Sports Nut


Houston’s baseball team is cursed, too.

Astros: underdogs without romance
Astros: underdogs without romance

Red Sox fans can complain all they want about annoying sportswriters and television producers who traffic in that “Curse of the Bambino” blather. At least the Red Sox have a curse. The Houston Astros have never won a World Series. Before this year, they had never even won a playoff series. After last night’s Game 7 loss to the Cardinals in the NLCS, they’ll go home losers for the 43rd straight year.

Still, no curse has been apprehended.

The Red Sox can have a curse. Boston has stature, history. It’s old. It’s in New England. Sure, Boston banished Babe Ruth, but at least he played there once. In Babe Ruth’s day, was Texas even a state? Boston’s excruciating loss to the New York Mets in the 1986 World Series is Greek tragedy. Houston’s excruciating loss to the Mets in the 1986 playoffs is so insignificant it doesn’t even rise to the level of comedy.

For a curse to have any gravitas, it must befall someone or something that had a good thing going. But the Houston Astros can’t have a sense of loss because they haven’t had anything but loss. The Astros have lost when they were supposed to lose. They’ve lost when they were supposed to win. Even the worst team in history, the Bad News Bears, won more big games in the Astrodome than the Astros ever did.

The nonstop losing makes it hard to spot the origin of the Houston hex. Sports Nut wants to help. The franchise that brought us the home run spectacular, rainbow puke uniforms, and a few too many pitcher-related tragedies deserves to know why and how it’s cursed. Maybe it’s because the franchise morphed from the rootin’ tootin’ Colt .45s to the blithely futuristic Astros. Maybe it started when then-owner Judge Roy Hofheinz invited ridicule by pairing his mockery of a baseball team with an actual circus, buying Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey in 1967. Or maybe not. Here’s Sports Nut’s list of the top five possible curses that might have befallen the Astros.

1. The Curse of the Bagbino (1990)
Once upon a time, the Astros made a trade that was as much a bargain as getting Babe Ruth for $125,000. For nothing more than journeyman middle reliever Larry Andersen, the Astros netted minor league third-sacker and likely future Hall of Famer Jeff Bagwell from the Red Sox. But instead of getting a player they could ride to the World Series every year, Houston got Boston’s bad mojo. The Astros made the playoffs four times in Bagwell’s first 11 seasons with the team (1991-2001). In 46 at-bats, he hit .174 with no home runs.

2. The Curse of the Sun (1965)
Houston tried to thwart Mother Nature by becoming the first team in Major League Baseball to play in a giant bubble. While Johnny-come-lately indoor teams like the Twins and Blue Jays later would win the World Series, the Astrodome was always a house of horrors. In the stadium’s first year, nobody could see the ball against the clear-pane roof panels. When the panels were painted an opaque white the next year to reduce glare, the grass died, forcing the club to further mock all things natural by installing plastic grass called Astroturf. Countless rug burns and torn knee ligaments later, the Astros tried to make amends by vacating the dome for a retro stadium. One problem: They sold the naming rights to Enron.

3. The Curse of the Republicans (1992)
The city of Houston got some much-needed revenue and national attention by luring the 1992 Republican National Convention. The Astros got the shaft. Ordered to vacate the Astrodome for four weeks so it could be made over for the GOP, the Astros embarked on an eight-city, 26-game, 28-day road trip. The Astros survived the historic jaunt, going a respectable 12-14. But when they got back, the already sufficiently cursed Astrodome had been tainted by an even thicker stench of loserdom. The stinker: the Republican nominee, incumbent George H.W. Bush, who would go on to lose the presidency to Democrat Bill Clinton.

4. The Curse of George Steinbrenner (1979)
John McMullen, a limited partner with the Yankees, buys the Astros, saying that “there’s nothing more limited than being a limited partner of George Steinbrenner.” McMullen opens with a Steinbrennerian flourish, signing Texas native Nolan Ryan to the first-ever million-dollar-a-year contract. Steinbrenner’s largesse delivers pennants. McMullen’s produces squat. Astros fans froth when, nine years later, McMullen lowballs Ryan, and the superstar chooses to finish his career with the Texas Rangers. If the Astros were heroically cursed like the Red Sox, this loss of a superstar to a nearby rival would have caused the Rangers to win a World Series. The Rangers remain mediocre. (Perhaps the Astros have infected the entire state with their low-level toxins. Consider: The Rangers have never won a playoff series.)

5. The Curse of the Blind Little Leaguer (1963)
Back when the Astros were still the Colts, third-baseman Bob Aspromonte befriended an Arkansan Little Leaguer who had been blinded when struck by lightning while on the field. According to Astros Daily, the kid asked Aspromonte to hit him a home run on three separate occasions. The light-hitting Aspromonte came through all three times, even making two of the homers grand slams. (Listen to audio here.) So, what did the team do after being blessed with a home-run-conjuring child? Apparently, they let it fly away. I can’t find any record of the team ever asking the kid to ask for more home runs, despite his 100 percent success rate. According to that audio clip, the kid’s name is Bill Bradley, he’s from El Dorado, Ark., and he eventually recovered his sight. He should be about 50 years old now. Perhaps the secret to ending the Astros’$2 43 years of futility is to put out an APB for their golden goose.

Special thanks to the excellent, comprehensive Houston baseball Web site Astros Daily.