In their 19th season of existence the Houston Astros finally finished in 1st and made it to the post season. While their expansion counterparts in New York took only 7 seasons to win it all the Astros never seemed to get over the hump called mediocrity. Manager after manager and regime after regime the only team in baseball to play indoor ball still couldn’t find the right formula for winning. Then in 1980 the team put it all together and won the NL West over the heavily favored Dodgers and the battle tested Reds. The dawn of a new decade saw Houston beginning to take their baseball seriously. The first step in the right direction occurred when they made Alvin Texas’ prodigal son, Nolan Ryan the first $1 million a year ball player. Ryan might have only finished 11-10 (3.35), but his value to this team was more than statistical. Ryan was an imposing power pitcher who brought with him a ring (1969 Mets) and most recently a division championship from the previous season in Anaheim. Ryan was the showcase piece on what would become the #1 staff in the league. Pitching in the cavernous Astrodome had it’s perks. You could make a mistake here and there and get away with it. This staff didn’t make too many mistakes. Surprisingly 35 year old Joe Niekro was the group’s only 20 game winner. Phil’s younger brother picked the biggest game of the year (1 game playoff vs LA) to pitch a shutout and win his 20th. Vern Ruhle (12-4, 2.37) was an unsung hero. Holdover Ken Forsch (12-13, 3.20) deserved a much better fate The lone sore spot on this staff would be J.R. Richard (10-4, 1.90), who was the ace of the staff before Ryan arrived. Richard, suffered two strokes during the season, which eventually turned out to be season and career ending. What a heartbreaking end to a dominating season and a man’s career. If that wasn’t sad on its own the media was horrific toward the imposing JR by insinuating that he was faking it and that he was upset that Ryan was getting more attention than he was. Those piece of sh-t scribes should burn in hell for making those types of accusations. What man fakes not one, but 2 strokes just for attention. Baseball was worse off without JR, who was just as dominating and much more imposing than Nolan.
Joe Sambito (17sv) led a pen that had 3 relievers in double digits for saves. Dave Smith (7-5, 1.93, 10sv) and Frank LaCorte (8-5, 2.82, 11sv) helped make this pen one of the best in the business. Basically you would have to fight through the starter only to get to one of these ultra tough relievers. Opposing batters did not get a break when facing the Astros, especially in the pitcher friendly dome.
The offense was much maligned. They were middle of the pack in average and right near the bottom in power (only 75 homers), but they had a knack for getting the timely hit and they always seemed to put the ball in play, which was evidenced by the fact that no one struck out more than 85 times. Even though they had just 75 homers, the Stros still have 5 guys who hit double digits. Jose Cruz and Cesar Cedeno both hit around .310 and both covered a lot of ground on that carpet. Denny Walling, Danny Heep and Rafael Landestoy were key clutch contributors coming off the bench and veteran Joe Morgan had just enough left in the tank to provide leadership and some speed. Speaking of speed the Astros had 6 guys with 20 or more swipes. Cedeno swiped 48 and Cruz took 36. This team had balance across the board and never made it easy on their opponents.
After beating the Dodgers decisively in game 163 they went on to play in a classic 5 game series vs the eventual champion Phillies. Houston took the Phils to the brink and then some. Some feel that it might have been the greatest 5 game series ever. Rather than have me do game 5 a disservice I would suggest you click here and watch it on YouTube. I myself begrudgingly watched it as I was planning on boycotting the series after the Dodgers were knocked out by Houston. Glad I did watch it, because it was a classic all the way.
This was actually one of the easier sets to complete since it required only 11 cards to complete. The Fischlin card is a decent colorization that I created 2 or 3 years ago that I needed to reuse. The Dave Smith card is quite interesting. First off he’s a pitcher posing with a bat on his shoulder. Secondly he’s wearing one of those darkish blue/black batting helmets that the team stopped wearing during the early 70’s. As you can tell I created this set early on because I used the rookie panel card format for Heep, Knicely and Sprowl. I’m thinking a redo is in the cards. Many of you are thinking, “Why isn’t there a Nolan Ryan card here, since he wasn’t part of the original 1980 set?” That’s a great question. Answer: I found a 1980 mid season Burger King Card for him and used that one rather than create a new one.