HOUSTON -- When the Astrodome was chosen as the host site for the Republican National Convention in the summer of 1992, that meant the Astros had to pack their bags. And plenty of them.
With the Astrodome set to be unavailable for a month to the baseball team that calls it home, the Astros’ 1992 schedule featured a grueling 26-game road trip over 28 days. That’s four weeks away from home, four weeks of hotel rooms and playing in different ballparks. Needless to say, it wasn’t ideal for manager Art Howe’s young club.
“We weren’t real excited about it,” Howe said. “We weren’t really playing well on the road at all.”
Indeed. Before the trip, the Astros had lost 27 of their first 40 games away from the Astrodome, which helped spread dread among the field staff and players. The 1992 Astros had an up-and-coming young core featuring 1991 National League Rookie of the Year and future Hall of Famer Jeff Bagwell, future Hall of Famer Craig Biggio, future NL Most Valuable Player Ken Caminiti, as well as Luis Gonzalez, Steve Finley and Darryl Kile.
“We had 15 rookie or sophomores, a bunch of young guys, and the trip really wasn’t that bad,” Biggio said. “The way they scheduled the games, a lot of times you bounce around, and the travel doesn’t make any sense, but the league looked at it and really took care of us. ... We had a good time with it. That’s part of the bonding. We were so young the year before and now we’re all a bit older and we got along. To go on a 26-game road trip, it was fun. We were like, ‘Let’s have a good time with it.’ There was nothing we could do about it.”
The road trip, which began July 27 in Atlanta, included stops in Cincinnati, Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco, Chicago, St. Louis and Philadelphia. There were only two off-days in that span, and the team spent one of those in Houston catching up on laundry. The trip was set to cover 9,186 miles, and the young Astros were going to find out how resilient they were.
“I thought it was unfair,” general manager Bill Wood said. “It was a huge hurdle for the ballclub to overcome. I was concerned about everybody because, as the general manager, you want to do the job as best you can, and now comes this [road trip]. I remember thinking going into the road trip anything could happen, but I was pleased with the progress we were making at that point. We had a young ballclub.”
The trip began with the Astros winning two of three at the Atlanta Braves, who were just beginning to become a dynasty in the National League East. Wood took some validation from a dugout conversation with Braves manager Bobby Cox, who told him: “I really like your players and the direction you’re going.”
Wood was pleased and noted, “All of a sudden, you say, ‘All right, somebody on another ballclub recognizes what we’re trying to do and maybe we’re on the right track.’ I’m seeing with my own eyes these young players and they have ceilings and are going to improve. We think we’re going in the right direction, and now you’re hearing this from people you respect in the game.”
From Atlanta, the Astros came out of an off-day and lost three of four games at the Cincinnati Reds, split a pair at the Los Angeles Dodgers, were swept in four games at the San Diego Padres, took two of three at the San Francisco Giants and split a four-game series at Wrigley Field before taking a day off in Houston.
They finished up the trip by losing two of three in St. Louis to the Cardinals before sweeping the Philadelphia Phillies at Veteran Stadium to finish a respectable 12–14 on the trip. The Astros went 33–17 to finish the season in 1992, including winning nine of their final 15 games on the road after the month-long road trip. They finished .500 and had only one losing season in the next 14 years.
“Realizing that we were going to be on the road so much, I wasn’t looking forward to it,” Howe said. “As it turned out, it was a blessing. The guys learned how to win on the road. ... It really helped us get over the hump as far as playing on the road and learning how to get it done.”