Saturday, December 19, 2015

1971 Houston Astros (4thT): 79-83, .488, 11GB

Once again the Astros were sub par.  In their 10th season of existence they were no closer to a championship than they were 2-3 years ago.  In fact, it really annoyed the Astro management team that their fellow expansioners, the Mets, had already won a championship and were now cemented as contenders.  The knee jerk reaction was to make poor trades and to give up on young prospects who didn't perform right away.  After finishing in 2nd place the previous year the pressure was on the 'Stos to turn the corner and move to the next level.  After an exceptionally slow start Houston found themselves 10 games out by mid May with a 15-18 record.  By June the team battled back to .500.  Winning 9 out of 10 in early July put them 4 games over .500, but that was followed up with a 6 game losing streak, so the club was right back where they started.  As the summer wore on the same pattern occurred over and over again with the 'Stros never getting closer than 9 game out and at one point being 17 1/2 out.  From the start this team never contended.

Statistically, Cesar Cedeno leads the league with 40 doubles and Roger Metzger and Joe Morgan share the league lead with 11 triples each.  In the 2nd game of a September 5th Twin-Bill vs the first place Giants flamethrower J.R. Richard tied a major league record by fanning 15 in a complete game win.  Of the starters, only left fielder Bob Watson hit over .280.  Morgan swiped 40 bases and 20 year old Cedeno swiped 20.  Star Righfielder Jimmy "Toy Canon" Wynn slumped to a powerless .203, which was a huge concern for the team.  If there was anyone in the lineup who could conquer the wide expanses of the Astrodome it was Wynn.  Without his power bat Morgan's 13 homers led the team that finished dead last in the league for long balls.  While the big ballpark hurt the hitters it was also a pitcher's best friend.  The Astro staff finished 2nd to the Mets in ERA posting an outstanding 3.13, but with little or no run support you would commonly see stat lines like Jack Billingham's 10-16, 3.39.  Don Wilson chipped in 268 innings and posted a 16-10, 2.45 record.  24 year old ace Larry Dierker had some injury issues, but still managed 159 innings and a 12-6, 2.72 record.  The pen was nothing short of outstanding.  Closer Fred Gladding was 4-5, 2.10 with 12 saves.  Long man Jim Ray (10-4, 2.12) was the beneficiary of some late inning comebacks.  George Culver (5-8, 2.64, 7sv) did a fine job and Denny Lemaster (0-2, 3.45) was the lone lefty arm out of the pen.

For this project I created 13 new cards to round out the set.

In limited action (7 Games / 16 IP) for Houston in 1971 Grief had and even 1-1, 5.06 record.  At the end of the season he was shipped to San Diego in the deal that sent veteran Dave Roberts to Houston.  For the next 4 years he would be an effective arm for the Padres before developing arm issues and eventually being sent to St. Louis where his career came to an end in 1976.
Harris was fortunate to get more than a cup of Joe, but his 1-1, 6.46 performance in 30+ innings did not impress anyone.  With a surplus of major league arms the Astros sent him down, then eventually out (to the Mets).  After an 8-11, 3.11 season at Tidewater-AAA the Mets gave him his release.  His extended action in 1971 was his one and only true shot in the bigs.
In just 5 games Thomas went hit-less for the 1971 Astros.  At the end of the season the franchise made a major mistake packaging him in their big deal to San Diego.  Thomas would go on to be a key starter and prized utility man for the next 14 seasons.  He was a key contributor for the Dodgers on their late 70's pennant winning teams and their 1981 Championship team.  Thomas played every position and he played most well.  He was a great baserunner and a good guy in the locker room.  Houston just didn't know what type of talent he had or were impatient to wait for it to develop.
After his 15k debut the 21 year old Richard fought control and inconsistency problems for the next 3 years before locking down a spot in the rotation in 1975.  Once he locked down that spot he led the league in strikeouts twice by eclipsing the 300 mark.  After leading the league in ERA (2.71) in 1979 he was poised to produce his greatest season in 1980  With a 10-4, 1.90 record Richard experienced a career ending stroke that almost ended his life.  Sadly many fans and management folks thought he was faking his stroke symptoms due to jealousy since the team added Nolan Ryan to their rotation in the offseason.  That type of accusation was total hogwash considering the fact that Richard was enjoying a better season than Ryan.  Stories written tell a sad tale of a man who became homeless and lived under a highway overpass after his baseball life ended.  This is truly one of the saddest baseball stories ever told.
Houston was the 5th and next to last stop for this career backup catcher.  Hiatt enjoyed his best season hitting .276 (48-174) in 69 games of action.  In fact he completely outhit starter Johnny Edwards (.233)).  Hiatt was known for his excellent defensive skills, especially blocking balls in the dirt.  Midway through the following season he was dealt to the Angels where he hit .279 in limited action.  Not ready to quit yet he spent the next two season in the minors performing well (.290 & .270).  After being cut by the Cubs Wichita-AAA affiliate during the '75 seasons he remained in baseball for the the next 35 years as a coach, minor league manager and player personnel director.
Schlueter's one and only shot at the bigs was his 7 game audition during the 1971 season where he went 1-3 in 7 games where he was mostly used as a defensive replacement late in games.  His .209 career minor league average spelt doom for him and by 1975 he was out of baseball.
Forsch's 1970 failures did not prevent him from making the most of his opportunity in 1971 where he was 8-8, 2.53 splitting time between the rotation and the pen.  For the next 11 seasons he would be a mainstay on Houston's staff.  After leaving Houston he pitched 5 more seasons in California before retiring at the age of 39.  His lifetime 114-113, 3.37 record would have been better if he had at least an average amount of run support.  Still he fashioned together a solid 16 year career.
After hitting .307 in 31 games during the '70 season the 'Stros had bigger plans for Larry Howard.  Back in the day when teams kept a 3rd catcher the team planned to bring him along slowly.  What they didn't anticipate was that his bat would slow up year by year.  In 24 games during the '71 season he hit .234, followed up by hitting .223 in 72 and .167 in '73 where he was dealt to the Braves mid season.  In a brief 4 game stint with Atlanta he his .125 and found himself back in the minors where he hit just as poorly as he did in the majors.  In 14 minor league seasons he hit .236 with just 6 homers.  By the age of 31 he was back in the Houston system for one more go, which lasted just 5 games before he was released.
Robin's older brother has the unique distinction of being the only pitcher in Major League Baseball history to appear in the official record books without ever actually having faced a batter. In his only major league appearance on September 15, 1971, he had to leave the game during his warm-up pitches due to injury.  Yount "heard something snap" and immediately called the coaching staff and trainer out to the mound.  He was immediately removed from the game.  Due to major league rules he is considered to have been in the game, even though he never threw a pitch.  Over the course of the next few years he found himself being the last guy cut in spring training.  One last shot with the Brewers, while Robin was there, yielded him no success.  That one dreary night in September was all that he ever had.  To his credit he went out and built a successful Real Estate business and harbored no ill will toward anyone.  I could only find a B&W picture online, which I colorized to create a card.

Busse played in 10 games for the Astros and hit .147 (5-34).  He spent most of the season in Oklahoma City (AAA) hitting a robust .271.  After a miserable 1972 season in AAA (.207) he was dealt to the Cardinals where he spent more time on the farm.  By 1975 he was done after hitting .247 while splitting time between Houston's and KC's AAA affiliates.
A former second round pick of the Astros, the lefthanded hitter spent parts of two seasons with Houston and hit .231 in 76 games. He was dealt to the Mets for outfielder Tommie Agee and played just eight games with New York. After failing to make the big league roster with San Diego, Chiles returned to Houston in 1976 and batted .500 in four at bats. He then had two relatively good seasons with the Twins before curiously retiring. (from
While Roger Metzger may have been overrated defensively and challenged offensively, at the very least it appears he was entertaining to watch when he did put the ball in play.  (from  Metzger actually won a gold glove in 1973, but modern day pundits feel that award was a gift due to his lack of range and dWar (whatever the heck that is?).  During the '71 season he led the team with 11 triples even though he batted just .235.  He was durable.  In fact he played in over 100 games in 7 of the 8 years he was the Astros starting shortstop.  After hitting just .220 in 45 games to start the '78 season he was traded to the Giants where he had two fine years with the bat as a utility man.  After hitting .074 in 28 games to start the '80 season he was released.
Whenever the subject of best baseball names comes up, Scipio Spinks is sure to be on the short list. A classic wild flamethrower, Spinks was breaking through to success in 1972. If he hadn’t torn up his knee in a collision with Johnny Bench, he would have more to show than a career record of 7-11 in the majors. Yet this high-spirited character has spent a lifetime in baseball, coaching and scouting for more than three decades since his playing days ended. “From the first day I signed,” said Scipio in 2009, “I knew baseball was my life. Even as a kid I wanted it.” (from SABR)  Spinks was 1-0, 3.68 in close to 30 innings of work for the Astros.  He fanned 26 batters and walked only 13, which was probably the best ratio he had during his brief career.  After being traded to STL he had a fine campaign (5-5, 2.67, 118IP), but then bottomed out as control problems haunted him.

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