The Houston Astros are in Major League Baseball’s National League Central Division with the Chicago Cubs, Cincinnati Reds, Milwaukee Brewers, Pittsburgh Pirates, and St. Louis Cardinals.
The Astros play home games in Minute Maid Park, which is celebrating its tenth season this year. MMP is regularly recognized as one of the nicest baseball stadiums in the country. It has a maximum occupancy rate of 40,950.
The Astros are owned by Drayton McClane Jr. Ed Wade is the General Manager. Cecil Cooper is the team manager.
As the Houston Astros near their fiftieth year of existence (2009 is either their 47th or 44th season, depending on whether or not you count their time as the Houston Colt .45s), the best way to review their history is by dividing it into three eras.
The Roy Hofheinz Era
The expansion Houston Colt .45s started play in 1962. The Colt .45s were owned by Houston politician and visionary Roy Hofheinz. Hofheinz owned the team until 1975, when his two primary creditors, GE Credit and Ford Motor Credit, assumed control. The team became known as the Astros at the start of the 1965 season upon moving into the brand new Astrodome.
These Astros were never the best team in baseball, nor rarely the worst, but were often mired in mediocrity. During this era, the Astros produced such players as Joe Morgan, Larry Dierker, Jimmy Wynn, Rusty Staub, J.R. Richard, and Cesar Cedeno. And it was a Houston Astro, Bob Watson, who scored the one millionth run in major league history.
These teams were known for playing in the Astrodome, for being the first team to play on Astroturf, and for their colorful rainbow uniforms, which they started wearing in the 1975. The final months of the Astros 1969 season were chronicled by pitcher Jim Bouton in Ball Four.
The John McMullen Era
John McMullen purchased the Astros from Roy Hofheinz’s creditors during the 1979 season. That 1979 season was the best in team history. A rotation of J.R. Richard, Joe Niekro, and Ken Forsch got the Astros got off to a fast start and a ten-game July 4th lead over division rival Cincinnati Reds. The Astros missed out on the post-season however.
McMullen then made history by signing pitcher Nolan Ryan to baseball’s first million-dollar-a-year contract, and in 1980, despite the loss of J.R. Richard to a career-ending injury, the Astros made the playoffs for the first time in team history before losing in the National League Championship Series to the Philadelphia Phillies. Four of the five games in this best of five series went into extra innings.
The Astros made the playoffs in the strike-shortened 1981 playoffs, but would not return until the 1986 season. The 1986 Astros featured Cy Young Award winning pitcher Mike Scott who clinched the Astros a playoff spot by no-hitting the San Francisco Giants. But they lost in the playoffs to the eventual World Series winners, the New York Mets.
The Astros began turning over their roster at this point as McMullen tried cutting costs. He did restock the team’s minor league farm system, and it produced Ken Caminiti in 1987 and Craig Biggio in 1988. Team favorite Larry Andersen was traded to the Boston Red Sox during the 1990 season for minor leaguer Jeff Bagwell, and popular first baseman Glenn Davis was traded during that off-season to the Baltimore Orioles for Steve Finley, Pete Harnisch, and Curt Schilling.
The Astros were bad in 1991 and 1992, but featured a maturing everyday lineup of Jeff Bagwell, Craig Biggio, Ken Caminiti, Luis Gonzalez, and Steve Finley. This would be the primary lineup of the team purchased during the 1992 season by Drayton McLane.
The Drayton McLane Era
Behind this lineup, the Astros competed for the playoffs from 1994 to 1996, but always came up short. Caminiti, Finley, and Gonzalez were eventually traded, but behind Bagwell and Biggio and the pitching of Daryl Kile, Shane Reynolds, and Mike Hampton, the Astros returned to the playoffs in 1997. Kile left during that offseason, but Randy Johnson joined at the 1998 trade deadline as the team, under manager Larry Dierker, finished with the best record in team history before being eliminated in the first round of the playoffs. The Astros shut down the Astrodome in 1999 by losing in the first round of the playoffs.
They moved to Enron Field in 2000, and then returned to the playoffs in 2001. McLane signed free agents Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte before the 2004 season, and the team behind manager Phil Garner lost a thrilling seven-game NLCS to the St. Louis Cardinals. They took out the Cardinals in the 2005 playoffs to advance to their first ever World Series. But facing the Chicago White Sox, they were swept in four games.
The Astros have not returned to the playoffs. Craig Biggio and Jeff Bagwell retired, and Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte returned to the New York Yankees. The current squad features sluggers Lance Berkman and Carlos Lee and one of the game’s best pitchers in Roy Oswalt, but they lack talent at most other positions.
John Royal is an online sports columnist for the Houston Press. Read his coverage of the Houston Astros here.