MLB Mt. Rushmores
by Charlie Miller
Major League Baseball is promoting an effort to identify the best four players in each team’s history. We selected our choices for Mt. Rushmores a few years ago. Here are updated versions for all 30 teams. Who are the four baseball players that have risen above all others for each organization? The question sounds simple, right? Not so fast. Let the arguments begin.
Houston Astros Mt. Rushmore
The franchise was born in Houston in 1962 as the Colt 45s. The name change to the Astros coincided with the move into the nation’s first indoor stadium, the Astrodome, in 1965. The team’s attendance floundered in old Colt Stadium — last in the National League — but fans immediately fell in love with the comforts of the Astrodome as Houston was second in the NL in attendance in 1965 despite fielding a ninth-place team. The Astros have finished above .500 24 seasons, with another four seasons at the breakeven mark. Houston won its first division title in 1980 thanks to a playoff game win over the Los Angeles Dodgers. The team won its first postseason series in 2004 and reached the World Series for the only time in 2005. From 1994-2006, the Astros finished in first or second place in every season save a fourth-place hiccup in 2000. Beginning in 2013, the Astros moved over to the American League, disappointing many life-long fans in Houston. The Houston Mt. Rushmore may not be as star-studded as many teams, but Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio stack up with most teams’ top two. After the two Killer Bs, the choosing gets rather dicey.
Houston fans love that Larry Andersen trade. Back in August of 1990, the Boston Red Sox were so stoked to get to the playoffs and thought Andersen provided the missing piece. So much so, they were willing to trade a prospect named Jeff Bagwell. Smooth. About 15 years later, the stocky first baseman was concluding his stellar career in Houston. Bagwell is first or second on just about every major offensive category in team history. He was Rookie of the Year in 1991, MVP in 1994 and had four other top-10 MVP finishes, including second in 1999. Having spent his entire career in Houston, Bags has 449 home runs and more than 1,500 runs and RBIs. Excluding the shortened 1994 and 1995 seasons, for 14 years Bagwell averaged more than 157 games per season. His number was retired in August of 2007.
Along with Bagwell, Biggio was the face of the franchise during its most successful era. Biggio arrived in Houston as an undersized, athletic catcher. He was converted to second base, and made back-to-back All-Star teams as a catcher and second baseman. He earned four Gold Gloves at his new position and made seven All-Star teams total. The second baseman finished fourth and fifth in MVP voting in 1997 and ’98. Biggio is one of 15 players with 3,000 hits with one team, and one of 10 to accomplish it while spending his entire career in one place. He ranks fifth all-time — in all of baseball — in doubles with 668, and has the most of all right-handed hitters. He started more than 250 games at catcher, second base and centerfield for the Astros.
Dierker made his debut with the Colt 45s at age 17 in 1964 and by May of the next season had joined the rotation where he would stay through the 1976 season. Dierker won 137 games for Houston and tossed 25 shutouts. He was the franchise’s first 20-game winner in 1969 and made two All-Star teams. His effect on the baseball community goes far beyond his playing career. First as a broadcaster, then as manager, Dierker was a part of the franchise for more than 35 years. He managed the team for just five seasons (1997-2001), but won four division titles. He couldn’t get over the postseason hump as his teams won just two of 14 postseason games in those four years.
The Big Puma spent the last few seasons of his career away from Houston, but he established himself among Astros greats over a 12-year career. He ranks first in on-base percentage, second in slugging and is in the top 3 in runs, total bases, home runs and RBIs. A popular member of the Astros, who along with Bagwell and Biggio, formed a trio known as the Killer Bs. Berkman was vital to the team’s postseason success in 2004-05. Over those two seasons, he batted .340 in 26 postseason games — including .385 in the 2005 World Series — with six home runs and 26 RBIs.
Having spent his first 12 seasons in Houston, Cesar Cedeno made four All-Star teams and won five Gold Gloves from 1972-76.
After an outstanding 13-year playing career in Houston, Jose Cruz spent another 13 years as first base coach. With 1,937 hits for Houston, Cruz had his number retired by the club in 1992.
With 11 seasons in Houston, Joe Niekro leads in all-time wins with 144 and finished second and fourth in Cy Young voting in 1979-80.
During the first eight seasons of Roy Oswalt’s tenure in Houston, the righthander averaged 16 wins and only eight losses while finishing in the top 5 in Cy Young voting five times.
A tragic stroke during the season in 1980 sidelined J.R. Richard at the height of his prime.
Nolan Ryan became the game’s first million dollar player with the Astros, but was with the team just nine years. He had two ERA titles and two strikeout titles with Houston. In six postseason starts, the Ryan Express had a 0.898 WHIP.
In nine full seasons from 1965-73, Jim Wynn, aka the Toy Cannon, averaged 24 homers, 75 RBIs and 87 runs in the very unfriendly (for hitters) Astrodome.
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Other teams' Mt. Rushmores: