Astros and Olympians

added 8/14/2008 by Bob Hulsey

During one of the recent road games in Cincinnati, Jim Deshaies made mention of the success the Astros have had during the Summer Olympic games. I didn't know if this was an allusion to the remarkable run that the Astros made in 2004 to claim the Wild Card or if it went deeper than that. So I looked into it.

The Astros (nee Colt .45s) were perennial losers in the 1960s so it was fortunate that the Tokyo Olympiad in 1964 and the Mexico City Olympiad in 1968 started in mid-October, after the baseball season was over in Houston. That meant the first season to measure was in 1972.

1972 Munich Olympics (August 26 - September 10): 8-6 (.571)

Best known for the terrorist attack on the Isreali team, Mark Spitz, Olga Korbut and the bizarre finish to the men's basketball final, the Astros spent the time winning six straight at home against Eastern teams before dropping four straight to the Mets and Braves. Then they headed to the West Coast where they swept a pair from the Giants and lost two at Los Angeles. Houston had their first winning season in franchise history that year.

1976 Montreal Olympics (July 17 - August 1): 12-7 (.632)

Hosted in the arena that would be converted into the home field of the Expos beginning in 1977, the Montreal games featured Nadia Comaneci, Bruce Jenner and "Sugar Ray" Leonard. Olympic fans could have watched the Astros sweep a series at Parc Jarry to climb over the .500 mark. Houston had five doubleheaders during their Olympic stretch, including dropping three of four at Pittsburgh in two days. Returning to the Astrodome, the Astros split four with the Giants, took two of three from the Padres and took three of four from the Braves. Houston bounced back from one of their worst seasons to finish two games under .500 during the 1976 campaign.

1980 Moscow Olympics (July 19 - August 3): 8-7 (.533)

America boycotted these Olympics in response to the Soviet Union's invasion into Afghanistan. The Astros, meanwhile, were trying to claim the first division title in their history. They finished up a homestand taking two of three from the Expos and two of three from the Mets. Then they flew to the East Coast where they won a series in Montreal before losing two of three in Philadelphia and New York. But, in the end, the Astros got that first pennant although they had to work overtime in Los Angeles to do it.

1984 Los Angeles Olympics (July 28 - August 12): 9-8 (.529)

The Russians boycotted these Olympics to retaliate against the Moscow boycott but Communist China took their place. These games featured Mary Lou Retton and Carl Lewis. Houston won only three of the first nine in this Olympic stretch but won three of four each against the Giants and Reds. The Astros finished second in their division but two games below the .500 mark.

1988 Seoul Olympics (September 17 - October 2): 4-11 (.267)

Baseball was introduced to the Olympics as a demonstration sport. The Astros played like it was a demonstration to themselves, losing four of six at home before losing six games to the Padres. In between, they took two of three from Atlanta. On the year, Houston finished 82-80 although that left them in fifth place in the West Division.

1992 Barcelona Olympics (July 25 - August 9): 5-10 (.333)

These games coincided with a four-week road trip made necessary because the Astrodome was being remodeled to host the Republican National Convention so the rebuilding Astros can be forgiven for hitting a bad stretch. They took two of three in Atlanta but then lost three of four at Cincinnati and split a two-game set in Los Angeles before getting swept in a four-game series at San Diego. Overall, the Astros came together in September to finish at 81-81.

1996 Atlanta Olympics (July 19 - August 9): 13-6 (.684)

My two lasting memories of these games were not during the competition. They were Muhammad Ali, stricken with Parkinson's disease, carrying the Olympic Torch during the Opening Ceremonies and the tragic bombing at Olympic Park. The main stadium was rebuilt into Turner Field after the games were over. It was happier times for the Astros who began the stretch hosting the Braves and taking the final three of a four-game series. They then won series at the Dome against the Padres and Dodgers. After a quick trip to Cincinnati where they lost two of three, the Astros returned home to sweep the Giants and split the next four games. Houston finished second in the Central Division to St. Louis with an 82-80 record.

2000 Sydney Olympics (September 15 - October 1): 8-7 (.533)

Any Olympics that starts with Olivia Newton-John singing couldn't have been all that memorable. Meanwhile, the Astros were playing out the season in a dismal first year at their new ballpark. While Houston was setting home run records, both hitting and pitching, they swept the Pirates and won two of three at St. Louis. Then they were swept by the Reds and split the last six games of the year against the Pirates and the Brewers, finishing with a 72-90 record.

2004 Athens Olympics (August 13 - August 29): 11-5 (.688)

Returning to the country where the Olympics all started, the games were held under tight security due to terrorism concerns. Michael Phelps began his run on the Olympic record books. Meanwhile, the Astros were rising from the dead, having replaced their manager and falling four games under .500 before they caught lightning in a bottle. They swept the Phillies twice and won four of seven against the Cubs. When the Olympiad ended, the Astros didn't. They won their next nine straight to cap a 15-of-16 run that got them right back into the Wild Card race. True Astro fans know, of course, what happened next. Houston made the Wild Card on the season's final day then won the first postseason series in franchise history before losing a seven-game LCS.

The totals leading into this year: 78-67 (.545)

The way the Astros have been playing lately, it's very likely the Astros will have eight winning Olympiads out of ten. They've won the first six of 16 games that will take place during the Beijing Olympics. Somehow, I doubt the Astros will ever be labelled "America's Team" but perhaps they might someday be recognized as "Team USA's Team".