Classic Astros card: Biggio at his finest

December 8th, 2021

As part of the celebration of the 70th anniversary of Topps baseball cards, we've asked fans (as well as our staff) to submit their all-time favorite baseball cards, and we've broken them down by team. We'll be revealing submissions regularly throughout the season, ranging from the famous to the weird, and everything in between.

Craig Biggio, 1994 Topps Finest
This card is from right when was entering his prime, and it's a wild, '90s-looking card, with tons of bold colors framing Biggio as he makes a throw from second base.

The Hall of Famer won his first Gold Glove Award in '94, and he lead the National League in doubles and steals, but the story that fan Randal Alvarado of Indio, Calif., told about why he sent in this card is the best part.

"One day while I was sick, I was watching baseball highlights, and Craig Biggio came up in the highlight video," Alvarado wrote. "And I kept watching highlights of Craig Biggio because I was like, 'Wow, he is such a good player.' So the next week, I went to the store and picked up a baseball card pack, and inside the pack was Craig Biggio, and I said to myself, 'Hey, I was just watching highlights of him last week.'"

Nellie Fox, 1965 Topps

Oftentimes, great baseball players end up in the coaching ranks, and sometimes we're even surprised when we discover an all-time great is coaching for a particular club.

For instance, did you know Ken Griffey Sr. once served as a first-base coach for the Rockies?

Here we have a card of Fox, a Hall of Fame second baseman who spent most of his career with the White Sox, in an Astros uniform with the words "2B coach" beneath his photo. That's because Fox finished up his playing days with Houston from 1964-65, and transitioned into coaching with the organization.

Who was he coaching at second? Another future Hall of Famer, one who was just a rookie at the time.

"When the Astrodome was completed, my dad and his dad went on a public tour of the new stadium in December 1964," wrote Robert P. of Eureka, Calif. "My dad had a new hobby of videography and took the family 8-mm camera with him. A few months later, on April 27, 1965, they went back for one of the first home games of the new Astros team. The camera went again with my dad. At second base was Hall of Famer Joe Morgan in his rookie year.

"In my research, I realized Hall of Famer Nellie Fox was also there as the newly appointed second-base coach. I am a huge proponent for mentorship and it thrills me to think of Nellie Fox ending his career at second base in 1964 to then accepting the second base coach role to start mentoring Joe Morgan and give him the lessons he would use to become a Hall of Famer himself."

That's pretty cool. -- Manny Randhawa

Classic Astros rookie card: Jeff Bagwell, 1991 Topps Traded
It’s weird seeing without his trademark goatee (see the best facial hair card, below), but the first baseman had a clean-cut look when he broke into the big leagues. He makes up for the lack of facial hair here with a sweet mullet, which is accentuated by the interesting choice to forgo sideburns.

Bagwell was initially a Red Sox farmhand, but Boston infamously traded Bagwell to the Astros for veteran pitcher Larry Andersen in ‘90. Bagwell went on to play 15 years in the Majors, all for Houston, debuting in ‘91 and putting together a Hall of Fame career. -- Thomas Harrigan

Joe Morgan and Sonny Jackson, 1965 Topps
’s '65 rookie season was also the first year after Houston’s baseball franchise changed its name from the Colt .45s to the Astros. However, Morgan had cups of coffee with the team in '63 and '64, so his first Topps card in '65 depicts him wearing a Colt .45s hat.

Morgan appears alongside on the card, which dubs the two “1965 rookie stars.”

Morgan ended up finishing second in the '65 NL Rookie of the Year voting, kicking off a Hall of Fame career. Jackson, meanwhile, made his mark the following year, also finishing second in the NL ROY race. But unlike Morgan, Jackson wasn’t able to keep it up and played his final Major League game on his 30th birthday in '74.

The card was submitted by Robert Pitts Jr. of Eureka, Calif., who wrote:

“My dad grew up in Houston and got to see the opening years of the Colt .45s and the Astros. … When the Astrodome was completed, tours for the public were happening in which my dad and his dad (my grandfather) went to one in December 1964. My Dad had a new hobby of videography and took the family 8mm camera with him. A few months later, April 27, 1965, they went back for one of the first home games of the new Astros team. The camera went again with my dad.

“At second base was Joe Morgan in his rookie year. I discovered the video footage just this past year when digitizing my dad's 8mm film and seeing the awesome experience he and Grandpa had. I recently purchased this card and, with the film, I will always have a great story of my grandpa and my dad, with Hall of Famer Joe Morgan.” -- Thomas Harrigan

Best Astros facial hair card: Jeff Bagwell, 2019 Topps Stadium Club
Bagwell sported a goatee for most of his 15-year career, but he took it to another level toward the end, as you can see from this card. What an amazing work of art, even groomed so that there was a point at the end of it. The warmup jacket only makes it that much better.

Clearly, Bagwell decided to let the beard grow as a part-time veteran player, but why not? He was on his way to the Hall of Fame with a résumé that featured 449 home runs and a career OPS of .948. He also had a Rookie of the Year Award and MVP Award to his name. Plus it gives off a great "wise older guy" vibe when chatting with the youngsters.
-- Manny Randhawa

Craig Biggio, 1988 Fleer
Biggio is beloved in Houston after spending all of his 20-year Hall of Fame career with the Astros. Initially a catcher, Biggio was part of the '88 Fleer set before making his big league debut later that year.

The card depicts an all-business Biggio with a bat on his shoulder, clad in a blue warmup jersey featuring the club’s '80s era rainbow shoulder stripes.

“Craig Biggio is THE MAN in Astros History,” wrote Houston’s Austin Cook, who submitted this card. “He’s my favorite player still and it’s fun watching [Cavan] Biggio play now.” -- Thomas Harrigan

Casey Candaele, 1993 Upper Deck
is probably not the first player you think of when you think of Astros cards. But this card is a great example of how beautiful the 1993 Upper Deck set is. Each card has “Upper Deck” at the top, with the letters spaced out. And each image has a sort of “3-D” look to it because it is in the foreground of the card -- in other words, the “Upper Deck” is always behind the player.

This card, in particular, is special for its amazing action shot, capturing Candaele leaping for a line drive at shortstop during a game against the Cubs at Wrigley Field. Whether it’s an illusion created by the photo or his actual vertical, Candaele could jump. To top it off, the baseball is just in between the words “Upper” and “Deck.”

There are many cards in this set that have incredible visual appeal, but this one is unique. Jared of Pensacola, Fla., submitted this card in our survey, and he summed it up best.

“I grew up a huge Astros fan, still am,” Jared wrote. “Would gravitate to anything Astros, and I thought it was just the coolest card when I was little.”

That’s it, right there: This is just the coolest card. -- Manny Randhawa

Iconic Astros card: J.R. Richard, 1980 Topps
Standing 6-foot-8 and pairing 100 mph gas with an electric slider, was an imposing force on the mound.

Despite some control problems, the right-hander became one of the National League’s premier pitchers in the late 1970s, averaging 18 wins, 281 innings and 261 strikeouts per season while posting a 2.88 ERA from ’76-79. He is one of nine pitchers in the Modern Era (since 1900) to reach the 300-strikeout mark in multiple seasons.

Richard was en route to another brilliant campaign before he suffered a stroke on July 30, 1980, causing a sudden end to his career.

Richard’s 1980 Topps card was submitted by Craig Maguire of Olean, N.Y.

“This is my favorite card because this was the year I started collecting them as a kid. The Astros were my favorite team, but being from New York, I didn’t have much opportunity to see them live or on TV, so the cards were my attachment to the team. Even as a 10-year-old, I could see by that high leg kick and imposing figure, J.R. was mean business,” Maguire wrote.
-- Thomas Harrigan

Johnny Edwards, 1971 Topps

Edwards was an underrated catcher during the 1970s, and was the immediate predecessor of Johnny Bench in Cincinnati. While with the Reds, he was selected as an All-Star each season from 1963-65, and over that span hit .268/.334/.410.

Jose L. submitted this card in our survey, and it just might be the most worn card submitted. But that hasn't lessened its value to him at all.

"When my brother and I were young in the early ‘70’s, we collected baseball cards," Jose wrote. "When we had a fight one day, we damaged the card of my favorite player at the time, Johnny Edwards. I still have the card, and am going to give it to his two year old grandson, when he gets older."

That's a beautiful gesture.

Yogi Berra, 1987 Topps Team Leaders

Berra in an Astros uniform? You better believe it. And it was magnificent. Our own Astros beat writer Brian McTaggart submitted this beauty in our survey, and summed it up nicely:

"There was something magical about Yogi Berra in an Astros uniform," Taggs wrote.

You may be wondering: When exactly was Berra with the Astros? We're glad you asked. The Hall of Fame Yankees catcher, who won three MVP Awards and 10 World Series rings with New York, was a bench coach for Houston from 1985-87. -- Manny Randhawa

José Cruz, 1981 Donruss

Cruz didn't look a day under 25 in his 1981 Donruss card, as the then 33-year-old was an ageless wonder throughout his 19-year career in the big leagues. Cruz was a prolific base stealer, swiping 317 with the Cardinals, Astros and Yankees.

One of the most underrated stars of his era, Cruz was a stalwart in the Astros’ lineup for the better part of two decades. Coming over from St. Louis in 1975, it didn’t take long for Cruz to make an impact, as he stole 25 bases or more in four of his first five seasons to start his tenure in Houston. Cruz was recognized as an All-Star for the first time in 1980 and came in third in AL MVP Award voting after hitting .302 with 36 stolen bases, leading the Astros to the playoffs.

His finest season came in 1983, as he led the Majors in hits with 189, swiped 30 bags and swatted 14 homers, three shy of his career-high. He earned the first of two Silver Slugger Awards that season. -- Nick Aguilera

1990s throwback card: Randy Johnson, 1999 Fleer Ultra

One of the best Trade Deadline acquisitions of all time, Johnson was dealt from the Mariners to the Astros on July 31, 1998, and went on to post a 10-1 record, a 1.28 ERA and 116 strikeouts in 84 1/3 innings over 11 starts for Houston.

Johnson became a free agent after the 1998 season and signed with the D-backs, so there aren’t many cards depicting the Big Unit in an Astros uniform.

The 1999 Fleer Ultra set had one and it’s a beauty. Snapped from behind home plate, Johnson looks like he’s firing the ball directly at the camera. It gives you a sense of what it might have been like to step into the box against the intimidating lefty. The big script font also makes it obvious what era this is from before you even see who it is. -- Thomas Harrigan

Vinny Castilla, 2002 Donruss Fan Club

It's hard to picture Castilla slugging home runs for any team but the Rockies, where he had all six of his 30-homer seasons and both of his All-Star years.

But here he is in an Astros uniform, after playing the only season of his 16-year career in Houston in 2001.

Castilla signed with the Astros after he was released by the Devil Rays that May, and he went on to hit 23 homers with 82 RBIs for Houston.

Nolan Ryan, 1987 Topps

Ryan’s ‘87 Topps card, which features an action shot of the fireballer rearing back to throw a pitch, was mentioned by Ryan Mixson of Dimmitt, Texas. Mixson bought the card at a flea market and brought it to an Astros game in 2019 in hopes of getting it signed by the man himself.

“The day started off terrible,” Mixson wrote. “My girlfriend (now wife) had bought the tickets which stated the game started at 6:30. Instead we arrived to a game that had begun two hours prior and it was already the sixth inning. So I made my way over to the seating area behind home plate. I couldn’t actually get in, but I talked to the security guards and they encouraged me to just wait it out. [Jeff] Bagwell, [Craig] Biggio, any of those guys were constantly coming up to go to the bathroom or get stuff, they said. I never saw Bagwell or Biggio, but there was Nolan Ryan standing with his wife, Ruth. I feel a little ashamed now for asking for his autograph during a baseball game with his family, but back then I was 19 and an idiot. He signed the card and shook my hand and even at his age, and his politeness, that guy scared the crap out of me.”

The ‘87 season was Ryan’s age-40 campaign, as well as his second to last year with the Astros before moving on to the Rangers. He later returned to the Astros as a special assistant, a role he filled from 2014-19. -- Thomas Harrigan

Dave Bergman, 1979 Topps

Sometimes, it’s as simple as: “This is just a good-looking card.”

Bergman was a solid first baseman/outfielder for the Yankees, Astros, Giants and Tigers from 1975-92. His is far from a household name, but this card is amazing given the confluence of factors -- the vibrant rainbow Astros uniform and the rare orange Houston helmet.

The card is so good, a Tigers fan submitted it for the sheer aestheticism.

“I’ve always been a fan from when he played for the Tigers,” wrote Jimmy H. of Taylor, Mich. “I just like this card because of the bright green and the uniform that the Astros had at the time.”

Who doesn’t love a card like this? -- Manny Randhawa

Jose Tolentino, 1992 Topps
On the surface, this 1992 Topps card doesn’t seem all that special. After all, Jose Tolentino appeared in only 44 Major League games, all in 1991, hitting .259 with a home run. But to an anonymous fan who submitted this card in our survey, it was very special, indeed.

“I am not an Astros fan, nor is Tolentino my favorite player,” the fan wrote. “The reason why this card is my favorite is because it was the last card I needed to finish the 1992 Topps set, the first one I ever completed from scratch. I even had the micro version of this card [1992 Topps Micro] before getting the real one. I found this one, finally, at a comic shop with a card shop at the back of it. All I remember was paying the $0.10 or so for the card and running out of the store screaming that I finally finished the set.”

Topps Micro! Remember those? Tiny little versions of the 1992 Topps set, an interesting little experiment that didn’t really go anywhere. This card of Tolentino represents the sheer joy of collecting an entire set of baseball cards -- doesn’t matter who the last guy is, just that you have him.
-- Manny Randhawa