As the domed stadium took shape in the background, fans and management began to grow restless about the lack of success on the field. Aging veterans with winning backgrounds had been acquired to provide leadership while tutoring the young guns. Two-time American League batting champ Pete Runnels, 1959 A.L. Most Valuable Player Nellie Fox and 1956 World Series hero Don Larsen were among the big names brought in to lure fans as they wrote postscripts to their big league careers.

Manager Harry Craft wanted to play the experienced men but the front office wanted to showcase the up-and-coming talent. In the end, Craft was fired late in the season. He was replaced by one of his coaches, Luman Harris. No progress was made in the standings. Again, the Colts were 66-96 and finished in ninth place. In three seasons, the Colt .45s had proven they were clearly better than the New York Mets, but not much else.

The year began on a sad note as pitcher Jim Umbricht died of cancer just before Opening Day. The reliever was the only pitcher to post winning records in each of the first two seasons. He did this despite mid-season surgery in 1963. Umbricht was just 33 years old.

His roommate, Ken Johnson, drew the assignment for the traditional Opening Day in Cincinnati. With President Lyndon B. Johnson in the stands, Johnson beat the Reds, 6-3. For the first time, Houston was in sole possession of first place. The results would be much different when the Reds came to Houston. On April 23rd, Johnson did not surrender a hit but lost the game, 1-0, on two ninth-inning errors. It was a major league first - to pitch a no-hitter and still lose the game.

Houston was relatively hot for the first two months of the season. On June 21st, they completed a four-game sweep of the Braves to run their record to 32-34. Turk Farrell had already notched ten wins but then came down with a case of Johnson's luck, winning just one more game the rest of the year to finish at 11-10. The ballclub's fortunes would turn similarly.

First baseman Walt Bond led the hitting attack that season. He slugged 20 homers and drove in 85 runs. Bond would lose his own battle with leukemia in 1967. Popular Bob Aspromonte paced the Colts with a .280 average while showing a knack for clutch hitting.

Despite the no-hitter by Nottebart in 1963, the Philadelphia Phillies gave the Colts more grief than any other opponent in their three years. Not only did the Colts lose often but trips to Philadelphia were chaotic. On September 1st, the Colts almost couldn't get out of their hotel. A Philly radio station erroneously reported that the Beatles were staying at the same location and every exit was mobbed with fans of the Fab Four. Finally arriving at Connie Mack Stadium, the Colts dropped another one to the Phillies, 4-3, on four solo homers.

The last rookie to make his major league debut as a Colt was pitcher Larry Dierker. He started on his 18th birthday and lost to San Francisco. It was the beginning of a long relationship with the Houston franchise.

In the last game at Colt Stadium, Bob Bruce blanked Los Angeles, 1-0, in twelve innings. It was his 15th win of the year, setting a team record. Jim Wynn drove home Rusty Staub to give the ballpark a fond farewell.

Judge Roy Hofheinz was fighting a lawsuit with the Colt Firearms Company over the ballclub's use of the "Colt .45" name. With the team preparing to move into a futuristic new stadium, the judge wanted a new name for his squad - something original for which he could be the plaintiff the next time there was a suit. He consulted with some of the astronauts at NASA about honoring them with his new "nickname". They liked it. The Houston entry in the National League was about to be reborn.

By Astro Daily
Bob Aspromonte, Bob Bruce, Colt Stadium, Connie Mack Stadium, Don Larsen, Don Nottebart, Harry Craft, Houston Astros, Houston Colt .45's, Jim Umbricht, Jim Wynn, Ken Johnson, Larry Dierker, Nellie Fox, Pete Runnels, Rusty Staub, Turk Farrell, Walt Bond


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