryan, who was considered “too old” and sold to the Texas Rangers.
In 1990 the Astros traded Larry Anderson to the Red Sox in exchange for Jeff Bagwell. Many fans consider this to be the best trade that the team ever made, as Bagwell went on to become the Astros’ all-time greatest home run leader and is viewed by many as their best player in history.
However, they made one of their worst ever trades after the 1990 season, when Kenny Loftan was swapped for the Cleveland Indians’, Eddies Taubensee. Loftan, unfortunately, turned out to be one of the best centre fielders of the 1990s, proving to be a very valuable asset to lose. Around the same time the Astros began to become dissatisfied with using the Astrodome as their home stadium.
This dissatisfaction grew to such a degree that the management announced that they planned to sell the team and move the franchise to Washington D.C. Other National League owners would not approve this, however, meaning the Astros had to remain in Houston. McMullen did manage to sell the team to a Texas businessman, Drayton McLane, shortly after this, but McLane vowed to keep the team in Houston.
In a monumental move, the Astros signed one of the first African American general managers to be used in American baseball, Bob Watson. Watson’s stay with the team was, however, short, leaving at the end of the 1995 season for the New York Yankees, and being replaced by Gerry Hunsicker.
In 1996 the Astros nearly left Houston for the second time. McLane also expressed dissatisfaction with the Astrodome and approached the people of Houston with the hope of getting another stadium built. The reaction was not as positive as he would have hoped, and so he put the team up for sale.
He nearly signed a deal with William Collins, a businessman from Northern Virginia, but the National League stepped in once again and persuaded McLane to give Houston another chance. McLane was granted his wish, with Houston giving him a new stadium.
Back on the pitch, two of the Astros’ players, Bagwell and Biggio, began to show their maturation towards the middle of the 1990s, which, teamed with Larry Dierker being manager, led the team to more consistent success. In 1997, 1998 and 1999 they won consecutive division titles, setting a team record in 1998 for 102 victories.
A New Home
The new stadium was finally ready in 2000. It started its life as the Enron Field, and was one of the first to have a fully functioning retractable roof. During the first season in their new stadium, the Astros won another National League Central title, but the Braves eliminated them from the first round of the play-offs.
This same year the new stadium’s naming rights were bought by Coco-Cola, who named it the Minute Maid Park, later nicknamed “The Juice Box” by fans. At the start of the 2004 season the Houston Astros had been named one of the favourites to win the National League, but by mid-season they were struggling.
Williams was fired and replaced by Phil Garner, whom many people doubted because of his average track record. However, Garner happened to be exactly what the team needed and they responded to him well, leading the team to improve in the second season, 46-26. They also managed to win their first play-off series after eight previous attempts.
They beat the Braves in the NL Division Series, advancing them to the NL Championship Series from which they were eliminated in seven games by the St. Louis Cardinals. Roger Clemens, who had previously played for the New York Yankees, delayed his retirement from the game to sign with the team and can be held responsible for much of the team’s success in 2004.
Carlos Beltan was also signed mid-season, and his contribution to the game greatly helped the team. The team repeated this performance in 2005, starting the season appallingly, dropping to 15-30 by May. They managed to swing things back round in their favour and became almost unbeatable until July, when they found themselves 42-17 and in the running for a National League Wild Card.
The pitching side which included Andy Pettitte, Roger Clemens, Brandon Backe, Roy Oswalt and Wandy Rodriguez was one of the reasons for this. However, for once the hitting team was also contributing well. July 2005 was the team’s best ever month in history, when they went 22-7.
In the play-offs for this season they won their first NL Division Series against the Atlanta Braves, and the NL Championship Series against the St. Louis. Their first ever World Series was played against the Chicago White Sox, which they narrowly lost.
After losing the World Series, the Astros began to build their team for the 2006 season. They drafted catcher, Maxwell Sapp and hitter, Aubrey Huff onto the team. The team had a dramatic last two weeks of the season which lost them the play-offs.
They made a number of signings and sellings that season, including ending Jeff Bagwell’s contract, and Clemens and Pettitte filed for free agency in November, with Pettitte later signing with the NY Yankees for an extraordinary $16 million. But the Astros also signed Carlos Lee and Woody Williams, as well as renewing Biggio’s contract for one year at $5.15 million.
The team nearly made a trade with the White Sox, exchanging Willy Taveras, Jason Hirsh and Taylor Buchholz for Jon Garland. But Buchholz failed to pass the physical, and therefore a further ‘3 for 2′ trade was made with the Colorado Rockies, who gave the Astros Miguel Ascenio and Jason Jennings.
This turned out to be disastrous, however, as Taveras and Hirsh blossomed whereas Jennings suffered many injuries. The Astros started the 2007 season with especially poor form, having one of their longest losing streaks in history.
Cecil Cooper and Tal Smith were recruited to take on the roles of general manager and manager. They have made some new signings to the team in the hope of bringing the Houston Astros back to their previous form.
- 41 Brandon Backe
- 58 Dave Borkowski
- 26 Doug Brocail
- 65 Jack Cassell
- 68 Paul Estrada
- 29 Geoff Geary
- 63 Samuel Gervacio
- 35 Ryan Houston
- 37 Brad James
- 62 Mark McLemore
- 64 Fernando Nieve
- 44 Roy Oswalt
- 54 Chad Paranto
- 52 Felipe Paulino
- 39 Chad Reineke
- 51 Wandy Rodriguez
- 43 Chris Sampson
- 47 Jose Valverde
- 56 Oscar Villarreal
- 19 Woody Williams
- 53 Wesley Wright
- 11 Brad Ausmus
- 55 Humberto Quintero
- 46 J.R. Towles
- 17 Lance Berkman
- 27 Geoff Blum
- 8 Mark Loretta
- 3 Kazuo Matsui
- 10 Miguel Tejada
- 21 Ty Wigginton
- 60 Reggie Abercrombie
- 14 Michael Bourn
- 2 Darin Erstad
- 45 Carlos Lee
- 9 Hunter Pence
- 30 Yordany Ramirez