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Houston Astros

Houston Astros

Houston Astros Logo

Ballpark:
Minute Maid Park
Established:
1962
Affiliations:
AAA Oklahoma City RedHawks, AA Corpus Christi Hooks, Advanced A Lancaster JetHawks, A Lexington Legends
Retired Numbers:
5, 7, 24, 25, 32, 33, 34, 40, 49
Owners:
Drayton McLane, Jr. (92%) / Minute Maid (8%)
Manager:
General Manager:
Played As:
HOU

Houston Astros

The Houston Astros are a Major League Baseball team located in Houston, Texas. They are a member of the Central Division of the National League. Since 2000, they have played their home games at Minute Maid Park, formerly known as Enron Field. Their current majority owner is Drayton McLane, Jr. The Houston-based fruit juice manufacturer Minute Maid owned by The Coca-Cola Company, after whom the Astros' stadium is named, holds a minority stake in the team.

The Astros were established as the Houston Colt .45s in 1962. They changed to their current name three years later, when they moved into the iconic Astrodome, the world's first domed sports stadium. The name references Houston's role as the center of the U.S. astronaut program.

The Astros are the oldest MLB franchise to have never won the World Series while remaining in the same city over their history. After heart-breaking playoff losses in 1980, 1981, and 1986, and more playoff appearances in the late 1990s and early 2000s, the Astros finally appeared in their first and (to date) only World Series, in 2005 against the Chicago White Sox.

Major League Baseball comes to Texas

Houston had been making efforts to bring a Major League franchise to the city before the expansion in 1962. There were four men chiefly responsible for bringing Major League Baseball to Houston: George Kirksey and Craig Cullinan, who had led a futile attempt to purchase the St. Louis Cardinals in 1952; R.E. "Bob" Smith, a prominent oilman and real estate magnate in Houston who was brought in for his financial resources; and Judge Roy Hofheinz, a former Mayor of Houston and Harris County Judge who was recruited for his salesmanship and political style. They formed the Houston Sports Association as their vehicle for attaining a big league franchise for the city of Houston.

Given MLB's refusal to consider expanding, Kirksey, Cullinan, Smith, and Hofheinz joined forces with would-be owners from other cities and announced the formation of a new league to compete with the established National and American Leagues. They called the new league the Continental League. Wanting to protect potential new markets, both existing leagues chose to expand from eight teams to ten. Houston won a franchise in the National League to begin play in 1962. The Continental League folded before it ever started. But if its real object was to secure Houston a Major League franchise, it clearly succeeded.

The new Houston team was named the Colt .45s after the gun that was well-known as "the gun that won the west." The colors selected were navy blue and orange. The first team was a collection of cast-offs culled mostly through an expansion draft held after the 1961 season. The Colt .45s and their expansion cousins, the New York Mets, took turns choosing players left unprotected by the other National League franchises.

The Colt .45s began their existence playing at Colt Stadium, a temporary field until Judge Hofheinz could build an indoor stadium. Hofheinz had convinced the National League owners that the sweltering Houston summers would not be a problem as he would build an indoor baseball stadium based loosely on the Colosseum in Rome. Bonds were passed and construction began but, until it was ready, the team played on some reclaimed marshland south of town. Colt Stadium was built on the same land that would eventually hold its famous successor. It was built on the cheap with little to protect fans from the weather or other hazards. True baseball fans hardly cared. Houston had become a "major league" city.

1962–64: The Colt .45s era

The Colt .45s started their inaugural season on April 10, 1962, against the Chicago Cubs with Harry Craft as their manager. They finished eighth among the National League's ten teams; the team's best pitcher, Richard "Turk" Farrell, had an ERA of 3.02 but still lost 20 games. A starter for the Colt .45s, Farrell was primarily a relief pitcher prior to playing for Houston. He was selected to both All-Star Games in 1962.

Despite the poor finish, there was a bright spot in the Houston line-up in 1962. Román Mejías, who was acquired from the Pittsburgh Pirates in the expansion draft, was named the Colt .45s' starting right fielder. It was in Houston that Mejías would play the best season of his career. Although an injury slowed him in the second half of the season, Mejías finished with a .286 batting average, 24 home runs, and 76 RBIs. His modesty and his hard play made him a fan favorite that year. Despite his good year Mejías was traded to the Boston Red Sox in the fall of 1962.

1963 saw more young talent mixed with seasoned veterans. Jimmy Wynn, Rusty Staub, and Joe Morgan all made their major league debuts in the 1963 season. However, Houston's position in the standings did not improve. In fact, the Colt .45s finished in ninth place with a 66–96 record. The team was still building, trying to find that perfect mix to compete.

The 1964 campaign began on a sad note. Pitcher Jim Umbricht died of cancer at the age of 33 just before Opening Day. Umbricht was the only Colt .45s pitcher to post a winning record in Houston's first two seasons. He was so well-liked by players and fans that the team retired his jersey number, 32, in 1965.

On the field, the 1964 Colt .45s got off to a quick start, but it would not last. Craft was fired presumably for wanting to play more experienced players, which conflicted with team management's desire to showcase the young up-and-coming talent. Craft was replaced by one of the Colt .45s coaches, Luman Harris. One player the front office wanted to showcase was teenage pitcher Larry Dierker. He started versus the San Francisco Giants on his 18th birthday. Dierker lost the game but it was the beginning of a long relationship with the Houston organization.

1965–1970: The Great Indoors

With Judge Roy Hofheinz now the sole owner of the franchise and his vision of an indoor venue complete, the Colt .45s moved into their new domed stadium in 1965. The judge called the new domed stadium the Astrodome. The name was in honor of Houston's importance to the country's space program and to match with the meaning of the name, the Colt .45s were renamed the Astros. The new park, coined as the "Eighth Wonder of the World" did little to help the play on the field. While several "indoor" firsts were accomplished, the team still finished ninth in the standings. The attendance was high not because of the team accomplishments, but because people came from miles around to see the Astrodome.

Just as the excitement was settling down over the Astrodome, the 1966 season found something new to put the domed stadium in the spotlight once again – the field. Grass would not grow in the new park, since the roof panels had been painted to reduce the glare that was causing players on both the Astros and the visiting team to miss routine pop flies. A new artificial turf was created called "AstroTurf" and once again Houston would be involved in yet a change in the way the game was played.

With new manager Grady Hatton the Astros got hot right away. By May they were in second place in the National League and looked like a team that could contend. Joe Morgan and Sonny Jackson appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated, an Astros first, and Morgan was named as a starter on the All-Star Team. The Astros cooled as quickly as they got hot. They lost Jimmy Wynn for the season after he crashed into an outfield fence in Philadelphia and Morgan had broken his knee cap. There were some good notes however. Sonny Jackson set a league record with 49 steals, and led the Astros with a .292 batting average.

1967 saw Eddie Mathews join the Astros, where he played first base. The slugger hit his 500th home run while in Houston. He would be traded late in the season and Doug Rader would be promoted to the big leagues. Wynn also provided some enthusiasm in 1967. The 5 ft 9 in Wynn was becoming known not only for how often he hit home runs, but also for how far he hit them. Wynn set club records with 37 home runs, and 107 RBIs and hit his famous home run onto Interstate 75 in Cincinnati. He also had a pinch-hit single in the All-Star Game that year, another Astros first.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr's assassination delayed the start to the 1968 season. When Robert F. Kennedy was killed two months later, Major League Baseball let teams decide if they would postpone games or not. Astros management decided to not postpone games, and Rusty Staub and Bob Aspromonte sat out in protest. Both were traded at season's end.

Houston hosted the All-Star Game in 1968 and, as expected in the "Year of the Pitcher", the game was a low-scoring match that saw the National League winning 1–0. Hatton was fired as manager on June 18 and Harry Walker replaced him.

With baseball expansion and trades, the Astros had dramatically changed in 1969. Aspromonte was sent to the Braves and Staub joined the expansion Montreal Expos. Mike Cuellar was traded to the Baltimore Orioles and shared the 1969 American League Cy Young Award with Denny McLain of the Detroit Tigers. New players included catcher Johnny Edwards, outfielder Jesus Alou, infielder Denis Menke, and pitcher Denny Lemaster. Don Wilson continued to pitch brilliantly and on May 1 threw the second no-hitter of his career. He was just 24 years of age and was second to only Sandy Koufax for career no-hit wins. Wilson's no-hitter lit the Astros' fire and six days later the team tied a major league record by turning seven double plays in a game. By May's end the Astros had put together a ten-game winning streak. The Houston infield tandem of Menke and Joe Morgan continued to improve, providing power at the plate and great defense. Morgan had 15 homers and stole 49 bases while Menke led the Astros with 90 RBIs.

On September 10, the Astros were tied for fourth but were only two games out of first when they faced the Atlanta Braves in a critical series. The series against the Braves gave the Astros, and the fans, a taste of a race. It was also the first time in the team's history that they finished the season above .500.

1970 season

In 1970, the Astros were expected to be a serious threat in the National League West. The year started with a bang when Doug Rader clobbered a shot into the upper reserve (gold) seats in left field during an exhibition game on April 3. Nine days later Jimmy Wynn knocked one into the purple seats (just below the gold) proving that the unreachable area of the dome was reachable. The seats were repainted marking this feat. No other Astro ever hit a home run into that part of the Astrodome.

In June, 19-year-old Cesar Cedeno was called up and immediately showed signs of being a superstar. The Dominican outfielder was often compared to Willie Mays and Roberto Clemente. Cedeno batted .310 after being called up from the minors. Denis Menke batted .304 and Jesus Alou batted .306. The Astros' batting average was up by 19 points compared to the season before. Pitchers Larry Dierker and Don Wilson had winning records, but the pitching staff as a whole had an off season. Houston finish in fourth place in 1970 and saw the Reds take the division title, something that would become common in the 1970s.

1971–1974: The Boys in Orange

The fashion trends of the 1960s had started taking root in baseball. Long hair and loud colors were starting to appear on teams uniforms, including the Astros. In 1971 the Astros made some changes to their uniform: they kept the same style they had in previous seasons, but inverted the colors. What was navy blue was now orange and what was orange was now a lighter shade of blue. The players' last names were added to the back of the jerseys. In 1972, the uniform fabric was also changed to what was at the time revolutionizing the industry – polyester. Belts were replaced by elastic waistbands, and jerseys zipped up instead of buttons. The uniforms became popular with fans, but would last only until 1975, when the Astros would shock baseball and the fashion world.

Pitcher J.R. Richard made his debut in September of the 1971 season against the Giants. The 6 ft 8 in Richard struck out 15 to tie the debut record of Karl Spooner set in 1954. Richards won the game 5–3.

In November 1971 the Astros and Cincinnati Reds made a blockbuster trade that was one of the most impactful in the history of the sport,[15] and helped create The Big Red Machine of the 1970s, with the Reds getting the better end of the deal. Houston sent second baseman Joe Morgan, infielder Denis Menke, pitcher Jack Billingham, and outfielders Cesar Geronimo and prospect Ed Armbrister to Cincinnati for first baseman Lee May, second baseman Tommy Helms and infielder Jimmy Stewart. The trade left Astros fans and the baseball world scratching their heads as to why General Manager Spec Richardson would give up so much for so little.

The acquisition of May added more power to the lineup in 1972. May, Wynn, Rader and Cedeno all had 20 or more home runs and Watson hit 16. Cedeno also led the Astros with a .320 batting average, 55 stolen bases and made spectacular plays on the field. Cedeno made his first All-Star game in 1972 and became the first Astros' player in team history to hit for the cycle in August versus the Reds.

Despite having a winning season, the Astros fired manager Harry Walker and replaced him with Leo Durocher. The skipper of the 1951 New York Giants had his best seasons behind him and the Astros finish 16–15 with Durocher as manager. Still, it was the best season the Astros had to date with a strike shortened season at 84–69. A distant second to the Cincinnati Reds. It would be as close as they would get to winning a title for several more seasons.

Astros fans had hoped for more of the same in 1973 as they had in 1972, but it was not to be. The Astros run production was down even though the same five sluggerswere still punching the ball out of the park. Lee May led the Astros with 28 home runs and Cesar Cedeno batted .320 with 25 home runs. Bob Watson hit the .312 mark and drove in 94 runs. Doug Rader and Jimmy Wynn both had 20 or more home runs. Wynn's 20 came despite a season long slump.

Pitchers Dave Roberts and Jerry Reuss did manage to win 16 or more games each, with little help from the bullpen. Durocher became ill during the season and retired when the season ended. The Astros were 82–80 and finished in fourth place.

The Astros again finished in fourth place in 1974 under new manager Preston Gomez. They were in need of rebuilding both on and off the field. Owner Roy Hofheinz empire was beginning to fall apart and he would soon have to sell. The Astrodomain had accumulated a $38 million debt and the Judge, due to illness, was in no position to try and rebuild.

1975–1979: The Rainbow era

Tal Smith returned to the Astros from the New York Yankees to a team that needed a lot of work and did not have a lot of money. However there would be some bright spots that would prove to be good investments in the near future.

The year started on a sad note. Pitcher Don Wilson was found dead in the passenger seat of his car on January 5, 1975. Cause of death was asphyxiation by carbon monoxide. Wilson was 29 years old. Wilson's 5-year-old son Alex also died as his room was connected to the garage. Wilson's number 40 was retired on April 13, 1975.

The 1975 season was the introduction of the Astros new-look uniforms. The uniforms had multishade stripes of orange, red and yellow in front and in back behind a large dark blue star over the midsection. The same stripes run down the paint legs. Players numbers not only appeared on the back of the jersey, but also on the pant leg. The bright stripes were meant to appear as a fiery trail like a rocket sweeping across the heavens. The uniforms were panned by the critics, but the public liked them and versions started appearing at the high school and little league level. The uniform was so different from what other teams wore that the Astros wore it both at home and on the road until 1980.

Lee May was traded to Baltimore for much talked about rookie second baseman Rob Andrews and utility player Enos Cabell. Cabell took advantage of his opportunity in Houston and became the everyday third baseman. Cabell would go on to become a big part of the teams success in later years. With May gone, Bob Watson was able to move to first base and was a bright spot in the line up, batting .324 with 85 RBIs.

The two biggest moves the Astros did in the off season were the acquisition of Joe Niekro and José Cruz. The Astros bought Niekro from the Braves for almost nothing. Niekro had bounced around the big leagues with minimal success. His older brother Phil Niekro had started teaching Joe how to throw his knuckleball and Joe was just starting to use it when he came to the Astros. Niekro won six games and saved four and had an ERA of 3.07.

José Cruz was also a steal, in retrospect, from the Cardinals. He was sold to the Astros for $25,000 and became a fixture in the Astors' outfield for several years and would eventually have his number 25 retired.

The 1975 season was the worst the team had ever seen in their history. Their record was 64–97, far worse than the expansion Colt .45's. It was the worst record in baseball and manager Preston Gomez was fired late in the season and replaced by Bill Virdon. The Astros played .500 ball under Virdon in the last 34 games of the season.

With Virdon as the manager the Astros improved greatly in 1976 finishing in third place with a 80–82 record. A healthy Cesar Cedeno was a key reason for the Astros bouncing back in 1976. Bob Watson continued to show consistency and led the club with a .313 average and 102 RBIs. Cruz became Houston's everyday left fielder and hit .303 with 28 stolen bases.

1976 saw the end of Larry Dierker's career as an Astro, but before it was all over he would throw a no-hitter and win the 1,000 game in the Astrodome. He was dealt to St. Louis in the off-season, but would return to Houston and be a big part of the organization.

The Astros finished in third place again in 1977 with a record improved at just one more win than the season before at 81–81.

While J.R. Richard, Joe Niekro and Joaquin Andujar had winning seasons the pitching was still in need of help. The Astros did not have a dominant lefty in the rotation. Floyd Bannister was thought to be that dominant lefty, but the rookie pitcher was inconsistent going 8–9 with an ERA of 4.03.

1978 saw the Astros slip to fifth place with a 74–88 record. Cedeno was out most of the season due to a knee injury and Howe dealt with a broken finger. Cruz really started to shine and led the team with a .315 average with 83 RBIs and 37 steals. J.R. Richard won 18 games and struck out 303 batters, and in May threw back-to-back shutouts.

It may have been an off year for the Astros, but the starting pitching was looking good and relief pitcher Joe Sambito was settling in as the closer. The foundation was being laid for making a serious run at winning their first pennant.

1979 season

1979 would prove to be a big turn around in Astros history and during the off season the Astros made an effort to fix some of their problem areas. They traded Floyd Bannister to Seattle for shortstop Craig Reynolds and acquired catcher Alan Ashby from Toronto for pitcher Mark Lemongello.

The season started with a huge boost from pitcher Ken Forsch, who no-hit the Braves on the second game of the season, only the beginning of the excitement that was to come in 1979.

Houston also learned in May that Dr. John McMullen had agreed to buy the Astros. Now with an investor instead of the financier Ford Motor Credit in charge, the Astros would be able to compete in the free agent market.

In July, the Astros went to Cincinnati leading the National League West, something the Reds were accustomed to doing. July 4 fireworks erupted when, tired of the Reds taunting pitcher Joaquin Andujar, a fight broke out involving Cesar Cedeno and Ray Knight. Houston went on to win the game and had a ten-game lead in the NL west. But holding on to the lead would prove to be a challenge for the Astros who now felt the pressure of being on top of the division.

The Astros and Reds battled the final month of the season. The Reds pulled ahead of the Astros by a game and a half. Later that month they split a pair and the Reds kept the lead. And that would be how it would end. The Astros finished with their best record to that point at 89–73 and 1½ games behind the NL winner Reds. The Astros were ready to show Major League Baseball how serious a contender they were.

With Dr. John McMullen as sole owner, the Astros were now able to compete in the free agent market. McMullen showed the city of Houston that he too wanted a winning team by signing near by Alvin, Texas native Nolan Ryan to the first million dollar a year deal. Win or lose Ryan would fill the seats.

1980 season

Joe Morgan returned to the Astros in 1980, his two MVP awards and two (1975 & 1976) World Series rings with him; Morgan wanted to help make the Astros a pennant winner.

1980 saw one of the best pitching line ups the Astros ever had. Ryan with his fastball, Joe Niekro with his knuckle ball that frustrated hitters and J.R. Richard with his imposing 6 ft 8 in frame and terrifying pitches. Richard became the first Astros pitcher to start an All-Star game. He pitched two innings striking out three, including Reggie Jackson. Three days later after a medical examination Richard was told to rest his arm. During a workout in the Astrodome on July 30 Richard collapsed. He had suffered a stroke and was taken to the hospital. A blood clot that had made his arm feel tired had moved to his neck and cut off blood flow to the brain. Surgery was done to save his life. The Astros had lost their ace pitcher after a 10–4 start with a stingy 1.89 ERA. Richard would never again pitch a big league game.

By season's end the Astros held a three game lead over the Dodgers with three games left in the season against the Dodgers. The Dodgers swept all three games thus making the two teams have to square off in a one-game playoff in L.A. to see who would be division champ.

The Astros had faced the Dodgers three best pitchers the three previous days and would now face Dave Goltz who held the hopes of the Dodgers in his hand. The Astros would make the most of facing Goltz. Terry Puhl scored on a fielders choice in the first to give the Astros a 2–0 early lead. In the third Art Howe knocked one out to give the Astros a 4–0 lead and they went on to clinch the division for the first time in team history. They would face the Philadelphia Phillies in the NLCS. The Phillies won the series, three games to two, with four games going to extra innings.

Houston had a taste of the postseason for the first time. Astros teams were no longer looked at as mediocre. They would prove that to contenders in the coming decade.

1981–1985: Out with the old and rebuild

1981 was the year of the player strike that started on June 12 and ended on August 10. The strike may have helped the Astros get into the playoffs as Major league baseball decided to take the winners of each “half” seasons and set up a best-of-five divisional playoff. While the Reds won more games than any other team in the National League, they did not win either “half” of the strike seasons' division play. The Astros finished 61–49 overall. If the two halves made one complete season, the Astros would have finished third that year behind the Reds and the Dodgers. This flaw allowed Houston its chance in the post season.

The division series against first-half winner Los Angeles started great as Houston won the first two games at home, but the Dodgers took the next three in LA to win the series and advance to the World Series.

1982 saw a team much different from the team that was just six outs away from the World Series in 1980. Only four players and three starting pitchers remained from the 1980 squad. The Astros also had three pitchers over the age 35. It was clear by mid August the Astros were out of the race. Bill Virdon was fired as manager and Bob Lillis, an original Colt .45, took over. The Astros finished fourth in the west, but young talent was starting to appear.

Before the 1983 season the Astros traded Danny Heep to the Mets for pitcher Mike Scott. Scott had been struggling with the Mets, but the Astros were in need of young pitching and were willing to take a chance on the 28-year-old Scott. Art Howe sat out the 1983 season with an injury, forcing Phil Garner to third and Ray Knight to first. Bill Doran took over at second, becoming the everyday second baseman for the next seven seasons. The Astros finished third in the NL west, but minor league prospects and key trades moved the Astros closer to the top of the division.

The 1984 season started off badly for the Astros. Shortstop Dickie Thon was hit in the head by a rising fastball from Mets pitcher Mike Torrez. Thon suffered a shattered bone above his left eye. Surgery was performed and Thon suffered from blurry vision for the next several months and was lost for the season. Craig Reynolds took over at his former position for Thon. Enos Cabell returned to the Astros to replace the slumping Ray Knight who was traded to the Mets in August. In September the Astros called up rookie Glenn Davis who was putting up impressive numbers in AAA Tucson. The Astros hoped that Davis would be the slugger that they needed and the everyday first baseman. The Astros finished in second place, tied with Atlanta.

In 1985 Mike Scott found himself coming off a 5–11 record. The Astros, unwilling to give up on him, sent him to former Houston pitching coach Roger Craig to learn a new pitch he was calling the “split-finger” fastball. The pitch looked like a normal fastball, but moved sharply downward at the last moment. Scott, who looked like he would be nothing more than a journeyman, had found his new pitch and would become one of Houston's most celebrated pitchers.

In June of that year, Davis was called up to play first and add much needed power to the Astros line-up. In September Joe Niekro was traded to the Yankees for two minor league pitchers and lefty Jim Deshaies. Niekro left with the most franchise victories. The Astros finished in fourth place in 1985.

1986: Lighting a Fire

After finishing fourth in 1985 the Astros fired general manager Al Rosen and manager Bob Lillis. The former was supplanted by Dick Wagner, the man whose Reds defeated the Astros to win the 1979 NL West title. The latter was replaced by Hal Lanier who, like his manager mentor in St. Louis, Whitey Herzog, had a hard-nosed approach to managing and espoused a playing style that focused on pitching, defense, and speed rather than home runs to win games. This style of baseball, known as Whiteyball, took advantage of stadiums with deep fences and artificial turf, both of which were characteristics of the Astrodome. Lanier's style of baseball took Houston by storm. With Lanier leading the way, Houston got off to a hot start, winning 13 of their first 19 contests.,

The Astrodome was host to the 1986 All-Star Game in which Astros Mike Scott, Kevin Bass, Glenn Davis, and Dave Smith represented the host field. On September 23 in a game against the Dodgers, Jim Deshaies started the game with eight straight strikeouts. The next night Ryan kept the Giants hitless through seven innings, then struck out the side in the eighth for 12 strikeouts. Houston had clinched a mathematical tie for the division crown. Mike Scott would take the mound in the final game of the two-game series and pitch a no-hitter to clinch the NL West -- the only time in MLB history that a division was clinched via a no-hitter. Scott would finish the season with an 18–10 record and a Cy Young Award to go along with it.

The 1986 NLCS was noted for great drama and is considered one of the best postseason series ever. In Game 3, the Astros were ahead at Shea Stadium, 5–4, in the bottom of the 9th when closer Dave Smith gave up a two-run home run to Lenny Dykstra, giving the Mets a dramatic 6–5 win.

However, the signature game of the series was Game 6. The 16-inning game won by the Mets, 7-6, held the record for the longest in MLB postseason history until October 9, 2005 when the Astros defeated the Atlanta Braves 7–6 in an 18-inning Division Series game. However, the 1986 game still holds the record for longest League Championship Series game.

After losing the 1986 NLCS to the Mets, the Astros retooled once again, as veterans from 1986 were leaving in droves. The biggest impact was felt when Nolan Ryan went to the Texas Rangers. Although many felt that he was nearing the end of his career, Ryan resurged in Texas as he pitched two more no-hitters and achieved the 5,000 strikeout plateau. In return, the Astros welcomed in veterans such as Buddy Bell, Rafael Ramirez, and Rick Rhoden. Despite the heavy veteran presence, young players such as Craig Biggio, Mark Portugal, and Ken Caminiti were earning everyday spots as well. The mix of youngsters and veterans was fruitful, especially in 1989, where the Astros won 86 victories, finishing 3rd behind the Giants and Padres.

After 1989, the retooling continued as more veterans were shown the door in favor of younger players. It was in 1990 when the Astros made what people consider their best trade ever for Jeff Bagwell at the trading deadline in 1990. The Boston Red Sox, in a tight race for the American League East title, needed relief pitching help. The Astros gave the Red Sox journeyman Larry Andersen in exchange for minor-leaguer Bagwell, who would win the 1990 Eastern League MVP award for the AA New Britain Red Sox. With Mo Vaughn in their system, the Red Sox reasoned that Bagwell was expendable, and while Andersen did help the Red Sox to the divisional title, Bagwell went on to become the Astros' all-time home run leader and, in some people's minds, the second best overall player in Astros history behind the great Craig Biggio.

However, after the 1991 season, the Astros made one of the worst trades in franchise history, sending speedy outfielder Kenny Lofton to the Cleveland Indians for catcher Eddie Taubensee. Lofton would prove to be one of the best center fielders of the 1990s, earning five AL stolen base titles, six All-Star appearances, and four Gold Gloves.

The early 1990s were marked by the Astros' growing discontent with their home, the Astrodome. After the Astrodome was renovated for the primary benefit of the Houston Oilers, the Astros began to grow increasingly disenchanted with the facility. Faced with declining attendance at the Astrodome and the inability of management to obtain a new stadium, in the 1991 off-season Astros management announced its intention to sell the team and move the franchise to the Washington, D.C. area. However, the move was not approved by other National League owners, thus compelling the Astros to remain in Houston.McMullen (who also owned the NHL's New Jersey Devils) sold the team to Texas businessman Drayton McLane in 1993, who committed to keeping the team in Houston.

The Astros began to show signs of consistent success. After finishing second in their division in 1994 (in a strike year), 1995, and 1996, the Astros won consecutive division titles in 1997, 1998, and 1999. In the 1998 season, the Astros set a team record with 102 victories. However, each of these titles was followed by a first-round playoff elimination. The manager of these title teams was Larry Dierker, who had previously been a broadcaster and pitcher for the Astros.

Coinciding with the change in ownership, the team switched uniforms and team colors after the 1993 season in order to go for a new, more serious image. The team's trademark rainbow uniforms were retired, and the team's colors changed to midnight blue and metallic gold.

Off the field, in 1994, the Astros hired one of the first African American general managers, former franchise player Bob Watson. Watson would leave the Astros after the 1995 season to become general manager of the New York Yankees and helped to lead the Yankees to a World Championship in 1996. He would be replaced by Gerry Hunsicker, who until 2004 would continue to oversee the building of the Astros into one of the better and most consistent organizations in the Major Leagues.

However, in 1996, the Astros again nearly left Houston. By the mid-1990s, McLane (like McMullen before him) wanted his team out of the Astrodome and was asking the city to build the Astros a new stadium. When things did not progress quickly toward that end, he put the team up for sale. He had nearly finalized a deal to sell the team to businessman William Collins, who planned to move them to Northern Virginia. However, Collins was having difficulty finding a site for a stadium himself, so Major League owners stepped in and forced McLane to give Houston another chance to grant his stadium wish. Houston voters responded positively via a stadium referendum and the Astros stayed put.

In the 14 years since Drayton McLane has taken ownership of the Houston Astros, they have had the fourth best record in all of Major League Baseball. Only the Yankees, Red Sox, and Braves have done better.

2000s: New stadium; First pennant

After years at the outdated Astrodome, the Astros moved into their new stadium in 2000. Originally called Enron Field, the stadium was one of the first to feature a functional retractable roof, considered a necessity in Houston. Additionally the ballpark featured more intimate surroundings than the cavernous Astrodome. It is believed by some that the departure of the NFL's Houston Oilers, after Houston refused to build them a new stadium, contributed to the construction of Enron Field.

With the change in location also came a change in attire. Gone were the blue and gold uniforms of the 1990s in favor a more "retro" look with pinstripes, a traditional baseball font, and the colors of brick red, sand and black. The "shooting star" logo was modified but still retained its definitive look.

2004 season

After two fairly successful seasons without a playoff appearance, at midseason in 2004 the Astros were floundering. Before the season, the Astros had added star pitchers Andy Pettitte and Roger Clemens to a team that already included stars like Lance Berkman and Jeff Kent as well as the nucleus of Bagwell and Biggio. They were quickly anointed one of the favorites to win the National League. However, at the All-Star Break, they were 44–44 largely due to an inability to score runs, and a poor record in 1-run games. Phil Garner took over as manager after the All-Star game. Garner had a mediocre track record in his prior managerial stints in Milwaukee and Detroit, but led the team to a 46–26 record in the second half and the National League's Wild Card. They would go on to win their first playoff series in eight attempts, beating the Braves in five games of the National League Division Series to advance to the National League Championship Series for the third time. However, they would lose to the St. Louis Cardinals in seven games, most dramatically on a walk-off home run by Jim Edmonds in the twelfth inning of Game 6.

The Astros' 2004 success had much to do with the postponed retirement of star pitcher Roger Clemens (a Houston resident), who ended 2004 with a record seventh Cy Young Award (his first in the NL). Clemens had previously announced that he was retiring after the 2003 season from the New York Yankees. However, after the Astros signed his former Yankee teammate Andy Pettitte and offered Clemens a number of perquisites (including the option to stay home with his family for certain road trips when he wasn't scheduled to pitch), Clemens reconsidered and signed a one-year deal with the Astros.

Additionally, the mid-season addition of Carlos Beltrán in a trade with the Kansas City Royals helped the Astros tremendously in their playoff run. Despite rumblings in July and August that the Astros might flip him to another contender, Beltrán would prove instrumental to the Astros' hopes, hitting eight home runs in the postseason. Following the season, after initially asserting a desire to remain with the Astros, Beltrán signed a long term contract with the New York Mets.

2005 season

In 2005, the Astros got off to a poor start, dropping to 15 games below .500 (15–30) in late May before becoming nearly unbeatable. From that low point until the end of July, Houston went 42–17 and found themselves in the lead for the NL Wild Card. The hitting, largely absent in April and May, was suddenly there, with even the pitchers contributing.

In July alone, the Astros went 22–7, the best single month record in the club's history. The Astros finished the 2005 regular season by winning a wild card berth on the final day of the regular season, just as they did in 2004, becoming only the second team to come from 15 games under .500 to enter the post season, the other team being the 1914 Boston Braves.

The Astros won their National League Division Series against the Atlanta Braves in four games. The fourth game set a record for a post-season game with most innings (18), most players used by a single team (T-23), most grand slams (2), and longest game time (5 hours and 50 minutes). Chris Burke hit a home run to win the game by a score of 7–6. Another notable performance was had by Roger Clemens who appeared from the bullpen for only the second time in his career as a reliever with three shutout innings and the win.

The National League Championship Series (NLCS) featured a rematch of the 2004 NLCS. The Astros lost the first game in St. Louis, but would win the next three games with one in St. Louis and the next two in Houston. The Astros were poised to close-out the series in Houston, but the Cardinals managed to score three runs in the top of the 9th with a monstrous 3-run home run by Albert Pujols off Brad Lidge with two outs. The stunned crowd was silenced in disbelief. This would take the series back to St. Louis, where the Astros won the final game of the NLCS and the final game played at Busch Stadium.

Roy Oswalt, who went 2–0 and had an ERA of 1.29, won the NLCS MVP.

The Astros' opponent in their first ever World Series was the Chicago White Sox. Game 3 also marked the first Fall Classic game to be played in the state of Texas, and was the longest game in World Series history, lasting 5 hours and 41 minutes. The White Sox swept the Astros in the best-of-seven series with a run differential of six.

 
 
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