Astros That Got Away

Had it not been for former owner John McMullen’s miserly 1988 mind freeze, Nolan Ryan was well on his way to going into the Hall of Fame as a Houston Astro.

Every club loses a few players that come back to bite them later every once in a while. Those are not the guys we are looking at today. The guys on this table are the ones the Astros lost to poor trading, owner bungling, or agent tenacity and the availability of direct and indirect advertising endorsement money in the big market baseball pastures of New York and Los Angeles.

Those are the one that sting forever – or so it seem.

Granted, this is my list – and it is truly the first edition of any listings along these lines I’ve ever attempted. Other whole franchise history – or otherwise emotionally-connected ardent researchers – might surely do such a table a little differently by expansion or contraction – but I still think there are a handful of names that would appear on all really thoughtful lists – and maybe that’s the true list of “the guys that got away” – by hook or crook – to the vagaries of bum dealing, bruised ego, and the color of money.

First of all, let’s look at the full list.

The Pecan Park Eagle Original List of

Houston Astros That Got Away:

SP Mike Cuellar 1969 Orioles 143 Post-Trade Wins
SP Curt Schilling 1992 Phillies 212 Post-Trade Wins
SP Nolan Ryan 1989 Rangers HOF as Ranger.
SP Darryl Kile 1998 Rockies 62 Post-Trade Wins
RP Billy Wagner 2004 Phillies 197 Post-Trade Saves.
RP Brad Lidge 2008 Phillies 102 Post-Trade Saves.
1B Rusty Staub 1969 Expos 17 Post-Trade Seasons.
2B Joe Morgan 1972 Reds HOF as Red.
OF Jimmy Wynn 1974 Dodgers Wynn got his Series.
OF C. Beltran 2005 Mets CBGBITI2017THTHAWTFWSC *

* “Carlos Beltran Got Back In Time In 2017 To Help The Houston Astros Win Their First World Series Championship.”

Now let’s take a closer look, top to bottom, and narrow it down where plausible. Players making our final cut will have a list number preceding their names. The number simply means they are on our final cut list. It carries no weight as to their importance in the comparative scheme of things. We’ll save that judgment for our rank order conclusion – again in the spirit that we may all disagree on this phase, even if 99% of us agree that these remaining few are our true “Astros That Saddened US all When They Got Away.”

1) Mike Cuellar. The Astros lost Mike Cuellar in a multiple player deal with the Orioles on December 4, 1968 that was mainly a “Pitcher Cuellar for first baseman Curt Blefary deal.” In short, Blrfary failed miserably while Cuellar went on to four 20+ win seasons for the O’s, two 18 win years, and one for 14 in the next seasons at Baltimore. – Ouch! Yes, Cuellar makes the final list. He was something at Houston prior to the deal. He was really something special for the O’s once he back east.

Curt Schilling. Schilling was a young nobody when Baltimore threw him into the pot of a big deal for Glenn Davis of the Astros on January 10, 1991. Reaching Houston with a 1-6 career record, the uncreative Astros used him as a reliever in 56 games in 1991 and he finished the year at 3-5 with an ERA of 3.81. The following year, on April 2, 1992, the Astros traded Schilling to the Phillies for Jason Grimsley. The Phillies used Schilling as a starter in 26 of his 42 games and Curt was to the races with a 14-11 mark and a 2.35 ERA. By career’s end, he would have 216 career wins and a few moments of blushing greatness –  a man whose talents could not be sniffed out by the talent appraisers and teachers in Houston during his brief stay. – Schilling didn’t really get away from the Astros. Those in charge never had him in a teachable situation.

2) Nolan Ryan. It still hurts bad. Following the 1988 season, then Astros owner John McMullen thought that Nolan Ryan should take a pay cut on his new contract. – WOW! – How unbrilliant could the man have been to the market value of Nolan Ryan to Houston fans and everything that one day would be leading up to his induction into the Hall of Fame? Ryan already had 273 wins and all of those appetizing gates ahead of him for the games he had left to get there. He was the all-time strikeout leader from Alvin, Texas – with five no-hitters on his record – and the last one coming as an Astro – plus, he was still a mighty big cog in the club’s drive for a championship – and the owner wants him to take a pay cut because he’s getting old? And how about the fan imagery of Nolan going into the HOF as the FIRST Houston Astro to be honored?

Forget about it.

You know the rest. Ryan signs with the Rangers. Picks up a grand total of 324 wins. Pads his career K stats # to 5,714. Adds to more no-hitters fora total of 7 no-no’s by his retirement – and then – THEN (Oh, Holy Mother of Al Mothers) – he goes into the Hall of Fame as a freakin’ Texas Ranger!

I hate stupidity. And this subject reeks of it.

Would you like hear my pick now for the biggest one that got away. – OK, I’ll hold back. Suspense is good.

Darryl Kile. Not sure what happened here. Sometimes it is simply time for a player to move on – and – even if the club could have used him during those years he was being productive elsewhere, Kile feels more like one of those “wasn’t meant to be” cases.

3) Billy Wagner. At the end of the 2003 season, Billy Wagner was publicly critical of owner Drayton McLane for not doing more to help the Astros’ drive for the playoffs. As a possible result, Wagner was traded away to Philadelphia with a lot of gas left in his closer tank, starting with the 2004 season.

Brad Lidge. Four years after Wagner, prior to the 2008 season, Brad Lidge became the second Astros closer traded to the Phillies in that short space in time. In Lidge’s case, he seemed to need the change of scenery from the place where he came down with a bad case of Pujolsitis in 2005. Some players find healing from a trade. Some teams find the start of healing in the departure of a traumatized player – even if he is a nice guy like Brad Lidge.

4) Rusty Staub. Lost to the Astros due to that stupidly initiated and politically amended for the sake of Montreal and Le Grand Orange, the Staub deal serves as one of the best examples of how unchecked power by the commissioner gets things done – and in ways that do not prevent the particular abuser from being inducted into the Hall of Fame later – and also by the same smiling idiots who stand by loyally in ready service to this kind of mindless numbskullery.

5) Joe Morgan. Along with the Staub deal, the other most famous Spec Richardson trade. In this case, another man who could have gone into the Hall of Fame as an Astro, Joe Morgan, gets to go into the Cooperstown shrine as a Cincinnati Red.

Jimmy Wynn. When Jimmy Wynn moved to the Dodgers in 1974, it was Jimmy’s big gain and the Astros big loss. Wynn got to play for a great manager, Walt Alston. He got to have a great season, batting .271 with 32 homers and 108 RBI for the NL pennant winning LA Dodgers and a chance to homer in the World Series. Jimmy was near the end of his career and the trade opened the door an opportunity that never would have come with the Astros of that period.

Carlos Beltran. Carlos Beltran played like a grounded baseball god during the short-time he played for the Astros during the 2004 NL Playoffs. Then, he and his agent, Scott Boras, took the crazy big money and moved to New York and the Mets in 2005 before going through several other clubs over the years before returning to the Astros to become a big part of our first World Series Championship in Houston in 2017.

We never lost Carlos Beltran in 2005 because we never had him. But we found him – because he came back to us in 2017.


Here’s my final version of the list, in order of their importance to me:

The Pecan Park Eagle Rank Order List of

Houston Astros That Got Away:

1) Nolan Ryan

2) Joe Morgan

3) Mike Cuellar

4) Rusty Staub

5) Billy Wagner


My thanks to Fred Soland for suggesting this topic. I had fun with it.

– Bill McCurdy


Bill McCurdy

Principal Writer, Editor, Publisher

The Pecan Park Eagle





6 Responses to “Astros That Got Away”

  1. shinerbock80 Says:

    In more recent years, I think you can certainly add JD Martinez, Johan Santana and Ben Zobrist.

  2. Fred Soland Says:


    Your list is a good one, but there are some more additions that must be made, especially since they are better than some on your list. I will also toss in a few who are not as good as those on your list, but worth a mention.

    Kenny Lofton – OF – HUGE mistake to let him go before he got a chance

    Mike Marshall – RP – Another great one that got away and went on to flourish as a closer in Montreal and Los Angeles

    Luis Gonzales – OF – Became a monster with the Dbacks.

    Ken Caminiti – 3B – Blossomed with the Padres

    Jeffrey Leonard – OF – Monster with the Giants

    John Mayberry – 1B – Big John was a stud for KC

    Jerry Reuss – LHP – Reuss pitched very well for Pittsburgh and Los Angeles after he left here early in his career.

    J D Martinez – OF – Wasn’t good enough to play for the Astros but has become a pretty solid power hitter about to hit a huge payday in free agency.

    Hunter Pence – OF – Has played well for Philadelphia and SF since his departure.

    These next two were not ever superstars, but were rock solid players for other teams after being traded in their infancy with the Astros:

    Jerry Grote – C – Mets. A gifted receiver with a decent bat.

    Cesar Geronimo – OF – Cincy’s BIg Red Machine CF

    I am sure there are probably a couple more I have missed, but these were the only ones that I could remember off the top of my head without researching. This topic is one I have stewed over for years.

    Lastly, I agree with you that if John McMullett (intentional misspelling) had not tried to force Ryan to take a pay cut, he would have been the first Astro player in the HOF.

  3. Bill McCurdy Says:

    Fred and Shinerbock80 – Great more recent suggestions. I had a few of these before my own criteria began to clarify within me and left a scratch on several, for one reason or another. Caminiti is the main example that occurs. Sadly, Cammy didn’t didn’t get away from the Astros. He got away from himself through both HGH and the powerful mind-altering drugs that eventually took his life. As a fan, I loved Caminiti. The core reason for his loss wouldn’t allow me to even tag him as one of those Astros who “got away.”

    Martinez, Santana, and Zobrist, on the other hand – now there are some guys that still haunt us as Astros that got away.

  4. Mark W Says:

    Jack Billingham – 115 post-trade wins, including 2 in World Series that led to rings; Dave Giusti – 140 post-trade saves, including one in a World Series that led to a ring; Manny Mota – 20 post-trade seasons including 2 World Series and a career .304/.355 slash line; Mike Hampton – 78 post-trade wins (including 7
    more with Houston again); Bobby Shantz – 15 post-trade wins and 17 post-trade saves; Larry Andersen – 16 post-trade saves. (wink wink); Phil Nevin – 12 post-trade seasons with 208 post-trade homers and a post-trade slash line of .274/.345/.480

  5. Mark W Says:

    BTW, in reference to the Phil Nevin matter, the Astros took Nevin with the number 1 overall pick in the 1992 MLB draft, bypassing a young infielder fiercely touted by Astros scout Hal Newhouser. In fact, Newhouser was so upset with the Astros for choosing Nevin over that young infielder that he quit his job with the Astros. That young infielder was a fellow named Derek Jeter.

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