Tonight the Houston Astros will honor long time favorites Lance Berkman and Roy Oswalt by ceremoniously celebrating their careers. During their tenure with the Astros in Houston, both players had a knack for dominating a game. In this post, I take a look back at the career of #44, Roy Oswalt.
A skinny kid out of Weir High School in Mississippi, Roy Oswalt didn’t attract much attention from major league scouts. But Astros scout James Farrar liked what he saw in Roy. The Astros selected Oswalt in the 23rd round of the 1996 draft and the rest is — as they say — “history”. Oswalt was considering pitching for the Mississippi State Bulldogs but a $500,00 signing bonus convinced him to join the Astros organization.
While pitching in the minors, Oswalt began to experience shoulder pain. That is, until one day when he was working on his pickup truck. Roy credits the electric current from the truck’s spark plug wire for curing his ailing shoulder.
Roy’s big break came in the 2000 season when he was summoned to AA Round Rock to fill in for an injured starter. After fanning 15 in his Round Rock debut, Express manager Jackie Moore decided Oswalt was ready to stay at AA for a while. Roy would finish the season there, going 11-4 with a 1.94 ERA and a 0.987 WHIP in just under 130 innings.
Next up for Roy: Olympic Gold. After the 2000 season, Oswalt traveled to Sydney Australia as a member of the U.S.A. Olympic Team. Tommy Lasorda’s squad would go on to win the gold medal — thanks in part to two outstanding starts by Oswalt, including the semi-final game.
Oswalt pitched in five games at the AAA level in 2001 before being called up to work out of the Astros bullpen. After a few solid relief outings, Astros manager Larry Dierker decided it was time to get Roy a start. In his first start as a big leaguer, Oswalt did not disappoint. Roy held the Dodgers to two hits and only one run in six innings of work. He struck out four and didn’t walk a batter in the Astros 3-1 win. Oswalt was in the rotation to stay.
Oswalt, who grew up idolizing Nolan Ryan, was a bit of a throwback to the era in which the strikeout king pitched. Roy wasted no time on the mound, attacking the strike zone with pinpoint precision and an outstanding arsenal of pitches. His no-nonsense approach on the mound helped Oswalt to quickly become a fan favorite in Houston. His performance didn’t hurt either.
Oswalt went 14-3 with a 2.73 ERA in his rookie season. The 23-year old finished second in the Rookie of the Year balloting and fifth in Cy Young voting. But Roy was just getting started. Oswalt would anchor the Astros staff over the next few years. Even after being joined in the rotation by the likes of Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte, it was Oswalt that earned NLCS MVP honors in 2005, leading the Astros to their first ever World Series.
Oswalt finished in the top five in the Cy Young balloting five times in his first six seasons. In addition to leading the league in winning percentage as a rookie, Oswalt would also top the senior circuit with 20 wins in 2004. After another 20-win season in ’05, Oswalt would win the N.L. ERA title in ’06 with a mark of 2.98.
“The Wizard” finishes his career ranked second all-time on the Astros list in both wins and strikeouts. His 143 victories are only one fewer than Joe Niekro and Roy trails only his boyhood idol in strikeouts. For the SABR crowd, Oswalt leads all Astros pitchers in career WAR at both Fangraphs and Baseball Reference.
Roy’s accomplishments as an Astro are too many to discuss in one blog post — or even a 30-minute pregame retirement ceremony. Even though his career in Houston ended on a sour note after he asked for a trade, Oswalt will always have a special place in the heart of this Astros fan and tonight will be a special night at Minute Maid Park.
Happy Retirement Roy!