Seeing as how Fox Sports Houston has been running text polls during games for the greatest Astros ever, by position, and seeing as how those texting have seen fit to find Morgan Ensberg and Roy Oswalt to be among the greatest Astros ever at their positions, I thought I would weigh in on the matter. So here, for your enjoyment, and to hopefully start a good discussion, is my 25-man roster of the greatest Astros. Ever.
Two criteria: the player must have been here more than half a season, so Carlos Beltran and Randy Johnson don’t count. Second: I don’t believe in a 25-man roster that has over half of its space being wasted by relief pitchers. And since most of the pitchers I name are capable of complete games, or of facing more than one batter, my roster will consist of 15 position players and 10 pitchers.
So, let’s get to it.
First Base: Jeff Bagwell. The best hitter in team history. The best defensive first baseman in team history. The best overall player in team history. It’s not even close.
Second Base: Craig Biggio. Before Biggio’s knee injury in 2000, he truly was one of the NL’s best second basemen. He had a steady glove, and he had excellent range – it took a minor miracle to get a ground ball past Biggio and Bagwell when they were healthy. Plus, there’s that whole 3,000 hit thing.
Third Base: Doug Rader. The guy won five straight Gold Gloves at third from 1970-1974. And he played in the Dome when it was a near impossibility to hit homers there.
Shortstop: Roger Metzger. For years I had to listen to the idiots go on and on about how Adam Everett was the best defensive shortstop in Astros history. Of course, these are the same people who never paid any attention to Astros baseball until the team moved into MMP. Metzger had greater range than Everett, and he played on artificial turf, which meant he had to be quicker. And he hit about as well as Everett, which means he was generally a sure out. But he was really really good at fielding his position.
Left Field: The Toy Cannon, Jimmy Wynn. He had a good arm. And he was one of Houston’s few, true power hitters. He was the second Astro to homer into the Dome’s gold level (rainbow) seats.
Center Field: Cesar Cedeno was the real five-tool player. He could hit. He could hit for power. He had a good arm. He had speed and was good on the base paths. He was able to cover the vast amount of green carpet that was the Dome’s outfield.
Right Field: Terry Puhl actually played all three outfield positions for the Astros, and he played all of them at a superb level. He never hit for power, but he was a consistent bat, he was always on-base, and he was a threat to steal. I’ve got no evidence of this, but I could swear he invented the sliding-on-knee-on-the-artificial-turf-then-popping-up-to-make-the-throw play.
Catcher: Alan Ashby wasn’t as good defensively as Brad Ausmus. But he did have a better bat. He also caught no-hitters thrown by Ken Forsch, Nolan Ryan and Mike Scott.
The bench consists of Lance Berkman who can play first, left or right field. Joe Morgan can play at second. Ken Caminiti would be at third. Rusty Staub would be the pinch hitter supreme. Craig Reynolds would back up at third, short and second. Bob Watson is the back-up at first base, and the final bench player is Jose Cruz.
Number One Starter: J.R. Richard. Pitchers didn’t get much more dominating than Richard. Standing nearly 6’8” tall, his fastball was nearly as fast as Ryan’s, and he struck out 300 batters in two consecutive seasons. He was on the way to his greatest season ever when he suffered a stroke while trying to prove to the Astros that he really was injured.
Number Two Starter: Larry Dierker. One of the Astros all-time greats, on the field, and off. He had a decent fastball, and some good breaking stuff. It was his misfortune to play on some bad teams. Most people remember him as either a broadcaster, or a manager, but as good as he was at broadcasting and managing, he was far superior as a pitcher.
Number Three Starter: Nolan Ryan is one of the greatest pitchers of all time. He threw his fifth no-hitter while with the Astros. He got his 3,000th strikeout while with the Astros. He still had the dominating fastball, and a work ethic to be admired.
Number Four Starter: Joe Niekro bounced around the majors before landing with the Astros, where he decided to start throwing the knuckleball like his brother Phil. He pitched one of the most important games in team history, leading the Astros to a victory over the Dodgers in game number 163 of the 1980 season, and leading the Astros to the playoffs for the first time in team history.
Number Five Starter: Roy Oswalt. Oswalt has been a truly dominating pitcher the past two seasons, but he’s still finding a way to win, most of the time. And I like the idea of a fireballer-knuckler-fireballer rotation.
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The relief corps would consist of spot starters and long relievers Ken Forsch and Don Wilson. Joe Sambito and Dave Smith would be the set-up guys, and the closer would be Billy Wagner.
To manage this roster of all-time great Astros would be Bill Virdon. Bill Wood would the general manager to assemble this roster. The bench coach would be Leo Durocher, the pitching coach would be Vern Ruhle, and the hitting coach would be Rudy Jaramillo. Hal Lanier would man the third base coaching box, and Art Howe would be the first base coach.
The broadcast team would consist of Gene Elston, Jerry Trupiano, Bill Brown and Jim Deshaies.
And there you have it. The greatest Astros of all time. – John Royal