Posts Tagged ‘Astrodome’

Jim Palmer’s No-Hitter

Sunday, March 19th, 2017

Jim Palmer began his major league career in 1965, when the Braves played their last season in Milwaukee, the Astros unveiled the Astrodome, and Bert Campaneris became the first player to play all nine positions in a major league game.

Throughout his 19 seasons—all in a Baltimore Orioles uniform—Palmer racked up pitching achievements like a Marylander devours crabs.  Often.

  • World Series championships (1966, 1970, 1983)
  • American League Cy Young Awards (1973, 1975, 1976)
  • 20-win seasons in all but one year between 1970 and 1978
  • Led the American League in innings pitched (1970, 1976, 1977, 1978)
  • Led the major leagues in shutouts (1975)
  • Led the American League in earned run average (1973, 1975)
  • Led the major leagues in earned run average (1975)
  • Led the American League in victories (1975, 1976, 1977)
  • Led the major leagues in victories (1975, 1976)
  • Led the American League in complete games (1977)
  • Led the major leagues in complete games (1977)

On August 13, 1969, the future Hall of Famer added a rare jewel to his crown—a no-hitter.  In an 8-0 shutout of the Oakland A’s, Palmer contributed with his bat as well as his right arm—a single, a double, a run scored, one RBI, and a walk that started a five-run tally in the seventh inning.  Associated Press began its account by emphasizing the 23-year-old right-hander “continuing his amazing comeback” after being on the disabled list; the no-hitter brought Palmer’s 1969 record to 11-2.

It was a glorious day for Baltimore.  Boog Powell rapped two hits and scored a run.  Brooks Robinson knocked a three-run home run—it was his only hit of the day.  Don Buford went three-for-four with two RBI.  Paul Blair and Frank Robinson had one RBI apiece.

After two years of limited work because of “assorted back and shoulder miseries,” described by AP, Palmer had an impressive 9-2 record in 1969 before tearing a muscle in his back, which prompted a stay on the disabled list beginning on June 29th.  When Palmer returned to pitch against the Minnesota Twins on August 9th, spirits lifted from Mount Washington to Fells Point.  It looked like the physical challenges were in the rear view mirror as Palmer notched a 5-1 victory over the fellas from the Twin Cities; he threw for six innings.

Palmer’s no-hitter occurred while the world experienced terrific events, with the adjective being used for both its original meaning as a derivation of the word “terror” and its adjusted meaning to describe something extraordinarily good.  In the four weeks prior to Palmer’s feat, Charles Manson masterminded a mass slaughter of Sharon Tate and six others, Apollo 11 made the first successful manned moon landing, and upstate New York prepared for a festival described as “3 Days of Peace and Music” at Max Yasgur’s farm in Bethel—the Woodstock Music and Art Fair.

With a 109-53 record in 1969, the O’s had a 19-game differential from their closest competitor—the Detroit Tigers had 90 wins and 72 losses, respectable but not enough to eclipse the marshals of Memorial Stadium.  The New York Mets defied expectations by defeating the Orioles in the 1969 World Series, taking five games to accomplish the task.

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on April 14, 2016.

Houston Blasts Off

Friday, January 27th, 2017

Houston ignited its major league status with victory.  On April 10, 1962, the Colt .45s overtook the Cubs 11-2 at Colt Stadium.  Bob Aspromonte, Al Spangler, and Román Mejias each scored three runs in the bout while Norm Larker and Hal Smith scored one apiece.

Bobby Shantz pitched a complete game, allowing five hits for the heroes of Chicago’s North Side.  Houston traded Shantz to the St. Louis Cardinals in May, prompting the St. Louis Post-Dispatch to publish the article “Acquisition of Shantz Produces Lefthanded Depth for Cardinals.”  It revealed a possibility that will shock the hearts of St. Louisans today because of a contemplated trade of a future Cardinals legend:  “[Cardinals general manager Bing] Devine tried hard to pry Shantz from the new Senators after they obtained him from the Yankees in the 1960 player pool.  Bob Gibson, then having his troubles, was among those offered to the Senators for Shantz.”

In their second major league game, the Colt .45s beat the Cubs 2-0.  Hal Woodeshick started the game, left in the ninth inning, and received a victory because of Dick Farrell’s relief.  With a 5-16 record for 1962, Woodeshick turned things around for 1963—he ended the season at 11-9.  In the June 5, 1963 edition of the Houston Post, Clark Nealon used his “Post Time” column to praise Woodeshick’s rebound:  “It is to say that the development of Lefty Hal Woodeshick of the Colts is the most amazing mound feature of an amazing first two months.  It’s one thing to be a moundsman of established ability and reputation and to turn in great performances as part of a very noticeable trend.

“It’s another to have been something of a frustrated workman all your career, and then to suddenly become a paragon of effectiveness and consistency.  And this is what Woodeshick has done in a manner to top not only the Colt staff but the entire National League at this writing.”

Woodeshick has the distinction of earning the first victory in the Astrodome, which hosted its first game on April 9, 1965—it was an exhibition pitting the newly named Astros against the Yankees.

The Colt .45s beat the Cubs 2-0 for the third game of the three-game series.  Richard Dozier of the Chicago Daily Tribune wrote, “The Chicago Cubs fled Texas by air at dusk today, puzzled by their sudden mediocrity, dazzled by Houston’s left handed pitching, and imbedded in ninth place—a position new even for them.”

Colt Stadium, Houston’s major league ballpark until the Astrodome eclipsed it, remains a fond memory for those who were there in ’62.  “Although Colt Stadium would soon be pushed into the shadows of the Astrodome, it still had its share of unforgettable quirks,” describes the Houston Astros web site.  “One of the most obvious of these quirks lied in the stadium seats that had colors ranging from flamingo red, burnt orange and chartreuse, to turquoise.  Also unique to Colt Stadium, female ushers were dubbed ‘Triggerettes,’ and parking attendants wore orange Stetson hats with blue neckerchiefs and directed cars into sections named ‘Wyatt Earp Territory,’ ‘Cheyenne Bodie Territory,’ and ‘Matt Dillon Territory.'”

Though off to a prodigious start for their inaugural season, the Colt .45s finished at 64-96.

version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on January 9, 2016.

The Astrodome’s Début

Friday, December 16th, 2016

Houston, we have a solution.

Famous for its humidity, Houston unveiled a revolutionary, futuristic, and air-conditioned sports refuge—the Harris County Domed Stadium, also known as the Astrodome.  Débuting in 1965, the Astrodome’s monkey reflected the 1960s Space Age, when Houston dominated the world’s attention as the headquarters for NASA, which launched unmanned spacecraft and manned flights in the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo programs.  Houston’s Major League Baseball team changed labels, too.  Introduced as the Colt .45s in 1962, the team became the Astros concurrent with the Astrodome’s début.

Houston’s relationship with professional baseball began in 1888 with the Houston Buffaloes, a minor league fixture until 1961.  The Buffaloes, in fact, needed to be expunged from Houston so that a major league team could enter the market.  On January 17, 1961, the Houston Sports Association, the entity owning the rights for a National League team in Houston, purchased the Buffaloes and moved the team to Oklahoma City, where they became the 89ers.

The Astrodome provided Houstonians the opportunity to see events without worry regarding the weather.  “The searing Texas sun will still beat down, the angry Gulf Coast winds will still howl and the tropical rains will still fall, but NOT on the spectators in the Astrodome,” described the Houston Sports Association in its 1965 promotional magazine Inside the Astrodome.  “They sit in almost regal splendor in plush-type opera seats protected overhead by a permanent translucent roof covered with 4,596 skylights of clear ‘Lucite’ plastic and in a temperature of 74 degrees controlled by a $4,500,000 air-conditioning system of 6,600 tons.”

Until the Astrodome was erected, though, the Colt .45s needed a home field.  Colt Stadium was erected in a few months, though its conditions endorsed an indoor facility for Houston.  In his 2014 book The Astrodome: Building An American Spectacle, James Last wrote, “The team would play three seasons in Colt Stadium and, by all accounts, conditions there underscored the need for an indoor venue.  Ballplayers and spectators wilted under the high heat and humidity and were feasted on by mosquitoes drawn to the damp, low-lying site”

Besides the comfort provided by luxurious seats, cool temperatures, and protection from the elements, the Astrodome entertained fans with an electronic scoreboard featuring animation, an innovation in the mid-1960s.  Along with NASA’s missions, the Astrodome became geographic shorthand as it elevated Houston to worldwide fame.  In their 2013 book Deep in the Heart: Blazing A Trail From Expansion To the World Series, Bill Brown and Mike Acosta cite the description of renowned baseball journalist Mickey Herskowitz:  “But somewhere along that first year (1965), you could go to any city in the world, London or Paris for example, and if somebody asked where you were and you said Houston, they would know about the Astrodome.  People forget the impact the Astrodome had.”

The first game played in the Astrodome was an exhibition between the Houston Astros and the New York Yankees on April 9, 1965.  Dick Farrell threw the first pitch, Mickey Mantle hit the first home run, and a new era of multi-purpose domed stadiums was born.”

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on February 11, 2015.

The Millionth Run

Saturday, December 10th, 2016

Baseball is a game marked by milestones of achievements—3,000 career hits, 300 career pitching victories, 100 RBI in a season.

It’s also a game marked by milestones reached when opportunity meets happenstance.  Players attain an illustrious position in the annals of baseball history simply by being in the right place at the right time or the wrong place at the wrong time—Mickey Mantle hitting the first home run in the Astrodome to inaugurate the facility known as the Eighth Wonder of the World, Al Downing pitching the 715th home run ball to Hank Aaron, Bobby Thomson hitting the Shot Heard Round the World.

On May 4, 1975, Bob Watson stood on the precipice of a baseball milestone born from the opportunity-happenstance marriage.  Geographically speaking, he landed on second base in the first game of a Giants-Astros doubleheader at San Francisco’s Candlestick Park.

Thomas Rogers led his article “Astros’ Watson Scores Millionth Run” in the New York Times with an explanation of baseball’s trek to 1,000,000 runs.  “By a margin of approximately four seconds, Bob Watson of the Houston Astros yesterday scored major league baseball’s [sic] heavily publicized and eagerly anticipated one millionth run.  It came 99 years and 12 days after Wes Fisler of the National League’s Philadelphia team was the first to circle the bases successfully,” wrote Rogers.

Giants pitcher John Montefusco walked Watson, the Astros’ first baseman and cleanup hitter, to start the second inning.  Watson stole second base, then journeyman outfielder José Cruz followed with another walk, leaving catcher Milt May the opportunity to ignite history by hitting one of his four home runs for the 1975 season.  “As the ball rocketed off teammate Milt May’s bat and headed deep to right, Watson tagged up and held his breath.  Home run!  Elated, Watson forgot all about the record and started to jog home.  His teammates, alerted by a message flashed on the scoreboard that major league baseball’s [sic] 999,999th run already had been tallied, began to yell at him, and Watson started to spring.  He just beat Cincinnati’s Dave Concepcion, who was rounding third 2,000 miles away, to score the millionth run,” wrote Jim Kaplan in the article “All-American but not an All-Star” in the July 14, 1975 issue of Sports Illustrated.

Watson’s gifts included a $1,000 Seiko watch, a place at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum for the shoes he wore during the historic moment, and, of course, notoriety.  MLB.com’s Brian McTaggart quoted Watson in his 2012 article “Game to Remember: Bob Watson” on the Houston Astros web site.  “When I really think back, the one thing that stands out for me is Houston, except maybe for Cesar Cedeno, we were off the beaten track,” Watson said.  “I think my fan mail was something like four or five letters a week, or something like that.  Scoring the 1,000,000th run, it increased to 50-100 per week.  It got me on the map a little bit, and I ended up being the answer to a trivia question.”

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on December 15, 2014.

Rob Reiner and Baseball

Thursday, November 17th, 2016

Baseball is a never-ending source for popular culture storytellers whose tales tap a range of emotional veins in fans of the National Pastime.

We cry when Gary Cooper reenacts Lou Gehrig’s “Luckiest Man” speech in The Pride of the Yankees.

We cheer when Rick “Wild Thing” Vaughn strikes out Clu Haywood to win the American League East pennant for the Indians in Major League.

We laugh when the Chico’s Bail Bonds team from southern California’s North Valley League travels to Houston for a game at the Astrodome in The Bad News Bears in Breaking Training.

One of baseball’s biggest fans in the popular culture arena is Rob Reiner, who became a household name for his portrayal of Mike “Meathead” Stivic on the 1970s television show All in the Family.  He became one of Hollywood’s A-list directors.

In 1982, Reiner starred in Million Dollar Infield, a CBS television movie featuring challenges of middle age against the backdrop of a men’s softball team.  Reiner, Bruno Kirby, Christopher Guest, and Robert Costanzo play the core four characters, each with his own dilemma.  Guest’s character obsesses over baseball, ignores his son’s emotional issues, and prizes winning above all else.  Reiner’s character deals with divorce.  The team gives the men an outlet where they bond over a common goal of winning games.  Reiner co-wrote the script for Million Dollar Infield.

Reiner co-wrote the premiere episode for Happy Days.  Airing on January 15, 1974, the story revolves around Richie Cunningham—the main character—pursuing a bubbly blonde named Mary Lou.  When Richie’s friends want to know “how far” he got on a date with Mary Lou, the conversation takes place during batting practice.

A similar male bonding scene takes place in When Harry Met Sally, directed by Reiner.  During an outing at the batting cages, Harry confides to his best friend, Jess, that his platonic relationship with Sally is wonderful because there are no miscues, expectations, or hurt feelings that may happen if the relationship escalates to a romantic level; ultimately, Harry and Sally become a couple.

Reiner voiced a baseball named Screwie in the 2006 animated movie Everyone’s Hero.  In an interview with Alan Schwarz of the New York Times published on September 17, 2006, Reiner compared being a baseball manager handling players to being a movie director handling a cast.  “You have to know, based on their personalities, which ones to push and which ones to back away from,” said Reiner.  “Managers, it’s the same thing.  It’s managing personalities so that you get the best out of your players.”

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on March 1, 2014.

“Let Them Play!”

Tuesday, May 21st, 2013

Baseball is a beautiful game, largely because it has no clock determining its end.  An NFL team has 45 seconds to execute an offensive play.  An NBA team, 24 seconds.  But baseball has no time limit.

The Bad News Bears in Breaking Training illustrated this point with the help of an inspirational chant, a defiant kid, and Bob Watson.

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Houston, You Have A Problem

Wednesday, May 9th, 2012

A once venerable symbol of the future is on the precipice of being an ignored relic of the past.

The Houston Astrodome. The first domed stadium. The 8th Wonder of the World.

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