The veterans were purged, partly for youth and partly to dump high salaries while McMullen tried to sell the team. Mike Scott appeared in just two games then retired with an injured shoulder. Jim Clancy was traded in June, suddenly leaving 31-year-old Jim Deshaies as the old man on the pitching staff. The bench was similarly thinned of veterans.
What was left was a youth movement not seen in Houston since the Colt .45s. They turned in a Colt-like 65-97 record to finish at the bottom of the Western Division. It was never a question where they would finish.
New blood and fresh faces were seen all over the roster. When Jeff Bagwell came to camp, he found himself still unwelcome at third base. Ken Caminiti held down that job so the rookie would have to adjust to playing at first base.
Bagwell showed he belonged, leading the club with 15 homers and 82 RBIs. Not known as a power hitter in the minors, Jeff surprised the Braves on April 15th with his first major league homer. As for average, the .294 clip was just a point behind Craig Biggio for the club leadership. With his peculiar batting stance, Jeff also led the league in getting hit by pitches. Bagwell became the first Astro to be named National League Rookie of the Year by the BBWAA.
Steve Finley also responded well to his first season as an Astro. He batted .285, led the team in hits (170) and steals (34). In addition, he made acrobatic catches in center field.
Ken Caminiti had a breakout season with 13 homers and 80 RBIs. Biggio swiped 19 bases and batted .295. He got his first taste of playing second base late in the season, a tryout that would be important for his career. Outfielder Luis Gonzalez had an impressive rookie season , slugging 13 home runs and driving in 69. Andujar Cedeno, Karl Rhodes, Tony Eusebio, Scott Servais and a lightning-quick outfielder named Kenny Lofton all had call-ups from the minors. Lofton would be dealt to Cleveland in the off-season for catcher Eddie Taubensee, a trade Houston fans would come to regret.
The pitching staff also became a year-long tryout. Pete Harnisch led the club with a dozen victories and fashioned a 2.70 ERA. Curt Schilling, the third guy in the Davis trade, was tried as a closer, saving eight games. Lefty Al Osuna let the squad with twelve saves. Others to make their Houston mound debuts were Darryl Kile, Ryan Bowen, Jimmy Jones, Brian Williams, Rob Mallicoat and Jeff Juden. Even Art Howe must have needed a scorecard to keep track of all the new faces.
The kids showed their potential when they ran off a seven-game winning streak, capped on August 4th with a 2-1 triumph over the first-place Dodgers to sweep the series. To add to the insult, the Astros pulled off their second triple play of the season.
Critics accused McMullen of being cheap. Optimists found reason to hope the new players would gel into the foundation for future championships. Both were right. In truth, the Astros cleaned house and slashed payroll and did so with just a ten-game drop off from the crew of grizzled veterans who came in fifth the year before. Some of the new kids stayed throughout the decade. Others had good careers elsewhere. Some would never make much of a career anywhere. The trick was knowing who was which. The Astros didn't make all the right calls and the proof was how the team struggled to return to the postseason for the next five years.By Astro Daily
- Al Osuna, Andujar Cedeno, Art Howe, Brian Williams, Craig Biggio, Curt Schilling, Darryl Kile, Eddie Taubensee, Houston Astros, Jeff Bagwell, Jeff Juden, Jim Clancy, Jim Deshaies, Jimmy Jones, John McMullen, Karl Rhodes, Ken Caminiti, Kenny Lofton, Luis Gonzalez, Mike Scott, Pete Harnisch, Rob Mallicoat, Rookie of the Year Award, Ryan Bowen, Scott Servais, Steve Finley, Tony Eusebio