Accidental Astros in Cooperstown

 

Maxwell Kates

 

By Maxwell Kates

 

Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio

The first player to wear an Astros cap on his plaque in Cooperstown was Craig Biggio, enshrined in 2015. The dependable 2nd baseman was joined in the Hall of Fame by his infield neighbour Jeff Bagwell two years later. Despite wearing Rangers and Reds caps on their plaques, respectively, Hall of Famers Nolan Ryan and Joe Morgan logged more service in Houston than in any other city. The article you are about to read features the other Astros in the Hall of Fame. The players all spent two years or less in Houston. In addition, you will read about an Astros’ coach, a manager, a scout, and an executive who are all in the Hall of Fame. This fraternity is known as ‘the Accidental Astros in Cooperstown.’

Nolan Ryan and Joe Morgan

PAT GILLICK

1937-

Position:                        Executive

Years in Houston:            1963 to 1974

Year of Induction:            2010

 

One of several former Orioles to follow Paul Richards from Baltimore to Houston, Pat Gillick joined the Colt .45s as the assistant director of scouting. Both the director of scouting and the director of player personnel were roles handled by Tal Smith:

“An incredible work ethic,” Smith remarked to Zachary Levine of the Houston Chronicle in 2010, “always looking for something somebody may not find or may not notice.” Gillick had been promoted to the role of Director of Scouting by 1974, when he followed Smith from Houston to the New York Yankees. While in Houston, Gillick’s major coup took place in 1967, when he relied on a bird dog scout in the Dominican Republic to sign an outfield prospect. The prospect’s name was Cesar Cedeno; the scout, Epifiano Guerrero. The Astros hired Guerrero as a scout who later worked alongside Gillick both with the Yankees and the Toronto Blue Jays, responsible for signing the multitude of Dominican players on both teams.

Gillick served as general manager for the Baltimore Orioles, Seattle Mariners, and Philadelphia Phillies as well as the Blue Jays. His teams earned a collective 11 playoff berths, including World Championships with the Blue Jays in 1992 and 1993 and the Phillies in 2008. He continues to serve as a consultant with the Phillies.

NELLIE FOX

1927-1975

Nellie Fox

Position:                        2nd base

Years in Houston:            1964 to 1965

Year of Induction:            1997

After the 1963 season, Colt .45s general manager Paul Richards acquired Nellie Fox, his 2nd baseman for four years in Chicago, in a trade for pitcher Jim Golden and outfielder Danny Murphy. Long before it became a hit record for the 1970s glam rock band Sweet, “Fox on the Run” became a familiar sight on the South Side of Chicago. Acquired from the Philadelphia Athletics in 1950, the speedy infielder was a 15 time All-Star, earning Most Valuable Player honours for the ‘Go-Go Sox’ in their pennant-winning season of 1959.

Fox played in 133 games for the Colt .45s in 1964, batting .265 and rapping 6 triples in 133 games. Reduced to part-time duty in 1965, Fox remained in Houston for one last season to tutor Joe Morgan how to play 2nd base. The first indoor baseball game was played on April 9, 1965, as the Astros hosted the Yankees to open the Astrodome. Nellie Fox’ pinch hit single in the bottom of the 12th proved to be the margin of victory, sending Jim Wynn home in a 2-1 decision.

Fox remained with the Astros as a coach until 1967 before moving to the Washington Senators’ organization. Sadly, Fox lost his battle with cancer in 1975, age 47.

ROBIN ROBERTS

1926-2010

Robin Roberts with Unknown Astros Pitcher *
——————
*Unknown only to Canadian tourists.

Position:                        Pitcher

Years in Houston:            1965 to 1966

Year of Induction:            1976

One of the most popular athletes in the history of the city of Philadelphia, Robin Roberts claimed 234 of his 286 victories in a Phillies uniform. He joined the Astros in August 1965 after pitching in parts of four seasons with the Orioles. Roberts enjoyed a renaissance after arriving in Houston. His first two decisions for the Astros were shutouts and was 5-2 with a stunning 1.89 ERA on ten starts in a Houston uniform.

Luck did not continue for Roberts and his newly reconstructed elbow in 1966. The Astros’ opening day starter posted a record of 3-5 through the 4th of July and was released. Roberts caught on briefly with the Chicago Cubs, tried to make a comeback in the Phillies’ farm system in 1967, and then called it a career.

While in Baltimore, Roberts advised a 19 year old righthanded pitcher that the key to his success was to “throw the hell out of the ball and go to sleep.” That young pitcher was Jim Palmer.

EDDIE MATHEWS

1931-2001

Eddie Mathews’ 500th Home Run

Position:                        3rd base

Years in Houston:            1967

Year of Induction:            1978

While Robin Roberts defeated the Braves in Boston, Milwaukee, and Atlanta, Eddie Mathews was the only player to have appeared for the team in all three cities. One of the few power hitting 3rd basemen of his era, Mathews was traded to Houston in 1966 with 493 home runs to his credit. He led the National League with 47 round trippers in 1953 and 46 in 1959, earning a World Series championship for ‘Bushville’ in 1957.

Hall of Famers rise to the occasion while facing other Hall of Famers. When the Brookfield Bomber faced the Dominican Dandy on July 14, 1967, he was sitting on 499 home runs. Neither Mathews nor his Astros teammates were wearing flowers in their hair during their visit to San Francisco in the ‘Summer of Love.’ After an errant mouse interrupted a Mathews plate appearance earlier in the game by running onto the field, he once again faced Juan Marichal in the 6th inning. With the Astros trailing 4-3 and two runners on base, he stroked the pitch over the right field fence for his milestone 500th home run.

Mathews’ days in a Houston uniform were numbered, as his contract was assigned to the Detroit Tigers on August 17. He retired after the 1968 season, but not before helping the Tigers to a World Series championship over the St. Louis Cardinals.

LEO DUROCHER

1905-1991

Leo Durocher

Position:                        Manager

Years in Houston:            1972 to 1973

Year of Induction:            1994

Contrary to general belief, Leo Durocher never actually said “nice guys finish last.” The original quotation, while managing the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1946, was “the nice guys are all over there, in seventh place.” Describing his crosstown rivals at Coogan’s Bluff, Leo the Lip would ultimately manage the Giants two years later, leading them to a World Series championship with his prize pupil, Willie Mays, in centre field.

Nearly two decades later, in 1972, Durocher was hired to manage in Houston after resigning from the Cubs at the All-Star break. After finishing in 2nd place to Cincinnati, the Astros were touting 1973 as ‘the Year of the Leo.’ Despite an early season injury to Larry Dierker, Durocher led his team to a respectable 29-22 record through May 31. That proved to be the high water mark. Durocher clashed with Don Wilson, Cesar Cedeno, and Marvin Miller. Before the season was over, Jerry Reuss had rechristened ‘Leo the Lip’ as ‘the Dummy in the Dugout.’ While the Astros did not finish last, off-years by most of the starters excluding Roger Metzger doomed the team to 4th place with a record of 82-80. Durocher would not be back in 1974.

Leo Durocher was suspended for the entire 1947 season amid allegations of “association with known gamblers.” Consequently, he did not expect to live to see his enshrinement in the Hall of Fame. Durocher was right. He died in 1991, three years before his induction day at Cooperstown.

DON SUTTON

1945-

Don Sutton

Position:                        Pitcher

Years in Houston:            1981 to 1982

Year of Induction:            1998

The Astros in 1980 won their first division title and battled the Phillies in a riveting National League Championship Series before losing in Game 5. Compounded with the gargantuan absence of J. R. Richard, the Astros needed a top quality starter to bolster their pitching rotation. They found that pitcher in free agent Don Sutton.

In fifteen seasons with the Los Angeles Dodgers, Sutton went 230-175 with 2,652 strikeouts, 156 complete games, 52 shutouts, and an ERA of 3.07. During his first year with the Astros in 1981, Sutton went 11-9 with a 2.60 ERA. Unfortunately, just when the Astros needed him most, he fell prey to the injury bug. During Sutton’s final start of the season at Dodger Stadium, a bunt by former teammate Jerry Reuss fractured his kneecap, sidelining him for the playoffs. Shortly after Sutton underwent successful surgery in Inglewood, the Astros lost Game 3 of the National League Championship Series to the Dodgers. They had a 2-0 lead in the best of 5 series, and would go on to lost the last two games.

The Astros never could get their act together in 1982 and in August, they traded Sutton to the contending Milwaukee Brewers for prospects Kevin Bass, Frank DiPino, and Mike Madden. Sutton earned his 300th win as a Brewer and after stops in Oakland and Anaheim, returned to the Dodgers for one final season in 1988.

HAL NEWHOUSER

1921-1998

Tom Seaver, Rollie Fingers. and Hal Newhouser

Position:                        Pitcher

Years in Houston:            1984 to 1992

Year of Induction:            1992

Newhouser, along with John Smoltz, are the only Hall of Famers born in Detroit. In his 17 year career as a left-handed pitcher, Newhouser went 207-150 with the Tigers and the Cleveland Indians, striking out 1,796 and posting a lifetime ERA of 3.06. After retiring as a player in 1955, Newhouser worked as a bank executive while scouting the Orioles, Indians, Tigers, and from 1984 to 1992, the Astros.

Newhouser scouted Milt Pappas and Dean Chance for the Orioles and Mike Marshall for the Tigers but perhaps was best known for the player his team refused to sign. In 1992, he became impressed by the glove, bat, and work ethic of a young shortstop he watched at Kalamazoo Central High School. His name was Derek Jeter. The Astros had the first overall pick in the June amateur draft and had narrowed their choice between Jeter and Phil Nevin.

“Hal Newhouser was about as firmly as committed on behalf of Derek as a scout could be,” remembers Astros’ scouting director Dan O’Brien Jr. “Ultimately, the Astros decided that Phil [Nevin] would be closer to the big leagues than Derek would be.” The Astros signed Nevin and Newhouser soon resigned.

As it turned out, both Nevin and Jeter broke into the major leagues in 1995. Can you imagine what kind of an infield the Astros would have boasted with Jeff Bagwell at 1st base, Craig Biggio at 2nd base, and Derek Jeter at shortstop?

YOGI BERRA

1925-2015

Dale and Yogi Berra

Position:                        Coach

Years in Houston:            1986 to 1989

Year of Induction:            1972

The Township of Montclair, New Jersey was well represented on the Yankees as they returned to the Bronx in 1976 after two years at Shea Stadium. Serving on George Steinbrenner’s board of directors was John McMullen, while a neighbour of his was added to Billy Martin’s coaching staff. That neighbour’s name was Lawrence Peter Berra. Yogi’s story as an All-Star catcher, three time Most Valuable Player, World Series regular, and Yoo-Hoo pitchman is well documented.

A decade later, both McMullen and Berra had resurfaced in Houston. McMullen had purchased the Astros in 1979 from Roy Hofheinz’ creditors. Berra, meanwhile, was added to new manager Hal Lanier’s coaching staff in time for the 1986 season. Berra had managed the Yankees to a commendable record of 87-75 in 1984, his first year as the skipper, but after losing 10 of their first 16 games in 1985, he was fired by George Steinbrenner.

Casey Stengel once described Berra as someone who could “fall in a sewer and come up with a gold watch.” Berra’s luck was evident in his first season with the Astros. They set a new team record with 96 wins, capturing the National League West division title. Berra was in uniform for the climactic Game 6 of the National League Championship Series, a game that quite literally wasn’t over until it was over. Although the 7-6 final score fell in favour of the Mets after 16 innings, Berra was back in 1987, joined by his son, Dale. Among Berra’s projects with the Astros, to develop a young prospect from Seton Hall into a top calibre catcher. You might have heard of him, Craig Biggio. At the end of the 1989 season, Berra decided to retire. It was finally over.

Yogi Berra and His Astro Protege

RANDY JOHNSON

1963-

Position:                        Pitcher

Years in Houston:            1998

Year of Induction:            2015

Houston Astros pitcher Randy Johnson, right, leaves the field with his teammates after beating the Philadelphia Phillies 9-0 Friday, Aug. 7, 1998, in Houston. Johnson gave up only five hits in his Astrodome debut. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip) (DAVID J. PHILLIP / AP)

The last and tallest member of the Accidental Astros in Cooperstown was left-handed pitcher Randy Johnson. Measuring 6’10”, Johnson broke in with the Montreal Expos in 1988 and was traded a year later to the Seattle Mariners. During his decade in the Emerald City, Johnson went 130-74, striking out 2,162 batters and posting a 3.42 ERA. ‘The Big Unit’ pitched a no-hitter in 1990 and in his Cy Young Award campaign of 1995, he led the junior circuit with 294 strikeouts and a 2.94 ERA, going 18-2 for a team that ‘refused to lose.’

Johnson was an impending free agent in 1998 and made it perfectly clear that he had no plans to resign with Seattle. At the 11th hour before the July 31 trading deadline, he accepted a deal that sent him to Houston for the lion’s share of the Astros’ prospects. Johnson was invincible in August and September. His record in 84 1/3 innings was 10-1 with 116 strikeouts, four shutouts, and a 1.28 ERA. The Astros reached the playoffs in 1997 but were swept by the Atlanta Braves in the National League Division Series. Much like the Don Sutton signing of 1981, the Astros had hoped that a trade for Johnson would augment their playoff bid. Unfortunately for the Astros, they lost to the Padres 3-1, including both of Johnson’s starts. Although he held San Diego to only three runs, that’s still two runs greater than the Astros scored.

Johnson signed his free agent bonanza with the Arizona Diamondbacks, leading them to a World Series championship in 2001. After stints with the Yankees and the Giants, Johnson retired from baseball in 2009. He walked away from the game with 303 victories and 4,875 strikeouts – more K’s than any pitcher not born in Refugio, Texas.

Here’s a question: Who struck out the most hitters of any pitcher never to play for the Astros?

Will Curt Schilling, Jeff Kent, or Miguel Tejada join the other Accidental Astros in Cooperstown in January? What about Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte, both local products who each pitched three seasons in a Houston uniform? Stay tuned. For further reading, check out the June 9, 2011 edition of the Pecan Park Eagle for “Houston Buffs of the Hall of Fame.”

Jody Davis (Not in the Hall of Fame)

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

… Thanks again for another wonderful article, Maxwell, and Happy New Year to All Our Great Neighbours ~ North and South of the Border Too! Now let’s all go out ~ in gratitude for all the good we do have ~ and try to make 2019 all the even better for things that did not turn out so well in our hands and hearts in 2018 ~ for ourselves, our family and dear friends ~ and all the the other fun and necessary playing fields of life that we take upon ourselves ~ some by choice ~ and so many more by necessity!

One day at a time, let’s just give 2019 all we’ve got ~ without waiting on any public box scores on how well we did. Most worthwhile goals don’t come with box scores anyway. They either register in our hearts or come again later in some other form to see if we are finally ready to get the point.

Love and Peace to One and All ~ Says the Spirit of The Pecan Park Eagle ~ and know this too ~ that if you have taken the time to read and feel all the Maxwellian energy that went into this latest Kates baseball essay, and all the other things we try to do here, that you have allowed our efforts to go even further than they could have gone without you.

We thank you for your support!

Kind regards,

The Pecan Park Eagle

 

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

Bill McCurdy

Principal Writer, Editor, Publisher

The Pecan Park Eagle

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One Response to “Accidental Astros in Cooperstown”

  1. maxwell1901 Says:

    This turned out rather well, thanks Bill

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