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Where Are They Now? 1980s, 1990 Houston Astros Star Pitcher Danny Darwin

Growing up listening to Houston Astros games in South Texas, I remember right-handed pitcher Danny Darwin very well. He came to the Astros in 1986 and was popular in many ways.

Darwin was a Texas native from Bonham and was nicknamed “The Bonham Bullet” for his great fastball.

The only Astros radio station I could pick up in Beeville, Texas (about 60 miles northwest of Corpus Christi) was KSIX out of Corpus. The transmission wasn’t very clear and for the longest time, I thought Darwin was nicknamed “The Bottom Bullet”.

It seemed to fit. As a pitcher, he’d bat in the traditional ninth spot. And besides having a great fastball, he was very fast around the basepaths (Darwin had 11 doubles and two triples in his hitting career).

I also remember whenever Darwin would strike out a batter, Astros play-by-play broadcaster Milo Hamilton would yell, “POWER River!”

Darwin joined the Astros in 1986, during their memorable season that ended with a Game Six, extra-inning heartache against the New York Mets in the National League Championship Series.

After some struggles as a starter, Darwin found success as a reliever before being moved back into the starting rotation. Splitting his time between relieving and starting, Darwin went 11-4 in both the 1989 and 1990 seasons, posting ERAs of 2.36 and 2.21 respectively.

Unfortunately, in the eyes of Astros fans, the Bonham Bullet was a victim of his own success. The team ultimately decided not to re-sign him.

Darwin left and signed with the Boston Red Sox before eventually returning to Houston in the 1996 season (he also pitched for the Pittsburgh Pirates that year). Darwin also began his career as a Texas Ranger and spent time with the Rangers in 1995.

He pitched his final game in the Major Leagues in 1998 with the San Francisco Giants.

In 21 seasons, Darwin had a win-loss record of 171-182 with a career ERA of 3.84. He struck out 1,842 batters.

These days, Darwin has transitioned from Major League pitcher to Minor League pitching coach in the Los Angeles Dodgers system. After having spent time as pitching coach of the Jacksonville Suns and the Great Lakes (Midland, Mich.) Loons, Darwin is now the pitching coach for the Double-A Chattanooga Lookouts.

“It’s going good so far,” Darwin said of his job with the Lookouts. The team recently started the second half of their season.

After spending two decades as a pitcher and working with pitching coaches, Darwin is finding a lot of satisfaction as a coach these days.

“I enjoy the fact that I get to help these yong kids reach their goals,” he explained. “The kids get better each day and hopefully they’ll make it to the big leagues.”

The Lookout pitchers, like the Loons and Suns pitchers before them, can no doubt learn from a lot of Darwin’s success and experience at the MLB level.

One has to wonder how often a young player will ask what it was like to be on the same team as Nolan Ryan and Mike Scott, and what it was like being in the same clubhouse with noted practical joker Larry Andersen.

“Larry did so many practical jokes,” Darwin recalled. “Among them were plastic bugs in the food.”

Darwin still talks to Ryan every once in a while, and chats with former Astros second baseman Billy Doran quite a bit. Other teammates, such as lefthanded pitcher Bob Knepper (whom Darwin still refers to as “Knepp”), he hasn’t seen in some time.

Speaking of nicknames, besides Bonham Bullet, Darwin was also known as Dr. Death, a nickname supposedly given to him by Ryan.

What’s funny about Darwin’s fellow hard-throwing native Texan is that the two were the subject of a rumor where Knepper supposedly was setting up a fight between Darwin and Ryan during 1988 Spring Training, only for then-manager Hal Lanier to put a stop to it.

Darwin dismissed the urban legend as just that, an urban legend.

“I have no idea how that got started,” Darwin said. “So many people have asked me about that. I tell them no, it never happened.”

One thing that Darwin definitely does remember happening is all the excitement around the team in 1986, when they nearly reached their first-ever World Series (they’d finally get there 19 years later).

“When I came to Houston in 1986, there was unity in the team,” Darwin recalled.

“Everybody believed we’d win each series that we played. There was a different hero each night to get the job done. There were not a lot of superstars on the team, but a lot of really good ballplayers who played really well together.”

Many Astros fans, myself included, hoped Darwin would stay in Houston for years to come. Unfortunately, it wasn’t meant to be. Darwin became another player the team ultimately deemed too expensive to pursue.

“Houston was one of my favorite places to play, no doubt,” Darwin said.

“I didn’t want to leave there, but things didn’t work out on the business side of it. You try to take advantage of a situation when they arise, and I was fortunate enough [in 1990] to have a good year. Other teams were interested, but Houston didn’t really want to do what other teams were doing.”

Darwin added that since he had a home in Houston, and since his family liked living there, leaving wasn’t a decision he took lightly.

Sports have been a family affair. Darwin’s younger brother Jeff also played in the major leagues, while Darwin’s daughters all played basketball in high school.

For 15 years, Darwin sponsored the Danny Darwin Celebrity Open Golf Tournament at North Central Texas College in Gainesville, Texas (about 60 miles west of Bonham). The tournament helped raise funds to start baseball and softball programs at NCTC.

“We helped to start the programs from scratch,” Darwin said.

“They had no bats, baseballs, coaches, anything. We were able to help start boys baseball and girls softball programs and built fields and locker rooms.”

Darwin still golfs when he can and currently has a 16 handicap.

While Darwin hasn’t seen any Astros games this season, he wishes them well and offers advice on how the team can return to success on the diamond.

“You need to get players who play well together, sometimes that’s what it takes,” he said.

“I’m not saying the Astros don’t, but for me a winning team is one where guys go out and play well together and pull for each other and do the little things to win ballgames. Hopefully they’ll turn it around. I keep up with them and the Rangers more than anybody.”

Richard Zowie is a Bleacher Report blogger and longtime Houston Astros fan who would also like to write about Astros stars Glenn Davis, Bob Knepper, Kevin Bass and Mike Scott. Post comments here or e-mail Richard at

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Jason Castro Impresses in Houston Astros Debut

In some ways, the Houston Astros 3-1 loss last night against the San Francisco Giants was business as usual.

Roy Oswalt pitched seven innings, giving up two runs on six hits while striking out five. In other words, good enough for a win, but since he pitches for the punchless Astros, he fell to 5-9 on the season despite a 3.08 ERA.

I can’t help but wonder if Oswalt kept waiting for his cell phone to ring with news from his agent that the New York Yankees wanted to trade for him and throw in, as a bonus, controlling stock in the Caterpillar Tractor Company.

Yep, you guessed it, Houston faced off against Tim Lincecum and managed only one run and seven hits in eight innings.

One of those hits, however, came off the bat of rookie catcher Jason Castro in his first Major League at-bat.

It was a curveball on an 0-1 count, and Castro lined a clean single into center before scoring Houston’s only run.


Astros players, please take note. If a rookie can do something against the two-time Cy Young winner in his MLB unveiling, then there’s no reason why you can’t.

It would be Castro’s only hit in four at bats, but it was impressive. What also was impressive is that Castro didn’t strike out.

Defensively, Castro also looked good. The Giants attempted to steals and Castro threw them both out. The first time he tossed out a runner on what looked like either a slow curve or a changeup, normally a pitch that works to the runner’s advantage.

Since Castro’s battery mate was Oswalt, maybe the All-Star hurler saw some encouraging signs that might make him want to stick around.

Whether this first game will translate into a regular spot on the roster or a cup of coffee is anyone’s guess. Castro looked good last night, and I think he can be successful as long as he practices that philosophy of Tom Selleck’s Jack Elliot character from the movie Mr. Baseball : “Baseball’s a game, and games are supposed to be fun.”

Richard Zowie blogs about the Houston Astros on Bleacher Report and will soon be posting comments from an interview with a very popular former fireballing Astros righthanded pitcher (hint: it’s not Nolan Ryan, and it’s not Mike Scott). Post comments here or e-mail .

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Sorry, Houston Astros Fans: Roy Oswalt, Lance Berkman Must Go

As I write this, the Houston Astros are enduring yet another typical night.

Wandy Rodriguez, who’s on-again, off-again pitching deserves its own theme song (Jerry Reid’s When You’re Hot, You’re Hot, and When You’re Not, You’re Not ) left tonight’s game against the Cincinnati Reds after getting shelled for eight runs and eight hits over three-and-a-third innings.

We like to think he mistakenly thought he was pitching batting practice.

The ‘Stros, as usual, have shown that hitting the ball into play and getting to first base before the ball does remains a foreign concept to them. One has to wonder if Sean Berry is unaware that Kaz Matsui is no longer with the team and is giving hitting instructions in Japanese.

If the Astros lose tonight’s game, they’ll be at 16-32 and a frigid 16 games below .500. Houston has the worst record in the National League and would have the worst record in baseball if not for the Baltimore Orioles.

Right now, it would probably be easier to get Houston schoolchildren to eat a meal of creamed cauliflower and fried liver* than to get them to watch the Astros play.

I worry that in a few years if things continue, Brad Mills will be fired. It would be a shame, since I honestly believe he’d be a fine manager IF he had decent players to work with.

I know that Jack McKeon brought the Florida Marlins back from the dead one year. Asking Mills to win with this team is tantamount to asking KISS bassist Gene Simmons to marry longtime girlfriend Shannon Tweed and bid adieu to adding more female conquests to his infamous Polaroid collection.

If Mills did that with this team (the winning part, not the sleeping with every woman in the solar system), forget a World Series parade in downtown Houston: He should be admitted simultaneously into both the Baseball Hall of Fame and the Smithsonian.

I can just see the Smithsonian exhibit:

Brad Mills, the rookie manager of the Houston Astros who’d never managed a major league team before, took a team that sucked so bad it could suck a proverbial golfball through a proverbial garden hose and radically turned the Astros around. After starting the season 16-32 and losing an exhibition game against the Little League World Series champion 84-0, the Astros went 114-0 en route to their first World Series championship. Fans named their sons Brad, daughters Brad-ette, and Mills ended up doing a commercial where he said, “Forget Disney World! I want Six Flags to re-open Astroworld!!!”*

Fat chance.

I’m afraid Houston needs to start rebuilding.

My suggestion: Trade Roy Oswalt and Lance Berkman.

Oswalt, who will turn 33 in August, currently has an impressive career win-loss record of 139-74 and a 3.21 ERA. This season, he is 3-6 with a 2.35 ERA. He conjures up memories of Nolan Ryan, who had a National League-leading 2.79 ERA and 270 strikeouts in 1987 en route to a sickening 8-17 record.

(As a side note, many whine about how Ryan shouldn’t be in the Hall of Fame because he was only a .500 career pitcher [324 wins versus 292 losses]. But what they don’t tell you is that Ryan spent much of his career on mediocre teams).

In short, Roy O is wasting his talent in Houston with this team. As he’s hinted already, he’d like to go somewhere where he can win a championship. 

Is it possible Houston will miraculously rebound the next year and be a contender?

My feeling is it would be better to trade Oswalt and insist on getting some quality prospects and even a major-leaguer or two. Pitching and hitting. Any team that wants Oswalt will have to cough up some good players in return.

What if they don’t? Then Houston better play hard ball or else: Oswalt’s contract expires in 2011.

It’ll stink if Oswalt goes. Chances are, he’ll pull a Nolan Ryan, and have so much fun at his new home that if he makes baseball’s Hall of Fame, he’ll request to wear that team’s cap.

Berkman is 34 and has struggled the past few years. He hit .274 last year and again got off to a slow start this year as he’s at .235. Lifetime, he’s at .298 with 318 home runs and 1,056 RBI. Surely, Houston could get some solid prospects in return for Berkman.

The Big Puma is in the final year of his six-year deal with the club holding a $15 million option for 2011.

Let me get this straight: I don’t really want to see Oswalt or Berkman leave Houston.

I’d love to see them end their careers in Astros uniforms. I have fond memories of Berkman in 2005 hitting everything in sight, and Oswalt calmly shutting the St. Louis Cardinals down in Game Six after the Albert Pujols/Brad Lidge Game Five heartache.

But I also know that Oswalt may choose to leave for another team once his contract expires, and that Berkman has suggested he’d waive his no-trade clause.

I hate seeing both waste their time playing on a team that’ll go nowhere, and I’d hate to see Roy O and Mr. Eligibility Major leave Houston with the Astros receiving absolutely nothing in return.


Richard Zowie blogs about the joy and (mostly) the pain of being an Astros fan at Bleacher Report. Post comments here or e-mail him at .

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The Next Five Guys the Houston Astros Will Get Rid of

Kaz Matsui’s time with the Houston Astros is officially in the books. We are left to wonder his options. Perhaps he will join fellow Japanese export Ichiro Suzuki in Seattle, or maybe he’ll head back to Japan and play for the Yomiyuri Giants, the Chunichi Dragons, Yakult Swallows or the Nagasaki Yakuza.

With that, we are left to wonder who will be next to be issued their walking papers with the Astros…

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The Houston Astros Can Improve Their Hitting Skills

After snapping an eight-game losing streak on Carlos Lee’s walk-off home run against the Arizona Diamondbacks in a 4-2, the Houston Astros are now 9-18 on the season. They are comfortably nestled in last place in the N.L. Central.

Don’t get too excited about the win, Astros fans. The home run was only the first of the season for Lee, who plays in a very right-handed hitter-friendly ballpark and is now dead-even with the infamous Mendoza Line at .200.

Despite the win, Houston was outhit by Arizona 8-4. Brett Myers pitched a good game for the Astros, giving up two hits in seven innings along with three walks and six strikeouts, but as Roy Oswalt has learned, great pitching can get wasted when your team couldn’t get a clutch hit against a pimply, puberty-challenged high school pitcher.

What can the Houston Astros do to improve their hitting? Here are some humble suggestions:


Fire Sean Berry

I have no doubt Berry’s a great guy and I admire what he’s had to overcome as far as his kidney problems, but it doesn’t look like he’s getting the job done. It’s a business, nothing personal.


Stop “Working” the Count

It’s hard to work the count when you’re suddenly down 0-2. Against some pitchers, you have to bring your swinging stick. Lay off the bad pitches, swing at the good ones.


Don’t Become the Pitcher’s Friend

This is something I tell my two youngest sons as they play baseball. Don’t swing at the bad pitches. Make the pitcher either throw you something good or walk you. For the love of Jimmy Wynn and Jose Cruz, please oh please do not swing at bad pitches.


Acquire Good Hitters

It’s pretty sad when Lance Berkman’s hitting .213. Of Houston’s regular hitters, only Michael Bourn is hitting above .300 at .312. Houston does have two guys hitting above .400, but unfortunately, they’re both pitchers. There are lots of players hitting .250 or below.

I wonder why Houston doesn’t have better access to solid hitters in its minor league system, or why it doesn’t go after .300 hitters in trades and free agency? Maybe it’s just the ugly uniforms that make people’s batting averages sink in Houston.


Threaten to Bring Back Dr. Phil

As I jokingly mentioned in a previous post, Dr. Phil came in to motivate Houston to play better. If the threat of Oprah’s favorite pet doctor isn’t scary enough, I don’t know what is.


Bring in Simon Cowell

What could make Astros hitters quiver more than to receive an angry tongue lashing from the man most of America (including myself in a non-personal way) LOVES to hate? I can see it now: “Lance Buh-kman, your hitting is atrocious! You say you may-juhed in ‘eligibility’ at Rice Uni-veh-sity, but what you should’ve may-juhed in was ‘hitting the ball’!”


Knock Over a Few Post-Game Buffet Tables

Billy Martin was notorious for doing this after his team played a bad game. One manager I read about did this also–but never when they served kielbasa (which he loved). Perhaps Brad Mills should knock over a few tables and force the Astros to go to TGI Friday’s. Or maybe he should instruct caterers to serve haggis and split pea soup.

Richard Zowie is a blogger and long-suffering Houston Astros fan. Post comments here or e-mail Richard at .

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