The Astros sent Joe Morgan, Denis Menke, pitcher Jack Billingham and outfielders Cesar Geronimo and Ed Armbrister to Cincinnati in return for first baseman Lee May, second baseman Tommy Helms and utilityman Jimmy Stewart. Morgan would develop into a two-time Most Valuable Player with the Reds as Cincinnati won three National League titles and two World's Championships. The Astros solved their problem at first base. It is often viewed as the worst trade in team history, although many feel Morgan would have never produced as well if he had stayed in Houston.
Certainly, May was no slouch. A power-hitter who fielded his position well, May was a two-time All-Star with the Reds and became one again in 1972. Lee hit his "taters" with regular frequency. He whacked 29 in his first season in Houston, hitting .284 and driving in 98.
May anchored a lineup that was turning into a powerhouse. Jim Wynn, Doug Rader and Cesar Cedeno gave the Astros four players with 20 or more homers while Bob Watson added 16. All five drove in 80 or more runs.
Cedeno did even more, leading the club with a .320 batting average, stealing 55 bases and making great plays in the field. He made the first of four All-Star game appearances that season. Cesar became the first Astro to hit for the cycle on August 2nd, leading a 10-1 thrashing in Cincinnati.
Rader was also flashing leather at third base while coming through with clutch hits despite a .237 batting average. As a club, Houston led the league with 708 runs.
The explosiveness of Houston's new offense was never more apparent than when they entered the ninth inning in San Francisco on April 23rd, trailing 7-3. The Astros exploded for ten runs as May clubbed a three-run homer and Cedeno got two hits in the inning to give him five for the day. The "Orange Crushers" won, 13-7.
Even shortstop Roger Metzger caught on, taking Bob Gibson deep for his first major league homer on May 10th. May banged out four hits, including another tater, to key a six-run rally that shocked St. Louis, 10-7. The Astros moved into first place in the Western Division.
The pitchers had moments to shine as well. Lefthanders Dave Roberts and Jerry Reuss were acquired to give Houston four accomplished starters. Larry Dierker and Don Wilson each won 15 games. Jim Ray won ten and saved eight pitching in relief. When Dierker tossed a one-hitter at the New York Mets on June 19th, he and Reuss tied a major league record with back-to-back one-hit efforts.
The Astros were playing the first winning season in their history but were losing ground to red-hot Cincinnati. Management made one last move, firing Harry Walker as manager and naming fiery Leo Durocher to replace him. Durocher had skippered the 1951 New York Giants to a miracle late-season finish, but his best days had left him. The Astros finished 16-15 under "Leo The Lip", a distant second place to the Reds. Still, the 84-69 strike-shortened record was the best to date and second place was the best finish in their history. They didn't know it then, but it would be the closest they'd come to claiming a title for several more seasons.By Astro Daily
- Bob Gibson, Bob Watson, Cesar Cedeno, Cesar Geronimo, Dave Roberts, Denis Menke, Don Wilson, Doug Rader, Ed Armbrister, Harry Walker, Jack Billingham, Jerry Reuss, Jim Ray, Jim Wynn, Jimmy Stewart, Joe Morgan, Larry Dierker, Lee May, Leo Durocher, Roger Metzger, Tommy Helms