A holiday salute from the Astros, 50th anniversary style.

Twenty-five years ago, Ruth Ryan sat next to her husband, Nolan, on a charter flight during an Astros road trip and was introduced to a popular relief pitcher walking down the aisle on the way back to his seat.

Larry Andersen, the unofficial class president of the loosey-goosey fun-loving, wacky mid-80s Astros, stopped by to say hello to the Ryans and chat for a bit. Throughout the conversation, Larry wore a set of fake teeth — crooked, yellowish teeth with brown undertones that were entirely too big for his mouth.

Once the conversation ended, Larry made his way back to his seat and Ruth, a polite woman well-known for her classy demeanor, turned to Nolan and said, gently, “You know, he’d be so handsome if he’d just get his teeth fixed.”

****************************************

I checked with Larry on this story to make sure I had it straight, as I figured it would be a fitting anecdote to include in an end-of-the-year project intended to serve two purposes: wish everyone a very happy holiday season and give a cap-tip toward our fabulous history as we prepare to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Major League Baseball in Houston.

Another part of the project: I asked former players and broadcasters, as many as I could track down, to take a photo holding a “happy holidays” sign that bears the logo from the era they played in Houston. When I checked in with Andersen on this story, I also sent along a (second and third) gentle reminder to pleeeeeeease take the photo and send it back to me.

“Ninety minutes,” promise,” Andersen emailed back.

Ninety minutes later, he delivered.

_____________________

They don’t make ‘em quite like Larry Andersen anymore, but that’s OK. Plenty of unique personalities have passed through the clubhouse doors in Houston, first at Colt Stadium, then at the Astrodome and now, at Minute Maid Park. Each has a story — some more interesting than others — and each contributed in some fashion to five decades of big league baseball in the Bayou City.

Some moments I witnessed in person. Some happened long before I got here. Some happened long before I got here, but I’ve heard the stories told and retold so many times that I’m starting to convince myself that maybe I really was there to see them.

______________

There was that one time…

Early in Larry Dierker’s managing career, when the Astros were playing a weekend series in Montreal, the skipper found himself in a precarious, Dierker-like situation. It was a Sunday, and the team was scheduled to play an afternoon game. After a night of restful sleep, Dierk opened his eyes, looked at his watch and panicked as he realized it was about 30 minutes before game time.

Except that it wasn’t. Ever looked at your watch upside down when it’s 7 a.m.? It looks a lot like 12:30. “I came this close to calling the clubhouse and giving them the lineup over the phone,” Dierker said.

How about the time when…

Jose Lima was a local celebrity by the time the calendar flipped to 2000, a year when two big things happened to him: 1) his employers lined his pockets with several wads of Astrobucks to the tune of a three-year, multimillion-dollar contract, and 2) his career began to spin in an Enron Field-y downward spiral.

Lima bought himself a new car that year — a Mercedes, if memory serves – and he was excited it about it, because this shiny new ride came with voice-activated commands. There was just one problem. It was programmed to detect the English language, sans foreign accents, and it couldn’t pick up Lima’s commands.

Lima was fluent in English, no doubt, and you could understand him just fine. As long as you weren’t a computer chip in a new Mercedes.

Lima parked his car in the garage at the ballpark, walked into the clubhouse and screamed, “my new car is racist!”

Or how about when…

The 1999 season had whittled down to game No. 162, and the Astros, sitting on 96 wins, still needed one more to knock off those pesky, refuse-to-go-away Cincinnati Reds. Mike Hampton pitched a gem against the Dodgers that day and left after seven innings with a 9-1 lead.

With champagne on ice in the clubhouse and a packed house ready to celebrate both a division title AND the final regular season game ever to be played in the Astrodome, the game slowed to an absolute crawl. Jay Powell, saddled with the easy task of pitching the final three outs in a landslide win, instead gave up three hits and three runs, allowed seven baserunners and delayed the party by at least 20 minutes.

Later, during a loud celebration in a happy clubhouse, Drayton McLane walked over to congratulate Powell.

“Sorry it took so long,” Powell mumbled.

“That’s OK,” McLane chortled. “We sold more stuff.”

Heard this one not long ago…

Bob Aspromonte spent his career largely as a self-proclaimed happy bachelor, one whose outgoing personality and movie-star handsomeness allowed him to channel (and embrace) his inner ladies’ man-itude.

In his day, Aspromonte could live life however he wanted, pretty much out of the spotlight, without having to worry about cell phones with cameras or curious strangers documenting his every move on Twitter. Aspro the Astro liked the nightlife, but unlike his less sophisticated, more neanderthal-like teammates, an evening out with Aspro involved fine dining at the best restaurants in town. First-class accommodations from start to finish.

But that didn’t mean general manager Spec Richardson (who was liked by very few players) didn’t want him to tone it down from time to time. Unlike the George Steinbrenner-Derek Jeter flap from about 10 years ago when the crusty Yankees owner made it clear to the world, using various media outlets, that he wanted his shortstop to ix-nay the ightlife-nay, Aspromonte’s admonishment came in a much more muted tone, just man-to-man.

“Bob,” Richardson said to his third baseman during contract negotiations, “I’ll add on 10 grand more if you’ll stop chasing the ladies.”

Aspromonte paused for a moment, thought about it and said, “Nah, you keep your money. And I’ll keep the ladies.”

______________

I wish I had been there to witness Casey Candaele sitting on a serving tray and “skiing” down the aisle during takeoff on the Astros’ charters. That said, I’m ecstatic that I never watched him take batting practice in the back cages on Sundays, because apparently, he did so without wearing any clothes.

I wish I had been around to watch the Astros clinch the division behind Mike Scott’s no-hitter in 1986, but I’m really glad I missed seven-hour, 20-minute, 22-inning showdown between the Astros and Dodgers in 1989. I’m doubly happy that I didn’t have to work the next game either. That Sunday matinee began 11 hours after the 22-inning game and ended up lasting four hours and 17 minutes and took 13 innings for the Astros to finally win it.

That of course pales in comparison to another long, drawn-out affair that I was more than happy to witness, 16 years later. Six-plus hours of baseball was worth sitting through that October afternoon in 2005, especially the 10 seconds it took for Chris Burke’s game-winning home run to clear the left field wall. Eighteen innings of agony translated into a Division Series win over the Braves, and ended up being the first step toward the first World Series berth in club history.

So many years, so many players, so many memories. A lot has happened in the 50 years since Major League Baseball arrived to the Bayou City, thanks to a lengthy cast of characters. Here are some who you’ll surely recognize.

From our Astros family to yours, we wish you a happy, hearty holiday season. We look forward to reminiscing about the old days, while making new memories in 2012.

Larry Dierker, pitcher, 1964-76; broadcaster 1979-96; manager 1997-2001

Carl Warwick, 1962-63

Jimmy Wynn, 1963-73

Bob Aspromonte, 1962-68

Ron Brand, 1965-68

John Edwards, 1969-74

Bob Watson, player, 1966-79; general manager 1994-95

Gene Elston, broadcaster, 1962-86

Norm Miller, 1965-73

J.R. Richard, 1971-80

Jose "Cheo" Cruuuuuuuuuuuz, 1975-87

Art Howe, player, 1976-82; manager, 1989-93

Alan Ashby, player, 1979-89; broadcaster, 1998-2005

Enos Cabell, 1975-80, 1984-85

Billy Smith, 1981

Charley Kerfeld, 1985-90

Kevin Bass, 1982-89

Larry Andersen, 1986-90

Terry Puhl, 1977-90

Phil Garner, player, 1981-87; manager, 2004-07

Billy Hatcher, 1986-89

Glenn Wilson, 1989-90

Jim Deshaies, player, 1985-91; broadcaster, 1997-present

Luis Gonzalez, 1990-95, '97

Brian Williams, 1991-94, '99

Craig Biggio, 1988-2007

Vince Cotroneo, broadcaster, 1991-97

John Hudek, 1994-97

Mike Hampton, 1994-99; 2009

Mike Jackson, 2001

Brad Ausmus, 1997-98, 2001-08

Tim Bogar, 1997-2000

Tony Eusebio, 1991, 1994-2001

Adam Everett, 2001-07

Chris Burke, 2004-07

Mark Loretta, 2002, 2007-08

Jason Lane, 2002-07

Jose Vizcaino, 2001-05

Dave Borkowski, 2006-08

Brandon Backe, 2004-09

Willy Taveras, 2004-06

Darin Erstad, 2008-09

Brad Mills, manager, 2010-present

Dave Raymond, broadcaster, 2006-present

Milo Hamilton, broadcaster, 1985-present

Brett Dolan, broadcaster, 2006-present

Bill Brown, broadcaster, 1987-present

Humberto Quintero, 2005-present

Doug Brocail, player, 1995-96, 2008-09; pitching coach, 2011-present

Jason Bourgeois, 2010-present

Chris Johnson, 2009-present

Bud Norris, 2009-present

Brian Bogusevic, 2010-present

Bobby Meacham, first base coach, 2010-present

Astros are on Facebook

Follow Alyson Footer on Twitter

Follow the Astros on Twitter

34 Comments

I love everything about this post…especially Darin Erstad representing Husker baseball, seeing as I go to school there :)

Only one guy missing from this line up…Berkman!

Thanks! The only players I decided not to include were those who are currently playing for other teams. I thought it would be weird to have them holding a sign with the Astros current logo.

Still missing Bagwell, Would have been nice to have him. Hope everything is OK with Him

What a great post Alyson! Love the hilarious stories! Thanks again for a great year of doing ‘whatchudu’. :). Happy holidays to you and your family. :)

Already planning on being at the last game next year, our last game in the National League (assuming sans playoffs, lol).

Ciao for now!
Scott
Little Rock’s #1 Astros & Alyson Footer fan! :)

The Astros organization is a class act. I enjoy following your page. Keep up the good work!!

What’s with Billy Hatcher wearing a Reds jersey for his photo?!?!

He’s a Reds coach. That photo was taken at the Reds’ Fanfest.

Great post!! LOVE IT!!

Billy is a coach for the Reds

Awesome job!! A couple guys I haven’t seen in a while……look at Tony the Tank!!

Great post Alyson! Thanks for contacting the players, I know you must have had many who did not reply in time. The “mature” players’ pics brought back a lot of fond memories, thank you! We all look forward to your FootNotes next year. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Thanks Glenn…wish I could have gathered even more photos but yes, it was a huge undertaking trying to find everyone. A lot of email addresses from 10 years ago surely have changed. Glad you enjoyed it and thank you!

Wonderful Alyson! Helps pass the time when we are without baseball. Love all your post. Merry Christmas & Go Astros 2012!

Great job Alyson, but where’s Baggy? Merry Christmas & a Happy New Year…Go Stros!!

Kept missing him…he was out of town during the alumni golf tournament this year which is where I get a lot of these guys. Wasn’t able to catch up with him in time unfortunately…

Oh how well I remember most of your stories! Aspromonte was very good looking, and yes he ran with a “fast” crowd…….. but a pretty good pitcher! I used to charter the guys back in the early 70′s and they were a fun group! Thanks for a wonderful walk down memory lane! Adam Everett gave me a signed ball, and it sits on top of my computer desk! My favorite player!! Safe travels home Alyson, and have a Merry Christmas! Becky:) :) :) :)

AWESOME post, Alyson. Love the pictures – great memories. I will miss the Astros after this year! And Happy Chanukah to you!

Great post Alyson, brought back a lot of great memories. Bob Aspromonte was the guy I followed in the early years. It was why I became a third baseman. Between him and the Red Rooster I had a lot of inspiration growing up.

My favorite Astro, Adam Everett looks good! Thanks Alyson’s for keeping us in touch with the past. Merry Christmas to you!

Pingback: Vote Weren’t There « Camposcommunications’s Blog

Does Jason Lane still live in the area? He signed a shirt and hat for me way back when.

Jason Lane does still own his house in Houston, however, he does not live there anymore. He is currently living in Northern Cali during the off season and is pitching for the Arizona Diamondbacks. You can find his facebook page at facebook.com/jasonlanemlb.

Jason still owns his house in Houston, but lives in Northern Cal. He is currently pitching for the Arizona Diamondbacks this Spring Training. You can find him at Facebook.com/Jasonlanemlb.

I know that he’s a coach for the Reds but why didn’t he take off the jersey the picture? Seems weird is all I’m saying.

Wow, what a GREAT collection! Thanks for putting this together!

That was cool.

As Bob Hope would say….Thanks for the memories!!!

This was so much fun, Alyson. Thanks for all the memories. What’s the latest with Brandon Backe? Great to see him. Looks like Willy was taking BP with CJ and Q? Is he still with the Rockies organization?

Lacking only Baggy. Thanks for compiling this.

Hey Alyson, I was wondering if the tv deal that begins in 2013 with Comcast could potentially do for Houston what it did for the Rangers and Angels, seeing as how they just signed tv deals and suddenly they have money. Could u please shed some light on that? Thanks.

Thanks for a great article, Alyson! I remember those two Astros marathons against the Dodgers and then going to see Mark Portugal makes his debut the following day against the Padres. They lost that day (and it seems like they were on a long (16 game?) winning streak but you could hardly blame them after that long weekend.

I really appreciate the pictures as well and know how much work must have gone into it.

Wow! I just scrolled thru the stories and pictures-brought tears to my eyes-The Astros have had so many greats wear their uniform!!! I loved seeing JR Richards, Larry Dierker, Brad Ausmus, Terry Puhl, Tony Eusabio, Adam Everett-Biggio of course!! Thanks Allison for this!! Also the announcers-Gene Elston,J D and Brownie!! Greg Lucas and Jeff Bagwell-I love ya’ll too!!! Happy 2012!! Ps Art Howell and Jimmy Wynne are great too-great players and announcers!!

Sorry I misspelled your name!

Vince Cotroneo forgot his hair!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 248 other followers

%d bloggers like this: