Yearbook Glimpse Into Astros 1982 Season

Yearbook Offers Glimpse Into Astros 1982 Season

By Maxwell Kates

 

“GETCHA YEEEEEAHBOOKS!”
– Maxwell Kates

 

Houston Colt .45s 1962 Yearbook

 

The vendor’s cry is a familiar one at venues throughout the major leagues like Fenway Park in Boston but for most of the Astros’ history, not in Houston. Although the Colt .45s engaged Jay Publishing Inc. to publish a yearbook in its expansion season of 1962, the publication was not repeated in 1963. When the yearbook returned in 1964, it was combined with the media guide in a pocket-sized booklet. The Houston Sports Association in 1965 published “Inside the Astrodome” which served as a yearbook for both the Astros and the Houston Oilers of the American Football League. Astrodome yearbooks were issued again in 1966, 1968, and 1972, but with sparse content about the Astros themselves. Although the photo albums issued by the Astros in the late 1970s are considered equivalent to yearbooks by many collectors, the next dedicated yearbook released by the Astros would have to wait until 1982.

 

Houston Astros 1980 Team Photo

 

Baseball in Houston was riding high in the early 1980s. After finishing in second place in the National League West with a record of 89-73 in 1979, the Astros went 93-70 to win their division title in 1980. For an encore, they won the ‘second half’ in the strike-shortened 1981 campaign. Fans attending Astros games became accustomed to large crowds to watch their team clad in an updated look to their rainbow uniforms. Half the crowd chanted “Houston!” during a rally while the other half responded with “Astros!” “Luv ya, orange!” soon replaced the Oilers’ “Luv ya, blue!” as a scoreboard slogan. The Houston Sports Association even commissioned local songwriter Mack Hayes to pen “Go Go Astros,” a team song in the ‘urban cowboy’ style that was popular at that time.

 

Harry M. Stevens
Ballpark Concessions Magnate

 

Following three successful seasons on the field, the Astros decided to reintroduce their yearbook in coordination with the 20th anniversary of the franchise. The club engaged Harry M. Stevens Inc. of New York to publish the 64 page magazine-size publication in full colour. Stevens’ contributions to baseball are worth noting. A British immigrant born in Derbyshire in 1856, Stevens founded the concession enterprise that bore his name in 1887. He designed the first modern baseball program, marketing it with a popular phrase he coined, “you can’t tell the players without a scorecard!” On a cold day at the Polo Grounds in 1901, Stevens decided to replace the sale of ice cream with dachshund sausages. When staff ran out of wax paper, he ordered the purchase of buns from a local bakery, and a culinary staple at baseball games was born. A cartoonist recording the event, unfamiliar with the spelling of ‘dachshund,’ decided instead to label it a ‘hot dog.’ Although Stevens died in 1934, the company that bore his name survived him by more than sixty years.

 

Houston Astros 1982 Yearbook

 

The title was “Astros ’82 Official Yearbook” and Nolan Ryan graced the cover. And why not? The Ryan Express had just completed a banner year in 1981, posting a record of 11-5 with 140 strikeouts while leading the junior circuit with a 1.69 ERA. On September 26 before a nationally televised audience on NBC, Ryan no-hit the Los Angeles Dodgers at the Astrodome, the fifth of his career. Besides which, Ryan was from nearby Alvin. Why not try to market the new yearbook by selling a Texas hero to a Houston crowd?

 

Deacon Jones
Houston Astros Coaching Staff, 1976-82

 

Manager Bill Virdon and all his coaches are profiled in the yearbook, as are owner John McMullen, general manager Al Rosen, and Bob Kennedy and Donald Davidson from the front office. The entire Opening Day 1982 roster is treated to photographs, biographies, and statistics supported by graphic designs evocative of the times. Besides Ryan, the pitching staff included Bob Knepper, Joe Niekro, Vern Ruhle, Joe Sambito, and future Hall of Famer Don Sutton.

 

Joe Niekro
-They didn’t call him Knuksie for no reason.

 

The yearbook featured a special double spread about the Astrodome, along with an article celebrating the first two decades of the franchise. You could order tickets by teletype – no website – the most expensive seats cost only $10.00, and there were even two twi-night doubleheaders built into the schedule. Among the events chronicled in the club’s history are Ken Johnson’s losing no-hitter in 1964, the first game at the Astrodome, the 24 inning marathon in 1968, and the emergence of star players such as Joe Morgan.

 

Phil Garner
Garner managed the Astros to their first World Series in 2005.

 

Position players are profiled in the second half of the yearbook. Among the stars featured in the Astros’ everyday lineup included Jose Cruz, Terry Puhl, new acquisition Ray Knight (an All-Star in ’82), local product Craig Reynolds, and future Astros managers Art Howe and Phil Garner. Prospects are profiled towards the end of the yearbook; players “to keep a watch on” included Billy Smith, Gordie Pladson, Bert Roberge, and Scott Loucks. A page is dedicated towards broadcasters Larry Dierker, DeWayne Staats, and Gene Elston, while the yearbook concludes with synopses of the playoff series in 1980 and 1981.

 

Ray Knight
During his brief Astro time, Knight was an All Star in 1982.

 

Alas, while Houston fans might have been “breathing orange fire” in 1982, the fervour in the stands did not translate to success on the field. The Astros flopped to a fifth place, 77-85 finish, twelve games behind the Atlanta Braves. Slow getting out of the gate, the Astros never recovered from an 8-12 April. Excluding Ray Knight (.294), none of the starting eight batted as high as .280. Most of the rotation pitched well although Bob Knepper posted disappointing numbers (5-15, 4.45 ERA) after earning an All-Star berth the year before. Joe Sambito was lost for most of the season due to Tommy John surgery, while J. R. Richard, recovering from a stroke suffered two years before, remained on the disabled list for the entire 1982 season – and had two more years on his contract yet. By the end of the season, Don Sutton was pitching in the World Series for Milwaukee, Bill Virdon was managing in Montreal, and the Astros had adopted an austere stance towards player development, dooming the franchise to mediocrity until winning its next division title in 1986.

 

Joe Sambito
Relief Italian Style!!

 

Not surprisingly, the Astros’ 1982 yearbook was not a commercial success. According to Houston-area hobbyist Chuck Swanlund, this was attributed to several factors. One was the level of play on the field. Per-game attendance had dropped by more than 5,000 as the Astros averaged 19,241 clicks of the turnstile for each home game. Fans were less likely to spend their discretionary income at Astros games as the Houston area felt the adverse affects of an oil shock that crippled the local economy. The yearbook cost $3.00. While the figure was not unreasonable (the Red Sox charged $3.50 for their 1982 yearbook), for fans used to spending $1.00 on a program, the yearbook was deemed an unnecessary expenditure. Finally, although most of the 1982 yearbooks were issued in massive quantities, the Astros printed a far more limited run.

 

Houston Astros 1981 Program

 

The yearbook was discontinued in 1983 and would not return to the Astros’ concessions for nearly a decade. Even then, the yearbook was issued only sporadically – including the memorable “35 Great Years” edition of 1999 – before becoming a permanent fixture at Minute Maid Park in 2003. Since 2009, the Astros have incorporated their yearbook as a section of the June edition of Gameday Magazine, including the 2017 season.

 

Houston Astros 1999 Yearbook

 

If you own a 1982 Astros yearbook, there is a good chance that you have enquired about its value. According to Kurt Backhaus, a vendor at Sports Fest ’98 in Philadelphia, the yearbook was difficult to find at that time, even in Houston. He was selling a copy for $50.00 and was the only vendor to bring one to the show. As was discussed at a memorabilia panel during the 2004 SABR Convention in Cincinnati, the advent of the Internet and eBay suggests that, excluding autographed items, what was once considered rare has become significantly less rare. Baseball card stores and shows of yesteryear have given way to the collector selling the inventory in his attic or basement. Consequently, the market has been flooded with memorabilia no longer understood to be scarce. There are four copies of the 1982 yearbook on eBay at this writing, ranging in price from $12.79 to $31.50. A rule of thumb to evaluate sports memorabilia, the principle of conservatism dictates that the lowest cost at which a product is sold suggests the most accurate value.

 

Craig Reynolds was a great “local boy makes good” story as an Astro.

 

One quarter century after the yearbook had been published, I was travelling in the Czech Republic when I received a letter from home, “The mailman wants to understand how you know Nolan Ryan.” The short answer is that I do not know Nolan Ryan. Cliff Clavin was delivering a parcel from the Nolan Ryan Foundation containing a copy of the 1982 Astros yearbook signed by Big Tex himself. All autographed items are accompanied by a hologram and a certificate of authenticity. Nolan Ryan continues to sign autographs several times a year in exchange for a donation to his Foundation, which is based in Round Rock, Texas.

 

The 1982 Houston Astros Broadcast Team. Larry Dierker, DeWayne Staats, and Gene Elston prepare for a broadcast between the Astros and the Chicago Cubs.

 

Baseball yearbooks offer a snapshot into the team, the players, and even the advertising of the time. The 1982 Astros yearbook offers a look back at the history of National League baseball in Houston while profiling each member of the contemporary club. The team failed to live up to its preseason expectations, particularly after reaching the postseason in the two previous years. Although the magazine was eschewed by Astrodome spectators at the time, it has become a popular collectible some 35 years later. I know exactly where my copy of the 1982 Astros yearbook is located.

 

Kates’ Copy of the Astros ’82 Yearbook Material Framed on the Kates Kitchen Wall.

 

Maxwell Kates

 

Thank you, Maxwell Kates, for another entertaining article.

– Bill McCurdy, Publisher, The Pecan Park Eagle

 

********************

Bill McCurdy

Principal Writer, Editor, Publisher

The Pecan Park Eagle

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