Posts Tagged ‘Houston Colt .45s’

Famous Last Astro-Words

June 23, 2011

Former Houston GM Paul Richards

This first quote is not exactly famous, but it should be, and maybe, someday, it will be. A group of us were talking at dinner a couple of nights ago prior to the Tuesday, June 21st, meeting of SABR, the Society for American Baseball Research. The general subject was this terrible 2010 Houston Astros club, a team now well on its way to the first 100-loss season in franchise history. That’s when somber member Harold Jones, not intending to be funny, offered the best one-liner that any of us have heard, so far, on why this is a tough club to watch.

“It’s not the Astros’ bad record that makes watching them play ball so tough;” Jones offered, “it’s the fact that it takes them so long to lose.”

Of course, Harold is pristinely right. The 2010 Astros don’t just get blown away in the first inning and never come back. They keep it close, most of the time, until the game is turned over to the pen in the late innings. Then it’s exactly as things unfolded the very night that Harold Jones made his sanguine observation. The Astros led the Rangers in Arlington, 4-2, but Texas tied it up late and then won it dramatically on a walk-off homer in the bottom of the 10th.

It hurts to lose like that. In many ways, this season would be easier to bear if fans didn’t have to watch so many games slipping away late due to bad relief pitching or missed slugging opportunities with men on base. As Harold Jones said, the Astros just take too long to lose. They dangle hope on a string, sometimes even closing the slack to only a one-run deficit at the end, but, in the end, they mostly do what bad clubs do. – They find a way to lose. – The 2010 Astros are a cheap-working club of AAA, at best, rookies, affordable journeymen, two pretty good outfield stars, two or three excellent rookie prospects, and one gargantuanly over-paid veteran who simply needs to eat up the extra full season that remains on his contract and go away. For now, they remain the only club we have – the club that takes too long to lose.

Speaking of other famous last Astro words, we only have to look back a week or so to manager Brad Mills to find another great quote. According to Mills, the firing of popular pitching coach Brad Arnsberg was due to “philosophical differences” and the skipper wasn’t lying. He simply wasn’t explaining the details that have leaked out anyway since then. They boil down to a simple point of crisis between the two men – one in which manager Mills was sure to win the “Battle of the Brads” with pitching coach Arnsberg.

Arnsberg believed in staying with his starters as long as possible, a pattern of thought still shared by some fairly successful managers, like fairly recent Astros skipper Larry Dierker – especially on a club with the least reliable relief staff in the majors. Mills, on the other hand, apparently lives closer to the “Captain Hook” side of things and is more inclined to pull a starer when he smells trouble or tiredness.

The difference between the two men apparently had never been resolved.It finally came to a head in the start that Wandy Rodriguez made early last week. In brief, Mills wanted Wandy out of the game; Arnsberg wanted to leave Wandy in. Arnsberg balked on the order to remove Wandy and Mills then fired Arnsberg for this specific expression of philosophical difference – which he had a right to do, whether you agree with him – or not.

That’s baseball.

Speaking of even more recent quotes, Astros third baseman Chris Johnson spoke with all the authority of one who understands probability after last night’s rally-win over the angers in the ninth inning last night. After pinch hitter Matt Downs cracked a two-run homer to cap a four-run rally and 5-3 win over the Texas Rangers, Chris Johnson summed it up well with these words: “We knew we were going to hit another home run this season.”

Thanks for the optimism, Chris. With 86 games left for the Astros to play in 2010, some of us fans were not quite as sure.

We could go all day on famously remembered last Astro-Words, but, at the end of the day, my favorites would still have to be these offerings from the great icon of all Houston sportswriters, the sanguinely wonderful and funny Mickey Herskowitz:

(1) MH’s first visual impression of the Astrodome upon approaching the structure in a car in 1965: “It looks like a giant underarm deodorant stick that has been buried, heads up, in the ground.”

(2) MH’s observation on the original installation of zippered-together sections of Astroturf on the Dome surface infield: “Now Houston has the only infield in baseball with its own built-in, infield fly.”

(3) MH, quoting an angry Paul Richards on the latter’s reaction to his firing as the Houston General Manager by club owner Judge Roy Hofheinz:

Mickey Herskowitz: “Try to let it go, Paul. Sometimes the Judge is his own worst enemy.”

Paul Richards: “Not while I’m alive, he’s not.”



Some Firsts in Colt .45 History

March 14, 2011

Some "firsts" performed by the nearly anonymous.

Thanks to Bob Hulsey for planting these bees under my bonnet – and thanks also to Bob for supplying The Pecan Park Eagle with his personal Colt .45 notes and those of Gene Elston, the iconic broadcaster and Ford Frick Award winner who was there to see it all happen as well or better than any other figure in Houston MLB franchise history back in the spring of 1962.

Forty-nine years ago, in early to mid March 1962, the brand new Colt .45s took the field in spring training at Apache Junction, Arizona as the first game representatives of Houston in the major leagues. Bob Hulsey’s materials served as a nudge that, while we have done a good job posting all the “regular season official firsts”  from April 10, 1962, the date of the Houston Colt .45s’ Opening Day debut in the National League with an 11-2 win over the Chicago Cubs at Colt Stadium, but not much on capturing the actual firsts from exhibition game play.

This report doesn’t catch them all, but here are a handful of firsts from earliest play that we need to note, or footnote, for Houston baseball game action posterity (and thanks to the notes of Bob Hulsey and Gene Elston on all accounts):

First Game: March 10, 1962; The Colt .45s visit the Los Angeles Angels for a game in Palm Springs, California.

First Starting Lineup: March 10, 1962: (1) Al Heist, cf; (2) Bob Lillis, 2b; (3) Norm Larker, 1b; (4) Roman Mejias, rf; (5) Jim Pendleton, lf; (6) Merritt Ranew, c; (7) Don Buddin, ss; (8) Bob Aspromonte, 3b; (9) Bob Bruce, p.

First Run: March 10, 1962; Bob Aspromonte scores on an error by Marlan Coughtry.

First Hit: March 10, 1962; Roman Mejias singles off Eli Grba. Mejias goes 3 for 4 on the day, with a double that may have been the first extra base hit in franchise history but I would have to see a box score or full game report to accurately report that accomplishment as a fact.

First Team Loss: March 10, 1962; Colt .45’s lose to the Angels, 7-3; first starter Bob Bruce takes the first club pitching loss.

First Home Run: March 11, 1962; In a second game, 8-7 loss to the Angels at Palm Springs, Jim McDaniels blast a three-run home run for the first long ball in franchise history. With 13 hits, it probably also is Houston’s first double-digit hit game, but, again, box score confirmation is needed.

First AB for Rusty Staub: March 12, 1962; back at Geronimo Park in Apache Junction for their first home game, the Colt .45’s lose for the third straight time in their brief history, dropping a 6-1 decision to the San Francisco Giants. Taking over for starter and loser Ken Johnson, Dean Stone becomes the first franchise reliever in history to pitch three perfect innings, retiring all nine men he faces. Rusty Staub strikes out swinging as a pinch hitter in the fourth inning of his professional debut.

Scored 1st team winning run.


First Team Win: March 13, 1962; Houston travels to Tucson, Arizona to pick up their first victory as a major club, a 2-1 win over the Cleveland Indians.

First Pitching Win: March 13, 1962; Starter Jim Umbricht earns the first win in franchise history, helping his own cause with an RBI single in the second inning.

First Team Winning Run & RBI: March 13, 1962, with Jim Pendleton on second base in the third inning, a god of anonymity named Jack Waters singled up the middle to provide what would prove to be the winning run in a 2-1 first ever victory for the Colt .45s over the Indians. Journeyman major leaguer Jim Pendleton scored the first winning run in franchise history and journeyman minor leaguer Jack Waters provided the first game-winning RBI in Houston major league ball.

Jim Pendleton would go on to play often as the left fielder for the 1962 Colt .45’s, batting .248 in 117 game appearances before finishing his career as a Colt .45 minor leaguer in 1963. Pendleton batted .255 for eight seasons (1953-1959, 1962) as a big leaguer and  .293 as a minor leaguer over ten years of ball he played variously for teams below the majors from 1949 through 1963.

Jack Waters ran through a less blessed baseball field of dreams over the years, but his eventual fate matched Pendleton’s retirement after the 1963 season. Waters simply never got a major league at bat in one of the regular season games. Waters batted .279 for twelve seasons (1952-1963) in the minors. His .268 BA with 12 home runs as a BR/TR outfielder for the last 1961 Buffs club helped him get the spring training opportunity with the Colt .45’s the next spring, but his age and lack of impressive productivity in camp eventually got him demoted to the fate of  finishing out his career as a minor leaguer in 1962 and 1963.

At least, Jack Waters can now look back and still know that time will never erase his one major accomplishment in baseball, even if its value has no cash translation. Once upon a time, Jack Waters knocked in the first winning run in Houston major league baseball history. Back then, anything you could do to show that winning baseball existed as a possibility for Houston was important to the fans, even in those early and almost always forgettable early exhibition games, and Jack Waters was the first Colt .45  to pull the trigger on that hope.

As a member of the 1961 Buffs, I only remember Waters now as a non-flashy, unremarkable, but steady guy. It was enough to get him a spin and no one can ever take away from the man that short-lived stroke up the middle that makes Jack Waters today a forever footnote in team history. I would love to show you his picture, but Jack Waters didn’t stay here long enough to leave much of a visual impression that he had ever even been to Houston.

Good day, Jack Waters, wherever you are!

The 1963 All Rookie Colt .45 Lineup Game

November 18, 2010

The Colt .45s' All-Rookie Team Back row: Brock Davis (LF), Aaron Pointer (RF), Jimmy Wynn (CF) Middle row: Glenn Vaughan (3B), Sonny Jackson (SS), Joe Morgan (2B), Rusty Staub (1B) Front row: Jay Dahl (P), Jerry Grote (C) (c) Houston Astros

In late 1963, the two-year old Houston MLB franchise found itself in a position that would become even more familiar as the years of trying to field a winner grew in numbers. Late September in Houston is deep into football season. A baseball club that’s finishing near the bottom doesn’t draw very well at the gate against the competition from professional, college, high school, and kiddie game football in the State of Texas as the clock ticks closer and closer to October.

So, in what seemed like a good promotional idea to pique the interest of the curious fans, and maybe give people a glimpse of better days to come, the Houston Colt .45s decided to promote a game on September 27, 1963 that would feature an all rookie starting lineup against the club’s even more hapless expansion club brothers, the New York Mets.

The starting lineup for Houston read like this: (1) Sonny Jackson, SS; (2) Joe Morgan, 2B;  (3) Jimmy Wynn, CF; (4) Rusty Staub, 1B; (5) Aaron Pointer, RF; (6) Brock Davis, (LF); (7) Glen Vaughan, 3B; (8) Jerry Grote, C; & (9) Jay Dahl, P.

Six other rookies would also enter the game before Carl Warwick broke the theme in the bottom of the 8th at old Colt Stadium in a pinch-hitting role as the first veteran player to enter the game.

It was a fun experiment, but the major hopes for victory and a big crowd got snuffed out pretty early. Only 5.802 fans showed up to watch as New York jumped to an 8-0 lead through the first three innings. The Mets won the game by a final score of 10-3.

For an account of how the game played its way to the door, let’s go back and follow the action through the eyes and words of Houston’s greatest sportswriter. Here’s how Mickey Herskowitz covered the game for the Houston Post:

Mets Wallop Colt Rookie Lineup, 10-3
by Mickey Herskowitz
Houston Post, Saturday, September 28, 1963

Houston’s team of tomorrow found the going rather rough in the here and now Friday night. The New York Mets, the big bullies, whomped them, 10-3, in the opener of the season’s final series at Colt Stadium.

As promised, Manager Harry Craft started an all rookie line-up, and he stuck by it through thin and thinner. Fifteen Colts saw service before a non-rookie, Carl Warwick, entered the game as a pinch hitter in the eighth. The Mets took advantage of Houston’s youth, as the saying goes, to pound five pitchers for 15 hits and make life easy for Lefty Al Jackson.

Carl Warwick: 1st vet in game as 8th Inning pinch hitter.

Nevertheless, the night was an historic one for the Colt .45s.

Chunky Jay Dahl, a 17-year-old southpaw from California, became the youngest pitcher to start a game in the majors since Joe Nuxhall made his wartime debut for the Redlegs in 1945, at 16. Von McDaniel was a mature gentleman of 18 when he made headlines for the Cardinals in 1957, fresh out of high school in Oklahoma.

Dahl, the first of three rookie southpaws to perform for the .45s, gave his all, and the Mets took it. They scored three in the second — with the help of two errors — and five more in the third, strafing Dahl and Danny Coombs for seven hits. That gave New York an 8-0 lead at the end of three, and a crowd of 5,802 faithful Colt fans settled back to a long, quiet evening.

One of the highlights of the game came in the next inning, when the Mets seemed headed for another big rally. But with runners at second and third and one out, Lefty Joe Hoerner struck out Tim Harkness, and the crowd appreciated it. They cheered loudly, and a moment later the inning was over.

You could forgive the Colt rookies if they were a bit jittery Friday night. Five of them had never played pro ball before this year, and three of them were starting for the first time in a major league game, sort of. It may be stretching a point to say that Dahl had a major league lineup behind him. And if you wanted to be unkind — and why not? — you could say it was doubtful that he had one facing him.

The Colts started their greenhorn squad for the novelty of it, and out of curiosity, and just possibly for the sake of a little publicity. There was no reason to be disappointed, except, that this ended Houston’s four-game winning streak.

Ol’ Casey Stengel didn’t exactly play fair. He started his best pitcher, Jackson, who is even tough on adults. Al wasn’t at his sharpest Friday night, but the Colts could do little with the several chances they had.

Joe Morgan Tripled in 9th.

Jackson gave up 11 hits, and at least one Colt reached base in every blessed inning. But he struck out eight, and Houston left 12 bodies on base. Al more or less coasted to his 13th victory against 17 defeats. Rusty Staub scored the first Colt run in the fourth and drove in the second an inning later, and then Joe Morgan tripled home the last one in the ninth. There were .45s at first and third when Jackson retired the next three hitters to end the game.

Jim Wynn and Aaron Pointer were the only Houston starters old enough to vote Friday night. When the rookie Colt pitchers got in trouble it was Staub who walked over to give them a comforting word, as befits a veteran of 19.

Dahl, Coombs and Hoerner — all southpaws — went the first six innings, before rookie right-hander Jim Dickson came on. Dick Drott pitched the ninth, giving up the final Met run. Hoerner, 24, and up from San Antonio, did a fine job in his three-inning chore, blanking the Mets on two hits and striking out two.

The average age of the Houston team that took the field Friday night was 19 years and four months, a fact that has been rather widely advertised. So it was duly noted in the press box that when Rod Kanehl replaced Frank Thomas in left field in the eighth, it lowered the Met average to 32 years and four months.

The fact that the Colt rookies failed to win did not exactly ruin the night. They provided some sort of thrill on almost every play as typified by Brock Davis in left field. He overran one base hit and dropped a fly ball for an error, then made two spectacular catches, one facing the wall in left center and another into the Houston bullpen.

So the Colts still need one victory to surpass last year’s total, and they send Don Nottebart after it Saturday at 1:30 PM against New York’s Craig Anderson.


Thank you, Mike McCroskey, for suggesting this game as a great subject for this column.

My Biggest Astros Homer, All Time

October 7, 2010

Chris Burke, 10/09/05:Erasing Agony, Embracing Ecstasy.

Of all the big home runs in major league history, every club has at least one that stands alone among all others. Although we could argue that fans of a team like the New York Yankees might have more trouble than most deciding which home run truly stands alone as their club’s finest long ball moment. After all, Babe Ruth to Bucky Dent to Aaron Boone covers a lot of arguable territory.

For this Astros fan, the pick was pretty simple. With no disrespect intended for my good friend Jimmy Wynn, or for Jeff Bagwell, Roman Mejiias, Billy Hatcher, Lance Berkman, Brad Ausmus, or others, I  had to go with the big home run by the little man who almost wasn’t there – and who wasn’t there for long while he was there, and who likely never will be there again – with the Astros or any other big league club.

I’m talking about Chris Burke, the little 2005 second baseman for the Astros who hit that solo home run in the bottom of the 18th at Minute Maid Park to give Houston a 7-6 series-deciding win over Atlanta in the NLDS finale, a victory that ultimately propelled the club to its first and only World Series appearance.

When “Little Chris” Burke lifted that fly ball into the Crawford Boxes in left field, the emotionally and physically exhausted home crowd momentarily had to rally against the forces of incredulity that oh so briefly halted the roar of relief that then followed. It was simply hard for us Astros fans to believe that the day that once had seemed so lost had now been so decisively delivered in the name of victory.

But it happened. It really did. And the man whose name we shall always remember in association with that moment of joy is Burke – Chris Burke.

Five years later, Chris Burke is now little more than an after-thought among professional ball players. After a poor offensive season in 2007, the Astros dealt Burke to Arizona, where there, and then at San Diego, he continued to struggle and fall into minor league play. Burke signed a minor league contract with the Reds in the winter of 2009, but then broke a finger came along and took away the 2010 season.

We wish Chris Burke well in whatever he does from here with this thought in mind up front: Whatever happens next, Chris, Astros fans will never forget what you did for the club back on October 9, 2005.

For me, even if others care to argue differently, your bottom of the 18th home run to defeat the Atlanta Braves in the 2005 NLDS was the singularly biggest home run moment in the history of the Houston Astros MLB franchise.


“Toy Cannon” Publication Date is Oct. 8

September 25, 2010

“Toy Cannon: The Autobiography of Baseball’s Jimmy Wynn” by Jimmy Wynn with Bill McCurdy is scheduled for release by McFarland Publishing Company on October 8, 2010. The book is available now for pre-order copies, or on Kindle, through Amazon.Com, Barnes & Noble, and all other national retail outlets. No schedule has yet been established, but Jimmy Wynn will be available locally in Houston and elsewhere this fall for book signings at a variety of retail outlets that will be carrying this very honest and full life story of a great Houston Colt .45/Astro icon.

When Jimmy asked me to work with him as a supportive co-author on this project, back on Father’s Day 2008, I was equally thrilled and humbled by the invitation. The story had to be Jimmy’s, told in Jimmy’s words, but it had to deal with all the significant events of his life, not merely his many accomplishments on the field. That was the task we embraced together. In the process, Jimmy Wynn’s wisdom from his personal experience came pouring through on tape.

As we are hoping you will see for yourselves, Jimmy Wynn proved up to the task. Told in the first person point of view, Jimmy takes us through what his life was like growing up in Cincinnati, how he came to be signed by his hometown Reds, how he quickly came over to the new Colt .45s in a minor deal, how he survived his initiation into the big time at the hands of “The Dalton Gang”, Turk Farrell and Jim Owens, and how he fared in the hands of managers in Houston like Harry Walker and Leo Durocher.

Specifically, Jimmy also gives us a good long look at some of the life lessons that came for him the hard way through marriage and life on the road back in the “old days”, along with a strong eye witness view on what it was like to be there as a player during the salad days of the Astrodome, playing with guys like Joe Morgan, Don Wilson, Larry Dierker, Cesar Cedeno, and others.

The story also covers Jimmy’s personal account of the 1967 home run race he barely lost to Hank Aaron in 1967 and his personal view on the major long balls he hit in Cincinnati and Pittsburgh, plus a very powerfully moving story of his last home run in the major leagues. That one is not as well known, but it needs to be. It came in Yankee Stadium on Opening Day, 1977. We’ll save the rest. The story is Jimmy’s to tell.

There are too many people to thank here for the fine production we think this book will prove to be over time, but we thank everyone appropriately in the book. We especially do wish to thank our friend Mickey Herskowitz here, both for his support and advice, and his fact-check reading of the manuscript, plus the wonderful Sumner Hunnewell for his design and development of the important Index feature, along with some significant help of his own on fact-ckecking. Finally, and more than a little, we also want to thank the entire staff of McFarland Publishing for transforming the editorial and production phases of “The Toy Cannon” into a process for making the book a sharper, more clearly told story.

If you are interested, here’s a link to the Amazon information page on ordering. Jimmy Wynn and I will be grateful to any support you care to give our project.

Thank you.

Bob Bruce: Houston’s 1st Big League Winner.

May 14, 2010

In 1964, Bob Bruce was Houston's 1st 15-Game Big League Winner.

Things weren’t easy during the three season life span of this city’s first major league club, the Houston Colt .45s. We had a local team made up of names from the 1961 expansion draft and a few fresh rookie snares, plus some veteran free agent players acquired in minor deals. and a few wannabe guys, most of whom never saw the light of day wearing the orange and deep navy blue of the new big league club.

One of the jewels in the early talent lot was a right-handed pitcher named Bob Bruce, whom the Colt .45s acquired from the Detroit Tigers. The 6’3″, 195 pound 29-year old turned out to be the most effective double-digit game winner in the club’s early history.

In 1962, when Houston finished 8th in an undivided 10-team National League, only besting the Chicago Cubs and the fellow expansion bunch at New York called the Mets, Bob Bruce hit the club record books as the first pitcher to register double-digit wins and a winning record in a single season. His 10-9 mark with  4.06 ERA and 135 strikeouts in 1962 did it for Bruce.

Teammate Dick Farrell also had ten wins in 1962, but he also picked up twenty losses along the way, a feat which prompted this proud explanation from the colorful guy they also called Turk: “Do you realize how good I had to be to keep going out there often enough to have lost 20 games in one year?”

Bruce fell off to 5-9 with a 3.59 ERA in 1963, but in 1964, in their third and final year to dress out as the Colt .45s, he came roaring back to become the first 15-game winner in franchise history, posting a season mark of 15 wins, 9 losses, an ERA of only 2.76 in 202.1 innings pitched – and another good year for “Ks” with 135 recorded again.

Bruce pitched two more years as a “Houston Astro” (1965-66), but he had run out of big-win seasons. His combined record for two Astrodome seasons was 12-31. Bob moved over to Atlanta in 1967 where he registered a 2-3 record for his last season in baseball.

Happy Birthday, Bob! Bob Bruce turns 77 on May 16 and he is still going strong in real estate.

All tolled, Bob Bruce worked a nine-season major league career (1959-67) into a final record of 49-71 and a fine 3.85 ERA over his 1,122.1 total innings. He played for Detroit (1959-61), Houston (1962-66), and Atlanta (1967).

A good fastball, an effective curve, and good control also allowed Bob Bruce to finish with 733 strikeouts against only 340 walks. During his Colt .45 years, Bruce was the guy who gave Houston fans rare hope for victory every time he took the mound. As one of those fans, I will always be grateful to him for that infusion of sunshine into our early big league community baseball spirit.

As a minor leaguer for eight years (1953-67), Bob Bruce also compiled a record of 76-55 and an ERA of 3.33 over several scattered seasons.

Happy Birthday, Bob Bruce! And thanks again the memories.

For those of you wanting to catch up on Bob Bruce today, or maybe even shop for some real estate in the Hill Country, check out Bob on Facebook. I’m sure he would be most glad to hear from you.

The Buffs-Colts-Astros Player Chain.

March 26, 2010

Dave Giusti, P

Aaron Pointer, OF

Ron Davis, OF

If this idea catches on, we may soon be able to use an adaptation of the “Seven Degrees from Kevin Bacon” movie actor test to determine which Astros players are closest to the only three pioneering baseballers who each played for the minor league Houston Buffs and also for the major League Colt .45s and Houston Astros during the specific years the big league club was nicknamed differently. These three Houston big leaguers included successful major league pitcher Dave Giusti and two barely-made-it, short-time outfielders, Aaron Pointer and Ron Davis.

If you are unfamiliar with the Kevin Bacon test, it goes like this. A few years ago, when the Internet Movie Data Base first went online, actor Kevin Bacon was used as the contemporary actor goal line for seeing how quickly players could link other actors, especially from the old days, by the fewest number of links in roles played with other movie performers to Bacon, The theory and game killer rule was that anyone should be able to make the connection between Kevin Bacon and, say, John Barrymore in seven links (degrees) or fewer. Otherwise, you lose.  The link trace here might go something like this: Craig Biggio played with Billy Doran (1 degree) who played with Terry Puhl (2 degrees) who played with Bob Watson (3 degrees) who played with Ron Davis (4 degrees), one of our all-Houston-clubs trio. Maybe there’s an even shorter route to Davis, Pointer, or Giusti that you will find.

Here’s a quick sketch of the Buffs-Colts-Astros Player Chain Trifecta!

(1) Dave Giusti went 2-0 with a 3.00 ERA in his only three games for the 1961 Buffs. He then went 2-3 with the 1962 and 1964 Colt .45s and 45-50 with the 1965-68 Astros before moving on for a long run at Pittsburgh and a closing year split between Oakland the Cubs, Over his full major league career, Dave Giusti compiled a career record of 100 wins, 93 losses, and ERA of 3.60.

(2) Aaron Pointer will always be remembered best as the little brother of the famous Pointer Sisters singing group. After that, Aaron was a 3 for 8 (.375) hitter in four games for the 1961 Buffs and a .208 career hitter in a 40-game, three season big league career as an outfielder for both the 1963 Colt .45s and 1966-67 Astros.

(3) Ron Davis bit .179 in eleven games for the 1961 Houston Buffs before going on to bat .214 in seven games for the 1962 Houston Colt. 45s. Davis completed his Houston baseball nickname trilogy by batting .247 and .256 for the 1966 and 1967 Houston Astros. Over his total five seasons in the big leagues (1962, 1966-69), Ron Davis batted .233 with 10 HR. Sadly, he passed away in 1992.

There is also a shorter, more numerous player chain link between Houston’s minor league and major league histories. The following men either played for or managed both the last 1961 Houston Buffs club and the first 1962 Houston Colt .45s major league team. Except for three aforementioned players, The rest of these guys never completed the trilogy trip as Astros, but these men did each participate officially in both Houston’s last minor league season and first major league season. Aaron Davis is not listed here because he did not make his Colt .45 debut until the second year, 1963 big league season:

Last Buffs/First Colt .45s Club ~ “The Magnificent Seven”

(1) Pidge Browne, 1B: Buffs 1956-57, 1959, 1961; Colt .45s 1962.

(2) Jim Campbell, C: Buffs 1961; Colt .45s 1962-63.

(3) Harry Craft, Manager: Buffs 1961; Colt .45s 1962-64. *

(4) Ron Davis, OF: Buffs 1961; Colt .45s 1962; Astros 1966-67.

(5) Dave Giusti, P: Buffs 1961; Colt .45s 1962, 1964; Astros 1965-68.

(6) J.C. Hartman, SS: Buffs 1961; Colt .45s 1962-63.

(7) Dave Roberts, OF-1B: Buffs 1961; Colt .45s 1962; Astros 1966-67.

* NOTE: Harry Craft took over as the fourth and final manager of the last 1961 Buffs team. Craft was replaced in mid-season by Luman Harris as manager of the 1964 Colt .45s.

Presuming our research is accurate in this matter, we could find no Houston Buffs who jumped over the experience of playing for the Colt .45s to later play for the renamed (1965 or later) Astros. Old Buffs had to play their way through the Colt .45 years and only three of them survived the four-year gap (1961-65) to surface again as Astros – and only one of these former Buffs, Dave Giusti, actually thrived as a major leaguer.

Have a nice weekend, everybody, and take my advice on this one. Give yourselves a little break from small detailed baseball research questions that are the psychological equivalent of blind-stitching or sewing up Nike shoes in Jakarta.

I’ll catch you later. I’m off to the walking track now.

Opening Day Marks from 1962.

March 15, 2010

Bobby Shantz's Houston career lasted 20.2 innings.

With Opening Day of the Astros 2010 baseball season coming at us now, as always for me, like an overdue passenger train bearing a long-lost love or prodigal son, I am also always reminded of our first Houston occasion in the big leagues back in 1962. The club set records on April 10. 1962 that will last forever because they were each and all of them the first times we had done anything as a brand new member of the National League. Let’s run through a few on the going-in knowledge that we will not cover the whole first picture show.

Lefty Bobby Shantz (5’6″, 142 lbs.) started and finished the first game ever pitched for Houston in the big leagues. He threw the first pitch, a curving called strike to Chicago Cubs lead-off batter Lou Brock. That action alone exemplifies the improbability that we could possibly cover all the firsts of this of this special Opening Day in old Colt Stadium. Shantz’s first pitch, per se, was also the first pitch ever made by a Houston hurler to a future member of the Hall of Fame, in an afternoon scheduled outdoors game, on an early spring day it wasn’t raining, snowing, or Sunday in the State of Texas! Now that we have disposed of some sillier first-time niches, let’s cover most of the ones that count.

Aspro got the first-ever Houston hit and run.

Third baseman Bob Aspromonte led off the 1962 opener as the first Houston batter in major league history. he proceeded to whack the first hit, the first single, and score the first run in franchise history. In between his first hit and run, Bob had to become our first baserunner too. He stopped only long enough to register the first stolen base in Houston MLB history.

Right fielder Roman Mejias became the first Houston batter to hit a big league homer on Opening Day 1962. In fact, he also became the first Houston batter to hit two homers in an Opening Day game, or any other kind of game, for that matter.

Catcher Hal smith became the first man to hit a double and the second separate player to homer for Houston. Center fielder Al Spangler became the first Houston batter to triple an and second baseman Joey Amalfitano clocked in as the first Houston batter to be hit by a pitch.

Ernie Banks of the Cubs became the first opponent batter to homer off the Astros and, since, Bobby Shantz was busy throwing the first complete game in Houston history, he got to be the first franchise pitcher to surrender an official home run too.

Mejias hit .286 with 24 HR in 1962.

Reliever Turk Farrell became the first Houston reliever to warm up and not be put in the game as Bobby Shantz hung in there to surrender only five hits in pitching the first complete game in Houston MLB history.

The club records also were resplendently established on Opening Day 1962. Had they not continued to play, the 11-2 Colt .45 victory over the Cubs on April 10, 1962 had the club on pace to average double-digit runs in their official games. That would have been a mighty record, had the Colt .45s been able to sustain it over time as their version of “Mission Impossible.”

Bob Aspromonte and Roman Mejias became the first two Houston players to collect three hits each in a game back on Opening Day 1962. By going 3 for 4 while Mejias went 3 for 5, Aspromonte’s resultant batting average of .750 is the highest mark in team annals for career to date, if only for a day.

Catcher Hal Smith and second baseman Joey Amalfitano committed the first two fielding errors in club history. I am not sure which error came first. I am only sure that these two were far from our last miscues in the field and elsewhere.

Oh well, the 2010 Opening Day train will be here soon and there’s someone aboard we are each hoping to see again. Will it be the long lost love of our first Houston World Series hopes? Or will it be the prodigal son of the long ago lost pennant that got away , now coming back as our renewed grip on that eternal belief that we will enjoy better luck this time?

Go, Astros! Rise above the slumbering ether that is forecast for us as part of the mediocrity that oozes from a team that is simultaneously growing older in one “arthroscopicked” hand while it rebuilds with the eager talent-for-cheap-wages other.

Jerry Grote: One of the Guys Who Got Away!

March 12, 2010

One the Astros lost.

For 21-year old Jerry Grote of San Antonio, Christmas of 1963 must have been an especially joyous holiday season. After all, the young Houston Colt .45 signee at catcher had just finished his first full year of professional baseball, even got to play for his home town San Antonio Bullets, batting .268 on the year with 14 homers. Even though he made 18 errors in 867 chances in the field, all of his miscues were correctable with experience and he seemed to have a way of building confidence in his pitchers, even at that early age.

Grote made it up to the Astros for a few times at bat in September of 1963, but I didn’t get to see him play until the summer of 1964. I was completing my graduate school studies at Tulane University in New Orleans at the time and had to hook short trips to Houston to see the Colt .45s for a few games. I liked what I saw in Grote, even though he wasn’t hitting “Mendoza” in his first real major league trial. He was a little guy who played with a lot of energy and with an attitude of alertness about what was going on with his pitcher and everywhere else. He played on top of the ball; he didn’t allow the ball to play him; same for the game. Grote was on top of what was going on. He held runners at first and he threw a bunch of them out when they tried to steal. He talked to his pitchers constantly with his body language and I don’t know how many times I saw him follow a quick mound trip with a called or swinging strike on the batter. I thought: “Forget the batting average for now. This guy is going to be a leader. He already knows how to handle pitchers.”

It didn’t happen. Not for Houston, anyway. After a .265, 11 HR season for AAA Oklahoma City, the newly renamed Houston Astros dealt Grote away to the New York Mets on October 19, 1965 for a pitcher named Tom Parsons, some cash, and, I presume, the conventional bag of balls. Parsons was out of baseball before he ever threw an official pitch for the Astros and Jerry Grote was on his way to a different destiny among the “Amazin’ Mets.”

I had a bad feeling about the trade when it came down. I had just seen too many things in Grote that I

He was good enough for Seaver and Ryan in 1969.

liked to feel nothing about a transaction that basically came down as a player dump. Sadly, Mr. Grote proved a lot of us Astros fans who felt that way justified in our concerns. Soon enough, Jerry Grote found an acceptable level of offensive production with the Mets. By 1968, he even batted .282, his second best average for a full season. He had no power, but he could handle pitchers, hold or throw out base runners, and play the game on top of the ball. In 1969, Grote handled two future Hall of Famers, Tom Seaver and Nolan Ryan, on the Amazin’ Mets march to a World Series title in their ninth year of existence. He also made only 11 errors in 788 chances in the field that championship year too.

Grote ended up playing on a second Mets National League pennant winner in 1973 and, all tolled, he played for 16 seasons in the big leagues (1963, 64-81) with Houston, the Mets, the Dodgers, and Royals.

Jerry Grote finished his major league career with a batting average of .252, but he clouted only 39 homers in 4,339 times at bat. Slugging definitely was not one of the tools in Jerry’s war chest, but it didn’t matter. He had so many others.

Anyway, I doubt that the bag of balls the Astros got for Jerry Grote in the deal with the Mets lasted quite as long as he did. Oh well. We can’t get ’em all right, can we?

Welcome to the Hall of Lame!

December 8, 2009

Former manager Whitey Herzog and former umpire Doug Harvey were voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame yesterday by the Veterans Committee. They each garnered 13 votes, the minimal number required for approval of older candidates from this group of veteran selectors.

Herzog missed induction status by a single vote the last time. This time, one of his former players, Ozzie Smith, was a new member of the voting group. You do the math.

Herzog is not one of my favorites as a pick for the Hall of Fame, but what do I know? Maybe six pennants and a World Series victory as manager is enough to punch the ticket. Maybe it made a difference that he sometimes did some “creative” thing, you know, like put a pitcher in right field for a couple of batters rather than remove him from the game and lose him for the rest of the struggle that day. Gee! If that’s what did it, Al Hollingsworth of the old Buffs and half the other managers in the old Texas League ought to be inducted too. With those 19-player rosters of that minor league era, Texas League managers of the 1950s were constantly placing pitchers in right field for a batter or two, just to keep them available for a return to the mound.

This comment is  nothing deeply personal against Whitey Herzog. I just think his induction is typical of how a lot of new members get into the Hall these days. They go through long periods of being almost totally off the radar screen. Then, all of a sudden, a sympathy article comes out, questioning why they were overlooked. Then several years of “near miss” unfold as the public becomes more and more aware again of the old forgotten figure. In effect, induction moves from merely being a sympathetic emotional issue into one that now has political arms and legs working to get that person into the Hall. Whitey Herzog is only the latest example of how that works. It starts with sympathy, moves to empathy, and concludes with the completion of a successful poltical movement.

In that light, I’d like to set in motion a question of my own, about someone whom I think is truly deserving. If Whitey Herzog can reach the Hall of Fame, how can we continue to overlook Larry Dierker? Oh sure, Herzog bagged six pennants and a World Series ring, but look what Dierker did. – Larry led the Astros to 4 playoff appearances in his 5 years as manager (1997-2001) and, while he never reached the World Series, he threw a no-hitter as a pitcher (1976) and posted a 20-win season (1969) and wrote two very thoughtful books on baseball after his retirement from the field. And did I mention the facts too that he also came out of a two-decade other career stint as a baseball tv analyst and baseball historian, just to manage the Astros in the first place?

I’d  like to get some sympathy started for Larry Dierker as an overlooked Hall of Fame candidate right here and now! Are you with me? We’ll worry about how we get the right people added to the Veterans Committee later. Right now, we just need more articles of awareness to Larry’s Dierker’s lonely  plight.

Think: Larry Dierker deserves to be in the Baseball Hall of Fame! It’s a cryin’ shame he’s been overlooked until now!