Houston Astros: A long Path to Glory
Houston teams have been a fixture in the history of the game of baseball. Nowadays, tickets to Houston Astros games can be considered scrapbook keepsakes as part of that history. And the Astros can be called true winners.
But winning hasn't always been the case in Houston, though city teams did claim several Texas League titles, playing in the league from its establishment in 1888.
It wasn't until the early 1960s that a few men, led by Judge Roy Hofheinz, - pooled their money and resources to get a Houston team in the big leagues.
The Houston Colt .45s joined the New York Mets as National League expansion teams to start the 1962 season. The city scrambled to build a new, temporary park called Colt Stadium, and major league baseball was on its way in Houston.
It was a shaky start. Despite fielding a mixture of veterans and promising young players, such as Richard "Turk" Farrell, Jimmy Wynn, Rusty Staub, and Joe Morgan, the Colt .45s had losing seasons.
The Astros and the Astrodome
In 1965, the franchise would embark on a new identity, moving into a domed stadium, and taking a new nickname, both in tribute to Houston's connection to NASA. The new Astrodome became a drawing card for buying tickets to Houston Astros games.
People bought Houston Astros tickets to see this new indoor baseball, because winning was not a draw. It wasn't until 1969 that the Astros had a .500 season, and until 1972 that they could call themselves winners, with an 84-69 record.
In 1975, the team had another identity switch, breaking from traditional attire to uniforms with a bright color scheme of big, bold yellow, orange and red stripes. It was also the first year the Astros were not under the ownership of Judge Hofheinz. He sold the dome and the team to GE Credit and Ford Motor Credit, owners that were not willing to spend much money on players.
The result was more losing seasons. It wasn’t until the turn of the decade that things began looking up. That was when Dr. John McMullen, a shipping tycoon from New Jersey, agreed to purchase the Astros. It opened up the free agency market and put the Astros on the path to wins. Houston Astros tickets became more valuable.
The Astros picked up key players and embarked on a turnaround season. With José Cruz and Enos Cabell stealing 30 bases each, and Joe Niekro and J.R. Richard combining for 39 wins on the mound, Houston rolled to an 89-73 record, finishing just a half game back in the NL West.
1980s: Vying for a Pennant
The following year, 1980, the Astros would finally break down the playoff door. McMullen brought Joe Morgan back and made Texas native Nolan Ryan the first ever million-dollar player. Morgan had been traded away 15 years earlier, and now had a World Series reputation from the Cincinnati Reds. Ryan had had stellar seasons with the New York Mets and California Angels.
Ryan, Niekro, Richard and Ken Forsch made one of the best pitching staffs in the league, and a hard-hitting outfield led by Cruz and Cesar Cedeno produced the runs. The Astros finished 93-70 and won the NL West Division. But they ran into a hot Philadelphia Phillies team and lost the pennant 3-2.
The 1981 season was shortened by strike, but the Astros, behind the pitching of Ryan and Bob Knepper, qualified for the division round of postseason. There they faced off with the Los Angeles Dodgers and lost another 3-2 series.
The next four seasons, the Astros fell off pace, as many of the regulars were lost to trade, free agency and retirement. In 1986 season, Cy Young winner Mike Scott, along with the hitting of Cruz, Glenn Davis and Kevin Bass, paved the way to a 96-66 campaign and another West Division crown. But in the National League Championship Series, a back-and-forth duel, the decision came down to a 14-inning Game 6 rumble that the New York Mets won, 7-6 to clinch.
Playoff Drought and Run
The rest of the decade and well into the 1990s, the Astros would miss the playoffs. But along the way, they would pick up some impactful players, most notably Jeff Bagwell. He earned league Rookie of the Year for the 1991 season and league MVP honors in ’94.
Losing brought rumors of a move. But Texas businessman Drayton McLane, who was committed to keeping the Astros in Houston, bought the team. The team also retired the “rainbow” uniforms for more traditional wear.
By 1997 the Astros were back in the playoff picture. Behind the play of “The Killer Bs,” Bagwell, Craig Biggio, Derek Bell and Sean Berry, the team would mount a playoff run, making the postseason for six of the next nine seasons. But each of those years would be met with frustration.
In 2000 the team moved into the new Enron Field, renamed Minute Maid Park in 2002, after Enron went bankrupt.
The Astros did push past the division series in 2004 and ’05. Pitcher Andy Pettitte joined the team in ’04, and hurler Roger Clemens came out of retirement. With those two, and the heroics of Bagwell, Biggio, Lance Berkman and Jeff Kent, the Astros rolled up a 92-70 record and beat the Atlanta Braves in five games in the NLDS. But they fell short, four games to three, against the St. Louis Cardinals in the NLCS.
In 2005, the Astros brought the World Series to Texas for the first time. Stocked with pitchers Pettitte, Clemens and Roy Oswalt, who collected 20 wins, the Astros won a wild card berth on the final day of the regular season. They went on to defeat old rivals, the Braves in four games, and win the NL pennant over the Cards in six. But their foray into World Series territory was a bust – they were swept by the Chicago White Sox.
Back to the Drawing Board
It would be another decade before Houston made the postseason, and the interim was laced with change. Bagwell, Clemens and Pettitte all left, and Biggio got his 3,000th career hit before retiring in 2007.
There was change up top, too. The team’s ownership changed hands from McLane to Houston businessman Jim Crane, and part of deal was Crane agreeing to move the team to the American League in 2013.
In 2015, with the help of Cy Young winner Dallas Keuchel and Rookie of The Year Carlos Correa, the Astros went 86-76 and qualified for a wild card spot. They went on to eliminate the New York Yankees before losing the division series to the Kansas City Royals.
The 2017 season finally brought glory. Jose Altuve garnered the league MVP award, and Justin Verlander bolstered the pitching staff as the Astros marched to a 101-61 season, winning the division. In the postseason, Houston bounced the eastern powers - Boston Red Sox in four games, and the Yankees in seven. Then in the World Series matchup with their old NL rivals, the Los Angeles Dodgers, the Astros needed series MVP George Springer and seven games before bringing a world championship to Houston.
In 2018 the Astros topped their all time mark, going 103-59, and repeated as AL West Champions. But they came shy of a second straight pennant when the Red Sox stopped them in five games.
No doubt, the baseball team in Houston is at its peak, and tickets to Houston Astros games are cherished possessions more so than at any time in the city’s long history in this pastime.
Minute Maid Park Capacity: 41,168; Opened: 2000
Hits: Craig Biggio (3,060); Jeff Bagwell (2,314); Jose Cruz (1,937)
Home Runs: Jeff Bagwell (449); Lance Berkman (326); Craig Biggio (291)
RBIs: Jeff Bagwell (1,529); Craig Biggio (1,175); Lance Berkman (1,090)
Wins: Joe Niekro (144); Roy Oswalt (143); Larry Dierker (137)
Strikeouts: Nolan Ryan (1,866); Roy Oswalt (1,593); J.R. Richard (1,493)
Saves: Billy Wagner (225); Dave Smith (199); Brad Lidge (123)