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HOUSTON COLT .45s
HOUSTON COLT .45s. The Houston Colt .45s, the first major league baseball team in Texas, got their start in 1960 when four Houston businessmen—George Kirksey, Craig Cullinan Jr., R. E. “Bob” Smith, and Judge Roy Hofheinz—formed the Houston Sports Association. The ownership group hoped that their financial organization and plans for a new stadium presented a strong enough argument to bring a major league baseball franchise to the city. The leadership of Major League Baseball (MLB), though, refused to consider any new expansion teams and wanted to maintain tight control of the national markets.
With their proposal rejected, the four men decided to start their own league. They then contacted representatives of other cities that were also denied professional teams. As their plans for the new “Continental League” progressed, MLB agreed to expand both the National League and American League from eight teams to ten. With the announcement, the Continental League plans fell through, and MLB protected their markets. On October 17, 1960, the Houston Sports Association officially received a franchise.
With a team coming to town, the owners needed a name. So, they held a “Name the Team” contest that allowed Houstonians to submit their ideas. William Irving Neder’s submission of the Colt .45s eventually won. Neder stated that the name fit the frontier image of Texas and that the famous gun played an important role in the history of the American West. The team leadership also announced that the Colt .45s colors would consist of navy and orange.
The Colt .45s early history involved more lows than highs. The roster of the original 1962 team came from the 1961 expansion draft that Houston participated in along with the other National League expansion team, the New York Mets. The Colt .45s played their first three years at a temporary ballpark named Colt Stadium. The single-level ballpark held 33,000 fans. The temperatures in the stadium reached high levels, especially considering the high heat and humidity characteristic of Houston summers. Former Colt .45 Rusty Staub proclaimed Colt Stadium, “the hottest place on the face of the Earth.”
Led by manager Harry Craft, the Colt .45s opened the 1962 season by winning their first three games, with more than 25,000 fans watching the inaugural game, an 11–2 victory over the Chicago Cubs, on April 10, 1962. The early winning record provided much excitement for the Houston fans. Unfortunately, the team found wins hard to come by for the rest of the season. They finished with a record of 64 wins and 96 losses, which placed them eighth in the ten-team National League. One highlight in the season occurred when Richard “Turk” Farrell, the Colt .45s best pitcher, made the 1962 National League All-Star Team. Indicative of the hard season, though, Farrell finished with twenty losses on the year.
The year 1962 also marked Gene Elston’s beginning as the lead radio voice for Houston. Having been in baseball since 1954, Elston worked with the team for the next twenty-five years. In 2006 he was named to the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
In both of the next two seasons, the Colt .45s finished with records of 66 wins and 96 losses. Despite winning two more games than they did their inaugural season, the Houston team finished in ninth place in the National League both years. These losing records resulted in the team making a switch in managers, replacing Harry Craft with Chalmer Luman “Lum” Harris for the last thirteen games of the 1964 season.
The 1963 season gave a glimpse of a positive future for the team. Several prominent rookies made their major league debuts that summer, including Jimmy Wynn, Rusty Staub, and Joe Morgan. The team even featured an all-rookie lineup against the New York Mets on September 27, 1963. Later in their careers, most of the rookies went on to success with other teams; Joe Morgan’s career with the Cincinnati Reds of the 1970s brought him back-to-back World Series championships, National League MVP awards, and an eventual place in the Professional Baseball Hall of Fame. During the mid-to-late 1960s, though, they formed the core of a competitive Houston team.
One unique but exciting event took place during the 1964 season. While in Philadelphia for a game against the Phillies on September 1, a Philadelphia radio station mistakenly reported that the British rock group, the Beatles, were staying at the same hotel as the Colt .45s. So many young fans of the “Fab Four” mobbed the hotel, that the Houston baseball team found leaving for their game very difficult. Eventually, the Colt .45s exited their building and made it to the game but not before experiencing serious concerns that they might miss the game entirely.
The 1964 season marked the last year for the Houston Colt .45s. In addition to finishing near the bottom of the National League, again, the team also experienced other heartaches. On April 23, 1964, Ken Johnson became the first player in MLB history to pitch a no-hitter for nine innings and lose the game. Ultimately, two ninth inning errors by his teammates finished off his effort against the Cincinnati Reds. Furthermore, relief pitcher Jim Umbricht, the only pitcher on the team to record a winning record during the first two seasons, died from cancer on April 8, 1964. As a tribute, the team retired Umbricht’s number 32. The final game at Colt Stadium took place on September 27, 1964.
With the construction finished on their new stadium, the Houston team moved in for the 1965 season. Since they now possessed the first indoor stadium in the world, the Astrodome, the team chose to change their name to match. As a result, the Houston Colt .45s ceased to exist, and the Houston Astros took their place. As if symbolic of the end of the Colt .45s era, the team owners sold Colt Stadium to a minor league baseball team in Mexico for $100,000, and the new owners moved the entire structure south of the border.
On April 10 and April 12, 2012, as part of the team’s fiftieth anniversary celebration, the Houston Astros wore replicas of the original Colt .45s uniforms.
Mike Acosta, “Rain or Shine: How Houston Developed Space City Baseball,” Houston History 6 (Summer 2009). “Astros Timeline,” The Official Site of the Houston Astros (http://houston.astros.mlb.com/hou/history/timeline.jsp), accessed January 31, 2017. Baseball-Reference.com: Houston Astros—Team History & Encyclopedia (www.baseball-reference.com/teams/HOU), accessed January 31, 2017. Colt Stadium, ballparksofbaseball.com (http://www.ballparksofbaseball.com/ballparks/colt-stadium/), accessed January 31, 2017. Bob Halsey, “This Date in Astros History” (http://www.astrosdaily.com/history/thisdate/), accessed January 1, 2017. The HOUSTON COLT .45s (http://thompsonian.info/colts.html), accessed January 31, 2017. Robert Reed, A Six-Gun Salute: An Illustrated History of the Houston Colt .45s (Houston: Gulf Publishing, 1999). Don Schiffer, “THE HOUSTON COLT .45s: The First Season,” from the book The National League (1963) (http://thompsonian.info/colts-natl-league.html), accessed January 31, 2017.
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