Best Forgotten Baseball Seasons: Part 27 – The Houston Astros
Perhaps it says something about my shameless immaturity, as well as the uniquely mind-warping experience of having been weened on 1970’s pop culture, that whenever I think of the Houston Astros, Walter Matthau’s “Bad News Bears” come to mind.
I have to admit that I thought Tatum O’Neal (the best pitcher on that team) was pretty cute back then.
This was 1976, when she and I were both just 13-years old.
The movie ends, more or less, with the foul-mouthed, youthful Bears spraying beer (!) all over each other upon finishing the season in second place (they had been expected to finish last.)
In 1977, “The Bad News Bears in Breaking Training” follows the Bears all the way to the Houston Astrodome (minus my gal Tatum,) which was still considered an impressive monument to modern engineering in those days.
I remember Cesar Cedeno, the Astros center-fielder, had a cameo role in that film. While the Bears enjoyed yet another successful season in ’77, the Astros finished 81-81, good for 3rd place in the N.L. West.
Meanwhile, 26-year old Cesar Cedeno — already in his eighth big league season — enjoyed a solid, if unspectacular, year. He batted .279, stole 61 bases, stroked 36 doubles, and scored 92 runs.
But Cesar Cedeno’s Best Forgotten Season was in 1972.
Just 21-years old, Cedeno led the N.L. in doubles for the second time with 39 (after swatting 40 the previous year), he scored a career high 103 runs, stole 55 bases, and added 22 homers, eight triples and 82 RBI’s.
Cedeno batted .320 and slugged .537; he would post precisely the same two percentages the following season.
Cedeno’s 8.2 WAR is still the fourth best in Astros history.
His .921 OPS, 162 OPS+, and 300 total bases would all represent the highest totals he would reach in those three categories in his career.
Cedeno also played in the ’72 All-Star game, won a Gold Glove (one of five he would win in his career), and finished sixth in the N.L. MVP voting.
I always find it interesting when a player like Cedeno peeks at such a young age, remains productive for an extended period of time, but never again produces an MVP caliber season.
Why is that? Is there a certain amount of luck involved, coupled with peak physical performance, that accounts for this phenomenon?
True, many players reach their peak-performance years when they are about 27-years old. But baseball history is littered with ballplayers who had careers similar to Cedeno’s: Vada Pinson and Ruben Sierra are just two players who come immediately to mind.
Cedeno enjoyed 17 big league seasons, finishing with a career batting average of .285, 550 stolen bases (26th all-time), 2,087 hits, 1,084 runs scored, 436 doubles, 60 triples and 199 home runs.
His career Win Probability Added (WPA) is 31.7, 77th best in baseball history.
Meanwhile, Tatum O’Neal, after having dealt with drug and alcohol issues in the past, has made a comeback in recent years starring as Maggie Gavin in the hit T.V. show “Rescue Me,” playing Tommy Gavin’s (Denis Leary) sister.
Going back even further in Houston Astros history, though, back to a time when they were known as the Colt-45’s, and Tatum and I were yet to be born, you may come across the name Turk Farrell.
28-year old Turk Farrell, a big right-handed pitcher born and raised in Massachusetts, had been taken in the 1961 expansion draft by the Colt 45’s after having been left unprotected by the L.A. Dodgers.
Turk Farrell’s Best Forgotten Season was 1962.
For a pitcher on a first-year expansion team, Farrell performed quite well. In a club-leading 241 innings, he struck out 203 batters, posted a 3.02 ERA, tossed eleven complete games, including two shutouts, and posted a solid WHIP of 1.097, which was second best in the league.
For all of that, Farrell was rewarded by his teammates with a final win-loss record of 10-20. There were three other 20-game losers in the N.L. in ’62; two of them played for the expansion Mets.
Farrell ended his 14-year big league career after the 1969 season with a career record of 106-111. His career ERA+ of 104 indicates that he was typically your standard issue, average major league starting pitcher.
His 1962 season has led me to consider starting a new (shorter) series about players who perform well, often for bad or mediocre teams, but whose statistics don’t always tell the full story of their relative success.
That’s another way of saying that this 27-part series “Best Forgotten Baseball Seasons,” has finally come to a merciful end. After slogging it out for about six months, I have certainly learned a lot more than I ever thought I would about each teams’ forgotten stars.
If you’ve been with me the whole time, or even part of the time, thank you so much for being kind enough to follow along. For those of you who have left kind comments along the way, I always appreciate the ego-stroking sentiments.
If you are interested in reviewing any of the particular posts from this series, or if there are some you missed along the way, I have included links to each segment of this series below.
Part 1: The New York Mets
Part 2: The Chicago Cubs
Part 3: The New York Yankees
Part 4: The Montreal Expos
Part 5: The Phillies
Part 6: The Brooklyn Dodgers
Part 7: The Los Angeles Dodgers
Part 8: The Cincinnati Reds
Part 9: The Boston Red Sox
Part 10: The Atlanta Braves
Part 11: The Cleveland Indians
Part 12: The Kansas City Royals
Part 13: The Baltimore Orioles
Part 14: The Detroit Tigers
Part 15: The St. Louis Cardinals
Part 16: The Oakland A’s
Part 17: The Pittsburgh Pirates
Part 18: The San Francisco Giants
Part 19: The Seattle Mariners
Part 20: The Minnesota Twins
Part 21: The Chicago White Sox
Part 22: The Texas Rangers
Part 23: The San Diego Padres
Part 24: The Toronto Blue Jays
Part 25: The Milwaukee Brewers
Part 26: The Angels
Meanwhile, have a Happy Thanksgiving.
- Owner Drayton McLane putting his Houston Astros up for sale (sports.espn.go.com)
- Timeline of McLane’s tenure as Astros owner (mlb.mlb.com)