1970 - Season Recap
(c) Bob Hulsey

The Astros had experienced some tremendous pitching performances during the 1960s, including four no-hitters, and the best they had to show for it was a .500 season. Despite the reputation of the Astrodome as a place where long balls went to die, management looked to field teams that could produce still more of them. To the common fan, it may have seemed like a good move but it became a recipe for mediocrity.

Behind the scenes, financial resources were getting thin. Judge Hofheinz had built an amusement park, a convention hall and a hotel to make his "Astrodomain" complete. Hofheinz also bought the Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Circus. Some critics sniped that he already owned one.

The other ventures took money away from baseball and, after suffering a stroke, Hofheinz seemed too unhealthy, financially and otherwise, to own a major league team.

The Astros had turned a corner going into the season. The expansion era was over. They were now expected to be a serious contender. The new decade started with a bang. Doug Rader drilled a home run into the upper reserved (gold) seats in left field during an exhibition game on April 3rd. The seats were thought by many to be unreachable. Proving it was no fluke, Jim Wynn swatted a Phil Niekro knuckleball into the same section nine days later in a contest against Atlanta. "Juiced ball" theories quickly started after four other homers were hit that night, including another Wynn blast into the purple seats, just below the gold. The blasts of Rader and Wynn were marked with repainted seats. No other Astro ever hit one into that part of the stadium.

Before the season, Curt Blefary was traded to the New York Yankees for Joe Pepitone. The Brooklyn-born slugger felt like he'd been banished to the sticks after gaining fame in the Big Apple. Pepitone had a good start but lost his job to a hot-hitting Bob Watson when he missed time to deal with legal issues in New York. Unwilling to play in the outfield, Pepitone took a cue from Donn Clendenon and subsequently "retired". He "unretired" after the Astros worked a deal to sell his contract to Chicago. Watson and rookie slugger John Mayberry filled in at first base for the rest of the season.

Another ex-Yankee to make headlines with the Astros that year was reliever Jim Bouton. His book, "Ball Four", exposed the dark side of some of baseball's biggest heroes at a time when such revelations were taboo. He became a pariah to many within the sport for his tell-all tome and the Houston clubhouse seemed more tense knowing that the things said in private might someday show up in print.

The rookie who caught everyone's attention that year was a Dominican outfielder named Cesar Cedeno. Only 19 when he arrived in Houston, Cedeno showed he had all the tools to be a superstar. Comparisons to greats like Roberto Clemente and Willie Mays were frequent. He came from the minors in June and batted .310 for the rest of the season.

Cedeno wasn't the only Astro to hit well. Shortstop Denis Menke batted .304 and again led the club with 92 RBIs. Jesus Alou turned in a .306 average. The team batting average rose 19 points from the year before.

Unfortunately, the team ERA rose 63 points. Larry Dierker and Don Wilson again had winning records but the overall staff had a down year. Illustrative was the game Wilson won in Montreal on August 15th when he surrendered 16 hits. Fred Gladding came in to get the final out of the 7-3 victory, one of his team-leading 18 saves. Two weeks later, Wilson fell behind Nolan Ryan and the Mets before Wynn and Menke bailed him out, each bashing a pair of homers.

Houston finished fourth in the division with a disappointing 79-83 record. Cincinnati ran away with the division title, a scene that would be repeated often during the decade.

79-83
4th place, NL West

Key BattersHRRBIAVG
C Johnny Edwards 749.221
1B Bob Watson 1161.272
2B Joe Morgan 852.268
3B Doug Rader 2587.252
SS Denis Menke 1392.304
LF Jim Wynn 2788.282
CF Cesar Cedeno 742.310
RF Jesus Alou 144.306
IF Joe Pepitone 1435.251
OF Norm Miller 429.239
OF Tommy Davis 330.282
IF Marty Martinez 012.220
Key PitchersWLERA
SP Larry Dierker 16123.87
SP Jack Billingham 1393.98
SP Don Wilson 1163.91
SP Denny Lemaster 7124.56
SP Tom Griffin 3135.74
CL Fred Gladding 744.06
RP Jim Ray 633.26
RP Ron Cook 443.72
RP Jim Bouton 465.40


Wynn (r) Joins Rader in gold rush.
(c) Houston Astros

Watson: Takes over at first base.
(c) Houston Astros


From The AstrosDaily Media Library

Video:
1970 to 1974: Frustrating Times - From "Houston Astros: A Silver Odyssey" - Winning baseball comes to Houston but not postseason baseball. (1:18 - MLB video)
1970 All-Star Game - 7th inning - Denis Menke gets plunked, is forced out at second in on Willie McCovey's RBI double play grounder (0:33, Gowdy - MLB Films).
1970 All-Star Game - 9th inning - Joe Morgan, Willie McCovey, and Roberto Clemente single. Morgan scores. (1:51, Gowdy - MLB Films)

Audio:
Apr 12, 1970 Jim Wynn and Joe Pepitone take Atlanta's Phil Niekro deep. (2:06, Passe - Astros)
Apr 12, 1970 Doug Rader caps the evening with Houston's fifth blast of the game. (0:56, Elston - Astros)
Apr 15, 1970 Rookie John Mayberry belts the first two homers of his career. (1:12, Elston - Astros)
Apr 15, 1970 Joe Morgan makes a dazzling defensive stop against the Giants. (0:31, Elston - Astros)
Apr 19, 1970 Jim Wynn comes up with a defensive gem of his own. (0:45, Passe - Astros)
Jun 30, 1970 Doug Rader gets the assist ranging far to his left. (1:12, Elston - Astros)
Jul 6, 1970 Cesar Cedeno cracks his first big league home run. (0:50, Kalas - Astros)


Trades and Transactions

Nov 21 1969 - paid cash to Mil-A for Mike Marshall(P)

Dec 1 1969 - Winter Major League Draft
- drafted Jack DiLauro(P) from NY-N

Dec 2 1969 - paid cash to Chi-N for Dan Osinski(P)

Dec 4 1969 - traded Curt Blefary(IF) to NY-A for Joe Pepitone(IF)

Dec 16 1969 - traded Pat House(P) to Cin-N for Jim Beauchamp(OF)

Jan 17 1970 - Supplemental Free Agent Draft
- 2. drafted Mike Cosgrove(P) in secondary phase

Feb 1970 - signed Jose Sosa(P) as free agent

Jun 4 1970 - Summer Free Agent Draft
- 1. drafted Randy Scarbery(P) (#7 pick overall)
- 4. drafted Greg Gross(OF)

Jun 13 1970 - traded Jim Beauchamp(OF) and Leon McFadden(IF) to StL-N for George Culver(P)

Jun 22 1970 - sent Tommy Davis(OF) to Oak-A for cash

Jun 23 1970 - traded Mike Marshall(P) to Mtl-N for Don Bosch(OF)

Jul 29 1970 - sent Joe Pepitone(IF) to Chi-N for cash

Aug 12 1970 - released Jim Bouton(P)

Oct 12 1970 - traded Hector Torres(IF) to Chi-N for Roger Metzger(IF)