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Astros’ Top 5 second basemen: McTaggart’s take

@brianmctaggart
April 6, 2020

HOUSTON -- No one loves a good debate quite like baseball fans, and with that in mind, we asked each of our beat reporters to rank the top five players by position in the history of their franchise, based on their career while playing for that club. These rankings are

HOUSTON -- No one loves a good debate quite like baseball fans, and with that in mind, we asked each of our beat reporters to rank the top five players by position in the history of their franchise, based on their career while playing for that club. These rankings are for fun and debate purposes only … if you don’t agree with the order, participate in the Twitter poll to vote for your favorite at this position.

Here is Brian McTaggart’s ranking of the top 5 second basemen in Astros history. Next week: Third basemen

1. Craig Biggio, 1988-2007
Key fact: Hall of Famer is franchise’s all-time leader in games, hits, runs, total bases, doubles, extra-base hits

Drafted as a catcher, Craig Biggio played his first four seasons in the big leagues behind the plate before making the move to second base in 1992, where he would be entrenched as Houston’s starter for 13 of the next 15 years (he played the outfield primarily in ’03-’04). He won four Gold Gloves and four Silver Sluggers at second base and was one of the most dominant players at his position in the 1990s, helping the Astros win four division titles in five years (1997-99, ’01) and reach the playoffs in ’04 and World Series in ’05.

A seven-time All-Star, Biggio played his entire 20-year career with the Astros and hit .281 with 3,060 hits, 414 stolen bases and 1,175 RBIs, becoming the 27th player in history to reach 3,000 hits on June 28, 2007 -- his final season. He became the first player inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame wearing an Astros cap on his plaque when he was voted into Cooperstown in 2015. In ‘98, he became just the second player in baseball history to reach 50 doubles and 50 stolen bases in the same season, joining Tris Speaker of the 1912 Red Sox.

“Craig was a once-in-a-lifetime player,” said former Astros general manager Gerry Hunsicker. “He was a manager’s dream in the sense you just pencil his name in the lineup every day. He brought his ‘A’ game every day. He gave everything he had to win day in and day out. It’s no coincidence that the greatest stretch in franchise history [prior to 2015] was with Biggio.”

Astros' Top 5 first basemen: McTaggart's take

2. José Altuve, 2011-present
Key fact: Six-time All-Star, five-time Silver Slugger, three-time batting champ who won 2017 AL MVP

The only Astros player to appear in an All-Star Game representing the National League and American League, José Altuve was signed out of Venezuela at 16 years old for $15,000. He burst onto the scene a few years later after being promoted from Double-A in 2011 and quickly began racking up hits. He became the first Astros player to win a batting title when he led the AL with a .341 batting average in ’14 while smashing Biggio’s club record with 225 hits. He also led the AL with 56 steals. Altuve added batting titles in ’16 and ’17.

Altuve, who endured three 100-loss seasons before playing on three 100-win teams, is one of three players in MLB history to reach 1,500 hits, 275 doubles and 250 steals through his first nine Major League seasons, joining Honus Wagner and Ben Chapman. Only 25 players in MLB history recorded more hits through their first nine Major League seasons than Altuve (1,568), a list that includes 20 Hall of Famers. He’s the Astros’ career franchise leader in batting average and ranks among the top 10 players in club history in multiple categories, including stolen bases (fourth), on-base percentage (fifth), doubles (sixth), hits (sixth), slugging percentage (seventh) and runs (seventh).

Altuve has been clutch in the playoffs in his career, too. He owns the franchise record for career postseason hits (60) and runs scored (38) and ranks among the top five players in franchise history in postseason games (50, tied for first), home runs (13, second) and RBIs (29, second). He provided one of the greatest moments in franchise history in Game 6 of the ’19 ALCS with a series-clinching walk-off homer off Aroldis Chapman to beat the Yankees.

“He's turned himself into a star in his career here, and yet he's remained humble, he's remained hungry,” former Astros manager AJ Hinch said. “He's driven. He's engaging with his teammates. It's the same old quote of everything that's right about the Astros is José Altuve. He's been here the longest and seen this organization grow from the ground up.”

3. Joe Morgan, 1963-71, ‘80
Key fact: Ranks third all-time among Astros second basemen in WAR (30.7)

Joe Morgan, signed as an amateur free agent in ’62, established himself as an All-Star with the young Houston franchise, which was known as the Colt .45s when he made his debut in ’63 at 20 years old. That was the start of a brilliant Major League career for Morgan, a 10-time All-Star who was inducted into the Hall of Fame in ’90. He was part of an up-and-coming young nucleus with the Astros that included Cesar Cedeno, Jimmy Wynn, Bob Watson and Rusty Staub. He was traded to the Reds following the ’71 season in a disastrous deal for Houston.

“I loved Houston and wanted to continue to play here, and a lot of my friends were here,” Morgan said. “Jimmy Wynn was my roommate, and me and Rusty Staub were great friends. I would have loved to stay here.”

After winning two World Series titles and two NL MVPs with the “Big Red Machine” in ’75-76, Morgan returned to Houston for one season in ’80 and started on its NL West championship team. Years ago, Morgan couldn’t help but wonder what would have happened had the Astros been more patient in the late ‘60s and waited for their young players to mature before trading away himself and Staub ahead of their prime.

“Maybe we would have a championship here instead of me winning two in Cincinnati,” he said.

Astros' Top 5 catchers: McTaggart's take

4. Bill Doran, 1982-90
Key fact: His 30.5 WAR ranks 11th all-time for the Astros at any position

One of the more underrated players of his era, Bill Doran was a steady and dependable presence for the Astros for nine seasons and was named the team’s MVP in ’85 and ’87. He earned some league MVP votes in ’86, the year the Astros went 96-66 and won the NL West. Drafted by Houston out of Miami University (Ohio), he played 12 big league seasons and was a lifetime .266 hitter with 84 homers, 497 RBIs and 209 steals.

“He was very underrated,” teammate Dickie Thon said. “To me, he was maybe the best second baseman in the league, even when [Ryne] Sandberg was there. The one year [1987], Billy had only six errors the whole year and they gave the Gold Glove to Sandberg, who had more errors. Billy had better range and a lot of double plays. He could hit and run the bases very well. He could bunt. He could do everything. He was a very good player. They don’t say enough about Billy in Houston.”

5. Jeff Kent, 2003-04
Key fact: Slashed .293/.350/.521 with 49 homers and 200 RBIs in two seasons in Houston

A former league MVP with the Giants, Jeff Kent signed a two-year deal with the Astros prior to the ’03 season, a move that forced Biggio to play the outfield. Kent delivered big-time at the plate while with the Astros and earned All-Star honors in ’04 at Minute Maid Park in a season in which he hit .289 with an .880 OPS, 27 homers and 107 RBIs. He provided one of the biggest homers in franchise history with a three-run, walk-off blast in Game 5 of the ’04 NLCS against the Cardinals. In ’04, he set a club record (since broken) with a 25-game hitting streak.

“We were a pretty good team,” Kent said. “The team went to the World Series the year after I left, and I was pretty bitter about that. The time I had in Houston, albeit short, was pretty great. I’m grateful for the time I had playing in the middle of the country. The people and the fans were great. They were my kind of people. I loved every minute of it.”

Honorable mentions

Tommy Helms (1972-75) came to Houston from the Reds in the infamous Morgan deal after appearing in two All-Star Games in Cincinnati. He hit .269 in four seasons with the Astros and had a steady glove. He was traded to the Pirates for Art Howe.

Nellie Fox (1964-65) finished his Hall of Fame career with the Colt .45s/Astros, serving as a player/coach while mentoring a young player named Joe Morgan in ‘65. A former AL MVP and 12-time All-Star with the White Sox, Fox had a walk-off single against the Yankees in the 12-inning exhibition game that opened the Astrodome on April 9, 1965.

Brian McTaggart has covered the Astros since 2004, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter.