Astros Hall of Fame gets star-studded first class

August 4th, 2019

HOUSTON -- It's not that the greatest players in Houston Astros history need help standing out in a crowd. When they step into Minute Maid Park, people know them.

But slap orange jackets on them, and put them together in one confined space, and well ... that's really something to see.

The club held its first Astros Hall of Fame induction ceremony on the field before Saturday's game with Mariners at Minute Maid Park. The 25-minute event honored 16 former players and broadcasters who represent the inaugural class, and all living members were presented with a sharp, snazzy Astros-orange jacket, adorned with a newly designed Hall of Fame logo.

The list of inductees included every Astros figurehead whose number has been retired, plus all who were honored with a star on the Astros Walk of Fame outside the ballpark a handful of years ago.

The full list: National Baseball Hall of Famers Nolan Ryan (1980-88), Jeff Bagwell (1991-2005), Craig Biggio (1988-2007) and Joe Morgan (1963-71; '80); Bob Aspromonte (1962-68); Jose Cruz (1975-87); Larry Dierker (1964-76; manager 1997-01); Joe Niekro (1975-85); J.R. Richard (1971-80); Mike Scott (1983-91); Shane Reynolds (1992-02); Jimmy Wynn (1963-73); Jim Umbricht (1962-63) and Don Wilson (1966-74), plus broadcasters Gene Elston (1962-86) and Milo Hamilton (1985-2012).

"I cannot explain the feeling that's going through me right now," Richard said. "I'm just appreciative to be here with such a bunch of great guys. To have played with those guys has been a true pleasure and honor. And I'm so happy for the franchise and how it's grown."

The ceremony, flawlessly coordinated by the Astros' team historian and authentication manager Mike Acosta and emceed by retired television announcer Bill Brown, took place along the circumference of the infield. Each living honoree sat with his family next to a table that contained his Hall of Fame plaque, which will later be displayed in the Astros' Hall of Fame section of Minute Maid Park on the main concourse level behind left field. Deceased honorees were represented by family members.

Most of the near-capacity crowd was already seated when the ceremony began, around 40 minutes before first pitch.

"It's just a great thing for us to have as an organization," Bagwell said, commending team owner Jim Crane, president of business operations Reid Ryan and Acosta for turning a long-standing Astros Hall of Fame idea into a reality.

"It's a nice way for the fans to get to see it, for us as players to appreciate all the guys we played with and have come before us," Bagwell said. "I'm very, very excited about this."

Dierker, who served the team as a pitcher, manager and broadcaster, said the formation of the Astros Hall of Fame signals the franchise now being "mature enough" to be viewed among the great franchises in baseball.

"Whether it's the Yankees or Red Sox, the Phillies, the teams that have been around a really long time -- we fit in there now," Dierker said. "So it's time for this."

Morgan, who was traded to the Reds after the '71 season and won World Series titles with "The Big Red Machine" in 1975 and '76, said he may have gained fame during his years with Cincinnati, but Houston gets credit for teaching him how to play the game at an elite level.

"People think of me as being a part of The Big Red Machine, which I'm very proud of, but I try to tell people all the time: I learned to play baseball in the Astros' organization," Morgan said. "I learned to baseball in their Minor Leagues. I learned to play baseball for my first seven years in the big leagues. When I went to Cincinnati, I already knew how to play."

Moving forward, no induction class will match the size of the inaugural one. The Astros have formed a Hall of Fame advisory board, which will gather each year to vote on who will comprise the next class. It's likely two or three selections will be made per year.

The 2019 class will be special, though, remembered for its sprawling size that brought generations of Astros greats together for one big star-studded class reunion.

"I think of the great players that were before me, and not just how great they were, but also the character of the men they are," Biggio said. "They were unbelievable baseball players, but they were also great leaders in the clubhouse.

"The success that we've had and the people that we've had here is something that I'll always remember and be glad to be part of."