The Year Of The Tiger

added 12/23/2009 by Bob Hulsey

Everyone who enjoys chinese food has probably been to a restaurant that uses those red and white placemats containing the Chinese zodiac symbols. Unlike the zodiac symbols in the West that rotate between 12 signs every year, the Chinese rotate a dozen signs at a rate of once a year.

So it was out of boredom the other night that I read the placemat and noticed something new. My birth year is 1957, which makes me born under the "Year of the Cock" (no jokes, please). The next occurrence of that sign was 1969, the year the Astros had their first non-losing season. The next "Year of the Cock" was 1981 when Houston won a half-season title made necessary by a midseason strike. It was also the year Nolan Ryan notched his record fifth no-hitter.

Twelve years later was 1993, which wasn't particularly noteworthy in Astros lore but the following "Year of the Cock", 2005, certainly was. That was, of course, the year the Astros made an historic second-half run that got us into the playoffs and, eventually, the World Series. Given that track record, I'd look for good things to happen at Minute Maid in 2017.

But you may not need to wait so long to see a good Astros team. How about 2010? Okay, stop laughing.

Here's the history. The franchise started play in 1962, in the "Year of the Tiger". It's hardly an achievement to finish in eighth place but, given that it was their first year and the Colt .45s beat out both the Mets and the Cubs, it still ranks as an overachieving season.

The next "Year of the Tiger" was 1974, a disappointing 81-81 record but it was the season Jose Cruz came to Houston and the first year J.R. Richard got a serious crack at joining the rotation.

Then things really got exciting. 1986 brought the franchise's second division championship and an historically nail-biting playoff series. In 1998, the last "Year of the Tiger", Houston celebrated their first 100-win season (102, to be exact) although the postseason died rather quickly.

So, when does the "Year of the Tiger" come around again? This coming season, 2010.

Yeah, nobody's going to be much impressed by a silly placemat that predicts baseball success. Too weird.

And, yet, the 1986 Astros were picked to finish last in many pre-season polls that spring. Few expected a title out of them. Few predicted greatness for the 1998 squad either. They'd just lost their best pitcher of 1997, Darryl Kile, to free agency.

Who knows what "The Year of the Tiger" portends for next season? Who's to say Roy Oswalt and Wandy Rodriguez won't pitch like aces next summer? Who says a pitcher like Bud Norris or Felipe Paulino can't have a breakthrough year like Jim Deshaies did in 1986 or Jose Lima had in 1998? Who's to say Brandon Lyon can't match the success of Jose Valverde? Who's to say Carlos Lee, Lance Berkman and Hunter Pence don't become a trio of All-Star batters that bludgeon opponents consistently?

Yes, few think the 2010 Astros will be very competitive but isn't that where they've had success before, when nobody was expecting it?

My point is that the Astros are not so bereft of talent that a pennant run this season is unthinkable. Unlikely, but not unthinkable. There's enough talent to pull off a playoff berth if everything breaks their way.

It doesn't take an optimist the size of RyanEd to see what could take place if everyone plays to their potential. It's just a rare thing for everyone to play like they can.

I don't blame anyone who doesn't want to believe that. Heck, who would think the Astros could do all that with a rookie manager with no previous big league experience except (ahem) it happened in 1986 in a "Year of the Tiger" and it happened again in 1997, just before a "Year of the Tiger".

I'm not one who even believes in horoscopes. I feel like whomever produced the World War II propaganda film that predicted the Allies would kick butt on the Axis nations because of some quatrains penned by Nostradamus, just for bringing up the subject. But when there is little else left to hope in regarding the franchise, a chinese placemat works at least as well as a fortune cookie. Right?

Bob wants to wish all Astros fans a Merry Christmas and a prosperous New Year. And please beg Santa with everything you have for a good #3 starter this spring. Thanks.