Carlton Thompson / Special to MLB.com
The harsh reality of an aging ballclub dictated a rebuilding process in the 1990's that would require foresight, savvy, and most of all, patience.
It would mean saying goodbye to many of the players who made the 1980's so special. At the same time, the 1990's ushered in a new generation of Astros -- players such as Jeff Bagwell and Darryl Kile, who joined Ken Caminiti and Craig Biggio as the cornerstones of a massive rebuilding effort, which didn't prove so daunting after all.
By 1992, the Astros were a .500 club once again, and they closed out the decade with seven consecutive winning seasons, a feat that has only been matched by two other teams in all of Major League Baseball.
The condensed version makes the turnaround look much easier than it actually was. The decade began with a 75-86 record, which landed manager Art Howe's team 16 games behind first-place Cincinnati in the old NL West.
It marked the Astros' worst winning percentage in 15 years and offered perhaps the most telling sign that it was time to revamp the club. The most significant move in this process - and one of the most important transactions in franchise history -- was acquiring Bagwell from Boston in exchange for middle reliever Larry Andersen on August 31, 1991.
Nothing on Bagwell's minor league resume -- he hit only six home runs in two years on the farm - suggested he would become the player he is today. But 10 years later, baseball observers recognize the move as a stroke of genius by former general manager Bill Wood.
The Astros matched a franchise record with 97 losses and they finished 29 games out of first place in 1991, but a star was born in Bagwell, who hit .294 with 15 homers and 82 RBI to become the first Rookie of the Year in club history.
Bagwell's fine season and the continual improvement of Biggio and Caminiti notwithstanding, there still was plenty of work to be done before the Astros returned to respectability. The rebuilding process has far fewer ups then downs, but the club was willing to take its lumps.
By 1992, Biggio had made the shift from catcher to second base and became the first player in Major League history to make the All-Star team at both positions. The Astros' record improved by 16 games, and they enjoyed their first non-losing season of the decade.
The biggest change of the decade came prior to the 1993 season when Drayton McLane Jr. purchased the club from John McMullen, who had owned the team since 1979. Under McLane's aggressive leadership and strong commitment to excellence, the Astros have become one of the most consistently successful franchises in baseball.
Although the Astros' record improved in 1993, there wasn't much improvement in the standings, and McLane made changes at the two highest-level positions in the baseball operation.
Assistant general manager Bob Watson replaced Wood, and first-time big-league manager Terry Collins took over for Howe. To round out his new strategy team, McLane lured former GM Tal Smith back into the organization as a consultant. Smith ultimately accepted a job as team president.
The Astros had three consecutive second-place finishes with Collins in the dugout, including the strike-shortened 1994 season, when they finished a half-game out of first place and were in the playoff picture until the final weekend of the season.
But after a September collapse derailed the team's hopes of reaching the post-season in 1996, McLance made the boldest of his many bold moves as Astros owner, hiring former pitcher Larry Dierker from the broadcast booth to manage the team.
The move was greeted with great skepticism, but the results speak for themselves. Dierker guided the Astros to NL Central Division titles in three of his four years, and he managed the team to a franchise-record 102 victories in 1998.
The Astros' run of success were applied by the wizardry of GM Gerry Hunsicker, who took the job on November 10, 1995 after Bob Watson made a lateral move to the Yankees.
Hunsicker, baseball's Executive of the Year in 1998, was the mastermind behind trades that brought Brad Ausmus, Jose Lima, Moises Alou, Carl Everett and Randy Johnson, among others, to Houston.
Playoff success has eluded the Astros, but the fact that they have been perennial playoff contenders is a tribute to the foresight, savvy and patience they exhibited throughout the decade.