1996 - Season Recap
(c) Bob Hulsey

The 1990s would see the Astros bring up from the minors a steady stream of outfield candidates with high expectations. There was Eric Anthony, who could hit the ball far, just not frequently. He was traded to Seattle after the 1993 season for pitcher Mike Hampton. There was Kenny Lofton who got the "cup of coffee" in 1991 before being dealt to Cleveland. In 1994, it was James Mouton whom the crowd serenaded with "Mooooo" as they had done for Jose "Cruuuuuz" for many years. He stayed for four years but saw his playing time diminish each season.

The latest "can't-miss" kid was Brian Hunter who looked like a clone of Gerald Young. He was lanky, thin and blazingly quick. He was called up in June of the 1995 season and hit .302 with 24 stolen bases.

In his first full season as an Astro, Hunter led the club with 35 steals while batting .276. But Brian walked just 17 times while striking out on 92 occasions. He infuriated Terry Collins with defensive and baserunning mistakes. A rib injury complicated matters  but pitchers were starting to find the holes in his swing. How many times had the front office wished they hadn't traded Lofton?

At least they could console themselves with the theft of Jeff Bagwell. That 1990 deal continued to pay big dividends as Jeff, now sporting a thickly-padded batting glove over his fragile left hand, paced the ballclub with 31 homers, 120 RBIs and a .312 average. His 48 doubles led the league.

Derek Bell's average fell to .263 but he protected Bagwell in the batting order to the tune of 17 home runs, 113 RBIs, 40 doubles and 29 steals. Sean Berry, acquired before the season from Montreal, took over at third base and swatted 17 long balls, drove in 95 runs and batted .281. Along with Craig Biggio, the heart of Houston's lineup had a consonant in common. They were dubbed "The Killer B's".

While the "B's" buzzed the basepaths, the pitching staff underwent more changes. 22 hurlers took the mound for Houston during the course of the season. Shane Reynolds, perhaps the least heralded of Houston's arms, quietly led the club with 16 victories. Darryl Kile bounced back from a 4-12 season to win a dozen. Hampton emerged as a starter and claimed ten wins. As for Doug Drabek and Greg Swindell, they finished the year with losing records and left town, seemingly as human reminders to Drayton McLane about big-name free agents. It's a lesson that has stuck with him ever since.

Another lefthander that saw action was Billy Wagner, a hard-throwing reliever who could light the third digit on those radar guns. He came up in mid-season and won two games while saving nine. He fanned 67 batters in 52 innings.

The Astros finished with an 82-80 mark but landed in second behind St. Louis while Ken Caminiti and Steve Finley led San Diego to a division crown. Terry Collins was sacrificed on the altar of dashed pennant hopes.

After the season, Hunter was sent to Detroit in another mega-trade. Shortstop Orlando Miller and pitchers Doug Brocail and Todd Jones went with him. Detroit gave up catcher Brad Ausmus, who would immediately straighten up the mess behind home plate. A throw-in to the deal was an excitable Dominican pitcher named Jose Lima. The Astros wouldn't need Hunter in the lineup. They had an outfielder named Bob Abreu to take his place. The scouts said he couldn't miss.

2nd place, NL Central

C Rick Wilkins 623.213
1B Jeff Bagwell 31120.315
2B Craig Biggio 1575.288
3B Sean Berry 1795.281
SS Orlando Miller 1558.256
LF James Mouton 334.263
CF Brian Hunter 535.276
RF Derek Bell 17113.263
OF John Cangelosi 116.263
OF Derrick May 533.251
IF Ricky Gutierrez 115.284
IF Bill Spiers 626.252
Key PitchersWLERA
SP Shane Reynolds 16103.65
SP Darryl Kile 12114.19
SP Doug Drabek 794.57
SP Mike Hampton 10103.59
SP Donne Wall 984.56
CL Todd Jones 634.40
RP Xavier Hernandez 554.22
RP Billy Wagner 222.44
RP Doug Brocail 154.58

Wagner: whiffing hitters as full-time closer
(c) Houston Astros

Miller: rare shortstop power with 15 homers
(c) Houston Astros

From The AstrosDaily Media Library

Jul 24, 1996 - 10th inning - Rookie Ray Montgomery sends a game-winning two-run homer into the flowers. (3:08, Brown, Worrell - Astros)
Aug 24, 1996 - 9th inning - Tied 1-1 against the Cards, the Astros face Todd Stottlemeyer. Orlando Miller dings a walkoff, two-run homer to stun the Cardinals. (3:54, Brennaman, Brenly - Fox)

Trades and Transactions

Nov 1 1995 - granted free agency to Mike Henneman(P), who signed with Tex-A on Dec 22

Nov 1 1995 - granted free agency to Milt Thompson(OF), who signed with LA-N on Jan 12

Nov 6 1995 - granted free agency to Pat Borders(C), who signed with StL-N on Jan 10

Dec 20 1995 - traded Dave Veres(P) and Raul Chavez(C) to Mtl-N for Sean Berry(IF)

Dec 21 1995 - granted free agency to Craig Shipley(IF), who signed with SD-N on Jan 5

Dec 28 1995 - signed John Johnstone(P) as a free agent

Jan 5 1996 - signed Anthony Young(P) from Chi-N as free agent

Jan 10 1996 - signed Bill Spiers(IF) from NY-N as free agent

Feb 21 1996 - signed Tom Martin(P) from Atl-N as free agent

Apr 24 1996 - signed Xavier Hernandez(P) as a free agent

May 17 1996 - paid cash to Tor-A from Randy Knorr(C)

Jun 3 1996 - released Greg Swindell(P)

Jun 4 1996 - Summer Free Agent Draft
- 1. drafted Mark Johnson(P) (#19 pick overall)
- 20. drafted Wade Miller(P)
- 23. drafted Roy Oswalt(P)

Jul 6 1996 - signed Rodrigo Rosario(P) as non-drafted free agent

Jul 23 1996 - traded Rich Loiselle(P) to Pit-N for Danny Darwin(P)

Jul 23 1996 - signed Terry Clark(P) as a free agent

Jul 25 1996 - lost Dean Hartgraves(P) to Atl-N off waivers

Jul 27 1996 - traded Rick Wilkins(C) and cash to SF-N for Kirt Manwaring(C)

Aug 26 1996 - traded Kevin Gallaher(P) and Pedro Santana(IF) to Det-A for Gregg Olson(P). Det received Gallaher and Santana on Aug 27

Sep 11 1996 - traded PTBNL to Det-A for Andujar Cedeno(IF)

Sep 30 1996 - granted free agency to John Johnstone(P), who signed with SF-N on Dec 17

Oct 4 1996 - granted free agency to Anthony Young(P)

Oct 8 1996 - granted free agency to Terry Clark(P), who signed with Cle-A on Dec 19

Oct 14 1996 - lost Dave Hajek(IF) to Det-A off waivers

Oct 15 1996 - granted free agency to Jerry Goff(C)

Oct 15 1996 - granted free agency to Mike Simms(IF), who signed with Tex-A on Dec 19

Oct 28 1996 - granted free agency to Gregg Olson(P), who signed with Min-A on Dec 20

Oct 28 1996 - granted free agency to Kirt Manwaring(C), who signed with Col-N on Dec 9

Oct 31 1996 - granted free agency to Xavier Hernandez(P), who signed with Tex-A on Dec 17