Finishing in 3rd place with an 81-81 record the Astros were an up and coming young team. The pitching was also young, but darn good. The team finished 2nd in ERA and first in complete games. 27 year old James Rodney Richard was the ace of the staff. JR threw bee-bees. His 18-12 record screams out for lack of run support when you pair it up with his 2.97 ERA in 267 innings worth of work. The other starters were pretty good. Joe Niekro split time betwen the pen and the rotation and compiled a 13-8 record with a 3.04 ERA and 5 saves. They did not have one true closer, but that didn't matter since the bullpen by committee stragegy worked to perfection. Playing in the "8th wonder" of the world...aka-The Astrodome was a huge advantage to the pitching staff.
Of course that huge advantage to the pitchers turned into a huge detriment for the hitters. Astro hitters finished 8th and 9th respectively in most key hitting categories. Shockingly they did have 6 hitters in double digits for homers with Bob Watson leading the way with 22 round trippers and 110 RBI's. While the Astros weren't a great hitting team they were one of the best running teams in the league. Enos Cabell, who hit 16 homers and batted .282 swiped 42 bases, while playing a solid thrid base. Jose Cruz hit .299 with 17 homers and 84 RBI's plus 44 thefts. The enigmatic Cesar Cedeno stole a whopping 61 bases with 14 homers, while hitting .279, but that wasn't enough to detract from his critics who expected him to be the "next Willie Mays". Since the days when he arrived in the biggs, Cedeno was "annoited" that burdensome title. There was only one Willie Mays and we will never see the likes of him again on a ball field. Everyone pales in comparision to the Say Hey kid and so did Cedeno who was only a 4 time All-Star and a 5 time Gold Glover in his 7 seasons prior to '77. Who knows how great he might have been playing in a more hitter friendly park ?
The bench was pretty good too. Backup catcher Ed Herrmann (not the dude who played FDR), hit .291. Cliff Johnson, who backed up behind the plate and 1st hit .299. Wilbur Howard, the 4th outfielder hit .257. So how did the team come up short ? Playing in the same division as the Dodgers and the Big Red Machine was not easy. Having an every day shortstop like Roger Metzger, who hit .186 hurt a lot too. Joe Ferguson was pretty good with the bat, but he wasn't the best catch and throw guy behind the plate. Art Howe hit well (.264), but he was not your prototypical second baseman. He was more cut out to play the corner infield spots, but his bat wasn't heavy enough to warrant him playing there daily. Terry Puhl, at age 20, came up and dazzled fans with his fielding and his .301 average. He was a skinny kid who could hit, throw and run, but at this point in his career he had no pop in his bat (zero homers) and that's a tough sell for a guy playing right field. The good news is that the framework for success was built. In 3 short years the team would make the post season and wind up 1 inning away from the World Series. This could be a real fun team to manage with their speed and pitching.
To complete the Astros 1977 Topps team set I had to add 18 new cards plus update Jose Cruz' card..
As previously mentioned, Cruz's original card had him batting from the wrong side of the plate. The updated card makes him look lean and mean. Cruz hit .299 with 17 homers, which means he had some pretty good pop in his bad considering the fact that he played half his games in the Astrodome. He would have a long and illustrious career in Houston and might be considered one of the top 3 or 4 every day players to ever wear an Astro uniform.
The 22 year old Bannister posted and 8-9 record with a 4.04 ERA and finished 4th in the NL Rookie of the Year voting. After a 3-9 season in 1978 he was dealt to the Mariners for shortstop Craig Reynolds. The deal helped both franchises. Bannister performed admirably in 4 seasons on a cellar dwellar. He even made the All-Star team in 1982, his final year in the Pacific Northwest. He also led the league in strikeouts (209) that season. As a free agent he signed with the Chisox and went 16-10 with a career best 3.35 ERA as the White Sox made the post season for the first time in 24 years. Bannister finished his career 9 games under .500, but if you allot for all the second division teams that he played for you can see that he was a better pitcher than his record indicates. This signed 8x10 photo was fond via a google search.
After hitting just .222 in 202 plate appearances for the Orioles in 1974 Fuller was sent back down to the farm. The O's were consistent contenders, so he was not about to get another shot to play regularly. Eventually the Astros signed him during the offseason and gave him a shot to back up the corner oufield spots and 1st base. Fuller got 100 at bats and hit a woeful .160 in 1977. The Astros would ship him to Pittsburgh the following year. He would never return to the majors. The only photo I could find of Fuller on the Astros was a black and white 5x7 glossy being sold on ebay. I played around with Paint Shop and found a better way to colorize photos. I won't say I perfected it, but I feel like it's a lot better than previous efforts.
Cannon had speed and hit for average during his years in the Astro chain. During his two cups of coffee with the parent club he never hit higher than .222. In just 17 at bats in 1977 he hit .118. After the '78 season ended he was sent in a package to Toronto for Alan Ashby, which turned out to be huge steal for the Astros. Cannon hit just .211 in 146 plate appearances during the 1979 season for the Jays. He his a brutal .080 the following year and must feel fortunate to have gotten 50 at bats. His major league totals over 4 partial season was .176, 1 homer and 11 RBI's. Not exactly the numbers the Astros envisioned when they spent their 1974 #1 pick on him. This card was exceptionally hard to creat. There were no know Astro photos of Cannon, so I had to take his 1980 Topps card photo, which had him in a Jays uniform and try and convert it to a Houston look. It took me a wile to find a cap that fit nicely and looked closed to authentic. I had to cut his uniform and paste it into a new file, then turn it to black and white and re-colorize it. I'm not happy with this effort, but it was a hard picture to work with. It was somewhere on a par with Topps's work during the era. Possibly a bit worse, but not as bad as Rich McKinney 1973.
Gonzalez spent 4 non-descript seasons in Houston as a utility infielder. Having Roger Metzger start ahead of you at shortstop while batting in the .180's tells you just how lightly Astro management thought of his skills. Splitting time between 2nd and short he hit .245 in 383 at bats. That would be the most action he would see during any of the remaining 6 seasons in his career. After hitting just .115 in 1980 in 40 games Gonzalez was allowed to leave via free agency. He hit .318 in limited action with the Cardinals in 1981, then dropped to .241 when his playing time was doubled. He wound up in Detroit the following season, hit .143, and was released.
Famous for being Prince Albert's cousin and infamous for allowing his team, the Detroit Tigers to bat out of order when he was managing, Pujols was a rookie in '77. Getting into just 6 games and getting 1 hit in 15 trips to the plate earned him a trip back to triple A. From 1978-1983 he would serve as a part time / platoon catcher for the 'Stros. His bat was virtually non-existant as evidenced by his career .193 average in 850 AB's. The photo used for this card is a colorized Black and White 5x7 team issue print. I used the same process to colorize it that I used on Jim Fuller's card.
Jersey City native Lemongello was more famous for his off the field exploits than his on the field accomplishments. Once quoted as saying, "Do Canadians speak American ?" In 1982 he and former teammate Manny Seoane were arrested for kidnapping Lemongello's famous cousins Mike (Bowlwer) and Peter (Singer). Like his major league career, Lemongello also failed at kidnapping and got busted and was sentenced to 10 years of probation. In 1977 he went 9-14 with a 3.48 ERA. He logged 214 innings at the tender age of 21 and allowed 237 hits. The following year he would replicate the same level of futility. After the '78 season he was sent to Toronto as part of the Ashby deal. His one season in Toronto was horrible (1-9, 6.29), so he was sent back to Triple A. By 1980 his career was over at the age of 24 and his future life in crime awaited him.
Apparently Fischlin was one of Scott Boras' first clients. As payback, he works for Boras today in his player development department. If Boras was able to get this guy a huge contact then he really did earn his bucks, that's for sure. The 21 year old Fischlin played in 13 games and got 15 AB's with 3 hits during his brief stay with the big club in 1977. He would return in '78 for 44 games, but hit only .116. 1979 saw him spend the full season in the minors with him returning in 1980 to play in just 1 game. That's probably where this photo was taken. It's an intersting cover shot that features HOF'er Joe Morgan and somehow he wound up in the shot. Since I thought it was interesting and there were no other shots of him in a Houston uni.
Along with Willie Crawford and cash, Sperring arrived in Houston in exchange for Rob Andrews. His stock was so low the Giants dealt him without ever letting him play a game for them. He would serve the role of utility infielder and play in 58 games and hit .186 in 143 plate appearances. After the season he was sent down to Charleston (AAA) where he played for 2 seasons before being given his unconditional release. This card was created by using his 1978 Topps card photo, which was clearly taken at Shea.
His Astro career lasted all of 4 games during the '77 season. In 6 1/3 innings of work he gave up just 2 earned runs. He arrived in Houston via a trade that sent infielder Larry Milbourne to the Mariners just after spring training ended. After the season he was released by the 'Stros and wound up in St. Louis where he hasd 3 solid seasons. After 2 years in the minors he wound up back in Seattle. His lifetime 20-11 record with a 3.82 ERA in 182 games spans parts of 8 seasons. This card was created using his 1978 rookie panel card shot from Topps, which was horribly airbrushed.
Canadian born Terry Puhl shot through the Astros chain like a lightning bolt in the Texas sky. He was called up to the majors in July of 1977 and stayed in the biggs for the rest of his career. He hit .301 during his rookie campaign and the following year was an All-Star. He hit .526 in the 1980 NLCS, but the Astros still came up short vs the Phillies. He holds the 9th best all time career fielding percentage (.993) for major league outfielders, although he never won a gold glove. The photo used for his card came from his 1981 Fleer card.
22 year old rookie Tom Dixon logged 30 innints over 9 games (4 starts) and posted an impressive 3.26 era and a 1-0 record. Given 19 starts the following season his ERA bumped up to 3.99 with a 7-11 record in 140 innings. In '79 he bottomed out by going 1-2 with a devil like 6.66 ERA in 19 games. He was shipped off to the Mets where he was burried at Tidewater for 3 seasons before he moved on to Syracuse (TOR) then Wichita (MON). Pictured here is his minor league card while at Tidewater. I did a cut/paste of an Astro cap over his Tides cap.
After being acquired by the Giants in the offseason Crawford was dealt to the Astros without ever playing a game in the Bay area. coming off a .304 season in St. Louis, 30 year old Crawford aged like he was the star of a Twilight Zone episode. After 114 at bats spanning 42 games he and his .254 average were sent packing to Oakland where he hit .184. After the season he signed back with the Dodgers and was released. At 31 he had 14 seasons under belt. What should have been his prime was his twilight. As an 18 year old he got to play in the 1965 World Series for the Dodgers. He could lay claim to being a teammate of both Sandy Koufax and JR Richard. I copied Jesus Alou's cap from his '74 card and enlarged it then pasted it on Crawford's head after airbrushing away his batting helmet that was airbrushed to show Giant colors.
In 66 games during the '77 season Gardner was used mostly as a defensive replacement and pinch runner. In 65 AB's he hit .154. Houston sold his contract to the Giants after the season and he played in just 7 games in a similar role, which would be his final shot at the biggs. I found this semi-action photo shot on an Astro-fan website.
Rescued from the Pirates system as a player to be named later during the '76 season, Howe was 29 years old and going nowhere fast in professional ball. After hitting .138 in limited action during the '76 season he looked all but done. Then out of nowhere at the age of 30 he found the fountain of youth in the Astrodome. For the next 6 seasons he was a mainstay in the Astros infield until he suffered what was thought to be a career ending injury in 1982. After missing the whole 1983 season he returned in 1984 for two season in St. Louis before heading off to a successful career as a major league manager. I used his 1978 Topps card photo for this card.
Not a huge call for a 1st baseman who hits .050 in his only shot in the majors, is there ? Cacek got into 7 games and batted 20 times during the '77 season, which was his only chance at the biggs. If you look at his triple A career (7 years) that ran from 1976-82 he posted Keith Hernandez type numbers. He was a lifetime .301 Triple A hitter with medium power. He bounced from the Astros chain over to Pittsburgh's and then to Spokane (CAL) before calling it quits after 1982. I would have expected a guy with his type of numbers to have gotten at least another shot at the majors. I was pleasantly surprised to have found this photo on a website called Astroland. It needed a little bit of touch up work since the photo was quite faded. It looks just grainy enough now to be a Topps card.
Walton actually started out in the Astros organization in the late 60's and even got 2 AB's during the '68 season at the age of 20. He was an original Seattle Pilot in their ony year of existence (1969), but never got mentioned in Jim Bouton's classic book "Ball 4". Walton had a breakout year in 1970 after the Pilots moved to Milwaukee and became the Brewers. He hit 17 homers and batted close to .260. Then the wheels came off and he bounced up and down between AAA and the majors for the next decade. He landed in Houston in 1977 and got into 13 games and hit .190 after a mid season deal brought him over from the Dodgers where he hit 42 homers at their Albuquerque affiliate. Walton would be that classic AAAA player. Too good for Triple A, but not good enough for the major leagues. I used his airbrushed 1978 Topps card for this updated '77 card.
Nicknamed "Good Wood" for the solid line drives that he hit, Walling was stolen from the A's in a mid season deal where Houston dumped the elderly Willie Crawford who was quickly winding down his career. Walling go into just 6 games, but his .286 average was a preview of the type of hitter he was going to become. Never a big power guy, Walling would platoon at third base for the next dozen years and serve as the first lefty pinch hitter off the bench when he wasn't starting. His 109 career pinch hits puts him just outside the top 10 in that career category. I used his 1979 Topps card photo for this updated card.
After two cups of coffee as a late season call up in 1973 and 1974 Konieczny was give a full time shot in the rotation in 1975 and came up short with a 6-13 record and a 4.47 ERA in 171 innings. He spent the whole '76 season at Triple A and got the call up in '77 and appeared in 4 games. In 21 innings of work his ERA was 6.00. He developed arm troubles and was out of baseball the rest of the year. In '78 he started the season in A ball on a rehabilitation assignment, but could not cut it, so he retired from baseball at the age of 26. He holds the distinction of being the only major leaguer to have come out of Wayne State University. This photo came from the 1976 SSPC mini card set and was taken at Shea Stadium.