Houston Astros: 50 Greatest All-Time Players, Part 4 of 10
The Houston Astros recently completed their 50th Major League season. The team was known as the Houston Colt .45's from their inaugural season in 1962 through 1964. In 1965, the team adopted the moniker "Astros."
The Astros have been to the postseason nine times, winning the National League pennant in 2005. Houston only reached .500 once in its first 10 seasons, and did not post a winning record until 1972. Their first postseason appearance was in 1980, as the team took home their first NL West title.
They again made the playoffs in the following season, the strike-shortened 1981 campaign. Again, the Astros did not make it past the first series. Until 1986, the Astros did not repeat as contenders. In that season, they again were eliminated in the first round.
From 1997 through 2005, the Astros made the postseason six times. They won their first-ever series in 2004, against the Atlanta Braves before losing the NLCS to the St. Louis Cardinals. In 2005, the team advanced to the World Series by first beating the Atlanta Braves then the St. Louis Cardinals. The team was defeated in four games by the Chicago White Sox.
In the six seasons since that time, Houston has posted a winning record twice, and in 2011 finished 50 games under .500, their worst season ever. The Astros can only go up from here. As we reflect on what next season may hold, let's take a look back at the Astros Top 50 players of all time.
This list was compiled with resources available at www.baseball-reference.com, namely the "Wins Above Replacement" statistic.
35. Danny Darwin (1986-1990, 1996, WAR: 12.5)
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Darwin signed a free-agent contract with the Texas Rangers in 1976. His Major League debut came with the club in 1978, and he would appear with the Rangers for his first seven Major League seasons. He joined the Milwaukee Brewers for parts of two seasons before a midseason trade brought him to Houston in 1986.
The righty joined the club as a starter, then gradually made the transition to the bullpen. In 1989, he posted a 1.025 WHIP, going 11-4 in 68 games as a reliever.
He won the NL ERA title with a 2.21 in 1990, also posting a league-best 1.027 WHIP and another 11-4 record.
In six seasons with the Astros, Darwin posted a 47-35 record with a 3.21 ERA and a 1.164 WHIP.
34. Denny Walling (1977-1988, WAR: 13.4)
Walling was selected by the Oakland Athletics with the first pick of the 1975 amateur draft. He played two seasons in Oakland before winding up in Houston via trade in 1977.
Walling was a pinch-hit specialist for most of his career, although he did make a lot of starts at left and right field and at first and third base.
1986 was Walling's best offensive season with Houston. He achieved career highs with 13 home runs and 58 RBI, hitting .312 in 130 games.
Walling later would play with the St. Louis Cardinals and the Texas Rangers.
He had a .277 batting average in 1,072 games, collecting 345 RBI and walking more than he struck out.
He is currently a roving minor-league instructor with the Baltimore Orioles.
33. Dave Smith (1980-1990, WAR: 13.5)
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The Astros selected Smith in the eighth round of the 1976 amateur draft.
Smith was a relief pitcher during his 11 seasons with the Astros, making only one start over his whole career.
Smith made his Major League debut in 1980, finishing fifth in the NL Rookie of the Year balloting, posting a 7-5 record with a minuscule ERA of 1.93. Over his first five Houston seasons, Smith was a middle reliever and setup man who picked up an occasional save, 40 through 1984.
Starting in 1985 and lasting through his stay in Houston, Smith was the club's primary closer. He made the All-Star team in 1986, but his best season was 1987, when he posted a 2-3 record with a 1.65 ERA and 73 strikeouts in 60 innings. He racked up 24 saves and a WHIP of 1.000. He was again named an All-Star in 1990.
Altogether, Smith saved 199 games for the Astros in 563 appearances with a 2.53 ERA. His career record was 53-47. He played two seasons for the Chicago Cubs before retiring following the 1992 season.
Smith died of a heart attack at the age of 53 in 2008.
32. Luis Gonzalez (1990-1995, 1997, WAR: 13.5)
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Gonzalez was chosen by the Astros in the fourth round of the 1988 amateur draft.
1993 was Gonzalez's best statistical season with Houston, when he posted a .300 average and 15 home runs with 72 RBI along with a career-high 20 stolen bases.
In 745 games for Houston, Gonzalez hit.266 with 62 home runs and 63 stolen bases, driving in 366.
31. Wade Miller (1999-2004, WAR: 13.6)
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Miller, a right-handed pitcher, was selected by Houston in the 20th round of the 1996 draft.
A starter for Houston, Miller would also later play for the Boston Red Sox and the Chicago Cubs.
He made his first Major League appearance in 1999, posting a 9.58 ERA over five games for the Astros. Miller was a mainstay in the Houston rotation from 2001 through 2003, when he posted 45 wins in 91 starts for Houston.
He finished his career in Houston with a 58-39 record, posting a 3.87 ERA in six seasons.
Check back tomorrow as we continue to count down the Top 50 Astros of All Time.