On January 17, 1961, three months after Houston was awarded a Major League franchise, the Houston Sports Association purchased the minor league Houston Buffs to operate in the American Association. The group, led by Judge Roy Hofheinz and R.E. “Bob” Smith, paid nearly $400,000 to the owners of the Buffs who also gave territorial rights. The original asking price had been around $100,000 just a few years earlier. Times were different. MLB was coming to Houston in just over a year and the HSA needed those rights in order to move on as a franchise. Once the deal was done it didn’t take very long for the stockholders of the HSA to determine the Buffs name would not be carried into the majors for the 1962 season. Out with the old and in with the new. The HSA ownership group made plans for a name-the-team contest. There has been some speculation that not carrying the Buffs name tied to animosity during the Buffs negotiations.
Over the next six weeks there were more than 12,000 entries sent to the offices of the Houston Sports Association. Mail was received from 39 states as well as Canada, England, France, Spain and Turkey. Two students from the University of Houston spent an estimated 150 hours sorting through entry names and eventually narrowing them to around 75 choices. By the time the list was whittled down to 30 names, the clear fan choice was “Rebels”.
In early March, 1961 the list of entry names had been shortened to Colts, Generals, Hawks, Longhorns, Ravens, Spurs and Stars. That list was quickly narrowed to Colts, Spurs and Ravens. William Neder, a Houston salesman, chose “Colts” on his entry. What he wrote on his entry instantly caught the eyes of the Houston front office. Neder wrote, “The Colt .45 won the west and will win the National League.” On March 8th the Houston Sports Association announced the name of the first Major League team in Texas would be “Colts”. The name was a personal favorite of team Vice-President George Kirksey, who oversaw the contest. Neder was quoted, “I thought Colt was a good name but then I saw the Colt .45 and I thought well, you know, Colt .45s would be even better than playing Colts because there probably be about four or five hundred people entering that name. So I entered the name Colt .45 as the gun rather than as the horse and as the tie-breaker I put ‘the Colt .45 was the gun that won the west and would win the National League.’ It’s the only contest I ever entered in my life. The first one and the last one.” William Neder won all-expenses paid round trip to the 1961 World Series for his winning entry.
The Colts name did have some early confusion and the HSA explained the moniker symbolized the old cowboy pistol and not a horse. In November, 1961 the name was permanently modified to “Colt .45’s”. George Kirksey gave a clear set of qualifications in choosing a name for the new Houston team. It had to be easy to say and remember. The name would also have to be different and distinctive from other baseball team names. A former sportswriter himself, Kirksey also wanted the name to be easily adaptable to news headlines. Overall, the name had to have a certain “romance” or sentiment to its meaning. Kirksey stated, “The name Colts, in tribute to the gun which played such a tremendous part in civilizing the West, met all four requirements perfectly.” Media speculation had team nicknames for the Colt .45’s as “Forty-Fives”, “.45s”, “Six-Shooters” and “Sharpshooters”.
On April 10, 1962 the Houston Colt .45’s opened their first season with an 11-2 victory over the Chicago Cubs at their new (albeit temporary) home, Colt Stadium. The massive skeletal frame of a domed stadium slowly rose during the next three seasons over the first base side of the stadium, which was the true future of baseball in Houston. The Colt .45’s name would not extend to the Astrodome. The firearm company of the same name wanted to share revenues with the team for using the name. Team President Roy Hofheinz wanted no part of revenue sharing so he hired an unnamed artist to begin concepts of a new name and identity for the 1965 season when the Domed Stadium was scheduled to open. This artist attended twenty-five games at Colt Stadium in 1964 and came up with just as many sketches for a new look. Hofheinz publicly announced on October 1, 1964 the end of the Colt .45’s name with the last game of the season. All focus was on the opening of the new and revolutionary domed stadium and Hofheinz did not want to deter any attention from this new sports palace. On October 9th he announced the new stadium would open with an exhibition series against the 1964 American League champion New York Yankees.
On December 1, 1964, Roy Hofheinz announced that the Harris County Domed Stadium would be called the “Astrodome” and the Colt .45’s would become the “Astros” in 1965. Hofheinz stated, “We felt the space idea was more logical because the ball club is in Houston- Space City U.S.A., and our spring training headquarters is in Cocoa Beach, Fla. at Cape Kennedy- Launching Pad, U.S.A. The name and insignia will help dispel the image Texas as a land of cowboys and Indians, and it behooves every citizen in this area to call attention to the 20th century aspects of Texas and Houston.” A little over a week later the Astros unveiled their new logo that displayed baseballs in orbit around a depiction of the Astrodome. The colors used by Houston since 1962, navy and orange, were carried into the new identity of the Astros. It was the first time a team depicted its stadium in their primary logo.
The Astros name was not without its doubters. In January, 1965 an organization called CETA (Call ‘Em Tros association) was formed and distributed bumper stickers that had the “AS” part of the Astros name marked out. Handouts were passed out featuring the phrase, “Refuse to recognize the name.” Another small group named the Astro-Suppression Society, intended on passing out stickers saying, “Let’s Call Them the Houston Astronauts.” The name controversy was short-lived.
Since 1965 the name “Astros” has become a staple for generations of baseball fans in Houston. Many of us can recall going to games in the Astrodome as kids, listening to Gene Elston’s call of the action on Astros radio or wearing our favorite rainbow jersey to the game. Some of us fall under the “all of the above category”. The 2012 season celebrated the 50th Anniversary of Major League Baseball in Houston with the Astros wearing several uniforms of the past; including the original Colt .45’s uniform. Dozens of former players who made so many baseball memories in Houston were honored on the field at Minute Maid Park. In the fall of 2012 the Astros returned to their roots of navy and orange, which were worn from 1962-1993.
When the Colt .45’s appeared in the sixties everyone thought of the gun of the wild-west. When the Astrodome opened in 1965 everyone changed their direction to the association of NASA and the Astronauts based in Houston. Today we look back on the Astros name and think, “Wynn”, “Dierker”, “Aspromonte”, “Cedeno”, “Richard”, “Ryan”, “Biggio” or “Bagwell”. The list can go on and on. That is what a Houston Astro is. The Astros are the people who carry on and mold a tradition of baseball in Houston. They are a public trust and a staple of the community. Cheers to the next fifty years of Major League Baseball in the great city of Houston.