Archive for the ‘Houston’ Category

The Astros Cap That Never Was

November 19, 2018

By Maxwell Kates

 

Writer Maxwell Kates

Earlier this month, I was standing in the Astros’ gift shop at Minute Maid Park waiting for a stadium tour to begin. Among other merchandise, they were selling every kind of Astros’ caps imaginable. Blue caps, gold caps, orange caps, World Series caps, caps shaded like the Texas flag. There were historic caps. Shooting star, tequila sunrise, Colt .45s. And that’s when two men asked me to identify a cap which appeared altogether new.

“Excuse me, Sir,” they asked.

“How may I help?”

“You look someone who works here.”

“No Sir, I don’t even work in this country. Are you here for the tour?”

“Well,” one of them answered, “it’s raining outside and our wives are looking at quilts all day, so …. yeah, that’s why we’re here.”

I soon discovered that one of the men was from Louisiana and the other was from Georgia. The Louisianan’s name was Norman LeBrun and I never did catch the Georgian’s name. They pointed me in the direction of a white cap with an orange crest and what appeared to be a three-dimensional letter A.

Phantom Astros Cap

“Have you ever seen one of these before?”

“No I’m afraid I haven’t.”

I was stumped but determined to understand what this cap was and why the Astros were selling it for $30.00 in their gift shop.

It turns out that the cap was designed to be worn by the Astros for the 1975 season but never actually introduced to the public for retail sale. Ten years prior, the Houston Colt .45s moved from mosquito-ridden Colt Stadium into the cavernous Harris County Domed Stadium. At the same time, the team changed its name to Astros. After experimenting with several cap styles in spring training 1965, the Astros settled on a blue cap with a white letter H on an orange star. The stadium, now known as the Astrodome, was dubbed ‘the eighth wonder of the world’ as team owner Judge Roy Hofheinz was lauded as a genius. Over two million spectators were lured by the charms of the Astrodome to watch a 9th place Astros team finish with a record of 65-97. After the 1970 season, by which time the Astros had failed to finish in the first division or surpass a record of .500, the team decided to invert their colour scheme. The caps were now orange with a white letter H on a blue star.

Larry Dierker Wearing 1974 Astros Uniform.

After contending briefly in 1972 (2nd place, 84-69), the Astros returned to mediocrity. Meanwhile, Judge Hofheinz’s financial empire had begun to crumble, pushing the team to the brink of bankruptcy. The Grand Huckster knew he had to adopt dynamic marketing if he wanted to bring the fans back to the Astrodome. The Astros turned to the New York-based advertising agency, McCann Erickson, to design a new uniform. The result was a radical design that sent shockwaves throughout baseball. Now the game looked remarkably different in 1975 than it had five years prior. Flannels had been replaced by polyester as the standard look of white at home and grey on the road could no longer be taken for granted. Rolling Stone writer Dan Epstein, who authored “Big Hair and Plastic Grass: A Funky Ride Through Baseball and America in the Swinging 1970s,” attributed the sartorial revolution to the advent of colour television:

“The explosion of color in major league uniforms was certainly related to the rise in popularity (and the decline in cost) of color televisions in the U.S.” Epstein continues “1972 was the first year that color TVs outsold their black-and-white counterparts; it was also the first year that color sets outnumbered black-and-whites in American households.” Even with the Oakland A’s clad in green and gold, the Atlanta Braves looking like Evel Knievel, and the Cleveland Indians dressed as Bloody Marys in spikes, the Astros still managed to turn heads with their new haberdashery in 1975.

The Astros unveiled a uniform with horizontal orange and yellow stripes spread across the sleeves and torso. It included an orange belt, white pants, and a “crotch-accentuating fashion choice…the player’s number was also affixed to the right front of the ensemble.”

Tom Griffin Modeling the 1975 Astros Prototype Uniform.

Now have a look at the uniform Astros’ pitcher Tom Griffin is wearing. Something appears unfamiliar, right? Look to the very top of the photograph. That was the cap that Norman and his Georgia pal were questioning. But what’s the story behind the cap? Gary Rollins, vice president of communications for the Astros, remembers:

“The original design had a white cap with an orange bill,” Rollins told Paul Lukas in 2017. “Now there was a country club just outside of Houston, in Atascocita, that had just come out with a logo, an ‘A’ with a star, that really looked neat. So I went in there and said ‘Can we buy that from you so we can use it on the uniform?’ They said ‘Buy it? Just give us the tickets and we’ll give the damn thing to you!”

Free publicity for a team that was virtually broke. It sounds like an offer the cash-strapped Astros could not have refused. So why did they?

A Houston Astros 1975 Program Cartoon Feature.

At the time, the Astros’ general manager was the unpopular and parsimonious H. B. ‘Spec’ Richardson. At the helm since 1968, Richardson managed to de-jewel a team on the cusp of contending. In a series of Hofheinz-engineered trades, he dispatched Mike Cuellar, Bob Aspromonte, Rusty Staub, John Mayberry, and most infamously, Joe Morgan, all for less than the sum of their parts. Rollins recalls Richardson’s reaction to the new avant-garde cap:

“No, Gary, we can’t do that. We have over 1,000 caps in storage that we’ve already bought for next season.” Consequently, the Astros retained their 1974 caps despite the otherwise dynamic change in their outward appearance. With some modifications to the original design, the Astros unveiled their rainbow uniforms on Opening Day 1975. The home and road uniforms were identical, as evidenced by the under-noted photograph of J. R. Richard pitching at Wrigley Field.

J. R. Richard, pitching in Chicago in 1975. ~ At home ~ or on the road, the same new uniform equally glowed.

Although Houston fans grew to appreciate the rainbow design, it was not without its objection. Dan Epstein derided the uniforms as “something…smacked of chain motel bedspread or 747 jumbo-jet upholstery.” To Los Angeles Dodgers’ pitcher Charlie Hough, a native of Honolulu, they looked “like Hawaiian softball uniforms.” Adding insult to injury, the new look did not help the Astros on the field. In 1975, they posted their worst record of the 20th century, 64-97, good for last place in the National League West. The ownership of the team would soon be assigned by a collection agency to Hofheinz’s creditors. By midseason, Spec Richardson was gone as general manager, replaced by Tal Smith of the New York Yankees.

As Smith told Paul Lukas, “…it was quite a change from the majestic pinstripes to the flashy rainbows. But I really liked the design.” Smith acknowledged the public relations issues faced by the Astros, insisting that “the uniform was an important step. The one thing I did not care for was the circle on the back of the jersey…I lobbied pretty hard to get that changed for the next season.”

1975 Astros Manager Preston Gomez studies the field as pitcher Doug Konieczny walks away. ~ (Notice how pitchers walking away in photos always make you think that something bad just happened?)

Also worth noting, as evidenced by the above photograph, is the number 40 in a black circle on manager Preston Gomez’ left shoulder. The patch was a memorial tribute to pitcher Don Wilson, who died of carbon monoxide poisoning in January 1975.

By 1979, the Astros had found a new owner in New Jersey shipbuilder John McMullen. The team contended with a record of 89-73 before signing Nolan Ryan to a free agent contract. The rainbow design remained unchanged but soon underwent several alterations. The Astros abandoned the orange caps in 1982 and scrapped the rainbow design altogether in 1986.

Nolan Ryan and Sandy Koufax, 1980.

Sometime around 2002, the Astros’ rainbow uniform design became popular within the ‘rapper’ culture. The Astros have since reintroduced the jerseys as alternates and they do indeed sell them at Minute Maid Park. More recently, the Astros understood that the prototype cap has become legendary amongst collectors. Hence their inclusion among gift shop merchandise.

To Norman LeBrun and your friend from Georgia, now you know the rest of the story.

Here’s a shot of two contemporary Astros (or should we say “temporary” Astros) wearing the rainbows in 2018. ~ Can you tell from this picture and our subtle single clue who they each might be?

 

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

Bill McCurdy

Principal Writer, Editor, Publisher

The Pecan Park Eagle

The Marwin G Rag

November 18, 2018

“Dear Mr. Luhnow ~ By now we fans figure you already know this, but it won’t cost anything to say it anyway to all of you analytic minds. ~ There aren’t any other Marwin Gonzalez types in the box with his name on it. Please, Please, Please, – Keep the one we got!”

 

One more time ~ and please note, I did not say one more last time ~ here is one powerful Tom Lehrer satire/parody, followed by a far more modest version of our own. ~ Have a nice Sunday, as we roll into Thanksgiving week. ~ and may God Bless us all, whether or not you accept God’s Blessings at all.

 

The Vatican Rag

By Tom Lehrer

(By Permission from “The God is Love” Essence

that now supports me and with no Malcontent

Blasphemy toward the Church That Raised me.)

First you get down on your knees,
Fiddle with your rosaries,
Bow your head with great respect,
And genuflect, genuflect, genuflect!

Do whatever steps you want, if
You have cleared them with the Pontiff.
Everybody say his own
Kyrie eleison,
Doin’ the Vatican Rag.

Get in line in that processional,
Step into that small confessional,
There, the guy who’s got religion’ll
Tell you if your sin’s original.
If it is, try playing it safer,
Drink the wine and chew the wafer,
Two, four, six, eight,
Time to transubstantiate!

So get down upon your knees,
Fiddle with your rosaries,
Bow your head with great respect,
And genuflect, genuflect, genuflect!

Make a cross on your abdomen,
When in Rome do like a Roman,
Ave Maria,
Gee it’s good to see ya,
Gettin’ ecstatic an’
Sorta dramatic an’
Doin’ the Vatican Rag!

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

The Marwin G Rag

By Satirical Circumstance 

First he gets down on his knees,
Does everything he can to please,
Bows his head ~ gets a crick in his neck,
Plus ~ deep respect, deep respect, deep respect!

Do whatever steps you want, Dear Marwin,
Outfield, Infield, Switch Hit the Far One.
All us fans ~ at game or home
Hope that you will never roam,
Doin’ the Marwin G Rag.

Get in line in Jeff’s confessional,
Ask him for the right concessional,
There, the guy who digs analytical,
Surely won’t yield to big stupidical
If he does, try playing it safer,
Pass on the wine ~ show Jeff your waiver,
Two, four, six, eight,
Time to RENEGOTIATE!

Stand up from your aching knees,
Then tell Jeff ~ “your time to please”,
Raise your eyes ~ in great respect,
And ~ crick his neck, crick his neck, crick his neck!

Make a cross on your abdomen,
When in Rome ~ do like a Roman,
Ave Maria,
Gee it’s good to see ya,
Gettin’ ecstatic an’
Sorta dramatic an’
Doin’ the Marvin G Rag!

We hope you STAY here!

Marwin ~ won’t you please stay ~ HOME?

 

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

Bill McCurdy

Principal Writer, Editor, Publisher

The Pecan Park Eagle

It Makes a Fellow Proud to be An Astro

November 16, 2018

“Ball Four” by Jim Bouton (1970)

At this week’s November 2018 meeting of the Larry Dierker SABR Chapter, Maxwell Kates did a fine presentation of his new book on MLB expansion and sharing credit with those who helped. Then he followed that nice accomplishment with a stimulating Q&A session with a panel of two former players from the Colt .45 days (Bob Aspromonte and Larry Dierker), plus, the most significant executive in the club’s long history, former GM and President Tal Smith. Slugger Jimmy Wynn was supposed to be there too, but a little DL time came up and yours truly was asked to sit in for him. ~ Well, I don’t have any trouble filling any chair these days on a literal basis, but my Pecan Park Eagle sandlot background was never any match for what Jimmy Wynn and the other guys named figuratively brought to the presence we needed here. I still, nevertheless. most humbly enjoyed knowing that I even had been asked on a fill-in basis. It was a lot of fun

The subject of Jim Bouton’s “Ball Four” book came up for its reference to the parody song that had been written about the spirit of the old 1969 club. It was called “It Makes a Fellow Proud to be an Astro” ~ and, as Larry Dierker explained, it was actually a parody of an original parody written by the genius talent of those days, a fellow named Tom Lehrer, who also was a math professor at MIT around the same time he was scorching everything sacred in western culture with his acerbic wit and talent for poetic symmetry. ~ What Lehrer did in many other areas ~ and with his original piece in this instance, “It Makes a Fellow Proud to be a Soldier,” left the “Astro version” seem tamer by comparison.

Here’s a link to how the original Lehrer piece sounded ~ in case you need to know the flow of the melody before you read the words to the Astros version ~ which follows thereafter. Can’t really verify who actually wrote the Astro version, but you may want ask Jim Bouton if he’s ever in town and you run into him at an Astros game.

There’s really nothing terrible about the Astro version. In fact, it’s quite creative in its own right. It just happens to contain (presumably) the one four-letter word that turns into four consecutive asterisks (****) faster than any other in the English language, but I don’t really know that because ~ I’ve never seen the Astro version in writing prior until now ~ nor have I ever it heard it explicated in any sung version.

If you are excessively prudish ~ or too young ~ or too old ~ it might be better, if you just didn’t pursue it any further. ~ There are other days and tamer subjects awaiting us all.

The rest of you ~ still living folks ~ filled with a sense of humor and some awareness of the characters referenced in the song ~ please just let go and dive right in. ~ Those close to the action cherished of all among you already understand the difference between a Buddy Hancken cranking ~ and a Big Mama spanking!

Just Let it be 1969 again ~ when the Astrodome was still a baby ~ as were all our hopes for that first Houston Astros World Series Championship. ~ Back then ~ Astros catcher Johnny Edwards might even have been able to break into a parody chorus from one of his name-cousin’s ~ singer Tommy Edwards’ ~ biggest hits:

“Many a beer has to fall ~ but it’s all ~ in the game,

All in that wonderful game ~ that we PLAY ~ with glove!”

OK, as promised ~ first ~ the Tom Lehrer Proud-To-Be-a-Soldier Version Link:

 

And finally ~ the written Astros version: 

It Makes a Fellow Proud to be An Astro

Now, the Astros are a team that likes to go out on the town,
We like to drink and fight and **** till curfew comes around
Then it’s time to make the trek,
We better be back to buddy’s check,
It makes a fellow proud to be an Astro.

Now, Edwards is our catcher and he’s really No. 1,
Dave Bristol said he drinks too much and calls some long home runs,
But we think John will be all right,
If we keep him in his room at night,
It makes a fellow proud to be an Astro.

Now, our pitching staff’s composed of guys who think they’re ‘pretty cool,’
With a case of Scotch, a greenie and an old beat-up whirlpool,
We’ll make the other hitters laugh,
Then calmly break their bats in half,
It makes a fellow proud to be an Astro.

Now, Harry Walker is the one that manages this crew,
He doesn’t like it when we drink and fight and smoke and screw,
But when we win our game each day,
Then what the **** can Harry say?
It makes a fellow proud to be an Astro.

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

Bill McCurdy

Principal Writer, Editor, Publisher

The Pecan Park Eagle

MY GREATEST DAY IN SABR

November 15, 2018

 

By Maxwell Kates

 

Maxwell Kates, Baseball Researcher and Writer

Some of you may remember a column in Baseball Digest by famed Chicago sportswriter John Carmichael entitled “My Greatest Day in Baseball.” Well today I’m going to write about “My Greatest Day in SABR.” I joined in 2001 and without a doubt, my greatest day was November 12, 2018. That was the day I was invited by the Larry Dierker Chapter to speak at a meeting at the Spaghetti Western Italian Cafe in Houston. We did a book launch of Time for Expansion Baseball, the SABR book I co-edited with Bill Nowlin. As part of the festivities, we also hosted a Colt .45s panel. Several readers of the Pecan Park Eagle were in attendance. For those of you who did not attend, I will now attempt to recreate the evening’s events to the best of my abilities.

ABOUT THE COVER

Time for Expansion Baseball

The cover image focuses on three illustrations. The first depicts Expos pitcher Bill Stoneman with Montreal mayor Jean Drapeau. Directly below it is an image of Kansas City Royals’ owner Ewing Kauffman watching a baseball game with his wife Muriel and fellow Missouri icon Stan Musial. Finally we see a photograph of Harry Craft, Bobby Shantz, Dick Farrell, Bob Aspromonte and their teammates on the 1962 Houston Colt .45s about to board an airplane in their cowboy uniforms. On the surface, the design is meant represent the symbiotic relationship between players, owners, and politicians as the driving forces behind expansion teams.

The collection of images also represents, to borrow the title of a Bill Brown book, “my baseball journey.” I grew up in Ottawa with the Montreal Expos and later, the Ottawa Lynx as their AAA club. Who could forget the sight of Georgia boy Tom Foley attempt to ice skate on the Rideau Canal as part of the Expos’ winter caravan? The Expos were my introduction to baseball. Meanwhile, Muriel Kauffman (nee McBrien) was born in Toronto into a prominent political family. The Toronto Transit Commission is located in the McBrien Building. Named after Muriel’s uncle, the building is situated across the street from my house. Toronto was my introduction to SABR. As for the third image, the project was completed with the assistance of 21 men and women from Houston. This included representatives of SABR, the Pecan Park Eagle, Tal Smith Enterprises, and the Astros. More on that later.

Brownie Has His Baseball Journey and I Had Mine.

THE COLT .45s PANEL

We were fortunate to have three Colt .45s players and one executive volunteer to appear as part of an expansion panel. When one of the players was unable to attend, a notable fan and historian was able to pinch-hit admirably. Please allow me to introduce the five members of the panel:

 

Bob Aspromonte
On April 10, 1962, among his several firsts, he scored the first run in franchise history as the Houston Colt .45s defeated the Chicago Cubs, 11-2, in their NL debut.

Born in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, New York, this first panelist broke in with the Dodgers in 1956 when he was only 18 years old. Drafted by the Houston Colt .45s in 1962, he became a fan favourite at 3rd base, setting a franchise record with 6 grand slams between 1962 and 1968. He retired in 1971 having returned to his hometown with the New York Mets. He was the Urban Cowboy while John Travolta was still in the third grade. Please welcome, number 14, Bob Aspromonte!

Hey Bob – He’s Wearing Your Uniform! (At least, your number.)
Yes, that’s right! That’s Gil Hodges wearing # 14 for the Mets.

We now travel to the opposite end of the country, to Hollywood, California. That’s where our next panelist is from. While still a teenager, he was signed to an amateur contract by the Houston Colt .45s. How would history have changed if he did not sign with Houston? He never would have struck out Willie Mays on his 18th birthday. He never would have pitched a no-hitter on Foamer Night. And most importantly, he never would have had a SABR chapter named after him. Please welcome, number 49, Larry Dierker!

Larry Dierker, who would later manage the Astros to 4 playoff runs in his 5 seasons as manager (1997-2001). Why not? This was the same guy that struck out Willie Mays in his 18th birthday MLB pitching debut.

Our next panelist comes from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. A graduate of Duke University, he entered the baseball world with the Cincinnati Reds. In 1960, he joined his mentor, Gabe Paul, to establish the new team in Houston. Except for two years in the mid 1970s, when he went to work for the Yankees, he’s been in Houston ever since. He actually built the team twice, the second as a general manager in 1975 when he didn’t even have an owner to speak of. Within five years, the Astros were within one game of a trip to the World Series. He was Major League Executive of the Year in 1980. Please welcome Tal Smith!

Houston GM Tal Smith with Manager Bill Virdon. Both were soft spoken gentlemen whose pursuits of excellence were relentless.

Our final panelist was born in Beeville, Texas. He grew up on the east side of Houston where he played sandlot baseball for the Pecan Park Eagles. A graduate of Tulane University, he has written two baseball biographies, one for Jerry Witte and the other for Jimmy Wynn. On August 25, 2018, he celebrated his surprise retirement party here at the Spaghetti Western. Among his gifts, the club used by his great grandfather, Liam McCurdy, in Ireland to slaughter the mythical sea serpent. Please welcome Bill McCurdy!

“I have only a quote from Clint Eastwood for all the serpents of this world and that’s ~ “Stay Off My Lawn!” ~ Dr. Bill McCurdy

Here is the introduction I had prepared for Jim Wynn. The other 24 may have been the “Say Hey Kid” but this # 24 was the Cincinnati Kid. Born in the Queen City, he was drafted from the Colt .45s by the Reds in 1963. Among the home runs he hit to earn the name ‘the Toy Cannon,’ a blast into Hudepohl Heaven above Crosley Field which landed on the street where he grew up. Three years later, in 1970, he hit another one which landed in the upper deck at the Astrodome. In 1974, he was traded to Los Angeles, where he led the Dodgers to their first National League pennant in eight years. He retired in 1977 as a member of the Milwaukee Brewers. Jim Wynn, ladies and gentlemen!

The Still Great Jimmy Wynn!
~ The Toy Cannon Forever! ~

TRIBUTE TO THE LARRY DIERKER CHAPTER

Many of you know that one of my favourite expressions is “our greatest hopes and our worst fears are seldom realized.” It was with those words that Jim McKay introduced the grim fate of the eleven Israeli athletes at the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich. Since my last visit to Houston in February 2017, the city realized both its worst fears and its greatest hopes, all within a ten week period. One common link between the two events is that both brought out the best in the community and gave Houston an opportunity to shine.

Early GM Paul Richards
“The Wizard of Waxahachie”

This Evening of Monday, November 12, 2018 …

Tonight is about a third event which brought out a much smaller segment within Houston. This book. And I’m thrilled to launch the book right here in Houston because more people from Houston contributed to the book than from any other city. I’d like to take this opportunity to introduce them all.

Mike Acosta, Bob Aspromonte, Bill Brown, Rick Bush, Wayne Chandler, Chris Chestnut, Larry Dierker, Bob Dorrill, Marsha Franty, Mickey Herskowitz, Jim Kreuz, Lori Leatherwood, Greg Lucas, Bill McCurdy, Dena Propis, Wayne Roberts, Tal Smith, Joe Thompson, Mike Vance, Mark Wernick, and Jim Wynn.

To that list I will add Lou DiScioli, Carl Ingram, Mike McCroskey, and Fred Soland for their contributions to the meeting, and Greg Randolph for his thoughtful gift of a 1980 Astros’ World Series press pin.

Mike Acosta and Mike Vance
~ Two of Houston’s most treasured social historians.

In Memoriam

In my ethnoculture, we are taught that even on the most joyous of occasions of weddings, bar mitzvahs, and perhaps book launches, it is important to remember those we have lost. For that reason, I have asked to pay tribute to two members of the Larry Dierker Chapter who have passed away in the last year. We lost Ralph Hackemack in May. While I never had the pleasure to meet the man, I know that he loved SABR and he loved every one of you. Shortly after I completed these slides, we also lost Bill Gilbert. Bill was the founder of the Larry Dierker Chapter and I think we can all agree that he was one of the nicest people we ever met. Ralph and Bill, ladies and gentlemen.

THE THREE STARS

In hockey, there are three stars to every game. Accordingly, I’d like to announce the three stars of the “Time for Expansion Baseball” project. One of the three is in this room tonight.

Colt .45s in the Clubhouse

The first star, of course, is my co-editor, Bill Nowlin. Bill and I first met at the SABR convention in Boston in 2002. I hope everyone here has a chance to work on a project with Bill. He has been an excellent mentor in this, my introduction to the production side of SABR literature. Bill designed the format and presented an opportunity both challenging and encouraging. Bill is an excellent teacher, allowing his “students” to make mistakes on their own while ensuring that they learn and recover.

The second star comes from Detroit and that’s Dwayne Labakas. One of the greatest obstacles to the production of this book was to obtain the rights to photographs from 14 different teams on a budget of $1,000.00. I’ve known Dwayne for 23 years and he stepped forwards to offer us the rights to any of the photos in his catalogue that we needed for the book. A lot of the photos in the book are Dwayne’s, including one of Bob Aspromonte.

Now for the third star and the one who is here tonight. Not only did he write a chapter of the book, provide interviews, and offer photographs, but he also participated in an expansion draft. For this, I’d like to call Tal Smith to the front of the room for a special presentation. Tal, I was in England this summer when I spotted a book at Waitstone’s in London. It’s a Libyan-Romanian fusion cook book from South Africa and when I saw it, I was reminded of you. Why not? It has your name written all over it. That’s right, the author’s name is Tal Smith. Mrs. Smith. Thanks and hope you enjoy the book.

No, Our Baseball Tal Smith does not have a daughter named Talicia, Talotta, or just plain Tal. This pictured Tal Smith is a female South African cookbook author and she is shown here with her husband, Russell. Both may someday hear of baseball for the first time by some random future contact by the always social and curious writer of this column, the one and only Maxwell Kates

“PROUD TO BE AN ASTRO”

The final question of the night was addressed to Larry Dierker and it was asked by the moderator of the panel. He credited Larry for his interest in the Astros, dating back to the time he was home from school sick at the age of 13. The boy’s father suggested that he read a book called “Ball Four.” His mother wasn’t so sure, rebutting with “David, don’t let him read that!” The only trouble is, I had already started to read. One of the funniest passages, in my opinion, was when author Jim Bouton chronicled a song the players were singing on the bus. The song was called “Proud to be an Astro” and it was written by Larry Dierker. I asked Larry to discuss the story behind the hit and suggested he even sing a few bars.

Larry Dierker with John D’Acquisto and Mike Caldwell, 1977.

Larry explained that he wrote a lot of song parodies. This particular one was a satire of “Proud to be a Soldier,” written by Tom Lehrer. In addition to a songsmith, Tom was a professor at MIT. The same way “Soldier” lampooned army life, Larry’s version compared playing for taskmaster Harry Walker to serving under the likes of Sgt. Merwin Toomey of “Biloxi Blues” fame.

What I had not counted on was being tricked by Larry into singing the song myself. Fortunately I had written a clean set of lyrics to avoid further embarrassment.

THE FINAL WORD

November 12, 2018 ~ The one and only Maxwell Kates ~ lifting the spirits of the Larry Dierker Chapter of SABR with his slide and panel presentation on MLB expansion and the Houston Colt .45s.

The state tree of Texas is the pecan.

The state motto of Texas is “friendship”

Thanks y’all.

 

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

Bill McCurdy

Principal Writer, Editor, Publisher

The Pecan Park Eagle

 

 

 

How Jimmy Wynn Got to LA in Dec. 1973

November 13, 2018

Last night I subbed for Jimmy Wynn on the November 2018 Larry Dierker Chapter SABR meeting panel that assembled to discuss the Colt .45s that included Bob Aspromonte, who scored the first run in franchise history on April 10, 1962 ~ among several other firsts; Larry Dierker, who struck out Willie Mays on his 18th birthday pitching debut of September 22, 1964; and Tal Smith, the man who directed the completion of the Astrodome in 1965 ~ and who then spent many years in service to the Houston franchise as a top-level executive who rose to general manager and president of the club; plus Jimmy Wynn, who could not make it this time for reasons of health. Enter yours truly ~ mostly to keep the empty chair company and less forlorn looking.

As Jimmy Wynn’s co-author on his biography, “The Toy Cannon,” I was asked what I thought Jimmy’s feelings were about his trade to the Dodgers  in exchange for pitcher Claude Osteen and a minor leaguer. prior to the 1974 season. I said that Jimmy felt fine about it ~ that the positive reception he received from the Dodgers, combined with his desire to get away from the time he spent under manager Harry Walker in Houston helped a lot. Since Walker already had been gone for a season and some part of another by this time, Jimmy still had never recovered from the feelings he had about Walker ~ and Walker’s permanent replacement, Leo Durocher, had not done much to help Jimmy’s full morale about the field leadership in Houston. Besides ~ nothing in sight would make hitting home runs easier in the Astrodome for Jimmy or any other guys who wanted to hit for power.

Wish I had remembered in time to express these issues in Jimmy’s exact words, and so, I will simply describe them here in my own. Only Jimmy Wynn can fully speak for himself in this matter:

That being said …. and as I see it ….

In “The Toy Cannon”, (Chapter 13, page 154) Jimmy Wynn recognizes that Astros GM  Spec Richardson knew that the Astros had no choice after 1973 but to have his approval as a 10/5 man on any trade ~ or else ~ risk losing all his trade value to free agency. And I will always believe that Jimmy had communicated these two major conditional factors to getting his approval for a trade to GM Richardson prior to the actual deal in these terms.

Jimmy’s two preferences on a trade ….

Jimmy wanted to be traded to either (1) a ball park where home run hitting was easier ~ or ~ (2) to a franchise that had a real chance to reach the World Series.

I will always believe that Jimmy made these two preferred conditions clear to the Astros prior to his actual trade to the Dodgers ~ But I also concede that only a GM with a rock for a brain could have failed to figure them out independently. Spec may have possessed a number of shortcomings as a GM, but he was far from being a rock on this one. He knew exactly what Jimmy wanted to see in this deal and he brought it home in his Dodgers or Cubs choice.

Deal # 1 would have put him in Wrigley Field as a Chicago Cub ~ for what players ~ we do not know. The other possibility ~ Deal # 2 ~ was to see Jimmy Wynn join the pennant-contending Los Angeles Dodgers.

Jimmy Wynn expressed his preference to the Astros for LA ~ where he simply blossomed as a popular power hitter who finally got to a World Series, ~ and where his gallant effort in a losing cause in 1974 there included a World Series home run.

After his last 1977 season, Jimmy Wynn returned to Houston ~ the city that had become his home ~ and found work with the only franchise that still owns his heart to this day ~ in spite of some earlier hard times with certain Houston managers ~ and his one great pennant winning season with the LA Dodgers.

Jimmy Wynn – forever will be ~ one of the hearts that makes up the Big Heart of the Houston Astros!

 

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

Bill McCurdy

Principal Writer, Editor, Publisher

The Pecan Park Eagle

Our 2019 Astros Starters

November 8, 2018

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2019 ASTROS STARTER #1 ~ Justin Verlander

Justin Verlander
Astros Ace Starter
Since 9/01/2017

“Justin, when you join the Astros, we want you to assume the position of that next picture we feature here of you as our new ace!” ~ GM Jeff Luhnow

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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2019 ASTROS STARTER #2 ~ Gerrit Cole

 

Gerrit Cole’s 

Still a hard-throwin’ soul!

He knows how to bring

S-T-R-I-K-E  3 !!!

 

 

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2019 ASTROS STARTER #3 ~ Colin McHugh (probably)

Beards eventually can edge their own way from the prospect-to-suspect status in a pitching rotation.

 

 

Barring unforeseen moves and events, it’s likely that Dallas Keuchel is gone in 2019. The sirens of money and an ego-driven desire to be the #1 guy again ~ somewhere ~ are likely now too loud to be ignored. And unless there’s another Gerrit Cole voice out there, as there was last year at Pittsburgh, and eager to board a seat on another hot Astros team, it looks likely we will opt to go with good old reliable Colin McHugh.

“Oh somewhere in this favored land ~ the people jump and shout.

But there is no joy in Keuchel’s Corner,

If the tattoo-man ~ cuts out!”

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2019 ASTROS STARTERS #s 4&5 ~ Charlie Morton (if he stays)

plus Josh James, Framber Valdez, et al.

 “When It Rains, It Pours!” Hope here is that we get to fill our last two spots with a grain of salt, but, if not, that we hit at least one of our young guys at the dawn of his real blossoming mark as an effective MLB starter. ~ If two come through ~ that’ll more than do.

 

 

 

 

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 One More Thought ….

To make any losses in the line of our rotation more tolerable, Astros, don’t let the Yankees ~ or anyone else ~ beat us to paying Marwin Gonzales what he’s worth to the goal of winning. Marwin’s value to this club’s chances of regaining the World Series title is that important as far as many of us are concerned ~ for whatever that’s worth ~ even if that barely registers in the minds of those making the professional, salaried decisions in these matters. We may not have all the cards available to us that are important in these decision-making matters ~ but neither are we as stupid as some of us make look either. ~ i.e. ~ KEEP MARWIN! ~ WIN ANOTHER WORLD SERIES IN 2019!

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Bill McCurdy

Principal Writer, Editor, Publisher

The Pecan Park Eagle

Best Wishes to LA and Sam Quintero

October 26, 2018

 

Happy Home Games, LA!

(To the tune of “Happy Birthday To You”)

 

Happy Home Games, LA!

Happy Home Games, LA!

Happy Home Games, Dear Los Angeles!

Please say something ~ to untangle us!

 

Confusion reigns ~ o’er belief!

As your fans near ~ great grief!

Three at home now ~ and you must win two!

Or it’s all o’er ~ for you!

 

Can you do it ~ LA friends?

Or are those smiles ~ merely spins?

On a deadly-damned situation,

From which there is ~ no extrication! *

 

* It’s about 12 hours shy of 10:00 PM CDT Friday as we pen these words of LA cheer. We should have something of a fast referendum on their accuracy by this time tonight.

Let’s just have some good baseball drama as we prepare to shut the door on serious field business again until 2019.

 

Happy Birthday, Sam Quintero!

Also, on a really important natal note ….

“Dear Daddy Sam, I couldn’t mail your card because the way I lick stamps doesn’t work. So, I asked Bill and he said it would be OK for me to send my wishes electronically here at TPPE. ~ Happy Birthday Dad! ~ You’ve sure made all the difference in my world by taking me home when I was younger and setting up the situation which has allowed us to take care of each other forever as family. We do the work, but our love for each other always supplies the energy. For all you do, I am ‘bow-wow” grateful!”
~ All My Puppy Love!
~ Perry Mason, the Shih Tzu Wonder Dog.

 

Happy Birthday to Our Good Friend and SABR Colleague, Sammy Quintero ~ today, October 26, 2018!

Sam turned ageless at the stroke of midnight earlier this morning! ~ Stay happy forever, our very good friend!

 

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Bill McCurdy

Principal Writer, Editor, Publisher

The Pecan Park Eagle

 

 

 

 

Serendipity in Astrodome Scoreboard Film Link

October 21, 2018

Chester Charge ~
Led the Momentum Storm of Support for the Houston Astros at their brand new 1965 Astrodome home.

None of who grew up with it will ever forget the gigantic animated scoreboard at the Astrodome that wrote the soundtrack to our game experience inside the great sports hall. As naive as we all were back in the 1960s to the changes that were coming our way via the computer, the Internet and social media over the course of the later 20th and early 21st centuries, it was impressive enough to us earlier ones that we had this little electronic cast of supportive animated characters that had come to life to boom and spread adrenalin-loaded smiles ~ and a winning attitude ~ to the faces and spirits of all Astro fans in the place ~ on any given game day.

No wonder the Astrodome so quickly came to be advertised and known as “The Eighth Wonder of the World.” It did ~ because it was ~ in 1965 ~ the most out-of-mind-and-body human way to experience a baseball game that the world had ever seen.

It also is a little serendipitous that I write these particular thoughts this morning. It was only yesterday that our good friend and wonderful Pecan Park Eagle article contributor, Maxwell Kates, sent me this link to a YouTube film that held so many of those wonderful animated moments. I knew immediately that I had to share it with al of you. It’s only 10-15 minutes in length, but that’s enough time to get a really good “inside the dome” look at that era, even as to how formally so many of the fans dressed back in the day.

My biggest surprise was a little more personal.

Laura Foster, UH Cheerleader, 1965
Married former UH football player Richard Kirtley in 1967
(I was in the wedding party ~ The Pecan Park Eagle.)

Suddenly I found myself looking at Laura Foster, a good friend, and the widow of another good friend and fraternity brother from an earlier period at UH, the late Dick Kirtley. In the clip, Laura was leading a rally for Cougar support on the sidelines as a UH Cheerleader. I was a member of the Richard and Laura Foster Kirtley wedding party in Friendswood during the summer of 1967.

A double-thanks, Max, for sending us this link. It’s especially important to me and some special people in my life, and we all thank you very much.

Plus, it’s simply a great ride through the precious-to-Houston early period of the Astrodome. And for that treasure, we wish to extend our thanks to people like Wayne Chandler, Tal Smith, Jimmy Wynn, and Larry Dierker. You are all special members of our baseball legacy gift from Judge Roy Hofheinz and the rest of the baseball gods.

Here’s the YouTube Link. And make sure you turn on the sound and expand the picture to “full screen” for the best way to experience this particular little travel back into another era of Houston baseball time.

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Bill McCurdy

Principal Writer, Editor, Publisher

The Pecan Park Eagle

 

ALCS Done ~ And Some Canine Fun

October 20, 2018

 

“Wish I Were With You Tonight!” ~ Babe McCurdy (1979) *

 

* Wish you were here tonight too, Babe!

As things played out in the ALCS 2018 Pennant Series over the past week, the Houston Astros lost to the better team over that period of time, the Boston Red Sox.

Here’s how our younger dog, a Poodle named Hope, and three of their neighborhood buds reacted this morning a short while after we asked our older dog, a Dachshund named Pluto, to break the news to his sister and the rest of them about Game 5’s bitter end last night to the Astros’ dream of repeating as World Champions in 2018.

“Yes, Pluto, the loss to Boston means the Astros won’t be going back to the World Series this year. Could you please help us find a way to break the news to your sister, Hope, and to your neighborhood buds who haven’t heard?”

 

“Mom and Dad! Help! Pluto’s teasing me! He says the Astros’ loss to the Red Sox means they are gone ~ and that, if they are gone, I’m gone too ~ because Dad always said that our hope goes wherever the Astros go!” ~ Hope McCurdy

 

“I’ll never be the same. And playing ball won’t be any fun either ~ not now, not for a long time. or maybe not even for forever ~ or even as late as next season ~ whichever comes first!” ~ Phideaux Faraday

 

“I tried to warn the young Houston couple who took me home from the shelter last winter in my native Chicago not to do it, if they were baseball fans, but they didn’t get my drift. My peeing all over their car tires was supposed to be a warning!” ~ Tinker E. Chance

 

“Bow! Wow! (All other words fail).” ~ Perry Mason

 

All is not lost, all of you human and canine caretakers of the game. Today was another day and tomorrow is yet another. Each one is taking us closer to spring training 2019 and the start of the next baseball season. In the meanwhile, we shall all just have to catch a piggy back ride on the fortunes and fates of the Red Sox and the one NL team, Dodgers or Brewers, that survives to face them in the 2018 World Series.

Our canine friends bear the real burden here. They are the ones left to keep looking for clearer ways to communicate with humans about their own thoughts and needs. All I know is ~ any canine custodian who doesn’t understand that big tongue slapping kiss in the face at the least expected times probably shouldn’t even be sharing quarters with a real live heathy, ready-to-love-you dog.

Either way, that’s probably something each Astros player could probably use right now from their own special animal ~ a great big tongue-splashing kiss in the face from their own dogs and these words from us fans:

Thank you, Astros, for another beautiful season of all out effort and baseball excitement. We love you! We still support you! And we shall never abandon you! Not if we are real Astro fans, and neither shall we ever leave you to face serious disappointment alone! ~ It’s like the old song says, “Our Love is Here To Stay!”

(And that’s as close as I shall ever come to a great big sloppy canine tongue love-kiss in the face for the great game of baseball. ~ I don’t kiss ballplayers on the mouth.)

 

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Bill McCurdy

Principal Writer, Editor, Publisher

The Pecan Park Eagle

 

Astros Win in Game 4 a Must

October 17, 2018

 

Charley Morton’s Salt?
When he reigns, zeroes pour.

 

It’s the early morning after ALCS Game Three and the collapse of the Astros at home in almost every imaginable way yesterday afternoon at Minute Maid Park.

What do you get when your now proclaimed closer comes into a game with the boys trailing 3-2 going into the 8th? You get two base runners; then you get two more by the HBP route; then you get a home run; and what’s the damage to the score as a result? The Red Sox get one run forced in by the second hit batter; then they get four more runs on a grand slam by Jackie Bradley, Jr. ~ and the famous shaking head words of closer Roberto Osuna that we’ve all heard before from countless others and shall surely continue to hear in every corner of baseball every time a pitcher ~ especially an alleged star ~ has a meltdown at a critical moment in the game.

“It was just one of those things! One of those bells that now and then rings! Just one of those things! And, hey! You know what? That is just one of those things. It’s pretty near the same thing the Astros did to the Red Sox in Game One with a 4-run spot in the 9th, converting a 3-2 Astros lead into a what appeared to be a 7-2 final score romp. This time, the Sox pasted their 5-run spot to their own 3-2 late lead ~ killing again hometown hope ~ and making this final score another blow-away mark of 8-2, visitors.

Charlie Morton needs to be on and the Astros need to win Game Four tonight. It’s not a mathematically “must win” situation, but the closest thing to it on the probability scale. An Astros loss tonight would mean that the Astros would then have to win all three of the possible games they have left with the Red Sox to take the AL pennant and advance to the World Series. And that would set up the following scenario:

If Boston wins Game 4 tonight, they lead Houston, 3 wins to 1, needing one more win.

Thursday @ MMP, Game 5: Astros must win behind Justin Verlander;

Friday: travel day

Saturday @ Fenway, Game 6: Astros must win behind a more relaxed Gerrit Cole;

Sunday @ Fenway, Game 7: Astros must win behind either the presumed starter, Dallas Keuchel, or possibly Lance McCullers, Jr. This one has several ways of getting ugly, now and next year, especially, if manager Hinch decides to not risk Keuchel and his “bad early run giveaway” syndrome with everything on the line. ~ And how much security is there that McCullers might come out with another night of low-in-the-dirt pitches that only get stopped by the backstop of the stadium.

Let’s hope Morton and the Astros can take Game Four ~ and we sure wouldn’t mind if one of the Astros big run-scoring innings could also come early for a change. a 5-run spot of their own in the first inning should be something of a support cushion to Morton that helped the situation. Our Astros starters have had to pitch all year in the hope that the Astros would get enough runs after they had been lifted to win the game. With a little more early run support, this team might have had two to three “20-game winners.”

At any rate, the next 24 hours will provide us with the real-time answers as to how dead or alive the Astros really are. Let’s hope for the best.

 

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Bill McCurdy

Principal Writer, Editor, Publisher

The Pecan Park Eagle