T.R.’s Memoirs: Highlighting key moments in Rangers, Astros history ahead of ALCS
(AP photo/Richard W. Rodriguez)
Editor’s note: T.R. Sullivan covered the Rangers for 32 years, longer than anybody in franchise history. Here he recounts the long history and relationship between the Rangers and the Astros.
The Rangers and the Astros will meet in postseason for the first time in history. But the relationship between the two franchises goes back … well, to the beginning of time.
Texas baseball time, that is.
1960: The National League decides to expand to 10 teams. Houston and New York are awarded the franchises with play to begin in 1962. The American League hastily decides to expand as well but will start play in 1961. The Washington Senators are added to replace the original team that had moved to Minnesota. Los Angeles gets the second team over Dallas-Fort Worth.
1965: The Astrodome opens in Houston at the cost of $35 million. It is dubbed the Eighth Wonder of the World. Turnpike Stadium opens in Arlington at the cost of $1.5 million. It is known as a Triple A facility.
1969: The National League is ready to expand again, and this time DFW is the clear favorite. But Astros owner Roy Hofheinz blocks the move, insisting the Astros own all of Texas.
1971: The Senators move to Texas. The Astros can’t stop it because, back then, the American and National leagues were autonomous.
1983: The Rangers hire former Astros third baseman Doug Rader to be their manager. Rader once said that in a different life, he might have been a Tahitian War Lord. Six weeks after being hired, Rader was at the winter meetings in Florida when late one night, he decided to go snorkeling in the ocean. Then, Rader walked into the hotel bar wearing just his suit, fins and mask, and ordered a drink.
1984: The first trade between the two teams occurred on May 25 as the Rangers sent second baseman Mike Richardt to the Astros for veteran utility infielder Alan Bannister. Richardt was once a top prospect for the Rangers who never hit as expected at the big-league level.
1988: The Astros tried to get Nolan Ryan to take a pay cut from his $1 million annual salary. Ryan, who wanted to pitch just one more year, refused and became a free agent. The Rangers signed him, and Ryan stayed in Arlington for five years, recording his 5,000th strikeout, 300th win and pitching two no-hitters.
1989: George W. Bush leads a group that bought the Rangers from Eddie Chiles. At an introductory meeting with Star-Telegram hierarchy, Bush waxed poetic about growing up an Astros fan and brings up pitcher Turk Farrell.
1992: The Rangers beat the Astros 2-0 in an exhibition game prior to the start of the season at Arlington Stadium. They were awarded a Silver Boot especially designed for the game. Manager Bobby Valentine proudly displayed it on his desk and said, “Everybody said I was going to get the boot this year. Well, here it is.”
1992: The Astros sign free-agent pitchers Greg Swindell and Doug Drabek to four-year contracts. Both went to high school in South Texas and their agents, Alan and Randy Hendricks, were based in Houston. The Rangers pursued both but lost out to the Astros, whose combined investment was $35 million. The Rangers did not rue losing the bidding war. Drabek was 38-42 with a 4.00 ERA in four years with the Astros, and Swindell was 30-34 with a 4.48 ERA.
1993: Ryan pitches his final game for the Rangers. When the season is over, he begins a 10-year personal services contract with the team.
1994: The Rangers open the Ballpark in Arlington while the Eighth Wonder of the World was slowly falling into decay. The Astros start coveting their own ballpark.
1997: Baseball begins interleague play, but the Rangers are in the AL West and the Astros are in the NL Central. The two won’t face each other in interleague play until 2001.
1997: With the Rays and the Diamondbacks getting ready for their first season in 1998, baseball starts talking realignment. The Rangers make it clear they are eager to get out of the AL West. Television is a big consideration. The Rangers are tired of their division road games in Oakland, Anaheim and Seattle starting late at night and hurting ratings. Commissioner Bud Selig wants to accommodate the Rangers, but other teams are resistant to moving to make it happen. The issue drags on for several years.
1998: The Rangers and the Astros both make postseason together for the first time. Both get knocked out in the first round of the playoffs.
1999: Nolan Ryan is inducted into the Hall of Fame. He goes in wearing the Rangers hat, despite having played more years with the Angels (his best years) and the Astros.
2000: The Astros open Enron Field with its retractable roof. Two years later, after Enron became involved in widespread fraud, and the name was changed to Minute Maid Park.
2001: The Rangers and the Astros finally meet in interleague play with three games each in Arlington and Houston. A Silver Boot trophy is established to go to the winner of the series. In the event of a tie, run differential will decide the winner.
The first game is on a Friday, June 8, at the Ballpark in Arlington, and the Astros win, 5-4, in 11 innings before a sellout crowd of 47,120 fans. The Rangers win 12-4 on Saturday before the Astros prevail, 6-5, on Sunday. The following weekend at Enron Field, the Rangers take 2 of 3 from the Astros and win the Silver Cup by a 44-28 run differential.
After the Rangers’ win the final game in Houston, manager Jerry Narron jogs out to home plate to accept the Silver Boot with almost nobody paying attention.
2002: Rangers owner Tom Hicks gives up his quest to move out of the AL West. Instead, Hicks settles for a guarantee the Rangers and the Astros will play six games every year regardless of the interleague rotation. The arrangement also means the Yankees-Mets, Giants-Athletics, Angels-Dodgers and other potential geographic rivalries will be scheduled every year.
2004: Ryan ditches the Rangers and goes to work for the Astros as a special assistant to the general manager.
2004: The Silver Boot comes down to the finale of the six-game series. The Astros are up three games to two plus a two-run lead in run differential. But on July 4, the Rangers hit six home runs in an 18-3 victory. There is no on-field presentation.
By this time, it’s clear the only person who really cares about the Silver Boot is Astros owner Drayton McLane.
2008: Ryan returns to the Rangers as club president, a desperately needed morale boost for a franchise having experienced six losing seasons in the previous seven years. It’s also clear Hicks is in financial trouble and may need to sell the team.
2009: The Astros sign veteran catcher Ivan Rodriguez, 37, as a free agent. The Astros are Rodriguez’s fourth team since leaving the Rangers after the 2002 season. But, with the Astros heading for a last-place finish, they trade Rodriguez to the Rangers on Aug. 18. But it wasn’t exactly a magical swan song for Pudge. He plays 28 games for the Rangers and then plays two more years with the Washington Nationals before retiring.
2010: With the Rangers up for sale, Ryan joins a group headed by Chuck Greenberg, Ray Davis and Bob Simpson to buy the team. The Rangers end up being auctioned off in bankruptcy court, and the group wins the bidding over a partnership of Mavericks owner Mark Cuban and Houston businessman Jim Crane.
2011: The Rangers go to the World Series for the second straight year while the Astros lose 106 games.
2013: Crane buys the Astros. As a condition for approval, Major League Baseball mandates the Astros move to the American League. Crane has no choice but to comply, and the Astros join the Rangers in the AL West. The two Texas teams play each other 19 times that year, and the Rangers win 17 of them.
It’s the seventh straight year the Rangers have won the Silver Boot, but it didn’t help that an employee dropped the trophy and broke it.
One of the Rangers’ wins came from Yu Darvish in Houston. Pitching in the second game of the season, Darvish retired the first 26 hitters before Marwin Gonzalez grounded a single up the middle to break up the perfect-game bid. Michael Kirkman got the final out in the Rangers 7-0 victory.
2014: The Astros regain the Silver Boot by going 11-8 in against the Rangers. However, with Tim Bogar serving as interim manager, the Rangers won the final three.
Rangers beat writers fashioned a small silver boot out of aluminum foil and presented it to Bogar in his postgame press conference. He loved it.
2015: Texas second baseman Rougned Odor and Astros catcher Hank Conger get into it at home plate in the ninth inning of the Rangers’ 7-6 win, causing both teams to spill out on the field. Conger was irritated because Odor was dawdling at home plate.
2017: The Astros’ 6-2 win over the Rangers on May 1 was marked by a sixth-inning altercation that brought both teams onto the field. After Rangers pitcher Andrew Cashner hit two Astros, Houston pitcher Lance McCullers Jr. threw behind Mike Napoli’s head. Napoli started yelling at McCullers while being held back by catcher Brian McCann. Other Astros held McCullers back. After more screaming and pushing, order was restored.
2017: The Astros win the World Series for the first time, but it is later revealed they used devices to illegally steal signs during their home games. The scandal was uncovered after the 2019 season when the Astros went back to the World Series but lost to the Nationals.
General manager Jeff Luhnow and manager A.J. Hinch were suspended for one year by MLB and fired by the Astros. No players were disciplined.
2019: Hunter Pence, after signing with the Rangers as a free agent, hit a home run and drove in three runs April 21 in an 11-10 win over the Astros. Captain Underpants played for the Astros from 2007-11 and was just one of many distinguished players who played in both organizations.
The lineup for that group would look something like this:
P – Nolan Ryan, Roy Oswalt, Danny Darwin
C – Ivan Rodriguez
1B – Lance Berkman
2B – Mark McLemore
SS – Dickie Thon
3B – Buddy Bell, Ken Caminiti
LF – Pete Incaviglia
CF – Carl Everett, Kenny Lofton
RF – Rusty Staub, Richard Hidalgo
DH – Carlos Beltran, Carlos Lee
2021: The Rangers open a three-game series with the Astros on a Friday, May 21, with a 7-5 victory in 10 innings. The hero is little-known right fielder Adolis Garcia, who had been designated for assignment just before spring training. Garcia cleared waivers and was re-signed to a minor-league contract. He won the game with a two-out, three-run home run in the bottom of the 10th.
Two days later, the Rangers complete a three-game sweep of the Astros with another walk-off win. This time Garcia drove home the winning run in the 10th with an RBI single.
2023: The Rangers’ 13-5 victory over the Astros on July 26 in Houston had all the trimmings of a real rivalry with some blood boiling early when Rangers starter Andrew Heaney hit Yordan Alvarez with a pitch. In the third, Astros starter Framber Valdez hit Marcus Semien.
Semien struck back in the fourth when he belted a two-run home run off Valdez to give the Rangers a 4-3 lead. The two glared at each other as Semien rounded the bases.
Semien was on base in the fifth when Garcia hit a grand slam off Seth Martinez. As Semien crossed home plate, he got into it with Astros catcher Martin Maldonado even before Garcia came across to score. The two had to be separated and both were ejected from the game.
Now, the two teams are in the American League Championship Series.