By Larry Canale
They were born as the Houston Colt .45s in 1962, a National League franchise team that would finish 64-96 under manager Harry Craft (and yet still finish ahead of the Cubs and Mets). The 1962 Colt .45s averaged a league-low 3.7 runs per game that year, and it would have been worse if not for journeyman Roman Mejias’s career year: He led Houston in all major categories: .286, 162 hits, 24 HRs, 82 runs and 76 RBI. The team’s ace on the mound was Turk Farrell, who despite a 3.02 ERA and 203 Ks managed to win only 10 games while losing 20. (You’ll spend $15 to $20 to get Mejias’s 1962 Topps card; Craft’s and Farrell’s are a couple bucks each.)
The Colt .45s, who became the Astros in 1965, lost games at a steady pace throughout the decade, finally getting to the .500 mark in 1969. Slowly but surely, the team evolved over the decades, producing a number of outstanding teams, including those in 1980 (93 wins) and 1986 (96 wins), plus several in the Jeff Bagwell/Craig Biggio era (the 1998 team won 102 games, followed by 97 in 1999 and 93 in 2000). Finally, in 2005, Houston made it to a World Series, only to get swept by the White Sox.
That near-title led to a rebuilding era that found the franchise struggling. The Astros bottomed out with their three worst seasons in history between 2011 and 2013, winning only 56, 55 and 51 games in those seasons.
Now, only four years later, the Astros are on top of the world, having beaten the Dodgers in a thriller of a seven-game World Series. All of which leads us to look at Houston’s “Murderers’ Row”: a trio of hitters who may just have piqued the interest of collectors well beyond their home region.
• George Springer: The Astros’ World Series MVP, Springer is an explosive leadoff hitter who, at 27, is only now entering his prime. Springer was on the cover of a prescient 2014 issue of Sports Illustrated that boldly predicted, “Your 2017 World Series Champs.” A Springer-signed newsstand copy—no subscriber label—of the issue sold for $1,000 on the morning of Game 7. Just days earlier, signed copies were selling for prices between $200 and $400. Unsigned copies, after the World Series ended, were even in high demand, with one copy selling for $799, another for $774, and two others for $700.
Meanwhile, Springer’s 2011 Bowman Chrome Refractor card has been heating up; a Gold Refractor brought $1,500 after the World Series ended, and an Orange Refractor fetched even more—$1,554—a week earlier.
• Jose Altuve: The sparkplug second-baseman has been on the rise in the hobby and will only get hotter. Altuve items that changed hands the week of the World Series included a 2011 Topps Update card (PSA 10) that sold for $1,899 and a 2011 Bowman Chrome Draft Gold Refractor card graded BGS 9.5 sold for $840.
Plus, 2010 Bowman Chrome rookie cards of Altuve are moving fast. A PSA Gem-Mint 10 Refractor went for $1,913; a Purple Chrome Refractor graded PSA 10 fetched $875; and a PSA 9 Blue Refractor brought $780.
• Carlos Correa: The star shortstop’s cards are selling on a par with Altuve’s cards, if not higher. Examples include a 2015 signed Topps Chrome Orange Refractor (BGS 10) that fetched $2,280; a 2013 Bowman Chrome Blue Refractor (BGS 9.5) that fetched $1,900; and a 2015 Topps Heritage Red Ink autographed card (penned #20 of 66) that realized $950.
Of course, Correa made a splash by proposing to his girlfriend while on the field during the World Series celebration, getting an enthusiastic “yes.” Now there’s a collectible that won’t be going anywhere—the engagement ring Correa presented to his new fiancé.