As many of you know, I have written many times about my obsession with the Houston Astros uniforms from the 1970's and 1980's. I've even taken a shot at redesigning the team's uniforms to bring back the old style Astros logos and styling.
Today's column was written by Bob Hulsey who is the editor of a great site devoted to the Houston Astros called AstrosDaily.com. Astros Daily is a site loaded with up to the minute information about the Astros and about the team's history. Bob wrote this great piece about the uniform history of the Houston Astros, called "From Pistols to Pinstripes". I thought the readers of SDB would really enjoy the information contained in Bob's story and he has allowed me to share it with you. Enjoy!
By Bob Hulsey, AstrosDaily.com
Houston's baseball uniforms throughout their National League history have gone from mild to wild to plentiful, reflecting the fashions of the times as well as the preferences of the ownership. When the franchise began, a "name that team" contest was held with the winner entering the "Colt .45s - The Gun That Won The West." To distinguish the team as pistols, not pintos, the first uniforms featured block lettered ".45s" on the caps and a gun with wisps of smoke creating the word "Colts" across the chest of the home jerseys.
The color scheme of navy blue and orange was chosen by General Manager Paul Richards, who took the orange from the Baltimore Orioles organization he had led before joining the Colts. The caps were navy with orange lettering. The jerseys had a navy and white gun with orange smoke outlined in navy forming the lettering. The socks were navy and white stripes with orange stirrups. The road grey uniforms featured the same cap and socks but with the word Houston across the jerseys. Back then, names on the back of the jerseys were not present - only numbers.
The fabric of the times was flannel - a tradition carried over from when the sport was played mostly in the Northeast. It was loose fitting but thick and it was ill-suited for hot Texas summers. A lighter cut was used to clothe the Colt .45s, but it still wasn't light enough.
"Sure, it was uncomfortable when it was 100 degrees and we were out there in those things," said Bob Aspromonte once in an interview. "But we didn't have anything to compare them to so we just accepted it. I was always glad that we didn't have the same stuff that they wore in Brooklyn. Those things were like blankets."
Since the Colt .45s couldn't do much about their clothes, they found other ways to try to beat the heat. On a broiling July afternoon in 1962, pitcher Bob Bruce took off his shoes between innings and soaked his feet in an ice bucket. "Bob Gibson and I did not waste a pitch the whole game. The game was over in like one hour and 20 minutes," said Bruce.
Nobody was happier about playing in the air-conditioned domed stadium, when it opened in 1965, than the players and coaches who endured Colt Stadium. But the move indoors coincided with other changes. A feud between Judge Roy Hofheinz and the Colt Firearms Company over merchandising caused the Judge to drop the guns and embrace the emerging space program for their moniker. Hofheinz named the team "the Astros" which necessitated a change in uniforms.
While the color scheme remained the same, the guns on the jerseys were replaced with the navy word "Astros" trimmed in orange. A navy star was positioned to the right of the heart with streaks of orange to indicate the star was traveling across the sky. After early versions of the cap with a simple orange block "H" on a navy background were worn during the spring, the club unveiled caps with a white "H" over an orange star on the navy cap. This style or some variation of it would last for almost 30 years. An orange star was also added to the new navy blue stirrups. This uniform represented the Astros through the rest of the decade.
By 1970, many of the fashion trends of the late 1960s had taken root, including longer hair and loud colors. In 1971, the Astros followed by keeping their exact same uniform style as before but inverting the colors so orange dominated instead of blue, which became a lighter shade of blue than the traditional navy. Player surnames were added to the backs of the jerseys. The uniforms were made of a new fabric revolutionizing the industry - polyester. The wardrobe included elastic waistbands (replacing belts) and zippered jerseys instead of buttons. This fabric could stretch with the moves of the players, allowing the uniforms to be more form-fitting and less baggy.
"They had a lot of give in them so they were more comfortable," said Roger Metzger, the team's shortstop during that era. "They also had the same effect that thermals do, so they were warmer to wear."
Although popular, these uniforms would last only four seasons until the Astros would reveal a style that shocked both the baseball and fashion worlds.
Since early in the century, major league baseball teams had stuck to a formula of wearing predominantly white uniforms at home and predominantly grey uniforms on the road. Charlie Finley of the Oakland A's introduced (or re-introduced since there were records of past teams who wore non-traditional colors, including the 1903 New York Giants caught on movie film decked in black jerseys with black pants) green jerseys and yellow jerseys into their wardrobes in the early 1970s. While controversial, the colored jerseys gained general acceptance.
Soon afterward, the Atlanta Braves introduced blue jerseys with tiled art flowers on the sleeves, prompting Astros third baseman Doug Rader to heckle them, "What'll it be tonight, boys? Fast pitch or slow pitch?"
Rader didn't know he'd soon be on the receiving end. Before the 1975 season, the advertising firm of McCann and Erickson was hired to re-brand the Astros. Their creation combined a futuristic use of eye-catching color and a touch of early-century lettering that was outrageous to baseball traditionalists. The early prototype was modeled by pitcher Tom Griffin.
The white cap was ultimately rejected for the current orange cap with the blue star and the white 'H'. The jersey star was switched to navy. The uniform number was moved up to the right hip from closer to the knee and other minor modifications were made. The "rainbow" uniforms made their debut in April 1975 and they took some getting used to, even for those wearing them.
"We had all heard that we were going to get new uniforms for the start of the season," Metzger said, "and the word had gotten around that they were kind of flashy. But the first day we saw them, I think there were three or four of us looked at each other and wondered if they were really serious."
"We thought it was just one of the Judge's promotions, like the cowboy suits he had us wear," said pitching coach Cot Deal, alluding to the 1962 effort to dress all the Colt .45s in cowboy duds for road trips - an idea that was ridiculed by the players and eventually dropped.
"(The rainbows) were a little bit radical but I got used to them," added play-by-play broadcaster Gene Elston.
The prominent focus of the jerseys were a bright cascading series of orange, yellow, red and even hot pink stripes with a large navy star covering the midsection. The stripes were described as representing the comet trails in the prior Astro uniforms taken to a much greater scale. The name "Astros" was positioned in navy above the stripes, over the heart. The stripes stopped in the middle of the back where a white circle bordered in navy housed the uniform number while the player surname rested above. These were also the first uniforms to feature numbers on the pants.
On the field, players resembled large orange popsicles and they received a great deal of heckling and criticism from fans and the media. Fortunately for Rader, he was traded midway through the 1975 season, although one can debate if the mustard and brown uniforms of the San Diego Padres were that much less sartorically offensive. So dramatically different were the rainbow jerseys (as they were often described) that the Astros wore the same uniforms on the road that they did at home. After all, who was going to confuse these players with anyone else?
Within a year or two, the white circle in the back disappeared and the lettering changed. Somewhere around this time, zippered jerseys gave way to pullovers. By 1980, the Astros had new ownership and it was said that the owner's wife, Mrs. John McMullen, did not like the color orange. Changes were soon to come.
Road greys made their return during the 1980 season in a style that toned down the look considerably. The rainbows were limited to the shoulders and down the sleeves while the navy "Astros" flashed across the chest. The navy caps with the orange star also returned. The pant numbers were gone from the road uniforms as well.
In 1982, a home version of the uniform in white instead of grey, began appearing for Sundays and special dates. The reactions were generally positive. Both versions received widespread national attention as the Astros made the playoffs in 1980 and 1986.
Little did the fans who rooted in Game 6 of the National League Championship Series at the Astrodome know that they were seeing the farewell of the rainbows as an Astros uniform, except for special promotional dates. Despite the criticism when they were first introduced and continues still today among some in the media, the rainbow jerseys were copied by colleges, high schools and little leagues. In a final irony, the eye-grabbing jerseys began to be worn in rap music videos as a sign of being "old school" and eccentrically chic.
The McMullens sold the Astros to Drayton McLane, Jr. in 1992 and he began to change the image of the Astrodome and their primary tenants. In 1994, the Astros must have made Mrs. McMullen happy by dropping orange from the color scheme. Navy blue was replaced by a darker midnight blue while a metallic gold served as the accent color, the first time a big league team had used any metallic color in their equipment. Anyone who recalls footage of the moonwalks would immediately make the connection between gold coloring and many of the items that went to the moon.
Gone too were the rainbow striping and the "H" on the caps. The jerseys had a midnight blue and gold "Astros" lettering across the home jerseys and "Houston" across the road jerseys, slanted as if to give motion to the letters. The last "o" in either word changed to a slanted star-like object. The midnight blue caps had a slanted gold and white star, best described by one writer as resembling third baseman Ken Caminiti starting to dive to his left. Belts and buttons made a comeback. There was also a blue jersey for Sundays and holidays.
"I think these uniforms symbolize the current change this club is undergoing," general manager Bob Watson told the Houston Chronicle. "They're very sleek and the star is moving awfully fast. That should give everyone an indication that this club is moving fast and on the rise. This helps us look like champions."
Speaking of champions, more than a few fans thought the new look copied a little too closely a successful pro football team whose star logo could be found all over the state.
"Absolutely not. We tried to steer completely clear of the Cowboys' star," said Anne Occi of Major League Baseball who consulted on the design with Image Communications of Temple. "If you look at the two stars, they are completely different."
During their last two seasons, the road jerseys no longer had a small star replacing the second "o" in Houston but instead there was a much larger star that took up almost half of the front of the jersey.
The midnight blue and gold uniforms were billed as being futuristic but their future held only for six seasons, despite three straight Central Division titles. With the move from the Astrodome to a new downtown park with a retractable roof, another makeover began.
The new yard was being built into the grounds of Union Station, the former railroad depot that had served Houstonians for the first half of the 20th Century. To highlight the past, the space-aged Astros began to incorporate a railroad theme into their look, creating a confusing image but one that sold well nonetheless.
The Astros introduced an entirely new color scheme featuring a rich red, a dusty yellow and black - said to represent black, brick and sand. Whether as a marketing strategy or simply coincidence, the red and black were also trendy for gang apparel and mirrored the colors used by McLane's grocery distribution company.
For the first time, the Astros' home uniforms were decked in pinstripes. Supporters saw the pinstripes as a reflection of the successful New York Yankee dynasties. Critics saw the pinstripes as a reflection of the far less successful Chicago Cubs. The word "Astros" was in script lettering across the front. The player's number is in red under the team name.
The road uniforms are primarily grey. The jersey says "Houston" in script with the player's number in black under the team name. The primary cap is black with a red star but an alternate cap is also introduced that is red with a black star. The star differs from the blue and gold one of the previous years. It is thicker and more upright but still has the opening on the left side to imply movement.
Alternate looks run amok with alternate black jerseys, alternate red jerseys and alternate white jerseys also to be worn. The white home jerseys come with just the star logo on the front rather than the team name and uniform number. A different white alternate home jersey looks like the regular home jerseys but without the pinstripes.
Someone who has seen every version of Astros uniform up close over the years, Larry Dierker, said,"I think the prevailing thought when we found out they were going to change uniforms was, `Oh, no. What's wrong with the ones we have?' Now that everyone has seen them, they like them. Sometimes when you're going to change, you're afraid it might be for the worst."
Over time, the black jerseys have fallen out of favor - perhaps because of the Texas heat. The red jerseys, on the other hand, have become more prominent after the team found themselves winning in them during the playoff runs of 2004 and 2005. In 2008, a red jersey with grey pants became the primary look for road games.
One thing is certain. The uniforms are likely to change again. The longest any Houston uniform style has lasted is 14 years (the rainbow sleeves which overlapped the fuller rainbow jerseys for seven seasons were used from 1980 to 1993). So it can be said that Astro uniforms are like the Texas weather. If you don't like it, just wait because it'll change.