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 playersand
fanswhen 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
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, atwhere 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.