1991 and Houston's Hall of Fame Hopefuls

Bob Levey

The current class of former Astros on this years Hall of Fame ballot tangle and brand their careers during the 1991 season.

Leo Durocher, Nellie Fox, Eddie Mathews, Joe Morgan, Robin Roberts, Nolan Ryan and Don Sutton; these are names of the current Hall of Famers to pass through Houston on their way to Cooperstown. All of them chose – largely because of a longer history with another club – not to be enshrined with the Astros' moniker. This year’s ballot is filled with HoF hopefuls who, at one time in their career, represented the good guys. Oddly enough, each former Astro on this year’s HoF ballot, with the exception of Woody Williams (who will not be mentioned again in the post), can drop a milestone of their career on the 1991 season.

Here is the list of players in question: Jeff Bagwell, Craig Biggio, Steve Finley, Kenny Lofton, Curt Schilling and Roger Clemens.

It all starts with former Astros 1st Baseman, Glenn Davis. Trading Davis opened the door for Bagwell to see regular playing time. He would respond by earning Rookie of the Year Honors and hold down 1st base for the next 14 seasons. In return for Davis, Houston received Steve Finely, Curt Schilling and Pete Harnisch from Baltimore. Schilling would go on to pitch 79 2/3 innings in relief before being shipped to the Phillies at season’s end. Finley, however, would finish the ’91 campaign with a team high WAR of 4.8. Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio trailed behind in 3rd (4.1) and 4th (3.6) respectively.

Kenny Lofton, the player on this list with the shortest amount of service time with Houston, made his Major League debut on September 14th in Cincinnati. The game was a success for all the HoF candidates discussed thus far. Lofton lead off the game going 3-4 with a double and 3 runs scored. He was followed in the lineup by Finley, Biggio and Bagwell. Schilling came in to pitch the last of last of it, recording a 4-out save. Astros win 7-3. With Finley firmly entrenched in center, Lofton was dealt in December to Cleveland for Eddie Taubensee and Willie Blair. It is interesting to note that a player acquired in one of Houston’s best trades (Bagwell) and shipped out in one of its worst trades (Lofton) made their debuts in ’91.

As a side note, I cannot think of Kenny Lofton without Michael Bourn popping into my head. When Bourn arrived in Houston, I always thought in the back of my mind that having Bourn in center was like looking into the past to see what might have been if Lofton had stayed. For all intents and purposes, Lofton was what Bourn is plus 10 homeruns a season. The way the off season is going, it seems as if Bourn is destined to bounce around like Lofton did. Only time will tell.

In 1991, Clemens wasn’t on the team, but still managed to take home the Cy Young award for the 3rd time in his career. Astros fans would have to wait 12 seasons to see him accomplish the feat in burnt orange pinstripes (and frosted tips).

I would say that I have saved the best for last with Biggio, but I think that saying I sandwiched the two best between everyone else is more accurate. So what did Biggio do in 1991? On September 30th, Biggio played his first full Major League game at 2nd base. Biggio would go 0-4 as back-up catcher Scott Servias drove in two with a single. Astros defeat the Giants 2-0. Biggio would be the full-time 2nd baseman for Houston from 1992 to the arrival of Jeff Kent in 2003. Eddie Taubensee (acquired in the Lofton trade) would fill-in at catcher for the 1992 season, making 104 starts.

I would also be remised not to point that Darryl Kyle made his Major League debut on Opening Day of the 1991 season recording no earned runs on 2 hits and 1 strikeout in 1 inning. Had his career not been cut short, I have no doubt he would be concidered on this ballot as well.

As you can see, the 1991 season was a tangled web of career moments for former Astros on this year’s HoF ballot. So now that the best of the Killer “B”s are on the ballot, we can all get ready to break open the Champaign and party as Biggio and Bagwell get the call to Cooperstown and every son born within a fifty mile radius of Houston after the January 9th, 2013 is named either “Jeff Craig” or “Craig Jeff” from this point forward. Why not? More often than not, baseball tends to operate in parameters outside of the real world. Back in reality though, it is likely that fans will have to continue to wait before they see a member of the Astros join baseball’s elite. I wish all on this year’s ballot the best of luck.

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