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The Houston Astros: A History


Since we have new, first time MLB World Series champs, we thought it might be nice to share some of their 50 plus years of organization history before we say goodbye to our boys of summer for 2017!

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The team spent their first 51 years as members of the National League; they moved to the American League, West Division in 2013. When they first jumped into the 1962 National League, Central Division, along with the New York Mets, their team name was the Houston Colt 45s. At the time, they played home games at Colt Stadium. Just three years later, to reflect the city’s commitment to our nation’s space program, they changed their name to the Astro’s. At the same time, they moved into the world’s first domed sports arena, the Astrodome. The team later moved to the West Division of the National League.

Before MLB

Before MLB hit Texas, the Houston Buffaloes made their minor league home in Houston from 1888 to 1961. The men who labored for several years to bring MLB to Texas were George Kirksey, and Craig Cullinan. Both gentlemen had tried to purchase the St. Louis Cardinals in 1952.

  • They added Bob Smith to the group for his considerable financial resources as an oilman, and real estate tycoon.
  • They also added a former Houston Mayor, and Judge in Harris County for his political style, and sales abilities. The Honorable Roy Hofheinz, and the team of three developed the Houston Sports Association (HSA) with a mission to deliver MLB to the area.
  • After the MLB denied expansion opportunities, the gentleman began approaching owners from other cities, and gave birth to the Continental League to compete with the National, and American Leagues.
  • That act prompted the two existing leagues to grow to ten teams (they were previously eight). The plan died quickly because Marty Marion, owner of the Buffaloes could not come to favorable terms to sell the team.
  • In 1960, the Continental League bit the dust; however, here comes the Calvary! The National League awarded a franchise expansion to the HSA, which permitted their team to play in the 1962 season.
  • Success finally came when the HSA began re-negotiating with a new Buffaloes owner, Jim Hopkins, and 1961 was the final season for the Chicago Cubs farm team.
  • Houston gave birth to the Colt 45s after a naming contest, where William Irving Neder became “the gun that won the west.”
  • The team took turns with the New York Mets picking unprotected players from the National League, along with six former Buffaloes.
  • The first couple of seasons were busts, and just before opening day, 1964 the team lost much-loved relief pitcher, Jim Umbricht to cancer. The only pitcher with a winning record was just 33.

MLB Early Years

 Eventually, Judge Hofheinz became the franchise’s sole owner, and with the Astrodome complete, the team opened the 1965 season with lots of promise, and excitement.

  • Sadly, the Astro’s remained under a curse, ending the season in ninth place.
  • The 1966 season still opened with strength, and high attendance because the dome, which couldn’t grow grass had been filled with AstroTurf, a second “first” for the team.
  • Enter 1968, and a six-hour game between the Mets, and the Astros. Ending after 24 innings, two starting pitchers, eleven relief pitchers, Astro’s Norm Miller finally scored to win the game with a score of one, zip.

Months of trades, and expansions followed, and in 1969, the Astros had a fiery ten-game winning streak, and ended the season with an 81-81 record, the first .500 season. 1970 brought a fourth-place finish.

Judge Hofheinz

 The judge defaulted on a $38 million loan, and GE Credit, and Ford Motor Credit found themselves owners of the dome, and a baseball team. Funds were scarce; the lenders only wanted to retain current asset values. Also, Don Wilson, a pitcher was found dead in his car in January 1975. At 29 years of age, asphyxiation via carbon monoxide was the cause of death. In short, the 70s were a hard decade for the team; however, in 1979, hope anew blooms in Houston.

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Investor Ownership

In 1979, Dr. John McMullen, who acquired his wealth from shipping, bought the team, and funds were more readily available for competition in the free agent market. It became the team’s best season with a record of 89-73.

Dr. McMullen showed his commitment to the team, and Houston with the signing of Nolan Ryan, and a million-dollar deal, the first of its kind. Ryan came in with a history of four no-hitters, and 383 strikeouts in a single season.

The 80s brought two unsuccessful National League Championships, and a sorry start to the 90s.

  • In 1994, the team fell under new ownership, freshened up their look with new uniforms, colors, logo, and a new General Manager, Gerry Hunsicker.
  • With the Astrodome having been renovated for the NFL Houston Oilers, the Astro’s were ready to pack up, and head to Northern Virginia, under new owner William Collins.
  • Other owners interceded, forced a new stadium grant in Houston, and the Astro’s stayed put. The Oilers had already bailed.
  • The new stadium, dubbed Union Station initially was renamed for new name owner, Enron, and the Stadium became Enron Field. Not a good omen, huh?
  • After Enron declared bankruptcy in 2002, Minute Maid bought the naming rights, and Minute Maid Stadium remains today.
  • Despite the crowd-pleasing improvements made in the stadium, the team continued to suffer up, and down seasons.
  • 2005 brought a National League Championship Series, a win, and a spot in the World Series against the Chicago Cubs. We all know who that turned out, and the team suffered through another decline for the next few years.

In October 2012, after another loss to the Cubs, the team began its transition to the American League. The 2012 season was the worst in the entire MLB organization with a record of 55-107.

  • 2013 brought new life, and excitement to Houston, and the team with new uniforms, colors, and hats.
  • On opening day, the Astros beat the Texas Rangers 8-2. The season turned out to be another personal worst for the team with a record of 51-111. Now, they faced three consecutive seasons with over 100 loses each season, they also became the first team to earn the first draft pick for three straight years.
  • In 2015, they finally made it back to the playoffs, and lost to the Kansas City Royals.
  • In 2016, the team ended up 11 games behind the league champs, Texas Rangers.

2017 National Champs

 As Sports Illustrated predicted in 2014, the team won the 2017 World Series. They based their prediction on the way the franchise had put the team together. Deadly, Hurricane Harvey hit the Houston area, and the city suffered severe damages. It’s been a rough year in Houston in so many ways. The Astro’s were the bright note in the year.

The Astros won their first division championship since 2001. They were the first to win three different divisions too:

  • 1980 – National League West
  • 1986 – National League Central
  • 2017 – American League West. 2017 was also only the second time that the team achieved a winning season with over 100 wins. Citywide celebrations were held on November 3, 2017.

Retired Numbers

 The team has the following retired numbers:

  • Jeff Bagwell, Number 5
  • Craig Biggio, Number 7
  • Jimmy Wynn, Number 24
  • Jose Cruz, Number 25
  • Jim Umbricht, Number 32
  • Mike Scott, Number 33
  • Nolan Ryan, Number 34
  • Don Wilson, Number 40
  • Larry Dierker, Number 49
  • Jackie Robinson, Number 42 (Jackie’s number has been retired by MLB)

Hall of Famers

 The team (Colt 45s, and Astros) has inducted the following into the Hall of Fame:

  • Nellie Fox
  • Jeff Bagwell
  • Craig Biggio
  • Leo Durocher
  • Randy Johnson
  • Eddie Matthews
  • Joe Morgan
  • Robin Roberts
  • Irvin Rodriguez
  • Nolan Ryan
  • Don Sutton

Who is your favorite Astro?


What Do You Think?

The Houston Astros: A History

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