The nation's turmoil spilled onto the baseball diamond. The start of the season was delayed after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. When presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy was killed two months later, baseball teams were left to decide on their own whether to postpone their games. Astros management chose not to stop playing but Rusty Staub and Bob Aspromonte sat out in protest. Both were traded after the season.
A picture of Judge Roy Hofheinz appeared in a Dallas newspaper with a bullseye over it. Major League Baseball had announced plans to expand into four more cities in 1969 and Dallas was not one of them. It irked them even further that Montreal, Quebec, would be joining the National League instead. Some in Dallas were sure The Judge had something to do with the snub.
The Astros got another taste of life's realities when they traveled to Chicago in August. They arrived just after the riotous Democratic National Convention had ended. Bused to the same hotel where the Democrats were headquartered, the team was driven through a gauntlet of angry hippies and Vietnam War protesters. The stench of tear gas awaited them as they were snuck in through the rear entrance by Chicago police.
On the field, it was "The Year Of The Pitcher" as moundsmen dominated the game as never before. A foreshadowing came at the Astrodome on April 15th. Tom Seaver of the Mets and Don Wilson of the Astros hooked up in a scoreless duel that kept going and going. It didn't end until six hours later when shortstop Al Weis let a grounder by Aspromonte roll through his legs in the 24th inning allowing Norm Miller to score the game's only run.
Dave Giusti fired a two-hitter in a 1-0 shutout over Cincinnati on May 22nd. He matched that with a two-hitter against the Cubs on June 26th. Wilson tied a big league record with 18 strikeouts during a 6-1 triumph over the Reds on July 14th.
Houston hosted the 1968 All-Star Game at the Dome. As might be expected with the world's best pitchers throwing in a notorious pitcher's park in a year of superlative pitching performances (Bob Gibson's 1.12 ERA, Don Drysdale's 56 consecutive scoreless innings, Denny McLain's 31 wins), the showcase became a 1-0 shutout for the National League. Rusty Staub represented the team as a pinch-hitter.
Grady Hatton was fired as the Astros manager. Harry "The Hat" Walker replaced him. The good news was that the team tied their best record to date - a 72-90 mark. The bad news was that they finished in last place, one game behind New York.
The Astros could be thankful for one win they didn't deserve. On September 7th, Atlanta's Hank Aaron was rounding third and heading home with the winning run in the bottom of the ninth when he suddenly lost his balance and fell down. Doug Rader took the throw and tagged him out. With new life, Houston came back for a 6-3 victory. It proved that even the great ones sometimes fail, a lesson for which a last-place team could find solace.By Astro Daily
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- Al Weis, All-Star Game, Bob Aspromonte, Bob Gibson, Dave Giusti, Denny McLain, Don Drysdale, Don Wilson, Doug Rader, Grady Hatton, Hank Aaron, Harry Walker, Rusty Staub, Tom Seaver