1964 - Season Recap
(c) Bob Hulsey

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.

9th place, National League

C Jerry Grote 324.181
1B Walt Bond 2085.254
2B Nellie Fox 117.264
3B Bob Aspromonte 1269.280
SS Eddie Kasko 022.243
LF Al Spangler 438.245
CF Mike White 027.271
RF Joe Gaines 734.254
IF Bob Lillis 017.268
IF Rusty Staub 835.216
C John Bateman 519.190
OF Jim Wynn 518.224
Key PitchersWLERA
SP Ken Johnson 11163.63
SP Bob Bruce 1592.76
SP Dick Farrell 11103.27
SP Don Nottebart 6113.90
SP Hal Brown 3153.95
CL Hal Woodeshick 292.76
RP Jim Owens 873.28
RP Don Larsen 482.26
RP Claude Raymond 552.82

Johnson: Pitched a no-hitter and lost.
(c) Houston Astros

Dierker: MLB debut on 18th birthday
(c) Houston Astros

From The AstrosDaily Media Library

1962-1964: A Team Born to Die - From "The Houston Astros: A Silver Odyssey" - A look at the Colt .45 years. (4:52 - MLB)

Apr 13, 1964 Lineups and first pitch, traditional season opener in Cincy. (Eddie Kasko, Nellie Fox, Pete Runnels, Walt Bond, Rusty Staub, Jim Wynn, Bob Aspromonte, John Bateman, Ken Johnson)(0:42,Elston)
Apr 16, 1964 Jim Wynn makes a fine catch in center field.(0:15, Passe)
Apr 22, 1964 Skinny Brown closes a shutout for Bob Bruce.(0:36, Elston)
Apr 23, 1964 Ken Johnson loses a no-hitter as Johnny Weekly fans.(0:46, Elston)
May 14, 1964 Hal Woodeshick earns the save against the Giants.(0:11, Elston)
May 19, 1964 Rusty Staub lends a glove to another Hal Woodeshick save.(0:25, Elston)
May 23, 1964 Ken Johnson whitewashes the Mets.(0:31, Elston)
Jun 11, 1964 Bob Aspromonte belts another grand slam to top the Reds.(0:25, Passe)
Jun 21, 1964 Rusty Staub has a two-homer performance in Milwaukee.(0:44, Elston)
Sep 3, 1964 Legendary Don Larsen blanks the Phillies.(0:27, Elston)
Sep 7, 1964 Walt Bond drives home a pair during a twinbill in New York.(1:01, Nelson - Mets)
Sep 27, 1964 Joe Morgan stretches out to snare a blooper.(0:19, Elston)
Sep 27, 1964 Jim Wynn drives home Rusty Staub, sealing a 12-inning shutout for Bob Bruce and sending Colt Stadium out with a win.(1:02, Elston)

Trades and Transactions

Dec 2 1963 - Winter Major League Draft
- drafted Jim Owens(P) from Cin-A for $25,000
- drafted Jim Ray(P) from Bal-A as first-year player for $8,000
- lost George Williams(IF) to KC-A

Dec 10 1963 - traded Jim Golden(P), Danny Murphy and cash to Chi-A for Nellie Fox(IF)

Dec 16 1963 - released Jim Umbricht(P)

Dec 19 1963 - paid cash to Cle-A for Walt Bond(IF)

1964 - signed Don Wilson(P) as free agent

1964 - signed Jose Herrera(IF) as free agent

Jan 20 1964 - traded Jim Dickson(P), Wally Wolf(P) and cash to Cin-N for Eddie Kasko(IF)

Feb 17 1964 - traded Carl Warwick(OF) to StL-N for Jim Beauchamp(OF) and Chuck Taylor

May 12 1964 - paid cash to Bal-A for George Brunet(P)

May 19 1964 - released Pete Runnels(IF)

May 20 1964 - paid cash to SF-N for Don Larsen(P)

May 26 1964 - lost Walt Williams(OF) to StL-N on waiver claim

Jun 1964 - signed Gene Ratliff(OF) as free agent

Jun 15 1964 - traded Johnny Weekly(OF) and cash to Bal-A for Joe Gaines(OF)

Jun 21 1964 - signed Larry Dierker(P) as free agent

Aug 18 1964 - sent George Brunet(P) to LA-A for cash

Sep 13 1964 - signed Doug Rader(IF) as free agent

Sep 29 1964 - released Hal Brown(P)

Oct 1964 - conditionally paid cash to SF-N for Ken MacKenzie(P)