1973 Houston Astros - 82-80 - 4th Pl NL West - 17 GB
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|Leo hoped, actually he needed Cesar Cedeno to be the "next Willie Mays"
Welcome to Leo the Lip's Sinkin' Ship, otherwise known as the 1973 Houston Astros. The bombing continued from 1972 as the same five Astros delivered 16 or more homers . But the run production tapered off. Houston scored 27 fewer runs even though they played nine more games. Lee May paced the team with 28 homers, including three in one game against the San Diego Padres on June 21st, and 105 RBIs. Cesar Cedeno batted .320, pounded 25 homers and swiped a club record 56 bases. Bob Watson hit at a .312 clip and drove in 94 runs. Doug Rader drilled 21 long balls and drove home 89 runs. Jim Wynn contributed 20 homers despite a season-long slump.
Tommy Helms and Roger Metzger, though lacking in the power numbers, both hit .250 or above and displayed solid defensive work around second base. Metzger led the National League with 14 triples. Helms provided clutch hits like the two-run single that completed a 9-7 comeback win in Montreal on July 8th.
The only major change to the lineup was an illness that forced catcher Johnny Edwards to sit. Skip Jutze, acquired from St. Louis during the off-season with Johnny Bench-like raves, filled in well behind the plate but he hit just .223 with no homers while standing next to it.
It was the pitching that faltered. Larry Dierker and Tom Griffin both missed substantial time with injuries. Don Wilson struggled and spent time in the bullpen. Dave Roberts (17 wins) and Jerry Reuss (16 wins) stepped up to lead the staff. Ken Forsch and J.R. Richard took turns in the rotation. Richard got his first big league shutout against the Dodgers on August 1st. The bullpen was a mess, with nobody earning more than six saves.
Leo Durocher complained about the modern ballplayer, took ill during midseason, and decided that retirement wasn't such a bad idea. Nobody knew it at the time, but the season finale in Atlanta would be the last of his Hall-Of-Fame career. The stadium was packed on September 30th but it wasn't to say goodbye to Leo. After a blast against Reuss in the previous game, Hank Aaron was one homer shy of Babe Ruth's career home run record. Many VIPs, including Gov. Jimmy Carter, came to see Aaron tie and maybe break baseball's most hallowed mark. Dave Roberts "held" Aaron to three singles and Houston won, 5-3. Durocher went out as a winner with his club finishing 82-80, even though they had slid back to fourth place. (c) Bob Hulsey - Astrodaily.com
To complete the full team set I had to add 23 additional cards.
Hovering just above the .500 mark on July 20, the Astros host a rare in-season exhibition game at the Astrodome. The Detroit Tigers visit and, in a game of little importance, the Astros send 56-year-old coach Hub Kittle to pitch in the ninth inning. The Tigers counter by sending 51-year-old coach Art Fowler to pitch in the game as well. Detroit manager Billy Martin even pinch-hits and strikes out. Astros manager Leo Durocher arranges for comedian Jerry Lewis to play in the game at first base. Lewis plays first base for five innings and performs surprisingly well, going 1-for-1 with a walk.
After a brief cup of coffee with the Red Sox in '72 Gallagher got to play in 71 games for the 'Stros and hit .264 as the team's 4th outfielder. Whe he tried to repeat this role in '74 and slumped miserably. The 'Stros dealt him to the Mets, where he played in just 33 games in '75 and hit .133. After hitting a powerless .258 in San Fran's Phoenix AAA team he was given his release. His grandfather, Shano Collins, was a Major League outfielder/manager and a player in the 1917 and 1919 World Series. In a four-season career, Gallagher was a .220 hitter (56-for-255) with two home runs and 13 RBI in 213 games played, including 34 runs, one triple, and one stolen base. His big moment in '73 came when he hit an inside the park Grand slam vs Detroit at the Astrodome in a rare in season exhibition game that the 'Stros won 10-7.
Upshaw came over from Atlanta at the end of April in exchange for Norm Miller. The change in scenery didn't do him much good as he finished with a 2-3, 4.46 record with just 1 save in 35 appearances. Upshaw moved on to Cleveland, the Bronx and Chicago over the next 2 season before hanging up. His career was actually cut short due to an unfortunate incident in 1970. He and two other Braves players were walking down an Atlanta sidewalk and one of the other players bet him he could not jump up and touch an overhead awning. He did reach the awning, but a ring on his pitching hand ring finger got caught on a projection off of the awning and tore ligaments in his hand. He never fully recovered, but was considered one of the better pitchers in major league baseball up to that time. He died at age 52 of a heart attack in Lawrenceville, Georgia.
Houston was the first stop on the train for the well traveled Cliff Johnson (7 teams / 15 years). Cliff spent the first 5 1/2 years of his career with Houston as the 'Stros tried to figure out if he was a catcher, or a first baseman or an outfielder. In just 7 games he hit and even .300. Eventually he would find his niche' as a DH/PH where he hit 196 homers and batted .258 over his career. He held the record for career PH homers (20) until Matt Stairs broke it in 2010. His career and reputation took a downturn in 1979 when he got into a brawl with Goose Gossage causing the HOF closer to miss 2 months of action. For his troubles, Cliff was traded to major league baseball's version of an abyss...Cleveland.
A think we all know who James Rodney Richard is. In the prime of his dominant career (1980) he was hit with a stroke and never played again. His potential was limitless. As a 23 year old fireballer trying to find his way he fanned 75 batters in 72 inings of work to post a 6-2, 4.00 record. Just 3 short years later he would be a dominant 20 game winner, who eclipsed the 300 strikeout plateu twice and won 18 or more games for 5 straight years. His stroke came right in the middle of his most dominating season (10-4, 1.90). A tragic story to say the least.
1973 would be the final year in baseball as a manager for future HOF'er Leo the Lip. Durocher took over the team midway through the '72 season and led them to mediocrity. A win in his final game of the '73 season assured him of a winning record (82-80). Leo began to tire and slow down during his years in Chicago. By the time he arrived in Houston he was pushing 70 and out of gas. He had issues relating to the "modern player" and at times needed to take medical leaves from the team. Leo always contended that Cesar Cedeno was going to be the "next Willie Mays". Cedeno turned in a fine major league career, with dashes of brilliance, but he was definitely no Willie Mays (who was?).
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