(This is part of a series on retired numbers, with somewhat of a focus on Retired Number Bandits — players who wore a number that was later retired at any point after the person for whom it was retired first wore it. See the introduction for more information and explanation on Bandits.)
The Houston Astros have nine official and two unofficial retired numbers. They have a pretty solid record of avoiding Retired Number Bandits.[table “” not found /]
Jeff Bagwell, 5
Bagwell is a Hall of Famer who just hasn’t been elected yet. According to Jay Jaffe’s JAWS system lists Bagwell as the sixth-best first baseman in baseball history, behind only Lou Gehrig, Albert Pujols, Jimmie Foxx, Cap Anson, and Roger Connor. Just below Bagwell you have Dan Brouthers, Johnny Mize, and Frank Thomas. In fact, in the top 16 in JAWS, the only eligible players not in the Hall of Fame are Bagwell and Rafael Palmeiro. Unfortunately (and unfairly), they are both shut out for basically the same reason.
Bagwell is guilty of being a muscular power hitter in the 1990s and early 2000s. He is also guilty of being an excellent hitter, a great defensive first baseman, and a surprisingly good baserunner. Simply put, unlike Palmeiro there is zero evidence other than “he’s big and strong” to suggest that Bagwell ever used PEDs, and every year that he is not elected is a little more embarrassing for the Hall of Fame.
He got up to 71.6 percent this year, so it seems likely that he will be elected next year. He retired in 2005 and the Astros retired his number 5 in 2007.
Craig Biggio, 7
Biggio was outstanding. Not as good as Bagwell, but he had two things going for him that Bagwell didn’t: 3,000 hits, and smaller muscles. Sure, famous blogger Murray Chass thinks Biggio did steroids, but in general the suspicion wasn’t nearly as strong with little guys.
Of course, the “little guy” Biggio hit 668 doubles and 291 home runs in his 20-year career. He also played a significant amount of time at three different positions: he came up as a catcher, moved to second base, and dabbled with center field later in his career. Those are perhaps the three positions at which offense is at the highest premium, and he was hitting doubles and homers and stealing a ton of bases.
Biggio fell two votes short of election in his second year on the Hall of Fame ballot in 2014. In 2015, he sailed in with 82.7 percent of the vote. He retired in 2007, and the Astros retired his number 7 in 2008.
Jimmy Wynn, 24
Speaking of little guys with 291 career homers, Wynn played the first ten years of a very good career with Houston after joining the Colt .45’s in their second year of existence. Nicknamed the “Toy Cannon” because of the power that came from his 5’8″ frame, he hit 223 of his 291 career homers as Houston’s center fielder.
Wynn’s number 24 was not retired until 2005; between his departure from Houston in 1973 and the retirement 32 years later, it was worn by Claude Osteen, Ramon de los Santos, Art Gardner, Jimmy Sexton, Danny Heep, Omar Moreno, Ty Gainey, Franklin Stubbs, Mark Davidson, Chris Jones, Eric Anthony, Orlando Miller, Glen Barker, and Jason Lane.
Jose Cruz, 25
Cruz is one of the most popular players and coaches in Astros history. He played 13 seasons for the Astros, making two All-Star teams and finishing in the top ten in MVP voting three times. He hit .292 .359 .429 for the Astros with decent power and good speed, and he walked nearly as often as he struck out.
Cruz left the Astros for the Yankees after the 1987 season. He played one year in New York and then retired. The Astros retired his number 25 a few years after his retirement, but in the interim it was worn by Buddy Bell and Denny Walling.
Mike Scott, 33
Scott played nine of his 13 seasons with the Astros, winning the 1986 Cy Young Award and finishing second in the voting in 1989. He was a mediocre pitcher for several years until the legendary Roger Craig taught him to throw a split-finger fastball. Beginning in 1985, Scott became a star.
In 1986, Scott threw a no-hitter against the San Francisco Giants (managed by his former mentor Craig) to clinch the National League West title for the Astros. He won two games in the NL Championship Series against the New York Mets amidst rumors of doctoring the baseball.
Scott retired in 1991 after a short career with a shorter peak. The Astros retired his number the next year. He got two votes (0.4 percent) in his only year on the Hall of Fame ballot in 1997.
Here is video of the entirety of Scott’s no-hitter in 1986. It should be queued up to the last batter; of not, you can skip to the 1:58:43 mark.
Nolan Ryan, 34
The all-time leader in strikeouts, walks, and hits allowed per nine innings, Ryan spent nine seasons with the Astros from 1980-88. He had 1,866 of his 5.714 career strikeouts with Houston, although he had only one of his seven no-hitters with the team.
Although Ryan never won the Cy Young Award, he had nine top-ten finishes, including three with the Astros. He is the only player in baseball history to have his number retired by three teams: the Astros, Angels, and Rangers. The Astros never gave his number 34 to anyone else before retiring it in 1996, and he was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1999.
Jim Umbricht, 32, and Don Wilson, 40
Wilson and Umbricht most likely would not have had their numbers retired if not for untimely deaths. Wilson was a great pitcher who died under mysterious circumstances in the garage of his home in early 1975 after nine seasons with the Astros. Umbricht pitched two seasons for the Houston Colt .45’s before dying of cancer at the age of 34. I wrote about him in an article about retired numbers last May.
Both Wilson and Umbricht had their numbers retired shortly after their deaths.
Larry Dierker, 49
Dierker pitched for the Colt .45’s/Astros for 13 years, then spent another 17 years in the Houston broadcast booth. He then managed the team for five years, and eventually spent two more years as a team broadcaster. It was after his stint as manager that the Astros retired his number 49 in 2002, and he is the last person to wear the number for the Astros.
Unofficial: Lance Berkman, 17
Berkman batted .296/.410/.549 with 326 home runs in 12 seasons with the Astros. The team traded him to the Yankees in July 2010.
Berkman’s number 17 has not been issued since his departure, but it has not been officially retired.
Unofficial: Darryl Kile, 57
Kile’s number 57 has not been issued by the Astros since his death in 2002. He left the Astros after the 1997 season, and the number had not been used between then and when the team took it out of circulation.
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