Oh Those Astros! Long time National league West rivals. A team that changed baseball with the installation of Astroturf in the 60’s. The first team to play in a dome. Those wacky uniform changes and rainbow color schemes. You can say this much about the Houston franchise, they were certainly different and innovative. They were a team that battled for doormat status in the early years of the NL West (with the Padres and Braves), but they also had some excellent players and eventually became a strong rival.
When the Astros came out sporting these tight rainbow duds in the mid seventies, none of us knew what to think. Granted, the 1970s had some ugly fashion, and we saw some shocking stuff, but these things took the cake. Heck the uniform number was on the crotch of the players practically.
|James Rodney Richard in the rainbow uniform|
|Jose Cruuuuuuz, Absolute Dodger killer. At least I thought he was until I looked it up. His numbers against L.A. were not substantially any better than against most other teams.|
Aside from the fashion statements that the Astros made, there was a time they were the toughest team we’d face in the National League. Jose Cruz (the first one) absolutely killed the Dodgers in clutch situations. Terry Puhl wasn’t far behind. Art Howe as a player, he broke our hearts in 1980.
It was October 6, 1980 and the Dodgers, being down 3 games in the standings with 3 to play had just finished off sweeping the Astros to force a one game playoff. This was one of the most dramatic series ever and the fans, serving as what Steve Garvey called “the 10th man,” were worked up in an absolute frenzy for the one game playoff at Dodger Stadium.
A four game sweep wasn’t to be as Dodger starter Dave Goltz was touched up allowing 4 runs in the first three innings. The damage was done by Astros 33 year old journeyman infielder Art Howe, who hit a two run homer and also singled with the bases loaded to drive in four runs. Houston defeated Los Angeles 7-1 behind a Joe Niekro 7 hitter.
As the Astros come to Dodger Stadium for the last time in a long time, I can’t deny the fact that this was a team that was a formidable opponent and legitimate division rival from the late 70s into the mid 80s.
Cesar Cedeno - a gold glove center fielder and constant lineup threat. Joe Sambito - a lights out closer. Nolan Ryan, he no-hit us in the ’81 championship season. Bob Watson, a feared hitter and clutch at that. 6' 7"James Rodney Richard, considered the most intimidating pitcher by many.
“We hated facing J.R. in my day,” said Dusty Baker in a 2010 interview with Hal McCoy of the Dayton Daily News. “He was throwing at about 50 feet. That’s where tall guys with leverage have such an advantage. You don’t have much time to react, make up your mind. A lot of guys came down with some mysterious injuries on the night that J.R. pitched.”
Mike Scott - kept Fernando from getting his second Cy Young Award. Alan Ashby - a solid catcher that handled that great pitching staff, who could hit too. Enos Cabell - an All Star caliber third baseman that always gave us fits. Don Sutton - left the Dodgers in ’81 for the comfortable confines of the pitcher friendly Astrodume.
Sutton, though a Dodger for 16 seasons had always had a longing to move to Texas. He felt that it was more suited for his country boy upbringing. Truth of the matter was that the Garvey-Sutton feud probably took its toll on him because after arriving in Houston, he realized that Southern California was the home he was most comfortable in and he demanded a trade to the Angels. The Dodgers were not an option to Sutton at the time with Garvey still on the roster. Sutton only lasted a season and a half in an Astros uniform before being dealt away to Milwaukee.
There were transactions with the Astros. Jimmy Wynn for Claude Osteen in the ’73 off-season. The Toy Cannon lifted the Dodgers to the 1974 Pennant and was an MVP candidate while Osteen went 9-9 in Houston before closing out his career with other ballclubs. Former Dodger/Astro/Red second baseman Rafael Landestoy - who Al Campanis wanted back so bad that he traded an up and coming reliever for him that could have solved the Dodger closer dilemma for years. (The player traded? John Franco with 424 lifetime saves and 0 as a Dodger). A few years later the Dodgers snatched up Astro players Enos Cabell and Phil Garner in pennant stretch runs at trade deadlines. Neither worked out so well.
Houston has been a franchise beset with tragedy. Don Wilson, All Star pitcher from the 70s died at a young age of a mysterious circumstances that to this day are uncertain. Cesar Cedeno, involved in legal troubles with the death of his then girlfriend in a Santo Domingo hotel of a gunshot wound. J.R. Richard, tragically having his career end by a stroke at the age of 30.
There were the close calls with the Houston Astros coming within an eyelash of the World Series in '80 and '86. Then came the 90s, the duo of Bagwell and Biggio. They were legitimate stars and players of Hall of Fame quality. In 2005, they reached the World Series, after 44 years in the league. The 2004 and 2005 Houston clubs were well built teams and in the top rung of the National League.
Now as the Astros have fallen upon difficulties the last few years, they are a young team with some up and coming players. Now on a 4 game winning streak, the Astros seem to be hitting their stride just at the wrong time for the Dodgers.
Let me just add one thing. The Houston Astros fan base.
I have a strong friendship with a few Houston fans. Both are Texas natives. One worked with me for a number of years and was my carpool partner to work when I commuted to San Jose, CA. I'd always complain about the Maroon 5 CD she played over and over again. She got sick of the Steely Dan CDs I would play (as if that was actually possible). Letty, had transplanted to California for work, but didn't leave her Texas loyalties behind. We both shared one unifying sports loyalty - out dislike of the San Francisco Giants.
When I was sent to Houston on a work detail six or seven years ago. Letty's brother Evers picked me up and took me to Minute Maid Park where he proudly showed me his ballpark. We went to the Crawford Boxes and attempted to shag batting practice homers. He showed me the best concessions for food. He helped me at the gift shop picking out an Astros hat.
During the 7th inning he heartedly sang "Deep In The Heart of Texas" with the crowd. I must say, it was an unforgettable experience and the hospitality was above reproach.
|Minute Maid Park in Houston is so much better when the roof is open. The fans, as hospitable as any that I have ever encountered.|
Everyone I was introduced to was more than kind. You can't dislike that fan base. Those I experienced were all class. I was impressed.
When the Dodgers play the Astros, email messages are sent my way from Letty. They are good natured, tactful, humorous and in the spirit of fair play. Classy, kind of like the Houston Astros franchise has been over the years. As much as I dislike astroturf, indoor baseball, and multi colored uniforms, I can't dislike that franchise. Their departure to the Junior Circuit has just given me a team to root for in that league. Good luck Houston! Well, after Sunday's game of course.