By Lenny Moon
Congratulations to both the American League baseball champion Houston Astros as well as the National League kingpin Philadelphia Phillies that have earned their way as participants in the 2022 World Series. Once we were rendered the finalist from both leagues, it immediately carried me back to the last time that these two clubs met in the postseason in dramatic fashion. The year was 1980, fifteen years from the inception of perhaps the most brilliant architecture of the 20th Century. The venue was the Astrodome (8th Wonder of the World), the occasion was the National League Championship Series (Houston’s first ever), the teams Houston Astros vs the veteran and savvy Philadelphia Phillies.
This predated my eventual status of becoming a member of the media in the fall of 1980, but still found myself “in the house” as an attendant in what was referred as the “Skybox” (suite located on the 9th floor of the Dome where VIP and corporate types would host private parties during the game). As fate would have it, out of the 80 or so Skyboxes, yours truly would be assigned to the then former owner of the Astros and the builder of the Astrodome in Judge Roy Hofheinz. At this juncture of his life, the former Mayor of Houston and longtime powerbroker of his city had been stricken by a stroke and confined to a wheelchair with caretakers monitoring his every move. Needless to say, MLB dignitaries were coming and going constantly to greet and pay homage to this pioneer.
Certainly one of the reflections from that 1980 Astros season was the case of All-Star fireballer James Rodney “J.R.” Richard. At this stage of his career, Richard had evolved into the most feared pitcher in the game. Standing a hulking 6 foot 8 inches with a fastball that traveled over 100 mph and a complimentary slider that was just as un-hittable, opposing players would choose to take a day off instead of standing in the box against this force of nature. J.R. was coming off two consecutive 20-win campaigns and had led the league in strikeouts both of those seasons. His success carried into 1980, being named the starter for the N.L. during the 1980 MLB All-Star Game while posting a sparkling 10-4 record and a 1.96 ERA and mowing down practically every hitter he faced during the mid-summer classic. Richard would incur a stroke, following complaints of a “dead arm” that was misdiagnosed by the doctors of the Astros which ultimately led to the premature conclusion of his baseball career. We can only wonder what would have transpired had J.R. had to opportunity to be properly treated and possibly had a chance to further contribute to that 1980 club.
The 1980 Houston Astros squad was by and large a team driven by a solid pitching staff, spearheaded by Hall of Fame hurler Nolan Ryan (in the absence of Richard) and essentially a “small ball” outfit. Playing in the cavernous Astrodome, their leading home run hitter was Terry Puhl (13), but possessed five players with over 20 stolen bases led by outfielder Cesar Cedeno with 48. Even future Hall of Fame infielder Joe Morgan (who was drafted by Houston nearly two decades earlier) returned to H-Town to get in on the party with 24 steals. Conversely, Philly entered that series with two of that era’s top bashers in Hall of Fame slugger Mike Schmidt (league leader) and outfielder Greg Luzinski. Additionally, two other Hall of Fame members in outfielder/ infielder Pete Rose (MLB all-time hit leader) and crafty lefty Steve Carlton (24 wins and a 2.34 ERA) anchored the pitching staff (Rose has not officially been inducted). The “best of five” series became epic as two of the first three clashes of that matchup resulted in a 10 inning extra inning game along with an 11 inning contest. The Astros won two of those with the final two played in the friendly confines of the Judge’s Astrodome. With the tension as thick as any sporting environment most of us had witnessed in Harris County, Philly won Game 4 by the score of 5-3 along with the series-clinching victory 8-7 also in 10th innings to win the best of five showdown three games to two.
The Houston Astros managed to appear in only one World Series in its first 40 years of existence, being swept by the Chicago White Sox in 2005 as a member of the National League. But now being a member of the American League since 2013 it took them only four seasons to land in the Fall Classic, defeating the Los Angeles Dodgers in seven games (4-3) with outfielder George Springer evolving as the WS-MVP. The 2022 version of the Astros represent their fourth “bite out of the apple” in the last six seasons and the second consecutive appearance for skipper Dusty Baker. The defending A.L. Champions enter the World Series having swept both the hot Seattle Mariners and the always potent New York Yankees. The Houston organization deserves a world of the credit, having lost the likes of Springer, Carlos Carrera, Merwin Gonzalez and Garrit Cole. In return they’ve inserted homegrown stars such as Yordan Alavrez, Jeremy Pena, Kyle Tucker, Framber Valdez, and Luis Garcia among others and managed to not miss a beat through their losses at free agency. Another stroke of genius was procuring veteran skipper Baker from his retirement rocking chair to postseason appearances in all three of his H-Town seasons (following the firing of their GM and Manager from cheating scandal) including two consecutive American League championships. Although Dusty earned a World Series ring as a member of the Dodgers as a player, he’s still seeking his first as a manager. The Astros enter the Fall Classic as the favorite to reign supreme and projected to cap perhaps the most successful season in franchise history.