Previously known as Houston Colt .45's (1962-1964)
Franchise Record: (through 2016) 4,290-4,491-3 (.489)
Post Season Record: 24-38 (.387)
World Series Titles: 0
National League Pennants: 1 (2005)
Retired Numbers: 5 (Jeff Bagwell), 7 (Craig Biggio), 24 (Jimmy Wynn), 25 (Jose Cruz), 32 (Jim Umbricht), 33 (Mike Scott), 34 (Nolan Ryan), 40 (Don Wilson), 49 (Larry Dierker) In addition, the number 42 has been retired from all MLB teams in honor of Jackie Robinson.
Created in the 1962 Expansion, the Houston Colt .45's changed their name to the Houston Astros as of the 1965 season, when they moved into the Astrodome. They are the only team to have moved from the National League to the American League, doing so after the 2012 season.
Craig Biggio and Jeff Bagwell are the franchise's career leaders in virtually every batting statistic. Biggio is the club's leader in games played, runs, hits, and doubles, and Bagwell is tops in home runs and RBI. The team first made the postseason in 1980, when it lost a tightly-fought National League Championship Series in five games to the Philadelphia Phillies. They won the second-half title in the strike-shortened 1981 season, only to bow out to the Los Angeles Dodgers in another tightly-fought five game series in the NLDS. In both years, the team that defeated the Astros went on to win the World Series. The team was built around pitching, with starters Nolan Ryan, Joe Niekro and Ken Forsch leading the way; OFs Jose Cruz and Cesar Cedeno were the most dangerous hitters. They made it back to the postseason in 1986, the year when Mike Scott emerged as one of the National League's top pitchers, but lost to the New York Mets - them too eventual World Series winners - in the NLCS. That series featured a 16-inning nail-biter in Game 6 that is considered one of the most thrilling games ever played.
The Astros were marred by tragedy in their early years. Pitcher Jay Dahl was killed in a car crash while playing in the minor leagues before reaching the age of 20. Two players, Jim Umbricht and Walt Bond, died of cancer at a young age. Pitcher Don Wilson committed suicide after the 1974 season; ace pitcher J.R. Richard suffered a debilitating stroke shortly after pitching in the 1980 All-Star Game, never returning to the majors afterwards. SS Dickie Thon, an emerging star at the time, was beaned early in the 1983 season and saw his promising career derailed, even though he did manage to come back and play a number of seasons after his injury.
Like the Mets, the Astros (and the Colt .45s before them) were terrible for most of the 1960s until joining the pennant race in 1969. They settled into a .500 team for a number of years after that, then took a big step forward in 1979, when they had the best pitching staff in the major leagues and emerged as a contender. The Astros' stars of the period were OFs Jimmy Wynn and Cesar Cedeno, 1B Bob Watson, 3B Doug Rader, and Ps Larry Dierker, Wilson, Richard, Ken Forsch and Joe Niekro.
After the 1986 season, the Astros settled into mediocrity for a decade before their next successful period. Under manager Dierker, an early pitching star with the team, they made four postseason appearances in five years from 1997 to 2001, but never made it further than the Division Series. They finally won their first postseason series in 2004, only to be defeated by the St. Louis Cardinals in the NLCS. In addition to Biggio, Bagwell and Berkman, OF Carlos Beltran was a star of that team, having a tremendous postseason after being acquired in a mid-season trade with the Kansas City Royals. Not surprisingly, the Astros of that period were nicknamed the "Killer B's". In 2005, the Astros finally reached the World Series, only to be swept in four games by the Chicago White Sox. The four games were close, but the White Sox came out on top each time. Following that appearance in the Fall Classic, the Astros fell back into mediocrity, and then went through the worst stretch in franchise history at the start of the 2010s.
After the 2011 season, the Astros were purchased by a syndicate led by Jim Crane. As part of obtaining approval from fellow Major League Baseball owners for the sale, Crane was forced to accept the move of the team from the National to the American League, to become part of the AL West next to the Texas Rangers. Crane was reportedly offered $70 million in compensation for agreeing to the move, which gave the two leagues an equal number of teams beginning in 2013 and created six five-team divisions, allowing for a more balanced schedule for all teams. The move was not welcomed with enthusiasm by everyone; former Astros star Lance Berkman stated: "I feel basically like the commissioner extorted Jim Crane into moving the Astros." Unfortunately, the team set a franchise record for losses with 107 in its last season in the National League; the previous worst of 106 had come in 2011 and those were the only two seasons with over 100 losses in team history, their previous high having been 97 losses, on two occasions.
When the Astros moved to the American League West in 2013, they assumed a new visual identity, with a modernized version of the cap insignia from the 1960s and 1970s (a capital H over a star) being reintroduced as the team's logo. On the field though, the Astros had their third straight horrendous season, once again topping 100 losses and setting a new franchise record for losses. However, the Astros were busy piling up a stash of promising young players during those years of losing, and by the second half of the 2014 season, they were playing better, even finishing out of the AL West cellar that year. 2B Jose Altuve had a great season that year, becoming the first Astros player to win a batting title. Then in 2015, the Astros got good all of a sudden, with Aluve, Rookie of the Year Carlos Correa and OFs George Springer and Colby Rasmus providing the offence and Dallas Keuchel, who won the Cy Young Award, and Collin McHugh the pitching. They took an early lead in the division race, and while they were eventually caught and passed by state rivals the Rangers, they won a wild card berth. Behind Keuchel's pitching, they shut out the New York Yankees on the road in the Wild Card Game, then were on the brink of eliminating the Kansas City Royals in the Division Series before collapsing in the 8th inning of Game 4. The strategy of enduring a string of poor seasons in order to rebuild from within, with a bevy of young players, had worked just as planned.
- Adam Darowski: "The Houston Astros Hall of Stats", in Cecilia Tan, ed.: Baseball in the Space Age: Houston since 1961, The National Pastime, SABR, 2014, pp. 86-92.
- Will Flaherty: "Wooing Women Fans: The Houston Astros", in Cecilia Tan, ed.: Baseball in the Space Age: Houston since 1961, 'The National Pastime, SABR, 2014, pp. 18-27.
- Michael Shapiro: Bottom of the Ninth: Branch Rickey, Casey Stengel and daring scheme to save baseball from itself, Times Books, Macmillan, New York, NY, 2009.
- Gregory H. Wolf, ed.: Dome Sweet Dome: History and Highlights from 35 Years of the Houston Astrodome, SABR, Phoenix, AZ, 2017. ISBN 978-1-943816-33-0
- Peter Filichia: Green Cathedrals: The Ultimate Celebrations of All 273 Major League and Negro League Ballparks Past and Present, Addison Wesley Publishing Company (March 1993)
- John Thorn: Total Baseball, Total Sports Publishing, 1989, 1995
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