Esquire recently published a list of the 20 best nonfiction baseball books. I have read most of these books, as well as lots of baseball books not listed. But the list got me to thinking. I've yet to come across a really good baseball book devoted to the Houston Astros. There are libraries full of books on the Yankees, Cardinals, Dodgers and Red Sox. There's a book about the Rays. Even the Rangers have a semi-decent book. But nothing's really been written specifically about the Astros.
There's Larry Dierker's memoir, but that's more about Dierker than the Astros. Portions of Jim Bouton's Ball Four detail his time with the Astros. There's a book about the 1986 Mets/Astros playoff series. Bill Brown has written a book about the history of the team, and various biographies touch on the stays of various players with the Astros. But otherwise, the literature devoted to the Astros is sorely lacking.
So I got to thinking on the topic and came up with these three books I'd like to see written about the Astros.
J.R. RICHARD AND THE 1980 HOUSTON ASTROS
The 1980 Houston Astros had a pitching staff for the ages. Hall-of-Famer and big-money free agent acquisition Nolan Ryan was only the number three starter. The ace and most dominant pitcher in the National League was the towering right-handed fastballer Richard. And this pitching staff was going to lead the Astros to the promised land, the National League playoffs, a place the Astros had never been.
The 1979 Astros had surprised the baseball world and led the NL West for most of the season before fading down the stretch. The 1980 squad added Ryan and former Astro Joe Morgan to the squad and looked to dominate. Instead, the squad battled the Los Angeles Dodgers for the entire season. But along with aiming for the playoffs, the team had to deal with adversity when Richard, dealing with an injury, suffered a stroke and nearly died.
Richard never returned to the squad, but the team regrouped and defeated the Dodgers in a one-game playoff to win the NL West. The Astros then took on the Phillies in a gripping five-game series that saw four of the games go into extra innings and featured controversial umpiring calls. The Astros led the series 2-1, and were ahead in the late innings of the fifth and deciding game with the great Ryan on the mound before falling to the Phillies. 1992 AND THE ROAD TRIP FROM HELL
The 1991 Astros were an awful baseball team. It was a team that had been torn apart, the veterans and stars traded away for youngsters, most with little major league experience, and players from the stacked farm system were given a chance to play in the majors for the first time.
Those players returned in 1992 and that team consisted of Jeff Bagwell, Craig Biggio, Luis Gonzalez, Steve Finley and Pete Harnisch. During the season, pitchers like Shane Reynolds and Darryl Kile made appearances. The team's play improved on the field, and the nucleus of the team that would lead the Astros to the playoffs at the end of the decade formed.
During this time, the Astros were sold to Drayton McLane and then the team had to spend most of that August on the road while the Astrodome was used to host the Republican National Convention. The team played 26 games on the road, starting in Atlanta and going to Cincinnati, Los Angeles, San Diego and San Francisco, then back across the country to Chicago, St. Louis and Philadelphia. Somehow the Astros went 12-14 on the trip, finished with 81 wins on the season, and a team was born.
JUDGE ROY HOFHEINZ AND THE BIRTH OF THE ASTRODOME
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
As the future of the Astrodome is debated, it's amazing that no book has ever been written about the mastermind behind the Dome, the man responsible for the Astros being in Houston, and the team's first owner. Hofheinz was a former mayor of Houston. He was a former Harris County Judge. He was a visionary who loved Houston, built a network of radio and television stations along the Gulf Coast, owned the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, built Astroworld, and so on.
But most important, he spearheaded the building of the Astrodome, went out and got the Astros, and was the team's first owner while living in the Dome. The teams during his tenure as owner weren't very good, rarely competing. But such greats as Joe Morgan, Rusty Staub, Jim Wynn, Don Wilson and Larry Dierker were produced by the Astros.
In the end, Hofheinz's desires exceeded the scope of his funds, and the Astros and the Dome were put under the control of two of Hofheinz's creditors, Ford Motor Credit and GE Credit. And from these depths, under the prodding of General Manager Tal Smith, would arise the Astros of 1980.
So those are my book pitches. Who's interested?