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Clay Coppedge

Texas | Columns | "Letters from Central Texas"

The Forgotten Team of Texas

by Clay Coppedge

When legendary baseball executive Branch Rickey threatened to start a third major league (the Continental League) in the late 1950s, American and National League owners moved quickly to squelch the deal. They agreed to expand the major leagues by allowing New York and Los Angeles to have a second team and by adding teams in Houston and Washington D.C.. The Continental Club went away.

Thus, in 1961, the Los Angeles Angels and the second incarnation of the Washington Senators began play in the American League. (The Senators, incidentally, would move to Texas in 1972 and become the Texas Rangers). The Houston Colt .45s and New York Mets began play in the National League in 1962.

The Houston team was named in honor of the "gun that won the west" and not, as some supposed, for a popular malt liquor of the day. Most people called them the Colts. The uniforms featured a gun with a wisp of smoke spelling "Colts" across the chest of the home jerseys. The caps had ".45s" on the front.

Voters in Harris County had already approved a $20 million bond for a domed stadium, complete with air conditioning, as a home for the new team. The Astrodome was scheduled to open in '62 but legal squabbles slowed progress and the city quickly made plans for a temporary park on land adjacent to where the domed stadium would be built.

The temporary ball park was named Colt Stadium, and it showed skeptics why an air-conditioned domed stadium was a good idea for Houston. Colts outfielder Rusty Staub spoke for the vast majority of players—and fans—when he said, "I don't care what ballpark they ever talk about as being the hottest place on the face of the earth, Colt Stadium was it."

The fact that more than 100 fans were sent to the fist aid room for heat-related ailments during one Sunday doubleheader speaks for itself. The mosquitoes that made their home at Colt Stadium were described, with only slight exaggeration, as being the size of hummingbirds. Even umpires, a notoriously stoic breed, occasionally succumbed.

The Houston heat was such that Major League Baseball eventually allowed night games on Sunday, breaking a long tradition of day-only games on the Sabbath. The first Sunday night game in Major League history took place on June 9, 1963, at—where else?—Colt Stadium.

The Colt .45s won their first three games of inaugural 1962 season, including two by shutout, against the Chicago Cubs. For three days in April, the Colt .45s looked like pennant contenders. Reality soon set in, however, and the Colts went on to lose 96 games. They were consistent, these Colt. 45s, as they lost 96 games each of the next two years as well.

Still, the team had its moments. Third baseman Bob Aspromonte, a fan favorite who was especially popular with youngsters, provided perhaps the three most remarkable moments of the team's first two seasons.

In April of 1962, a nine-year old boy by the name of Billy Bradley was struck by lightning and blinded during a Little League practice in El Dorado, Arkansas. He went to Houston for medical treatment and Aspromonte, like a true Lone Star version of Babe Ruth, went to visit the boy in the hospital.

Bradley asked Aspromonte to hit a home run for him. Aspromonte said he'd try. The Babe is alleged to have made plenty of promises like that to sick children and followed through on most of them, but Ruth had 714 home runs in his career, including 60 in 1927. Aspromonte hit exactly 60 home runs during his entire 13-year career, including the one he yanked out of Colt Stadium on May 2, 1962, for Billy Bradley.

Billy visited Houston for treatment twice more in 1963. Both times he asked Aspromonte for a home run. Though he was mired in a career-worst slump at the time, Aspromonte again said he'd try. Not only did Aspromonte follow up on the promise both times, both home runs were grand slams.

We wonder what today's baseball analytics people would make of such incalculable odds. This being the age of conspiracy theories, some would probably say it didn't happen, that it was staged for the sake of giving Houston baseball fans something to be proud of. But it happened just that way, leading to a lifetime bond between Bradley and the Houston third baseman they would come to call Aspro the Astro.

In 1965, after three years in much-maligned Colt Stadium, the Astrodome was ready for its unveiling. Officially but rarely called the Harris County Dome Stadium, the Astrodome was the first domed, air-conditioned multipurpose sports stadium in the world, the prototype of the many domed stadiums dotting the sports landscape today. When the outfield died from a lack of sunlight, the people at Monsanto created AstroTurf and the games continued. Hofeninz dubbed the Astrodome the "eighth wonder of the world" and the description stuck, at least for while.

Team owner Roy Hofheinz had decided that the Old West name of the Colt .45s (chosen in a "Name the Team" contest) was no longer appropriate, not in a thriving metropolis like Houston, home to NASA and a focal point in the race to the moon. Besides, the Colt manufacturing company wanted some compensation for use of its name, making it easy for Hofheinz to cease and desist. He renamed the team the Astros, shorthand for Astronauts, and the Colt .45s name became a piece of baseball trivia.

The Colt .45s played their last game at Colt Stadium on September 27, 1964. The stop gap ballpark languished in Houston, in clear sight of the wondrous Astrodome, until a Mexican League baseball team bought the stadium in 1971 and, over the course of four years, moved the entire structure, piece by piece to Torreon, Mexico, thus establishing Colt Stadium as the only major league ballpark to be sent down to the minors. The stadium was later moved to Tampico, Mexico, where it sat as part of a playground until that too was demolished.

The Astrodome hasn't fared much better. Despite talks of demolishing it, the former eighth wonder of the world still stands, old and in the way, and with a great future behind it.

Clay Coppedge
"Letters from Central Texas" November 9, 2022 column

Clay Coppedge's "Letters from Central Texas"

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  • El Diablo gets his due 8-10-22
  • Those Desolate Icarians 7-8-22
  • Boy With X-Ray Eyes 6-8-22

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