Monday, April 17, 2023

The Impossible Astros of 1969


TRIVIA WINNER: Congrats to Tim Nathan of Madison Heights, MI, who correctly identified at least three of the six players who played for the 1960 Pirates and who played in at least one other World Series against the Yankees. The six were Gino Cimoli, Don Hoak, Clem Labine, Rocky Nelson, Dick Groat and Bob Skinner.  The Prize: Starbucks Gift Card.

NEW TRIVIA CONTEST:  By answering the TRIVIA QUESTION CORRECTLY you are automatically entered into a weekly drawing for a Starbucks Gift Card.  YOU MUST ENTER VIA THE EMAIL AT THE END OF THIS COLUMN. Don't forget to put your mailing address in with the answer so if you win we can send you the gift card in the mail.

ANSWER to the Trivia question in the previous column:  There were actually six players who appeared in at least two different World Series against the Yankees, and who played for the 1960 Pirates. Gino Cimoli, Don Hoak, Rocky Nelson and Clem Labine did it as Brooklyn Dodgers, while Dick Groat and Bob Skinner did it for the 1964 Cardinals. Any three would have entered you into the drawing. 

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Name a former batting champion who played for the 1969 Astros.

The following is a guest column by reader Samuel Barrett. Thank you Samuel for submitting.

The 1969 Houston Astros were a decent club that finished with a record of 81-81, good enough for 5th place in the new National League West division. It was the toughest division in baseball in 1969 as each team except for the new San Diego Padres were in the pennant race. However, this team could have and should have competed before they did. Trades by Spec Richardson leading up to the ’69 season shipped away several of their young stars such as Rusty Staub, Mike Cuellar, and Dave Giusti. For them, they acquired Jesus Alou, Curt Blefary, Denny Lemaster, Denis Menke, Marty Martinez, and Johnny Edwards to join the already stable Joe Morgan. Morgan stole 49 bases and when you add in Jimmy Wynn, who hit 33 home runs, Doug Rader, and Larry Dierker, who became the first Houston pitcher to win 20 games in a season, you had a formidable crew.

The team finished April with an abysmal 4-20 record. That 20th loss being a no-hitter by the Reds’ Jim Maloney. The next day is when the tables turned, beginning with Don Wilson no-hitting the Reds in return. Over the next two months the team had two 10-game winning streaks and set a record for most double plays in a game; first baseman Blefary had his own mark when he was involved in all seven. Doug Rader hit back-to-back walk offs against the Phillies at the Astrodome, a grand slam on May 27 and a single the next night. In a June doubleheader at Shea Stadium, Menke and Wynn hit grand slams in the same inning, Dierker hit a home run off Nolan Ryan, and closer Fred Gladding got the lone hit of his career. His batting average of .016 remains the lowest non-zero batting average of all time.

A good trade Richardson pulled off was one during the stretch run to acquire a knuckleballer Jim Bouton, who tells of the entire 1969 season in his infamous diary Ball Four. After a win over the Dodgers on September 10, the Astros were only 2 games out of first place, the closest the franchise had ever been to first at that point. Three days later in Atlanta, an ace match up of Larry Dierker vs. Phil Niekro proved to be just that. Both men went at least 11 innings. Dierker had a no-no going into the 9th, and he was pulled in the 13th for a pinch hitter who helped score two runs. 

His 20th win was almost sealed…until two former Astros; Sonny Jackson and Bob Aspromonte conspired to score three in the bottom half and send the Astros on a losing spiral. In 18 match ups in ’69, the Braves lost only three times to the Astros, but the Astros were the only team to have a winning record against the eventual World Champion New York Mets. 

Without the poor front office moves, 4-20 start and struggles against Atlanta, Houston could’ve seen their first pennant. But instead, the Space City would wait 11 years before seeing the postseason for the first time.

TRIVIA CONTEST; After reading this column you can enter the weekly trivia contest for a chance to win a Starbucks Gift Card. Enter via the following email. Send 1) your answer to the trivia question at the top of the column, 2) your name, address and email so where we know where to send the card if you win 3) any comment you have on the column. One winner will be selected at random each week based on correct answers with the odds being based on the number of correct entries.  Please cut and paste or enter the following email into your email system.
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