A few weeks ago, I was talking with one of the artists at Salado Glass Works in Central Texas. I was wearing my Houston Colt .45s cap, and he said:
“So, you’re into guns?”
“No,” I told him. “This is a baseball cap.”
“Really?” he said. “I’ve never heard of a team with that name.”
“They’re now called the Houston Astros,” I said.
“No. Really? I’ve lived in Texas all my life and I’ve never heard of the Colt .45s.”
“That was the name of the team when they started, more than fifty years ago,” I said.
“Wow. I’ve been an Astros fans for years and I didn’t know that.”
A few days later, I had a similar conversation in another store.
“That’s an interesting hat,” said another man. “What is it?”
Larry’s Colt .45s cap
When I explained, he had the same reaction as the first guy. Apparently, the Astros early history as the Colt .45s is not well remembered around the state. The name they began with in 1962 has all but disappeared from memory, and new fans may not be aware of the roots of the team that now plays in Minute Maid Park.
Professional baseball in Houston goes back to 1888, with the Babies in the Texas League. The name changed several times, becoming the Buffaloes in 1896, and then the Buffs in 1959. The Houston Sports Association bought the team in 1961 when the Houston Colt .45s were created. The Buffs became Houston’s top minor league team, moving to Oklahoma City in 1962 when the Colts began play in the National League.
Colts Stadium was the home of the Colt .45s, built as a temporary stadium, located a few hundred yards north of where Reliant Stadium and the Astrodome now stand. Houston played home games in this ballpark that featured an uncovered grandstand, and forced fans and players to withstand the blazing Texas sun, hordes of mosquitos, and the occasional rattlesnake.
Harry Craft was the first manager; the former outfielder and former manager of the Kansas City A’s (1957-1959) led the team for most of the three years they were known as the .45s.
Houston’s best hitter in 1962 was right fielder Roman Mejias. He hit .286 with 24 home runs and 76 RBI. The top pitcher was Turk Farrell, with a 10-20 record, throwing 241 innings and a very respectable 3.02 ERA, considering his losses. Turk struck out 203 and walked only 55 in what would likely have been a much better record for a team higher in the standings.
The next season, 1963, future stars Rusty Staub (19 years old), and Jim Wynn (the Toy Cannon) made their big league debuts, along with future Hall of Fame second baseman Joe Morgan. Catcher John Bateman led the team in home runs with ten, and RBI with 59, while left fielder Al Spangler was the top hitter at .281. Farrell went 14-13, and Ken Johnson was 11-17 with a 2.65 ERA.
In 1964, the final year as the Colt .45s, future Hall of Fame second baseman Nellie Fox joined the team. Third baseman Bob Aspromonte was the batting leader at .280, and first baseman Walt Bond was the top slugger with 20 home runs and 85 RBI. Pitching leaders were Bob Bruce with 15 wins and a 2.76 ERA, and closer Hal Woodeshick with 23 saves. Future Astros ace Larry Dierker made his first big league appearance at age 18 that season, pitching nine innings in three games and taking his first loss.
Harry Craft was fired in September, with 13 games left on the schedule, and third base coach Lum Harris replaced him. In those first three years as the Colt .45s, they had a 196-288 record, finishing 8th in 1962 and 9th in 1963 and ’64 (in ’62, the Colts finished ahead of the Cubs and Mets; in their final two years, they were ahead of the Mets).
Many older fans like me still recall the first years, 1962-1964, a time that marked the humble beginnings of an expansion franchise with a limited talent pool, a mosquito infested stadium and a unique identity as the Houston Colt .45s.
My connection to that long ago team goes back to my first Major League game in the summer of 1962. I attended a game in Pittsburgh’s Forbes Field, and saw the Pirates beat the first year Colt .45s. I recall being disappointed in 1965 when they dropped the .45s name and identity to become the Astros. To me, the Colt .45s were much more interesting, probably because they were involved in my first game.
Even though it has been more than 50 years since the Houston team wore the Colt’s colors, some fans still remember. I’m always ready to explain my cap to curious people, doing my part to keep the Colt .45s from being forgotten.
Check this web site for a wealth of Colt .45s information.