From the Annals of the Taxpayer Funded Stadiums – In 1962, the ceremonial groundbreaking ceremony was held for the Harris County Domed Stadium (later dubbed the Astrodome) in Houston. It was designed to be the first fully air-conditioned and completely enclosed sports stadium in the world. The Houston team at the time was named the Colt 45’s so the ceremony was not held with the standard gold-plated shovels. Harris County Judge Roy Hofheinz and other local dignitaries shot Colt .45 pistols into the dirt. Red is disappointed to learn they shot blanks and that the pistols have been lost to history; but it was a foreboding sign for a team that would take 55 seasons to finally win the World Series. The Astrodome itself is rusting hulk that has now sat empty for more than 15 years.
In the middle of downtown Waco near the very popular Magnolia Market at the Silos is the site of Waco’s forgotten minor league baseball stadium – Katy Park. The stadium was razed in 1965 and is now a parking lot for MM. Before that, however, it was a major feature in the Waco landscape and hosted a number of teams including the Waco Pirates, a farm team for the Pittsburgh Pirates and a semi-pro team the Waco Missions. A number of MLB Hall of Famers including Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig played at KP. For more on the story of this historic site, check out the Waco Tribune.
“McCovey is off the table!”
That’s how Red felt about Willie McCovey as a young man. McCovey passed away this week at the age of 80.
At age 21, McCovey made his Major League Baseball debut with the San Francisco Giants by going 4 for 4 with two RBIs on July 30, 1959 and went on to win the Rookie of the Year award despite playing only one half of the season. McCovey finished his Hall of Fame career (inducted on the first ballot in 1986) with 2211 hits, 521 homeruns, 1555 RBIs and a career .270 batting average. McCovey is honored by the Giants franchise with the unofficially named McCovey Cove behind the right field wall of AT&T Park. 78 Giants and 47 players from other MLB clubs have hit home runs out of the park into McCovey’s cove – one of the few places in MLB parks that a player can hit one out of the stadium. His 18 career grand slams are a MLB record.
McCovey’s best season was in 1969 when he had a career high in hits (157), Homeruns (45), RBI’s(126), OBS (.453), SLG (.656), and OPS (1.108) and was the NL MVP. McCovey appeared in six all-star games (winning the AS MVP award in 1969). McCovey played for 22 years until 1980 and stayed with the Giants organization for another 18 seasons.
Red was lucky enough to see McCovey play once at the Astrodome in Houston in the first MLB game he ever attended. Red also doesn’t recall anyone ever saying a bad word about this man.
This year it was announced that the long-time San Antonio Missions (currently a AA affiliate of the San Diego Padres) would be packing up and heading north to Amarillo. As the existing team mascot seemed inappropriate for a city with no Missions, the club set out on a mission to find a new mascot. There were five finalists – the Bronc Busters (boring), the Boot Scooters (lame), the Long Haulers (better but with possible porn overtones), the Jerky (who names a team after a food item and this one probably has more porn overtones than the Long Haulers) and the Sod Poodles (???).
Well, what pray tell is a Sod Poodle? Red was a bit embarrassed to learn that it as old name for the five species of stout, short-legged, short-tailed terrestrial squirrels commonly known as prairie dogs and represented in Texas by Cynomys ludovicianus. The name prairie dog derives from the barks or yipping calls of the diurnal rodents who congregate in large underground colonies across the short grass plains of North America.
Well, you might be able to guess which name Red gets behind. While Red has no love lost for squirrels in general, prairie dogs have somehow never gotten on his bad side and they are fun to watch. And the Sod Poodles would be in line with such other imaginative minor league mascots as the Lug Nuts, Sand Gnats, River Bandits, Iron Pigs, Mud Hens, Chihuahuas, Flying Squirrels, Yard Goats, Jumbo Shrimp, Muck Dogs and Hose Jockeys (Okay, Red made that last one up).
And Root, Root, Root for the Sod Poodles would actually kind of make sense.
Houston Astros regular season games are broadcast on AT&T SportsNet Southwest which also provides pre-game and post-game coverage and analysis. However, during the playoffs, ATTSNSW will be the only regional sports network that will not provide such coverage. ATTSNSW is declining to provide the local angle because “they don’t have the rights to broadcast the games.” They are clearly the outlier as the other regional networks will provide coverage before and after each game even thought they are not actually carrying the games either. In the American League, Yankees fans can get the local scoop on YES, Red Sox faithful on NESN, Indians supporters on SportsTime Ohio and A’s hangers-on on NBC Sports California. But for Astros fans, the final chance to hear Todd Kalas, Geoff Blum, Julia Morales, Kevin Eschenfelder and Mike Stanton chat up the Astros will be before and after the final game of the regular season on Sunday. Sad!
From the Annals of MLB – In 1991, in his 25th major league season and at age 44 Nolan Ryan pitched his record-setting 7th career no-hitter against the Toronto Blue Jays. Ryan was not particularly happy about pitching that evening on four days rest, but he agreed to pitch because it was Arlington Appreciation Night and he felt he owed something to the Texas fans. Before the game, Rangers’ pitching coach Tom House was less than optimistic.
“Nolan was bouncing his curveball, huffing and puffing on his fastball. He had no location, and his changeup was non-existent. I’m thinking, Whoops, this is not real good.”
Despite warning House and Rangers’ manager Bobby Valentine to have some warming up before he even took the mound, Ryan cruised through the game with only a couple of good defensive plays required. He struck out Roberto Alomar to close out the game.
Ryan retired after in 1993 with the all-time MLB of 5,714 strikeouts and the less desirable career record of 2,795 walks. His 324 career wins has him tied for 14th on the all-time list. But the record of seven career no-hitters may be unbreakable. Sandy Koufax is second on the list with four. Among active players, Max Scherzer, Cole Hamels, Jake Arrieta, Tim Lincecum, Justin Verlander and Homer Bailey each have two no-hitters.
From the Annals of Baseball – In 1964, the Houston Colt .45s changed their name to the Houston Astros. The name change coincided with the move to the Astrodome (officially the Harris County Domed Stadium) beginning with the 1965 season. The word “Astro” does not appear in the English language and is Greek prefix. The name honored Houston’s position as the center of the nation’s space program with NASA’s Manned Spacecraft Center in Clear Lake. The name change and relocation to the Astrodome did little to improve results on the field. Attendance increased dramatically – but not because of the Astros. Fans from around the country came to see the phenomenon of baseball being played indoors.
From the Annals of World Series – In 2005, the first World Series game ever to be played in Texas started. The Houston Astros played the Chicago White Sox at Minute Maid Field losing 7-5 in 14 innings. The game was also the longest in World Series history lasting 5 hours and 41 minutes and actually ended on October 26. The long game produced many all-time World Series records. The teams combined to use 17 pitchers (9 White Sox and 8 Astros), throwing a total of 482 pitches, and walking 21 batters (12 by the WS, 9 by the Stros); 43 players were used (the White Sox used 22 and the Astros used 21), and 30 men were left on base (15 for each team). Scott Podsednik set an all-time record with eight at-bats in the game.
The Series itself was remarkable as the teams had combined for 132 years of championship frustration. The Astros had not won in their 44 year history and the Pale Hose last championship had been in 1917. The White Sox would go on to sweep the Astros in 4 games and break their long drought.
The Baseball Writer’s Association has selected Ivan Rodriguez, Jeff Bagwell and Tim Raines for the Baseball Hall of Fame class of 2017.
Pudge Rodriguez leads the class as a first ballot HOFer even though he barely got in with 76% of the vote. PR deserves the honor. For about a decade, Red’s view was that if he was building a team, Pudge would be the first player taken. He is the greatest catcher ever by any metric. In his 21 seasons, PR hit 311 home runs, drove in 1332 runs, scored 1354 runs, had 2844 hits and sported a .296 batting average. Throw in 14 appearances in the All Star game, 13 Golden Gloves, the 1999 MVP award and the fact that he played the most difficult and demanding position in all of sport and you have to wonder – who didn’t vote for this guy?
Tim Raines, who has long been touted by the sabermetrics crowd received 86% of the vote in his 10th and final year of eligibility. Raines’ stat line is not as impressive as PR’s, but Red will defer to the experts on TR. He never hit 20 home runs in a season and only once topped 70 RBI’s. His 808 stolen bases are impressive, but Red thinks that Raines owes his new HOF status to a vigorous internet campaign.
Red will not make any friends here, but he really doesn’t think Jeff Bagwell is among the 220 or so greatest baseball players of all time. Okay he has a better stat line than either PR or TR, but his greatest years were almost certainly tainted. Never thought of as a great fielder, he played a relatively easy position and never earned a Golden Glove or Silver Slugger award. He does have 4 All Star appearances and the MVP award from the strike shortened 1994 season in his favor. But having watched a lot of JB over the years, Red has a hard time seeing him in Cooperstown – but there he will be.
From the Annals of the Big Leagues – In 1964, the Houston Colt .45s changed their name to the Astros. Supporters of the Second Amendment gnashed their teeth and rent their garments.