There are two teams that I think probably rate as the two unluckiest teams in baseball, or maybe are teams living under some curse. The two teams numerous similarities, and similar fortunes both on and off the field. The teams are the Houston Astros and Anaheim Angels. Both teams entered the major leagues through expansion, the Angels in 1961, Houston in 1962. They are the only teams in approximately the last half century to change their names without actually changing cities. The Astros were originally called the Colt 45s, and the Angels, coming into the league as the Los Angeles Angeles, moved to Anaheim, becoming the California Angels, then recently changed their name to Anaheim.
The two teams have had similar fates on the field. Neither team has been to the World Series, the only teams that came into the league before 1969 that can still make that claim. However, both have come very close. The Astros have played in two league championships, both considered among the best. In 1980, they played the Philadelphia Phillies, losing three games to two. Four of the five games went into extra innings, including the deciding game, in which the Astros blew a 5-2 lead in the eighth inning.
In 1986, the Astros met the New York Mets in a best of seven Championship series, with the Mets winning in six. The Astros lost, despite the fact that they led or were tied in 55 of the 64 innings played. They were three outs from squaring the series at three games in Game Six, but ended up losing in 16 innings, the longest postseason game in innings in history. If the Astros had won that game, they would have had series Most Valuable Player Mike Scott pitching in the deciding seventh game, and he had already dominated the Mets twice.
Since 1986, the Astros have appeared in three division series', losing them all. In 1981, the strike season, the Astros met the Los Angeles Dodgers in a division playoff. The Astros won the first two games in the best of five series, but the Dodgers won the next three, and went on to win the World Championship.
The Angels luck in the postseason has been strikingly similar. They won the 1979 West division title, but fell to the Orioles. In 1982, the Angels met the Milwaukee Brewers in the American League Championship Series, in the best of five. The Angels won the first two games at home. The Brewers won the next two games rather handily, bringing the series to a deciding fifth game. The Angels had a 3-2 lead in the seventh inning, but the Brewers came up with two runs in the inning, and hung on to win 4-3.
In 1986, the Angels were one strike away from advancing to their first World Series in a best of seven against the Boston Red Sox. The Angels entered the ninth inning leading 5-2, but the Red Sox came up with four runs, capped by a two-run homer by Dave Henderson. The Angels tied the game in the bottom of the inning, but lost in 11 innings. The loss crushed the Angels spirit, as they fell to the Red Sox 10-4 and 8-1 in the final two games. The Angels have not been back to the postseason.
The two teams also have tragic parallels off the field. They both have had a number of deaths of active players in their short histories. On the Astros side, Jim Umbricht was a relief pitcher for the Colt 45s from 1962-63, going 8-3 with two saves. In April, 1964, Umbricht died from cancer. Walt Bond played for the Colt 45s in 1964-65, although he was no longer a member of Houston ballclub, when he died of leukemia in 1967. Don Wilson was one of the top pitchers in franchise history. He pitched two no-hitters as a member of the Astros, and had a career mark of 104-92, to go with an earned run average of 3.15. However, Wilson chose to end his life before the 1975 season.
Although J.R. Richard is not dead, I chose to add his name to this article because of the tragic "what might have been" aspect. Richard had won at least 18 games per year from 1976-79. He had struck out over 300 hitters in the the 1978 and '79 seasons. Shortly after the 1980 All-Star Game, which he had started, Richard suffered a stroke, ending his career, and perhaps costing the Astros a trip to the World Series that season.
The Angels have also suffered a great deal of off the field tragedy. Chico Ruiz was a utility player with Cincinnati from 1964-69. He was traded to the Angels before the 1970 season, and played that year, and 1971. Shortly before spring training in 1972, Ruiz was killed in an auto accident. Mike Miley was a highly regarded middle infielder, who played 84 games with the Angels in 1975-76. In January, 1977, Miley was also killed in a car accident.
Lyman Bostock was signed as a free agent by the Angels after the 1977 season. He had just finished hitting .336 for Minnesota, good enough for second in the batting race, which followed a .323 average in 1976. Bostock got off to a bad start in 1978 and offered not to take the first month of his salary, which the Angels declined. Bostock had his average up to .296 after the slow start, when late in the season, he was shot and killed while riding in a car, by a jealous husband, who mistook Bostock for someone else. He was only 27.
Lastly, the Angels also have a tragic suicide by a pitcher to match the suicide of the Astros' Wilson. Donnie Moore became an Angel before the 1985 season, and in that season, collected 31 saves to go with a 1.92 ERA. The next season, Moore had some shoulder problems, that were still affecting him as the postseason got underway. The Angels brought Moore into pitch in the ninth inning of Game Five, leading 5-4. Moore got two strikes on Dave Henderson, but allowed a home run to put the Red Sox ahead, and has as already been covered earlier, an eventual Boston pennant. Moore never got over that pitch, and less than three years later, took his own life, in an attempted murder/suicide, where he also shot and wounded his wife.