Houston Astros

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Template:MLB infobox Astros

The Houston Astros are a Major League Baseball team based in Houston, Texas. They are in the Central Division of the National League. They are the current defending National League champions, and rose to prominence in October 2005 when they went to the World Series for the first time in franchise history.

Franchise history

Beginnings: The 1960s

Subsequent to the Giants and Dodgers leaving for California, an abortive attempt was made to start a third major league, to be called the Continental League. Though the league never got off the ground, it nonetheless established the demand for major league baseball in other markets. On October 17th, 1960, Judge Roy Hofheinz and the ownership group from Houston is awarded a franchise in the ten-team National League, called the Houston Colt .45s. In addition to the Houston Colt .45s, the New York Mets would also join the NL in 1962, and the Los Angeles Angels and the Washington Senators would join the AL in 1961.

The team would begin play on April 10, 1962 and for the next three years, the team would play in Colt Stadium.

On Sunday, September 29, 1963, the final day of the regular season, Colt 45's outfielder John Paciorek would have a career day, going 3-for-3 with 3 RBIs, 2 walks and 4 runs scored as the team beat the Mets 13-4. Unfortunately, because of chronic injuries, the game would mark Paciorek's only major league appearance. Through 2005, Paciorek still holds the record of having a perfect 1.000 average with the most at-bats. Sadly, September 29, 1963 would also mark the last major league game for the winning pitcher of that game, Astros pitcher Jim Umbricht. Stricken with cancer, Umbricht would pass away on April 8, 1964. His number 32 was the first jersey number retired by the Astros.

Despite these tragic events, the franchise's first decade displayed some great hitters (e.g., Joe Morgan, Jimmy Wynn) and many great pitchers (e.g., Bob Bruce, Ken Johnson, Mike Cuellar, Don Wilson, Larry Dierker, Dave Giusti, and Denny LeMaster.)

Houston Astros: New venue, new name

On April 9, 1965, the Houston Colt .45s become the Houston Astros and inaugurate indoor baseball in the Astrodome.

The Sporting News Official Baseball Guide for 1965 had this to say about why the team was renamed: "Late in the year [1964] the [Harris County Domed Stadium] was officially named the Astrodome after the Houston club changed its nickname, December 1, from Colt .45s to Astros. The move resulted from objections by the Colt Firearms Company to the club's sales of novelties bearing the old nickname."

Regardless of trade mark issues, "Astros" was a good fit for the futuristic ambiance of the revolutionary domed stadium and also since Houston was by then the home of NASA's astronaut program. The scoreboard retained subliminal references to the old nickname, as it featured electronically animated cowboys firing pistols, with the "bullets" ricocheting around the scoreboard, when an Astros player would hit a home run. Early on, the groundskeepers also wore astronaut spacesuits to promote that futuristic image.

As a condition of their entry in the National League, the Astros committed to building a new domed stadium, designed as a defense against the oppressive heat and humidity of the Houston summer. The result was the Astrodome.

Loosely based on the old Roman Colosseum, the Astrodome was like no venue that had come before it, and it was dubbed the "Eighth Wonder of the World". As with many stadia of that era, such as RFK Stadium and Shea Stadium. the Astrodome was a multi-purpose stadium, designed for both football and baseball. However, because it was enclosed, it could also be used for events traditionally held in indoor areans, such as basketball, concerts and political convention, allowing outdoor-sized crowds in an indoor venue.

Besides its roof, the Astrodome was revolutionary for a number of other reasons. It was one of the first stadiums to have individual, theatre-type seats for every seat in the venue. Additionally, it was one of the first stadiums to have luxury seats and club seating, at the time a relatively new concept in sports venues. It also had an "exploding scoreboard", which would show various animations after a home run or a win, as well as messages and advertising.

The Astrodome was also one of the first stadiums in the country to use an artificial playing surface. The creation of an artificial surface came across based on necessity. Originally the Astrodome had a grass field and a transparent roof. However, during the 1965 season, players and fans complained about the glare on the field which detracted from the game. As a result, the roof was painted black. This solved the glare problem but killed off the grass. As a solution the Astros deployed a product from Monsanto Corporation called AstroTurf, a surface that could be used in any condition, and a surface that was, compared to grass, low maintenance.

The surface did prove resilient to routine game play and was relatively safe, resulting in a number of colleges and pro teams switching to artificial surface fields. Additionally, AstroTurf made possible a number of other domed stadiums, such as the Superdome, the Carrier Dome, and the Pontiac Silverdome.

1970's

The year 1975 would be marked by tragedy with the suicide of former Astros pitcher Don Wilson, who had pitched two no-hitters for the club. Wilson's jersey number 40, was also retired by the Astros.

The Astros in 1975 would also adopt the orange, yellow and red "rainbow striped uniforms" that became a team trademark and would stay with them in some form through 1993. These uniforms were highly popular with fans, increased awareness of the Astros considerably, and kicked off a fashion trend which would spread to many high schools and colleges. At the same time the Astros also switched from blue caps to orange (although later they would revert to blue caps for road games and, eventually, all games)

In 1972 the Astros would have their best showing to date. Under three different managers - including legendary manager Leo Durocher (whose last managerial job would be with these Astros]] the Astros finished the strike-abbreviated 1972 season 84-69 and in second place in the NL West.

It was with the Astros that Bob Watson scored the 1,000,000th run in baseball history on May 30, 1975. Because there were other players in other venues competing simultaneously for the right to be designated with the milestone, Watson had to run around the bases after a home run at full speed so as to ensure that he would be the one credited with scoring the historic run.

Former Pittsburgh Pirate player and manager Bill Virdon arrived in May 1975 as the team's new manager. After three seasons hovering around .500, the Astros would be involved in their first real pennant race in 1979. Though the team was dead last in power - they only hit 49 home runs as a team and nobody hit more than 10 home runs - the 1979 Astros were a team built around pitching and speed. In fact, the Astros led the National League with 190 steals; four of the Astros' regular players had over 30 steals. The team's stars included outfielder Jose Cruz, Sr., third baseman Enos Cabell and pitcher J.R. Richard This formula enabled the Astros to lead the National League West for much of the season. Yet they were unable to hold off the Cincinnati Reds, who edged the Astros on the last weekend for the NL West title, ultimately winning the division by 1.5 games.

Following the 1979 season, Nolan Ryan signed with the Astros as a free agent, agreeing to MLB's first million-dollar per year salary.

1980's: First successes

Using much the same pitching and speed strategy in 1980 as they had in 1979, the Astros won their first NL West championship. They entered the final weekend series against the Dodgers with a three-game lead only needing to win one of the final three games to clinch the NL West. However, the Astros were swept, forcing a one game post-season playoff game - the first such playoff since the National League switched to two-division format in 1969. In the game in Los Angeles, Joe Niekro won his 20th game as the Astros cruised to an easy 7-1 victory over the Dodgers, clinching the team's first divisional title with a 93-70 record.

The Astros would push the Phillies to five games in the NLCS. In the decisive fifth game the Astros would take a 5-2 lead into the top of the 8th against the Phillies. However, Nolan Ryan would be unable to hold the lead. The Astros would go on to lose to the Phillies in 10 innings, 6-5.

Sadly, tragedy would rear its head again for the Astros in 1980. JR Richard, considered to be a front-runner for the National League's Cy Young Award, had a 10-4 record and an ERA of 1.73 on July 30, 1980 when he suffered a stroke before a game. In the days and weeks previous, Richard had complained of a "dead arm" and shoulder and neck pains. Additionlly, in his last start on July 14, he said he was unable to read the catcher's signs. The stroke, which many suspect was induced by cocaine use, nearly killed him and although he survived, he never would pitch in the major leagues again.

In the strike-shortened 1981 season, the Astros made the playoffs once again as the 2nd half Western Division champions. They would face the Dodgers in the NLDS. After winning the first two games, the Dodgers went on to win the final three games, thus making the Astros the first team in baseball history to lose a 5 game series, after winning the first two games.

Led by Nolan Ryan and Cy Young Award winner Mike Scott, the Astros were a surprise NL West champion in 1986. A highlight of the season was the Astros clinching the divisional title on Mike Scott's no-hitter against the San Francisco Giants on September 25, 1986, the first time in baseball history that a title was clinched on a no-hitter.

Their opponents in the NLCS were the New York Mets, a team that with 108 wins were considered a team for the ages, destined to win a World Championship. Ironically, both teams were celebrating their 25th season as MLB franchises that season.

The 1986 NLCS was noted for great drama and considered by some to be one of the best post-season series ever. In Game 3, the Astros were ahead at Shea Stadium 5-4 in the bottom of the 9th when closer Dave Smith gave up a two-run home run to Lenny Dykstra, giving the Mets a dramatic 6-5 win.

However, the signature game of the series was Game 6. Needing a win to get to Mike Scott (who had been dominant in the series) in Game 7, the Astros jumped off to a 3-0 lead in the first inning but neither team would score again until the 9th inning. In the 9th, starting pitcher Bob Knepper would give two runs, and once again the Astros would look to Dave Smith to close it out. However, Smith would walk Gary Carter and Darryl Strawberry, giving up a sacrifice fly to Ray Knight, tying the game. Despite having the go-ahead runs on base, Smith was able to escape the inning without any further damage.

There was no scoring until the 14th inning when the Mets would take the lead on a Wally Backman single and Kevin Bass error. The Astros would get the run back in the bottom of the 14th on a solo home run by Billy Hatcher with one out. In the 16th inning, Darryl Strawberry doubled to lead off the inning and Ray Knight drove him home in the next at-bat. The Mets would score a total of three runs in the inning to take what appeared an insurmountable 7-4 lead. With their season on the line, the Astros would nonetheless rally for two runs to come to within 7-6. Kevin Bass came up with the tying and winning runs on base; however Jesse Orosco would strike him out, ending the game. This 16 inning game set a record for the longest in MLB postseason history until, ironically, the Astros were involved in the game that broke it on October 9. 2005 against the Atlanta Braves which went 18 innings.

Following the 1988 season the Astros experienced significant change. Manager Hal Lanier, unable to build on the Astros' success in 1986, was dismissed following the season. Additionally, franchise icon Nolan Ryan left the Astros to join the Texas Rangers in 1989, after being considered too old by then-owner John McMullen. Ryan would go on to pitch two more no-hitters for the Rangers in the early 90s to achieve a grand total of 7 - more than anyone else in major league history. Ryan would also record his 5,000th strikeout with the Rangers, and entered the Hall of Fame as a Ranger.

1989 would mark the rookie season of Craig Biggio, who would set team records in many offensive categories. Biggio started his career as a catcher, but was moved to second base so as to take full advantage of his speed and other offensive talents.

1990s: Building a model franchise

Many people consider the best move the Astros ever made their trade for Jeff Bagwell at the trading deadline in 1990. The Boston Red Sox, in a tight race for the American League East title, needed relief pitching help. The Astros gave the Red Sox journeyman Larry Andersen in exchange for minor leaguer Jeff Bagwell, who would win the 1990 Eastern League MVP award for the AA New Britain Red Sox. With Mo Vaughn in their system, the Red Sox figured that Bagwell was expendible, and while Andersen did help the Red Sox to the divisional title, Bagwell would go on to become, in most people's minds, the best overall player in Astros history.

The early 1990's was marked by the Astros' growing discontent with their home, the Astrodome. After the Astrodome was renovated for the primary benefit of the Houston Oilers, the Astros began to grow increasingly disenchanted with the facility. Faced with declining attendance at the Astrodome and the inability of management to obtain a new stadium, in the 1991 off-season the Astros announced their intention to sell the team and move the franchise to Washington, D.C.. However, the move was not approved by other National League owners, thus compelling the Astros to remain in Houston. Shortly thereafter, McMullen (who also owned the NHL's New Jersey Devils), sold the team to Texas businessman Drayton McLane in 1993, who committed to leaving the team in Houston.

Shortly after McLane's arrival, which coincided with the maturation of Bagwell and Biggio, the Astros began to show signs of consistent success. After finishing second in their division in 1994, 1995, and 1996, the Astros won consecutive division titles in 1997, 1998, and 1999. In the 1998 season, the Astros set a team record with 102 victories. However, each of these titles was followed by a first round playoff elimination, in 1998 by the San Diego Padres and in 1997 and 1999 against the Atlanta Braves. The manager of these title teams was Larry Dierker, who had previously been a broadcaster and pitcher for the Astros.

Coinciding with the change in ownership, the team switched uniforms and team colors after the 1993 season. The team's trademark "rainbow stripes" were retired, and the teams colors changed to midnight blue and metallic gold. The "Astros" font was changed to a more aggressive font, and the team's traditional star logo was changed to a stylized, "flying" star with an open left end. It marked the first time since the team's inception that orange was not part of the team's colors. Despite general agreement that the rainbow uniforms identified with the team had become tired, the new uniforms and caps were never especially popular with fans.

Off the field, in 1994, the Astros hired one of the first African-American General Managers, former franchise superstar Bob Watson. Watson would leave the Astros after the 1995 season to become general manager of the New York Yankees, helping lead them to a World Championship in 1996. He would be replaced by Gerry Hunsicker, who until 2004 would continue to oversee the building of the Astros into one of the better and most consistent organizations in the major leagues.

2000s

After years at the outdated Astrodome, the Astros moved into their new stadium in 2000. Originally called Enron Field, the stadium was one of the first to feature a functional retractable roof, considered a necessity in Houston. Additonally the ballpark featured more intimate surroundings than the cavernous Astrodome.

The ballpark features a train theme, based on its surroundings near an old train station. A train whistle sounds, and a miniature train, circles the outfield after Astro home runs. The ballpark also contains quirks such as "Tal's Hill", where there is a hill in deep center field on which a flagpole stands, all in fair territory. This was modeled after an identical feature that was located in Crosley Field, former home of the Cincinnati Reds.

Perhaps most significantly, with its short left field fence (only slightly longer to left field than Fenway Park), overall shorter dimensions, and exposure to the elements, including the humid Texas air, Enron Field played like a hitters' park. This was a dramatic difference from the Astrodome, which was considered to be an extreme pitchers' park, and likely contributed to the Astros poor 72-90 record.

In 2001, the Astros won another NL Central title, but were again eliminated from the playoffs in the first round by the Braves. Despite four NL Central division titles in five years, the Astros lost in the first round each year (three times to the Braves) so Dierker was fired and replaced by former Boston Red Sox manager Jimy Williams. After the Enron scandal made headlines across the nation, the stadium's naming rights were eventually resold to Coca-Cola, which dubbed the park "Minute Maid Park".

After two fairly successful seasons without a playoff appearance, at midseason in 2004 the Astros were floundering. At the All-Star Break they were 44-44 despite the presence of ace pitcher Roger Clemens, who would go on to win the Cy Young Award that year. After being booed at the 2004 All-Star Game as a coach for the National League, Williams was fired and replaced by Phil Garner, who had been a star for the Astros' first division winner. Though many people were highly skeptical of Garner, who had a mediocre track record in his prior managerial stints in Milwaukeee and Detroit, with only one winning season at either stop (in 1992), the team responded to Garner, who led the team to a 46-26 record in the second half and the National League's Wild Card. They would go on to win their first playoff series in 8 attempts, beating the Braves in five games of the National League Division Series to advance to the National League Championship Series for the third time (they were previously in the NLCS in 1980 & 1986), However, they would lose to the St. Louis Cardinals in 7 games, most dramatically on a walk-off home run by Jim Edmonds in Game 6.

The Astros' 2004 success had much to do with the postponed retirement of star pitcher Roger Clemens (a Houston resident), who ended 2004 with a record 7th Cy Young Award (his first in the NL). Clemens had previously announced that he was retiring after the 2003 season from the New York Yankees. However, after the Astros signed his former Yankee teammate Andy Pettitte and offered Clemens a number of perquisites (including the option to stay home with his family for certain road trips when he wasn't scheduled to pitch), Clemens reconsidered and signed a one-year deal with the Astros.

Additionally, the mid-season addition of Carlos Beltrán in a trade with the Kansas City Royals helped the Astros tremendously in their playoff run. Despite rumblings in July and August that the Astros might flip him to another contender, Beltrán would prove instrumental to the Astros' hopes, hitting 8 home runs in the post-season. Following the season, after initially asserting a desire to remain with the Astros, Beltrán signed a long term contract with the New York Mets on January 9, 2005).

The Astros and Nolan Ryan would also re-establish their relationship, thanks to Ryan's longtime friendship with Astros owner Drayton McLane. Ryan's minor league team, the Round Rock Express (who played outside of Austin, TX) would become an Astros minor league affiliate, first in the AA Texas League and eventually in the AAA Pacific Coast League. Additionally, Ryan was a frequent special guest of the Astros throughout the 2004 and 2005 playoffs and would also drop by Astros camp as a guest instructor.


2005: A burden lifted

In 2005, the Astros got off to a poor start, dropping to 15 games below .500 (15-30) in late May before becoming nearly unbeatable. From that low point until the end of July, Houston went 42-17 and found themselves in the lead for the NL Wild Card. The hitting, largely absent in April and May, was suddenly there, with even the pitchers contributing.

The Astros had also developed an excellent pitching staff, anchored by future Hall of Famer Roger Clemens (who had a league-low ERA of only 1.87), Andy Pettitte, and Roy Oswalt. Rookie starter Ezequiel Astacio and Wandy Rodríguez were also successful.

In July alone, the Astros went 22-7, the best single month record in the club's history. The Astros finished the 2005 regular season by winning a wild card berth on the final day of the regular season, just as they did in 2004, becoming only the second team to come from 15 games under .500 to enter the post season, the other team being the 1914 Boston Braves, now the Atlanta Braves. (Those Braves would go on and sweep the Philadelphia Athletics in the World Series. Coincidentally, the Astros beat out the Philadelphia Phillies, their closest rival, for the Wild Card.)

The Astros won their National League Division Series against the Atlanta Braves in four games. The fourth game set a record for a post-season game with most innings (18), most players used by a single team (T-23), most grand slams (2), and longest played time (5 hours and 50 minutes). Chris Burke hit a home run to win the game by a score of 7-6. After winning in the first round they picked up where they left off in the previous year, facing a rematch against the St. Louis Cardinals.

It is also notable that both the grand slam Lance Berkman hit in the 8th inning and the solo shot hit by Chris Burke in the 18th inning to win were caught by the same fan, Shaun Dean, in the left field Crawford boxes. Dean donated the balls to the Hall of Fame and he and his son were rewarded with gifts from the Astros and the Baseball Hall of Fame as well as playoff tickets behind home plate.

The National League Championship Series (NLCS) featured a rematch of the 2004 NLCS. The Astros lost the first game in St. Louis, but would win the next three games with one in St. Louis and and the next two in Houston. The Astros were poised to close-out the series in Houston, but the Cardinals managed to score three runs in the top of the 9th with a 3-run homerun by Albert Pujols off Brad Lidge. This would take the series back to St. Louis, where the Astros won the final game of the NLCS and the final game played at Busch Stadium.

Current honorary National League President William Y. Giles presented the Astros the Warren C. Giles Trophy, which is awarded to the National League Champion. It was Warren Giles, father of William and President of the National League from 1951 to 1969, who in October 1960 awarded the city of Houston the major league franchise that would become the Houston Astros. Oswalt, who went 2-0 and had an ERA of 1.29, won the NLCS MVP.

The Astros' opponent in their first World Series was the Chicago White Sox. Games 1 and 2 were held at U.S. Cellular Field in Chicago, while Games 3, 4 were played at Minute Maid Park. Early conventional wisdom held that the White Sox were a slight favorite, but that Houston would be an even match. However, the Astros' situational hitting continued to plague them throughout the World Series. The White Sox swept the Astros in the best-of-seven series.

Quick facts

Founded: 1962 (National League expansion)
Uniform colors: Brick red, black, and gold
Logo design: Red five-pointed star with the word "Astros" below it in script
Playoff appearances (9): 1980, 1981, 1986, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2001, 2004, 2005
Official Television Stations: FSN (Houston), KNWS TV-51
Official Radio Stations: KTRH (740), KLAT (1010) (Spanish)
  • often nicknamed "The Killer Bees" due to the surprising large number of players whose names begin with the letter B

Baseball Hall of Famers

Current roster

Houston Astros roster

Minor league affiliations

See also

External links


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