Who is the greatest player in Houston Astros franchise history?
The unexpected and saddening death of Hall of Fame pitcher Tom Seaver got me thinking about something. He was universally hailed as the greatest player in Mets history, and rightfully so. The natural question that came to mind for me, then, is who is the greatest player in Houston Astros history?
There are plenty of great players, of course. Roy Oswalt, Lance Berkman, Jose Cruz, Mike Scott, J.R. Richard, Larry Dierker, Jimmy Wynn and Cesar Cedeno all were great, but not necessarily the greatest. Jose Altuve could end up in the running for this title one day, but he’s not there yet. Nolan Ryan is one of the greatest pitchers in the history of the sport, but he only played nine of his 27 seasons in Houston.
Seaver didn’t play his entire career with the Mets, but he had his best years there, and the majority of his career came in Queens. So you don’t necessarily have to play your whole career in that team’s uniform to be considered the greatest, but Seaver at least wore a Mets cap on his Hall of Fame plaque. Ryan didn’t do that with the Astros.
In Houston’s case, the competition really just comes down to two players — Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio. Both played their entire careers in Houston and are now in the Hall of Fame, and despite the franchise’s success over the past few years, the Killer B’s still loom large when anyone talks about the best Astros ever. But which of them is the greatest?
The biggest thing Biggio has going for him is cracking the 3,000-hit milestone, and his 3,060 hits are a franchise record. His 668 doubles are the most all-time by a right-handed hitter, though Albert Pujols is about to pass him there. He’s the franchise leader in at-bats and runs scored, is second in stolen bases and RBIs and third in home runs.
A seven-time All-Star, he made the All-Star team at two different positions and won four Gold Glove awards at a position (second base) that he had to learn after arriving in the majors. He also has longevity on his side, as he’s far and away the franchise leader in games played, appearing in 2,850 games in his 20 seasons.
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Bagwell was a four-time All-Star and a Rookie of the Year who also won a Gold Glove at a different position than he played in the minors. He won the 1994 NL MVP award, becoming the only Astros player to win the award prior to the switch to the American League. He also had five other top-10 MVP finishes in an era dominated by power hitters.
He’s the franchise’s leader in home runs, RBIs and walks and is second in on-base percentage, slugging and OPS. He’s the only Astros player to hit 40 homers and steal 30 bases in the same season — and he did it twice. He was the centerpiece of the lineup and the team’s most feared hitter for a decade.
Who’s the Greatest?
This one is a tough call, like asking whether “Friends In Low Places” or “The Dance” is the better song. You really can’t go wrong. The franchise wouldn’t be the same without either of these players, and it almost feels disloyal to pick against one of them. But as great as Biggio was, I give the edge to Bagwell.
My reasoning is this: Biggio had more longevity, but Bagwell had a greater impact on the field while he was out there. Bagwell compiled 79.9 WAR over the course of his career according to Baseball-Reference, while Biggio had 65.5. It feels unfair to penalize Bagwell for the fact that a bum shoulder ended his career too soon.
So there you have it — Jeff Bagwell is the greatest player in Astros history. Perhaps someone like Altuve or Alex Bregman will end up challenging him for that mantle, but it’ll take one heck of a career. Bagwell was one of the greatest all-around players of his era and as much of a difference-maker on the field as anyone, and he stands as the best we’ve seen in Houston.