Rangers-Astros: What Wasn’t And What Shall Never Be
By Donny Hunt
The Texas Rangers and Houston Astros are now division rivals, but there was a time when they could have been so much more. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports
I can still remember the summer and fall of 1986. I was a baseball crazy 11 year-old then, and I was jacked up. That year, you see, the Houston Astros and the Texas Rangers were on a collision course, one that could end in only one place: the World Series.
As a proper Texan, I have always affiliated myself with all Texas sports teams (except those located in or near College Station) and I was loving the fact that for the first time in my young life, there was real, live, meaningful Major League baseball in the Lone Star State. I spent countless hours in my backyard that summer, imagining just how it would play out. Could Glenn Davis hit a Charlie Hough knuckler? Could Ruben Sierra handle some heat served up Nolan Ryan style?
That summer, I was those guys. Hitting home runs, getting the big strike out. And the great thing about childhood dreams are that you can control them. So of course, the only way this could end was in Game 7, in extra innings, with the bases loaded and two out. I can’t tell you now how many of those games were won by the Rangers and how many were won by the Astros, but I can promise you that every game was epic. That was a great summer.
Real life doesn’t follow our dreams though. In reality, the Rangers couldn’t quite keep up with the Angels, who promptly remembered that they were the Angels and derped away the ALCS to Boston (not a fan). The Astros won the division in epic fashion, clinching the division with a Mike Scott no-hitter. They then promptly remembered that they were a professional sports team from Houston and lost the NLCS to the Mets (really not a fan). the 86 World Series went from being a dream match-up between two teams I loved to a nightmare match-up of two teams I despised.
The end of 1986 was sickening, literally. I was almost vomiting by the end of Game 6 of the NLCS, (*^%*ing Mets). Yet there was hope. Certainly ’86 was just a precursor of things to come. The Rangers and Astros were simply going to bend the rest of the majors to their will. Yeah, I thought that.
It would be a decade later before either team tasted the post season again. Yet hope remained. The Rangers won the AL West in 96. The ‘Stros won the NL Central in 97. They were getting closer. The collision course was back on, albeit delayed slightly. In 98 and 99, both teams won their divisions. It was happening.
By now, I was no longer a baseball crazy kid. I was a baseball crazy young man who worked as a board op at an all sports radio station. So I spent an inordinate amount of my time day dreaming about that Lone Star Series that had been haunting me all this time. It just had to happen this time, except it didn’t.
It was amazing how similar both team’s playoff fates were in the 90s. If their pitching was good, their hitting was non-existent. If they hit, which wasn’t very often, their pitching let them down. I didn’t know it at the time, but on October 9, 1999, any real hope for that All Texas World Series died. On that day, both teams were eliminated from the playoffs.
The Astros continued to be competitive through 2006, making the playoffs three times and even becoming the first Texas team to make it to the World Series. Where they remembered that they were a professional sports team from Houston…
The Rangers in the meantime spent most of the first decade of the new millennium paying for Alex Rodriguez. And paying. And paying. They finished last in a four team division five times in eight years, including four years in a row. By the time the Rangers began digging out and becoming competitive in 2008, the Astros were on a fast track to becoming one of the dregs of the Majors.
At least that I could finally see them play, though. It only took Major League Baseball four years of interleague play to figure out a way to put the Rangers and Astros on the same field. That’s leadership right there. But of course, the Rangers were in the gutter by then and there has never been a single season since the Silver Boot Series began in 2001 that both teams were even moderately good at the same time.
I was frustrated. In my life as a baseball fan, I had witnessed an All-Missouri World Series (85), an All-NoCal series (89), two SoCal-NoCal series (88, 02) and a Subway Series (00). I had seen the Cleveland Indians make Major League a reality. Four teams that didn’t even exist in the summer of 86 combined to play in five World Series and win three of them (Marlins, D-Backs, Rockies, Rays). I saw two different Sox break their own near-century long curses, in back-to-back years no less. The Atlanta Braves went from a joke to a dynasty. Even the Padres, The Padres, went to two World Series. Was just one All-Texas World Series too much to ask for?
Yep. On November 11, 2011, Major League Baseball finally drove the final nail in the coffin of that dream I had been quietly nurturing for 25 years. The Astros were going to the American League. Now the Rangers and ‘Stros would be division rivals. Which would be great except for the fact that the Astros suck.
Now, I can hope that the stars line up just right and they will battle down the stretch for the division title. I can dream of a scenario like 2004 and 2005, when the Astros and Cardinals, despite playing in the same division, played in two seven game NLCS’s. That’s the best I can hope for, and even that seems like a pipe dream to me now.
The summer of 86 is long gone and I honestly remember my make-believe games in the backyard better than I remember the real thing. (I do maintain fuzzy memories of staying up late with my parents to watch the Rangers play the Angels in a key late season series in L.A., but I don’t remember the details) Still, when the Astros and Rangers begin the 2014 Silver Boot Series Friday night, I’ll be watching. And I promise, at some point during the game, I’ll let my mind drift and I just might wind up watching Glenn Davis take his best shot at that Charlie Hough knuckleball. It could be more entertaining that the real game.