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Where Are They Now? 1980s, 1990 Houston Astros Star Pitcher Danny Darwin

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Where Are They Now? 1980s, 1990 Houston Astros Star Pitcher Danny Darwin
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Growing up listening to Houston Astros games in South Texas, I remember right-handed pitcher Danny Darwin very well. He came to the Astros in 1986 and was popular in many ways.

Darwin was a Texas native from Bonham and was nicknamed "The Bonham Bullet" for his great fastball.

The only Astros radio station I could pick up in Beeville, Texas (about 60 miles northwest of Corpus Christi) was KSIX out of Corpus. The transmission wasn't very clear and for the longest time, I thought Darwin was nicknamed "The Bottom Bullet".

It seemed to fit. As a pitcher, he'd bat in the traditional ninth spot. And besides having a great fastball, he was very fast around the basepaths (Darwin had 11 doubles and two triples in his hitting career).

I also remember whenever Darwin would strike out a batter, Astros play-by-play broadcaster Milo Hamilton would yell, "POWER River!"

Darwin joined the Astros in 1986, during their memorable season that ended with a Game Six, extra-inning heartache against the New York Mets in the National League Championship Series.

After some struggles as a starter, Darwin found success as a reliever before being moved back into the starting rotation. Splitting his time between relieving and starting, Darwin went 11-4 in both the 1989 and 1990 seasons, posting ERAs of 2.36 and 2.21 respectively.

Unfortunately, in the eyes of Astros fans, the Bonham Bullet was a victim of his own success. The team ultimately decided not to re-sign him.

Darwin left and signed with the Boston Red Sox before eventually returning to Houston in the 1996 season (he also pitched for the Pittsburgh Pirates that year). Darwin also began his career as a Texas Ranger and spent time with the Rangers in 1995.

He pitched his final game in the Major Leagues in 1998 with the San Francisco Giants.

In 21 seasons, Darwin had a win-loss record of 171-182 with a career ERA of 3.84. He struck out 1,842 batters.

These days, Darwin has transitioned from Major League pitcher to Minor League pitching coach in the Los Angeles Dodgers system. After having spent time as pitching coach of the Jacksonville Suns and the Great Lakes (Midland, Mich.) Loons, Darwin is now the pitching coach for the Double-A Chattanooga Lookouts.

"It's going good so far," Darwin said of his job with the Lookouts. The team recently started the second half of their season.

After spending two decades as a pitcher and working with pitching coaches, Darwin is finding a lot of satisfaction as a coach these days.

"I enjoy the fact that I get to help these yong kids reach their goals," he explained. "The kids get better each day and hopefully they'll make it to the big leagues."

The Lookout pitchers, like the Loons and Suns pitchers before them, can no doubt learn from a lot of Darwin's success and experience at the MLB level.

One has to wonder how often a young player will ask what it was like to be on the same team as Nolan Ryan and Mike Scott, and what it was like being in the same clubhouse with noted practical joker Larry Andersen.

"Larry did so many practical jokes," Darwin recalled. "Among them were plastic bugs in the food."

Darwin still talks to Ryan every once in a while, and chats with former Astros second baseman Billy Doran quite a bit. Other teammates, such as lefthanded pitcher Bob Knepper (whom Darwin still refers to as "Knepp"), he hasn't seen in some time.

Speaking of nicknames, besides Bonham Bullet, Darwin was also known as Dr. Death, a nickname supposedly given to him by Ryan.

What's funny about Darwin's fellow hard-throwing native Texan is that the two were the subject of a rumor where Knepper supposedly was setting up a fight between Darwin and Ryan during 1988 Spring Training, only for then-manager Hal Lanier to put a stop to it.

Darwin dismissed the urban legend as just that, an urban legend.

"I have no idea how that got started," Darwin said. "So many people have asked me about that. I tell them no, it never happened."

One thing that Darwin definitely does remember happening is all the excitement around the team in 1986, when they nearly reached their first-ever World Series (they'd finally get there 19 years later).

"When I came to Houston in 1986, there was unity in the team," Darwin recalled.

"Everybody believed we'd win each series that we played. There was a different hero each night to get the job done. There were not a lot of superstars on the team, but a lot of really good ballplayers who played really well together."

Many Astros fans, myself included, hoped Darwin would stay in Houston for years to come. Unfortunately, it wasn't meant to be. Darwin became another player the team ultimately deemed too expensive to pursue.

"Houston was one of my favorite places to play, no doubt," Darwin said.

"I didn't want to leave there, but things didn't work out on the business side of it. You try to take advantage of a situation when they arise, and I was fortunate enough [in 1990] to have a good year. Other teams were interested, but Houston didn't really want to do what other teams were doing."

Darwin added that since he had a home in Houston, and since his family liked living there, leaving wasn't a decision he took lightly.

Sports have been a family affair. Darwin's younger brother Jeff also played in the major leagues, while Darwin's daughters all played basketball in high school.

For 15 years, Darwin sponsored the Danny Darwin Celebrity Open Golf Tournament at North Central Texas College in Gainesville, Texas (about 60 miles west of Bonham). The tournament helped raise funds to start baseball and softball programs at NCTC.

"We helped to start the programs from scratch," Darwin said.

"They had no bats, baseballs, coaches, anything. We were able to help start boys baseball and girls softball programs and built fields and locker rooms."

Darwin still golfs when he can and currently has a 16 handicap.

While Darwin hasn't seen any Astros games this season, he wishes them well and offers advice on how the team can return to success on the diamond.

"You need to get players who play well together, sometimes that’s what it takes," he said.

"I'm not saying the Astros don’t, but for me a winning team is one where guys go out and play well together and pull for each other and do the little things to win ballgames. Hopefully they'll turn it around. I keep up with them and the Rangers more than anybody."

Richard Zowie is a Bleacher Report blogger and longtime Houston Astros fan who would also like to write about Astros stars Glenn Davis, Bob Knepper, Kevin Bass and Mike Scott. Post comments here or e-mail Richard at richardzowie@gmail.com.

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