Just as the stadium was the headliner of the 1965 season, the ground was the big news of 1966. When the Astrodome opened, players had trouble seeing the ball when it was hit in the air because of the glare of the glass panels in the roof. Day games in the Dome were marked by players ducking from flies and pop ups they couldn't see. The solution was to paint over the panels to reduce the glare. When that happened, the grass could no longer grow. So the dead sod was replaced the next year with an artificial surface made by Monsanto which was soon called "Astroturf". Underneath this rug of fake grass was a layer of sand over a foundation of concrete. Batted balls hopped more reliably but they bounced higher off the artificial turf and grounders seemed to accelerate as they rolled past fielders. It took some tweaking but the new zippered surface would eventually gain acceptance.
The first game played on the new carpet was on April 18th. It was the first major league win for 21-year-old Don Sutton of the Los Angeles Dodgers, beginning a Hall-of-Fame career that included two seasons as an Astro.
Grady Hatton became the new skipper after Luman Harris was fired. Houston got hot in more ways than one. In May, they climbed into second place in the National League standings. Joe Morgan and Sonny Jackson appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated, a franchise first. Morgan would also become the first Astro to be named a starter on the All-Star team but he couldn't play. He had broken a kneecap before the mid-summer event.
The Astros received another major setback when Jim Wynn was lost for the season after crashing into the outfield fence in Philadelphia on August 1st. Wynn still led the club with 18 home runs. Rusty Staub batted .280 and paced Houston with 81 RBIs and 28 doubles.
If anyone had a good year, it was pitcher Dave Giusti. The righthander won 15 games, including a masterful one-hitter against the Giants on July 22nd. He gave an encore performance on August 13th when he tossed another one-hitter, outdueling San Francisco ace Juan Marichal. He was potent with the bat too, driving in six against Cincinnati on August 21st while tossing a six-hit shutout. The six-RBI mark was a team record that stood for 23 years.
Shortstop Sonny Jackson set a league rookie record with 49 steals while leading the Astros with a .292 average. John Bateman set career highs with 17 home runs and 70 RBIs. Houston's record improved to 72-90 and an eighth-place finish but the ballclub, now filled with blossoming young talent, displayed the inconsistencies of their youth.By Astro Daily
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- Astrodome, Astroturf, Dave Giusti, Don Sutton, Grady Hatton, Houston Astros, Houston Astros 1966, Jimmy Wynn, Joe Morgan, Juan Marichal, Rusty Staub, Sonny Jackson