.Craig Biggio was the recently converted second baseman for the 1992 Astros team that went on a long field trip. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
As the Astros play game 99, we will recall a historic period that began with game 99 on Monday July 27, 1992. The Astros defeated the Braves in Atlanta, 5-1, and began the longest road trip in team history. The 26 consecutive road games is not the longest road trip in baseball history, but it's right up there with a small group of teams in baseball history. The Cleveland Spiders--with the losing-est team in history--had a 50 game road trip in 1899 and won only 20 games on the season. A couple of teams in the first half of the 20th century had road trips roughly similar to the Astros in length, and the Expos were forced into a 26 game road trip in 1991 when a beam collapsed on their home stadium.
The Astros' long road trip went through Atlanta, Cincinatti, Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco, Chicago, (off day in Houston), St. Louis, and Philadelphia.
Houston hosted the Republican National Convention in 1992, and the Republican National Committee and the Secret Service said that they would need 4 weeks to prepare the Astrodome, which had recently been refurbished by new owner Drayton McLane. The Houston Sports Association, owners of the Astros, held the lease on the Astrodome. The long road trip would become controversial. For one thing, the decision to allow the scheduling change was made by the previous owner, John McMullen in 1991 without consulting the players association or MLB. The MLBPA filed a grievance against the road trip in late 1991. The players association didn't expect to change the Republican Convention plans, but wanted to prevent McMullen's decision from becoming a precedent. Interestingly, McMullen initially had sought to schedule the Astros for "home games" at neutral cities like Denver and New Orleans during the convention, but MLB rejected the request.
McMullen didn't take the criticism well. He said:
"This was done because it was what Houston city officials wanted," McMullen said later. "I was under a lot of pressure to do this. It wasn't my idea. Looking back, I wish I had told them to go to hell."
As it turns out his anger wasn't due to the impact on the team he formerly owned, but rather the fact that it caused a furor and cost him money to settle the MLBPA grievance. "I got no thanks, and it ended up costing me money," McMullen was quoted as saying. "I got criticized by everybody in the league, and it was all instigated by the press in Houston." Apparently the costs he references are $125,000 in donations to little league and college programs and perks for the players on the trip, which were part of the settlement of the grievance.
In a "make lemonade out of lemons" approach, manager Art Howe tried to use the lengthy road trip as a way to achieve a more closely knit team. At the time, I recall broadcasters telling stories of the players engaging in jokes and tricks to pass the time together. This contemporaneous article when the Astros visited St. Louis mentions jokes by Biggio, Incavaglia, and Candaele, with firecrackers, baseballs rolling on the floor, and weightlifting tricks in the clubhouse. I doubt that they were the only jokesters in the clubhouse over the course of the trip.
The Astros had one of the worst road records in the league (less than .400) before the long road trip began. However, the Astros had a 12-14 record (.461 percentage) on the wild road trip. So, maybe there is something to the popular belief that the Astros' performance improved because of the comaraderie built up over the 28 day trip. Or maybe the Astros just got used to road life and played better as a result. The Astros would conclude the season with a surprising .500 record, much improved over the Astros 1991 W/L record, the worst in team history at the time.
The low point of the road trip was a 4 game sweep by the Padres in San Diego. The highlights of the trip were winning 2 of 3 in Atlanta and San Francisco. The Astros were shut out once during the trip, a 1-0 win by the Cubs' Greg Maddux. In that game, Astros' starter Brian Williams pitched quite well on the losing end.