Sully Baseball Honors… The 1981 Houston Astros Future Stars

When I was a kid collecting Topps cards, I used to love the Future Stars card.

I always trusted the Future Card. Why would Topps lie to me? The players on the card were ALL destined for stardom.

Granted, they didn’t look 100% reliable when they picked players like Mike O’Berry and Keith MacWorther for future Red Sox stardom… but hey! Everyone can make a bad pick from time to time.

Now I stumbled across this 1981 Topps card of the Astros Future Stars. While none of them became a true star, each name on this card is worth noting for one reason or another.


The native Texan played for 13 seasons in the bigs, only playing more than 100 games a season in two of them.

He was a platoon player and left handed pinch hitter who in his career saw some of the great moments of 1980s baseball in uniform.

He played for the Astros in the 1980 NLCS against the Phillies, which was arguably the greatest best of 5 series in baseball history.

As a member of the 1986 Mets, he was a pinch hitter in the amazing 16 inning marathon NLCS Game 6 against his former team, the Astros.

In the famous Game 6 of the 1986 World Series, he came up as a pinch hitter again tying the game as a run scored on his fifth inning double play.

In 1988, he played for the Dodgers against his former Mets teammates in the NLCS. In the epic momentum shifting Game 4, Heep once again came up as a pinch hitter.

In the World Series Game 1 that year, the “Kirk Gibson Game”, Heep once again came up as a pinch hitter.

Later he played for the 1990 AL East Champion Red Sox and played for the 1991 Braves, but was cut before they won the NL Pennant.

I guess asking him to be on ANOTHER miracle pennant winner would have been too much to ask. But for a part time pinch hitter, four trips to the post season and two World Series rings and playing in so many memorable games isn’t anything to sneeze at.


Astros fans were patient with Knicely. He was an Astros Future Star in 1980 as well. He played 7 games with the Astros in 1979, 1 in 1980 and 3 in 1981. So later when he had a HIS OWN baseball card it looked impressive like he played 3 seasons between 79 and 81 instead of just 11 games.

In 1981, he managed to hit 2 homers in those 3 games… both against the eventual World Champion Dodgers. (One off of Bob Welch and one was an 8th inning game tying shot off of Dave Goltz.)

Maybe the Astros should have had him on their 1981 Divisional Series roster against the Dodgers that year.


Red Sox fans might be amused to see Sprowl picked as a future star for 1981. Turn the clocks back to 1978 and Don Zimmer must have thought he was a budding star right then and there.

In a critical game on September 10th, 1978 between the Red Sox and Yankees, Boston was trying to end a crippling losing streak. The Yankees were trying to sweep a 4 game series in Fenway and pull into a tie with Boston.

Who should Don Zimmer start? Veteran Yankee killer Bill Lee? Or 22 rookie Sprowl who had one big league start under his belt?

Zimmer went with Sprowl. In Spaceman, I asked “Why in the name of Yahweh was Bobby Sprowl pitching in a pennant race?” He was pitching because Zimmer let his pride get in the way. He was told that Sprowl had ice water in his veins.

That might have been true, but throwing him into that game against the defending champs was simply cruel.

Sprowl didn’t last an inning. Bill Lee came out of the bullpen and threw 2 1/3 shutout innings.

Sprowl never won a game that year.
He never EVER won a game in the bigs.

Topps optimistically made him a future star based on his 10-11 season for Tuscon in 1980.
Alas it never was to be.

Not in Boston nor in Houston.

So there you have it… one guy was a veteran of many post seasons… one should have been a post season weapon… and the other was thrown into the deep end too soon.

Maybe not… but worth a Sully Baseball salute.

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I always get in trouble when I criticize the Pirates, but…

You can never accuse Pirate fans of being apathetic… at least not the ones who read what I write. As I’ve said before, I like the Pirates and want them to do well. And I hope that Neal Huntington helps assemble a winner and Clint Hurdle manages them back to the post season.

But whenever I point out that their trades have left something to be desired or the team doesn’t look that good for next year, MAN do I get hate mail.

My article for The Hardball Times got a FLURRY of people trashing me for insinuating that the Pirates weren’t in great shape and that GM Neal Huntington’s trades have been a mixed bag at best.

So I tip toe cautiously in pointing out something bad again… but I can’t help it.

Zach Duke was designated for assignment. He’s gone. If they get anything in a trade for him, it will essentially be the equivalent of a bag of donuts.

Andy LaRoche is also heading out the door. Now I understand the economy of baseball (and the economy for that matter) and that Huntington had to clear some roster spaces.

But man I couldn’t help but think of one trade that was made and one that wasn’t… and more missed opportunities to make the Pirates better.

In 2008, Jason Bay was a prime trade chip. The Red Sox thought highly enough of him to make him Manny Ramirez’s replacement.

The Dodgers thought highly enough about Ramirez to deal for him and sell lots of tickets and Dreadlock wigs.

And the Pirates got LaRoche… a young right handed third baseman who did exactly nothing in the bigs. They also got Brendan Moss and Craig Hansen, both busts and Bryan Morris who hasn’t exactly impressed in AA.

All for Bay.

Meanwhile Duke, who looked like a young potential ace in 2005, had his ups and downs. But by 2009 he was eating up innings and pitching to a good ERA. He was a 26 year old left handed pitcher on the All Star team.

If he wasn’t going to be a cornerstone for the franchise, I bet he would have been a good trade chip.

I wonder if any team could have used a young left handed starter in the 2009 stretch run. Are teams EVER looking for young left handed starting pitching?

Oh yeah. ALL the time.

So instead of dealing him… or making him part of their long term plans… they did neither and will get gotch for him.

This reminds me of Matt Capps, the Pirates reliever who Pittsburgh let walk away at age 25.

The got absolutely nothing for him.
But 1/2 a season later, the Nationals were able to flip him for Wilson Ramos… a catcher who is just about ready for the bigs.

So once again, I shake my head at the praise of Neal Huntington.
He blew the Jason Bay deal.
He botched Matt Capps.
And he wasn’t able to turn Zach Duke into anything.

OTHER teams can pull off trades, but the Pirates can’t for some reason.
OTHER teams can get talent back, but not Pittsburgh.

Now I will no doubt get a ton of negative comments for this post and I am expecting it.

And I’ll get a lot of revisionist history.
“Bay has been a flop with the Mets!”

Yup. But nobody knew that in 2008… and Bay wasn’t a flop in Boston.

“Duke fell apart after the 2009 All Star Break.”
But nobody knew that in 2009 when he was young, left handed and pitching to an ERA in the 3’s.

Unfortunately like before I have facts on my side.

I want to see the Pirates succeed. And maybe Huntington will build a good team through the draft.

But wouldn’t it help if he made a good trade or two?

Maybe I’m wrong.

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