The Houston Astros Find a New Way to Embarrass Themselves

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Jim Cowsert-USA TODAY Sports

Over the past week in a half, two of the all time great Astros have decided to hang up the cleats and retire; Lance Berkman first and Roy Oswalt followed.

 

Their retirement brought up an interesting point about the Astros and their “storied” history. Brian McTaggart tweeted this a little over a week ago:

 

 

I thought that was an interesting thing to say so I checked into the liberality of the Astros’ retired numbers.

The Astros have retired the numbers of ten players so far, including the universally retired 42 of Jackie Robinson.

They are as follows:

#5 – Jeff Bagwell

#7 – Craig Biggio

#24 – Jimmy Wynn

#25 – Jose Cruz

#32 – Jim Umbricht

#33 – Mike Scott

#34 – Nolan Ryan

#40 – Don Wilson

#49 – Larry Dierker

I checked into each one to see if any of these players were truly unworthy of the honor that had been bestowed on them. Glancing at their stats and the number of years each played with the Astros my initial reaction was, “Ok yeah, they were pretty good. I don’t really disagree with any.” The only two that seemed a little iffy were Don Wilson and Jim Umbricht.

Umbricht was a relief pitcher that had only played 5 seasons in the MLB, but was part of the first two years of the Houston Colt .45s. He had very respectable numbers but nothing mind blowing. He had been diagnosed with malignant melanoma in 1963, survived a taxing operation and then returned to the field. He passed away six months after the surgery, and Houston retired his number to honor him. Another cool footnote is that he had his ashes spread over the construction site of the Astrodome. I say it’s iffy because he was just barely part of the Colt .45s/Astros, I obviously don’t have a problem with honoring him but maybe there was another way to do it.

Don Wilson played for Houston from 1966-1974. The highest honor he gathered was an All-Star selection in 1971. Career ERA of 3.15, SO/9 of 6.6, BB/9 of 3.3. He gathered a WAR of 27.7 in 9 years of work on the mound. The guy was pretty good; but number retirement good? Probably not.

Context

Alright so McTaggart’s statement was starting to come into focus. There are at least two that I understand probably didn’t need their numbers retired. But the rest of these guys were all the best Astros that ever wore the uniform, so what’s the problem with that? Well that was exactly the problem with that. The Astros have been retiring all the best Astros, but the best Astros weren’t nearly the best players in the league during their respective time periods.

Of the nine retired players only one of them is in the Hall of Fame; Nolan Ryan. Nolan Ryan was a fantastic player for the Astros all nine years he was here but those nine years still only make up a third of his entire career. So how much of an “Astro” is Nolan Ryan really?

Many of us believe Biggio will make it into the Hall but Bagwell doesn’t seem near as likely. So even if we say Biggio makes it, that’s 2 out of 9 players in the HOF. Once again on its own, it doesn’t seem so bad, but in order to give the Astros’ actions some context, I looked at what other teams around Major League Baseball had been doing in terms of retiring numbers.

Graph It:


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Tags: Houston Astros

  • Cordell Marshall

    Mack, I came up in the era of the players whose numbers were retired. You have no idea the impact those players had on the team, the city, the fans or to Colt 45/Astros history. Statistics were not the only factors involved in the retirement of their numbers. In fact there are some who should have been retired that were not
    such as Roman Mejias, Richard Turk Farrell, Bob Aspromonte, and Doug Rader just to name a few.

    • Mac Wolff

      You are right that I can’t attest to the emotional or mental impact that those players had on Houston because I wasn’t there to experience it. However the retirement of a player’s number in major league baseball represents a very specific honor. You do not retire a number because someone was a great guy for the few years he played here. You don’t retire the number of a player who made the team watchable every fifth day. You retire the numbers of players that have transcendent talent, and put that talent on display for your team for an extended period of time. If the Astros retired the numbers of all those who fit your criteria, we wouldn’t have any numbers left.

      Another commenter on Twitter mentioned that there should be an Astros Hall of Fame to honor players like the ones you put forth. I think that is an awesome idea. Honoring those players is completely appropriate but retiring their numbers still isn’t.

    • Chris Monaghan

      While their impact on the team, city, etc. is important, that’s simply not enough to retire a players number. If you look around the league there are many players who had the same such impact on their respective teams. Sosa with the Cubs, Curt Schilling & Randy Johnson with the D-backs, Jim Thome with the Indians, Pat Burrell with the Phillies, Griffey Jr. with the Reds, those are just a few that come to mind. All of these players had major impacts on both the teams, and the cities they played in. I agree that the players with their numbers currently retired by the Astros were good. But look around the league; over half of the players with their numbers retired across baseball are in Cooperstown. The only Astro in the HOF right now is Nolan Ryan. We have to be much more conservative when it comes to retiring numbers.

  • astrosince1975

    I would agree that the club has been a bit liberal with the retired numbers. I tend to lean more towards limiting the honor to guys who spent most or all of their career with the team. It should also be noted that Don Wilson died at the age of 29 and had already thrown a pair of no-hitters.

    • Mac Wolff

      Yes you are right that does deserve mentioning. I just read up on the story, that’s nuts. I stand by what I originally said, but I should have mentioned that.

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