Houston Astros: 15 Greatest Players in Franchise History

Alex Hall@@AlexKHallCorrespondent IIIJanuary 11, 2012

Houston Astros: 15 Greatest Players in Franchise History

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    The Houston Astros have been down on their luck the past few seasons, looking to rebuild towards their past glory from the late 1990s to 2005, but don't let their current woes make you forget the great ballplayers to suited up for the Texas franchise.

    Houston has been around since 1962 when they were the Colt .45s, playing under that name until 1965 when they finally became the Astros. While this franchise has never been able to hoist the World Series trophy, the talent that has come and gone over the years for this team is undeniable. Here are the top 15 best Houston Astros players of all time.

Joe Niekro (1975-1985)

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    The late great Joe Niekro was an iron-man, playing 22 MLB seasons, 10 of which he spent with the Houston Astros.

    Niekro was an average pitcher for much of his career until 1972 when he went back to his routes and perfected the knuckleball that his father taught him. 

    This pitch would take the celebrated Astro from above-average to 1979 All-Star and Sporting News NL Pitcher of the Year in the same season.

    Over his career, Niekro won over 200 games and posted a 3.59 ERA becoming a staple of the Houston rotation for a decade. 

Cesar Cedeno (1970-1981)

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    Center fielder Cesar Cedeno is one of the most decorated outfielders in the history of the Houston Astros, and it was evident he would be from the start.

    In just his rookie season, Cedeno batted .310 and followed that season up with back to back .320 seasons. 

    The Dominican-born batter had all the tools, finishing his career with 199 home runs, a .285 average and four All-Star selections. He also owns the franchise record for steals with 487 and four Gold Glove awards to his name.

    The Astros were just eight years old when Cedeno burst on the scene, and he helped bring the franchise into the MLB limelight.

Billy Wagner (1995-2003)

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    Younger baseball fans may remember closer Billy Wagner for his days with the Philadelphia Phillies and New York Mets, but he spent the majority of his fine career down in Houston.

    Wagner made his MLB debut back in 1995 with the Astros, where he'd help bring the franchise its first taste of consistent success. The team would win three straight NL Central division titles from 1997-1999. 

    During this time up until his departure from the Astros in 2003, Wagner would win the NL Relief Man of the Year Award and be named to three different All-Star teams.

    Over his 16 seasons in the league, Wagner would become one of the few closers to reach the 400 saves mark, many of which came during his eight years in that snazzy gold and black Astros' uniform.

Ken Caminiti (1987-1994, 1999-2000)

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    The late Ken Caminiti split the majority of his baseball career between the Houston Astros and San Diego Padres, but any Houston fan will tell you that they appreciate the slugger's contributions to the franchise.

    Eight of his 14 seasons were spent with the Astros, where he helped bring the team into its 1990s heyday before leaving for sunny San Diego in 1994 only to return to the team for two more seasons in 1999.

    Caminiti tragically died of a drug overdose in 2004 and admittedly used steroids during his most productive years, including his '96 MVP year, but his legacy in Houston shouldn't be tarnished. While his actions off the field may have been questionable, Caminiti was a fine player for the Astros and productive even before his steroid usage.

Mike Scott (1983-1991)

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    Don't let the picture fool you, starting pitcher Mike Scott was no slouch whenever he took the mound during his twelve year MLB career.

    Scott made a name for himself during his first few seasons in the league from 1979-1982 with the New York Mets, but flourished when he came to the Astros in the '83 season all the way up to his retirement in 1991.

    Trained by the legendary Roger Craig, Scott was deadly with the split-finger fastball that helped him reach his near 1,500 career strikeouts.

    The California-born hurler was a three time All-Star and 1986 NLCS MVP for Houston, which was the same season he won the Cy Young and Sporting News Pitcher of the Year award.

    Scott may not be the flashiest or most well-known pitcher from his time, but he was one of the best kept secrets. The Astros retired his No. 33 in 1992, just one season after he hung up his glove for good.

Roy Oswalt (2001-2010)

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    While Roy Oswalt may have left the Houston Astros a few seasons ago, he is still one of the greatest pitchers the team has ever had take the mound.

    Oswalt was the best pitcher on the Astros almost from the start when he debuted in 2001, helping lead the franchise to their only NL Pennant and subsequent World Series appearance.

    He was an All-Star selection for three straight seasons starting in 2005, while adding a nice NLCS MVP to his accolades that same season.

    Even during his last few seasons in Houston, when the rumors were swirling of his possible departure, Oswalt kept his head down and continued to give everything he had to the organization that drafted him.

    He is currently a free agent heading into the 2012 season, with his recent nagging injuries the likely cause of that situation. Still, even if Oswalt isn't in his prime any longer, I'm sure Astros fans would love to see him end his career where it all began.

Jose Cruz (1975-1987)

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    Jose Cruz had baseball in his blood with his brothers Tommy and Hector both making to the MLB and Jose did his best to add prestige to his family name.

    Cruz played with the Houston Astros for 12 seasons from 1975-1987, posting two All-Star and Silver Slugger worthy seasons during his time with the franchise.

    "Cheo" as many call him, is the only Astro who can say they were a part of every postseason appearance by the franchise. He was apart of the 1980, '81 and '86 teams as a player and the others as the team's first base coach.

    Cruz is one of the most decorated Astros ever. He's both a Texas and Hispanic Heritage Baseball Hall of Famer, and the Astros retired his No. 25 in 1992. 

    His career .284 average and 165 home runs with over 1,000 RBI may not be good enough for the Pro Baseball Hall of Fame just yet, but perhaps one day he'll get the call from Cooperstown. 

Jimmy Wynn (1963-1973)

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    When you have a nickname like the "Toy Cannon" in the clubhouse, you better be producing on the field, and Jimmy Wynn did nothing but that for the Houston Astros.

    Wynn had an uncanny ability to draw walks, leading to career .366 on-base percentage as well as over 1,200 walks through his 14 seasons in the MLB.

    His small size and big-time pop on the bat earned him the "Toy Cannon" nickname, despite being 5'8" he was able to record 291 career home runs. His largest single-season output was 37 dingers in just his fourth major league season for the Astros.

Dickie Thon (1981-1987)

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    Shortstop Dickie Thon was a journeyman in every sense of the word, but that doesn't lessen the great six seasons he spent with the Houston Astros.

    Thon was a consistent .270-.300 average hitter up until his final two seasons with the club and posted a phenomenal 1983 season for Houston.

    One could truly argue he's the greatest offensive threat the Astros have ever had at short, with his shining moment being his 20 home run and 34 steals that '83 season.

    The following year in 1984, Thon was hit in the face by a fastball, never able to put up the same numbers afterwards. Still, even with depth perception troubles the shortstop continued to be one of the surest best to get on base and one of the better fielders on the ball club.

Larry Dierker (1964-1976)

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    While Dickie Thon may have been a journeyman, former pitcher and manager Larry Dierker has spent much of his adult life working with the Houston Astros.

    Back when Houston was still the Colt .45s, Dierker was drafted by the new franchise and called up to the majors on his 18th birthday. His first strikeout recorded was against the one and only Willie Mays.

    Dierker spent 12 of his 13 MLB seasons with the club as a player and came back to manage the team from 1997-2001. His playing days consisted of nine seasons with double-digit wins, leading the team in ERA four different years during his days as an Astro.

    As a manager, Dierker brought the club into their first real consistent success, bringing Houston to the National League Division Series on four separate occasions and four NL Central pennants.

    He even served as a color commentator on Astros' radio broadcasts from 1979-1996 and 2004-2005. Dierker gave everything he had to the organization and should be considered one of the best men to ever don an Astro uniform.

Brad Ausmus (2001-2008)

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    While catcher Brad Ausmus was never an offensive powerhouse, he was one of the best to step behind the plate for the Astros.

    During his time with the club Ausmus caught the likes of Roger Clemens, Andy Pettitte and Roy Oswalt who are arguably three of the best pitchers in franchise history.

    While he was always more of a defensive player for Houston, he did have his shining offensive moments in 2004 when he batted .308 against left-handed pitchers and .333 in the NLDS that same season.

    Ausmus had only two seasons with four or more errors behind the plate for the Astros, becoming the finest catcher the team has had in recent years.

Lance Berkman (1999-2010)

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    While it must have stung for Houston Astros fans to watch Lance Berkman have his monster 2011 season with the St. Louis Cardinals, that sort of production was exactly what they were used to seeing from the slugger.

    Berkman can only be rivaled by his other "Killer Bs" teammates Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio in power production for this franchise. The numbers for old No. 17 speak for themselves. 

    Almost 1,200 RBI, over 350 home runs and a career .296 batting average. Almost all of those RBI and home runs were during his 11 seasons in Houston on the team's way to four playoff births during his time with the club.

    His ability to drive in a run or knock a ball out of the park puts him in the upper echelon of all-time great Astros.

Jeff Bagwell (1991-2005)

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    While it's been just six MLB seasons since Jeff Bagwell retired from baseball, Houston Astros fans will tell you it's seemed like forever since he took the field at first base.

    The Boston-born slugger was named to the NL All-Star team on four different occasions, a three time Silver Slugger Award winner and the 1994 NL MVP. It's easy to see why Houston has retired his famous No. 5 jersey.

    His entire 15 year major league career was spent with the Astros. Which means his 449 home runs, 1,529 RBI and 1,517 runs were all done while wearing the star on his cap.

    Bagwell is easily one of the all-time greats for Houston and should find his way into Cooperstown soon enough.

Craig Biggio (1988-2007)

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    People characterize Boston Red Sox outfielder Carl Crawford as one of the best speed and power threats in the MLB today, basically meaning he's the closest thing to Craig Biggio there is right now.

    Another career-long Houston Astro, Biggio was almost a guaranteed 15-20 home runs and 20 plus steals each of his 20 seasons. However, just because the New York native slugger was consistent doesn't mean he didn't have his share of impressive out-lier seasons.

    From 1997-1998, Biggio posted a total of 97 stolen bases and hit at least 15 home runs in all but three seasons from 1993 up til the end of his career.

    Biggio was a seven time All-Star, four time Golden Glove Award Winner, and five time Silver Slugger during his 20 years in the league, easily earning the honor of having his number retired by the Astros.

Nolan Ryan (1980-1988)

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    Nolan Ryan is one of the best pitchers to ever take an MLB mound, subsequently making him one of the greatest Houston Astros of all time.

    Seven of his eight years with the team, Ryan had double-digit wins and an ERA rarely above the low 3.00 area. That was especially true in 1981, where the hurler posted a microscopic 1.69 ERA over 21 games started.

    Ryan was a three time All-Star selection during his time with the Astros, contributing heavily to the three playoff appearances by the team during his tenure.

    He was a first ballot Hall of Famer back in 1999 and named to the MLB All-Century team that same year.