Wednesday, February 27, 2013

February 27- Houston Astros




I had previously owned this Houston Astros cap from 2000-2001 when I was living in Vancouver, Washington and wore it quite often when I went to work at Just Sports at the Vancouver Mall. Since our polo shirts were navy blue it made for a good match along with the khaki shorts or pants I was wearing, depending on which season it was. One night in January of 2001 I was riding the bus back home as I never had a car until I was 19-years-old. I was tuned into my portable CD player and lingering in between a state of consciousness and a light slumber when the bus made a sharp turn to the right onto 92nd street where my stop was. Due to my state of slight confusion, I quickly hit the stop button and grabbed my backpack. I hopped off and made it about two blocks in the rain before I realized that my head and face were not being protected by the familiar bill that usually kept me dry. I had left the hat on the bus. Pissed off doesn’t even begin to describe how I felt. It would be 10 years before I bought a replacement.

I ended up finding this hat brand new on Ebay for about $10 in August of 2011. Every now-and-then I find a few gems there, but I became incredibly hesitant after I got burned by some kid in the Bay Area selling a “brand new” San Francisco Giants cap for $15. If by “brand new” he meant wore it for three years without taking off the tags, then yes. When the Astros cap came in the mail I immediately went to Baseball-Reference.com and filtered through an array of stats and stories, until inevitably falling on 5714, the number of strikeouts that Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan had throughout his Major League career.

It seemed to make sense to me at the time, but I never really had a good reason for doing it, especially considering that I owned a few New York Mets, California Angels and Texas Rangers hats which would have made just as much sense. I don’t know. Something in my gut just told me to throw that number on the hat, which for me is weird when considering how analytical I am when it comes to marking my hats. Historically it would have made sense to add that number to a 1986-1993 Rangers hat, since he did hit that mark, retire with and go into the Hall of Fame with that hat, or even the 1972-1989 Angels hat since he did tally the most strikeouts of his career with them. But no, I opted to roll with the 1965-1970/1980-1993 Astros hat.

So far I’ve done this post way different than the others. I usually start out with the history of the hat and end with my mark, but you’ll see why at the end. The Astros did in fact use this hat from 1965-1970 and then again from 1980-1993. From 1980-1981 it serves as the team’s road cap, before they transitioned it into the “alternate home” and road cap in 1982, which then became just their game cap by 1983. When it comes to hats and uniform combinations, very few teams have been weirder about this than the Astros. Ryan’s tenure with the team started in 1980 and ended in 1988 when he finished out his career with the Rangers. Prior to the Astros he played with the Angels from 1972-1979 and before that he played with the Mets from 1966-1971. So if you’re keeping score at home it looks something like this: 9 years with the Astros, 8 years with the Angels, 5 years with the Mets and 5 years with the Rangers.

Ryan only won one World Series throughout his 27 year career which came in 1969 with the Miracle Mets. Outside of that, he had 493 strikeouts and was merely a blip on the radar during his time in New York. When he got to California with the Angels his reputation came to light. Throughout his eight year run Ryan went 138-121 with a 3.07 ERA and a staggering 2416 strikeouts, the most with any team he played for. He also threw four no-hitters during that frame, which tied him for the most with Sandy Koufax at the time. No big deal; he was just getting warmed up.

During Ryan’s stretch with the Astros he went 106-94, which gave him a win percentage of .530, only three thousandths of a percentage behind his Angels wins percentage. He struck out 1866 batters, but he did post the two lowest seasonal ERAs of his career in Houston: 1.69 in 1981 and 2.76 in 1987, as well as one no-hitter with the ‘Stros on September 26, 1981… while wearing the orange cap. See!

His time with the Rangers went incredibly well. As you saw in the photo above, he threw two more no-nos and he went 51-39 with 939 strikeouts putting his strikeouts per nine innings at 10.1, the highest of his career. Six years after he was retired he was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame and perma-plaqued with a Rangers cap, something that I have questioned since Induction Day. Obviously his beast statistical years came with the Angels, not to mention he only won a championship with the Mets. Somehow in 27 years he NEVER won a Cy Young award; the closest he came was runner-up to Jim Palmer in 1973 despite the fact that Ryan struck 383 batters out. Palmer only struck out 158. Daaaaaammmnnnn!!! Ryan led the League in strikeouts 11 times: 7 with the Angels and 2 each with the Rangers and Astros. I realize that Ryan is a Texas boy and got to choose how he went into the Hall, but the powers that be really should have put the kibosh on that one. So glad they changed that rule!

But even with all of these facts and figures, the mystery of why I chose this hat to mark the 5714 on the front panel was still a mystery… until I went to the Hall of Fame. I’ve only been there once, back on August 1, 2012 with my friend Dave Kaufman. With the exception of a few photos of the plaques, I never really did much investigative work about what the Hall had to offer. I wanted to be surprised when I got there. And needless to say I was when Dave and I came across this display.

Not until today did I ever give much thought to it. This whole number investigation and explanation didn’t start until I picked the hat for today’s post. I honestly don’t even remember why I took a photo of this pane, but there it is; the hat with the 5714 strikeout caption below it. A hat which had no real significance on any special occasion for Ryan.

Weird things like this have happened throughout my life. I’ll think about something or get a strong feeling about whatever and it will pop up at some point in time down the road. This sort of “psychic” intuition always proved useful when I would think about a particular episode of The Simpsons and sure enough it would be on later that night. I realize that there is no real way for me to prove that I’m not pulling your leg… or is there?

I went back through all of the photos I’ve taken over the last year on the Samsung Galaxy Note I got while I was in the MLB Fan Cave, as well as a few photo albums on my computer to prove that I’m not full of crap and didn’t just make up an elaborate story.

This photo should all be familiar to you as it serves as the background for my blog. I took it on May 26, 2012, about three days before I got kicked out of the Fan Cave. I realize it’s hard to see, but the numbers are on the hat.

Here’s a close-up of that image.

Still not convinced? How about this photo?

This was taken on October 12, 2011, well before the Fan Cave and well before my hat collection ballooned to the number that it is now.

Sooooooooo… in your face! But like I said, it’s all weird.

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  3. As far as Nolan Ryan's choice of team, whose hat he would forever wear in the Hall of Fame, the Astros would never be the one. At the conclusion of the 1988 season, when Ryan's contract was set to end with the Astros, John McMullen, team owner at the time, decided Ryan was no longer worth the million dollars a year he was earning, so he asked Nolan to take a pay cut, presumably to make room fiscally for other players to sign. Ryan refused, and with good reason...he was far from the pasture, as it were. The Rangers were delighted to accommodate the Express, signing him to a multi-year deal which would all but guarantee his finishing his sterling career in a Texas uniform. As it turned out, the Rangers and Mr. Ryan were both right in believing he still had the goods that should bring a million dollars a year in 1989 and beyond. Ryan threw two more no-hitters, one in 1990 and the other in 1991, both individual and MLB records in terms of quantity (6 and 7) and age of accomplishment (43 and 44)...no-nos were always thought to be a younger man's thing. Ryan struck out about a thousand more batters after getting shafted by Houston and sealed his legacy by reaching the 300-win plateau plus two dozen more before his arm finally gave out in 1993. So in 1999, when the Hall came calling, Nolan Ryan chose to be a Ranger when he was inducted. The Mets, Angels, and even the Astros each could have made a convincing case to be the team had the choice not been Ryan's to make, but out of the four teams he played with during his illustrious 27-year career, Houston was immediately out of the question in his decision for reasons that had absolutely nothing to do with his numbers on the field. It had everything to do with McMullen's lack of respect and faith in the man's abilities...you just don't insult Nolan Ryan and expect to get away with it. Sure, the city of Houston suffered a bit, but they were rewarded years later with the inductions of Biggio and Bagwell in Astros hats. Perhaps Ryan chose Texas because after the failure of negotiations with the Astros, the Rangers took him in, as any other team I'm sure would have, and gave him a home in which to continue to pile on the stats rather than a grave in which to pile on the dirt that the Astros and McMullen were sure his career would soon be laid to rest. For that, I believe the Ryan Express made the right decision. And that's coming from a life-long Astros fan.

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