Realignment Becomes Reality

Yesterday Major League Baseball announced the sale of the Houston Astros and their move to the American League. As we wave good-bye to this NL rival, let’s take a brief walk down memory lane.

Houston joined the National League as an expansion franchise in 1962, the same season as the New York Mets. Some of you may remember they were called the Colt .45’s initially, a name they kept until moving into the Astrodome in 1965. The nickname ‘Astros’ was derived from the famous dome. The dome got its name thanks to the city’s relationship with the space program; Mission Control is based in Houston (how did Mission Control end up in Houston? Through the influence of Senator Lyndon Johnson.).

You might not know that Houston was once a St Louis farm team. From 1921-1958, the Houston Buffaloes played in the Texas League as the Cardinals Class A affiliate. The Buffaloes severed ties with the Cardinals after the 1958 season and played as an independent until the Major League franchise started; then they folded. From the team’s Wikipedia page:

During that period, star players such as brothers Dizzy and Daffy Dean, Solly Hemus, Vinegar Bend Mizell, Hal Epps, Don Gutteridge, Al Papai, Joe Medwick, Frank O. Mancuso, Harry Brecheen and Howie Pollet prepped in Houston on their way to the major leagues.

St Louis played Houston 18 times a season from1962-1968. They had trouble with the Astros, splitting the season series in 1962 and 1965, and losing 10 of the 18 in 1966. It’s an historical oddity thehigh-powered El Birdos Cardinals struggled to beat this expansion franchise, given that Houston lost at least 90 games a season during that period.

In 1969 the National League split into two 6-team divisions, and Houston was placed in the NL West. The number of games per year between these two franchises dropped to 12, and it stayed that way until 1995. Houston remained a tough team for the Cardinals throughout this period. Over those 25 years, the teams either split the season series or finished with one team beating the other seven games to five 17 times. St Louis won 3 NL East titles during those years, and Houston won 2 NL West titles (1980, 1986), but the two teams never played each other in the post-season.

In 1995 they both were placed in the newly formed NL Central and the rivalry really took off. St Louis caught the Astros for the division title in 1996. In 2001, St Louis and Houston finished tied atop the division but the Astros were awarded the title based on a 9-7 record head-to-head. The Cardinals incurred some wrath by calling themselves ‘NL Central Co-Champions’ on their 2002 media guide. Then there are the two classic NLCS meetings in 2004 and 2005. Based on how passionately these two franchises have played each other over the years, it’s appropriate they each won one of those Championship Series.

Sadly this rivalry is probably dead now, even with the prospect of permanent interleague. St Louis will play Kansas City each season, but will only play the Astros whenever the NL Central is matched up with the NL West. In the end, over 50 years, St Louis holds a 363-322 edge.

Cardinals in Houston (168-178 overall):

  • 14-13 at Colt Stadium (1962-1964)
  • 106-114 in the Astrodome (1965-1999)
  • 48-51 at Enron/Minute Maid Park (2000-present)

Cardinals vs Houston (195-144 overall):

  • 24-12 at Sportsman’s Park (1962-1965)
  • 145-115 at Busch Memorial Stadium (1966-2005)
  • 26-17 at Neo-Busch (2006-present)

I am sad to see the Astros switch leagues. This has been a good rivalry. Good night, Houston – and we thank you.

Mike Metzger is an I-70 contributing writer and author of Padres Trail. Follow him on Twitter.

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