Last Night In Baseball: The Houston Colt .45s

WARNING: This post is earnest and unfunny. Proceed with caution.

Last night the Astros unveiled the first of their series of throwback uniforms celebrating the franchise’s 50th anniversary. After a minor kerfuffle over the use of a firearm in the logo, they look the field with guns blazin’. I don’t care much for weaponry myself (bad Texan, I know), but the sight of my favorite team in these beautiful retro uniforms was enough to put me on the edge of the kind of happy tears I normally reserve for sloths and compliments on my hair.

photo via @MLB

The love of a good looking uniform is very, well, unifying in the baseball community. While twitter was all divided and catty about Ozzie Guillen’s suspension, something like the sight of Jose Altuve (my favorite active Astro right now, for what that’s worth) wearing stirrups is pretty much undeniably a good baseball feeling, uncomplicated by messy things like racial politics and language divides. I like talking about those things as well, but for me baseball’s most important role in my life is as a provider of joy. And man, these uniforms? Joy squared.

photo via alyson footer

I took a picture of my TV.

One of the many pleasures of loving a terrible team is finding little things to be excited about. When I went to the Astros home opener last week, I delighted in the fact that Travis Wood was batting to a Kanye West and Jay-Z song, that the team brought out my 13-year-old-self’s country music crush Clay Walker to sing the anthem, that I got to buy this awesome shooting star era tee, in Carlos Lee and Brian Bogusevic’s back-to-back home runs, Altuve’s excellent play at second base, and that Minute Maid park is actually very pretty when the roof is down and the weather is bearable. After seeing the Colt .45s jerseys tonight, I felt a genuine sense of pride about my team that obviously has nothing to do with them being good. The Houston Astros will certainly be losers this year, but they are my losers and I love them.

I think (or at least hope) that what binds together us baseball people — young and old, jocks and nerds, Houston Astros fans and New York Yankees fans — is recognizing and valuing beauty. On any given day one might find that beauty in a curve ball, a minor leaguer slash poet, a set of numbers, a swing, a scoresheet, a baseball card, or a pretty uniform. Whenever I find it, I am happily reminded that “baseball” is not so much one singular thing as my way of looking at almost everything; that it is part of me and I am part of it; that it is about more than being the best and that it is sometimes even about being the worst, but with grace.

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Summer Anne Burton is a writer and illustrator living in Austin, Texas. She is drawing pictures of Every Hall of Famer.

27 Responses to “Last Night In Baseball: The Houston Colt .45s”

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  1. Kyle says:

    Excellent post. Excellent uniforms. Excellent stirrups.

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  2. Andrew says:

    The Astros are a Double A team that would lose to the Hudson Valley Renegades. Why does MLB allow them to exit? They should be contracted

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    • Leroy says:

      “Why does MLB allow them to exit?”
      …the clubhouse?

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      • Macks says:

        I really enjoyed this article because I too love sloths and unslothful Jose Altuve. But to maximize “unfunny”-ness in the future, the word “kerfuffle,” should be avoided. It is amusing and in contempt of what meaning it disguises.

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    • Thanks for the comment, Andrew! Great idea! While we’re at it, we can banish all the other teams whose win-loss % has been worse than the Astros’ franchise-low last year! That’ll be: the Athletics, Braves, Mets, Dodgers, Tigers, Pirates, Phillies, Red Sox, St. Louis, Orioles, Diamondbacks, Padres, Rays, Brewers, Twins, Nationals, White Sox, Blue Jays, Yankees, Indians, Marlins, Royals, and the Reds.

      That leaves Andrew’s Major League Baseball Clubs: Mariners, Rangers, Angels, Rockies, and the Giants. Fun season you’re gonna have there!

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      • Rob McMillin says:

        That was awesome, Summer.

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      • Andrew says:

        The entire start of the season are a crapshoot. They are a small portion of a final result. We already know that the Astros will lose at least 90 games (if not more) and have a joke of a farm system.

        The Astros are a bunch of untalented players who are grouped together. Seriously look at these comments. People are praising Jose Altuve, a player who has just over 60 games of MLB experience and is a peasant when you compare him to other MLB players.

        These players should not be allowed to play for the Astros because they are embarrassing themselves. Carlos Lee and Brett Myers are veterans who will have a stain on their careers because they played on such a bad team.

        Playing on such a bad team is not inspiring for any player and the Astros will not see the playoffs for at least a decade due to their atrocious work.

        They are an embarrassment for baseball. Anne, how could you defend such a poor product?

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        • Hi Andrew!

          I really thought you were just jerking my chain about this but now you seem genuine and worked up, so I will try to address your points one by one:

          First of all, I’m not talking about the records right now — I’m talking about teams whose entire seasons have been worse than the Astros last year. Here is the dataset:

          While it is true that the Astros could easily be worse than they were last year, since they have a new owner & GM who are committed to REBUILDING rather than trying to win in a particular year (something which is generally viewed as a positive by the baseball community), lots and lots of teams have had seasons much worse than losing “90 games” (again, see the statistics above). The Detroit Tigers are my choice to win the World Series this year; they lost 119 games just nine years ago. Did you want to see them kicked out the league as well? The Diamondbacks are also competitive this year and they lost 111 games in 2004.

          In baseball, it is not so easy for teams to quickly become better. Because there is no trading of picks and because prospecting is such a shot in the dark, teams often have to choose obscurity and losses in order to get top draft picks and find prospects for the future. The Astros started that process in earnest last year when they traded Michael Bourn and Hunter Pence for top young players from other teams. Their farm team has improved a lot and will continue to. Another team you might want to think about for reference here is the Washington Nationals. They have been very bad in recent history but because they lost so many games, they were able to use #1 draft picks on the likes of Stephen Strasberg and Bryce Harper. That sort of “rebuilding” process is what the Astros have just begun, and it would be ridiculous for baseball or their fans to punish them for doing what needs to be done in order for them to be a contender ever.

          My point in including that list of teams was that if your current standards for the Astros were applied historically, we’d barely have any teams left. I don’t know what your favorite teams are, but every team in baseball’s history has had really bad years and really good ones. The teams that I personally find the most inspiring are ones that took the bad and turned it into something good — a process which isn’t easy or done overnight. I recommend reading Jonah Keri’s book The Extra 2%, on the Tampa Bay Rays, for more information on what rebuilding means and why overpaying for the veterans that you seem to respect so much isn’t the answer.

          I disagree that playing on a bad team can’t be inspiring. Sometimes, a player might be inspired by the prospect of being able to help make a weak team much stronger and look to really improve a franchise in the long term.

          My name is SUMMER Anne, and I defend the Astros for lots of reasons, but mostly because I like watching them play (yes, even the “peasant” Jose Altuve). Also because I think it’s lame and wishy-washy to defect from your favorite team because they aren’t winning, because I think it’s exciting to follow a team as it rebuilds and develops an awesome farm system, because my parents and grandparents root for them, because I actually like seeing guys who might not have a chance in another franchise get to play Major League Baseball, because I really like our new GM Jeff Luhnow and the hiring decisions he has made in their front office, because I think they have the potential to be competitive in 5-8 years and I am excited at the prospect of seeing my team win their first World Series, because I can’t wait to see Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio inducted into the Hall of Fame, and because these uniforms are very pretty.

          Baseball is a game that is mostly about failing. This isn’t college football, where good teams can go completely undefeated (booooooring!). The best batters in the universe strike out 70 % of the time. The best pitchers still lose an awful lot. I think it’s actually pretty antithetical to baseball itself to suggest that a team that losing is an embarrassment to the game. What would be embarrassing is if MLB actually took your suggestion and “gave up” on the Astros, a team full of players doing their best and a franchise now full of executives taking the future of the team seriously.

          Lastly, it might be apropos to remember that baseball is a game and a business, and that it doesn’t actually really matter “in real life” if the Astros are good or not. Here’s a chart of MLB attendance last year, which, if Bud Selig was in the mood to eliminate a team, would be the likely determining factor:
          Eleven teams had lower attendance than Houston. The team that would be eliminated from any logical business standpoint would be the Oakland Athletics, a team that had almost 600,000 less attendess than the Astros did last year. I am by no means suggesting that the As should be nixed from Major League Baseball, but I think not being able to find enough fans to attend games is closer to an embarrassment to the soul of baseball than rebuilding.

          And that’s all I got.

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          • dudley says:

            goodness gracious–you’re the best, Summer Anne!! i’ll be rooting for the Astros this year, just because i know how much joy each win will bring you!

            as for the A’s, they belong in Brooklyn.

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          • Andrew says:

            And let me break down your points.

            For starters, you say that over 15 teams shouldn’t exist because they had worse winning percentages than the one the Astros had last year. That would be a good argument if you remembered that a staggering 13 of those teams have a lower winning percentage than those Astros teams were from after the start of the amateur draft in 1965. Before then, every single team had to sign their own players and could find themselves in a situation where they would be stuck with failure for a long period time (alas the St Louis Browns).

            Furthermore, many of those teams were expansion teams. Those 2004 Arizona Diamondbacks were just in their seventh year of existence and had run themselves into the ground to win a World Series in 2001. It was obvious that they would have a fall like that, but the Astros have not had a high like that to fall to.

            The 2003 Tigers were also going through ownership issues, but they also had the money needed to get out of the mess they were in, something that the Astros don’t have.

            Furthermore, the Astros group is nothing like the group the Tigers had following their terrible 2003 season. Dave Dombrowski was the GM of the Tigers at the time and was already a successful GM. It was obvious that the Tigers were going to get out of the mess they were in. Furthermore, Mike Illtch was the GM and was the GM of other professional teams.

            Do the Astros have that experience at ownership or at GM? The answer is NO

            We also know that the Astros have a bad history in recent years with getting 1st round picks to the majors. The last Astro who was chosen in the draft to play in MLB is Jordan Lyles, who was drafted five years ago!

            The Astros front office has also made some terrible draft picks in recent years that make no sense for the organization and are busts.

            You also use Tampa Bay, an organization that had to compete in the AL East, who hoisted five World Championships from 1998-2007 as an example for the Astros future.

            The Rays were plagued in part to the success of the teams around them and their lack of fan support that they have, which is due in large part to the the dome they play in.

            Your stat about those other ballparks is mute when you compare the Astros home to those other stadiums. The Astros play in downtown Houston, which is a much better location than most of the other stadiums you listed.

            Washington, White Sox, Tampa, Florida and Oakland all played in bad neighborhoods and/or locations.

            The other teams did a bad job recruiting fans to their mostly new stadiums. Those teams did not have much success, but they also were better than Houston.

            I think a much more telling stat is that the Astros drew the fewest percentage of away fans to games last year. This stat shows that the Astros have no real appeal, despite being in the fourth largest city in the United States. People just don’t want to see a bad team perform.

            I also consider the lack of winning that the Astros have had in 50 years to be another reason to consider them to be a joke. Fifty years is plenty of time to win a World Championship, but the Astros have failed to do it. Yet the Mets, a team that has been cursed with bad luck for 50 years has won twice and should have at least 5 World Championships.

            The one time the Astros reached the World Series, they embarrassed the baseball world by getting swept. In fact, that has been the most boring World Series I can ever remember watching.

            There are plenty of Triple A teams that should be given a chance to perform in MLB this year over the Astros. It is for the Astros own good if they got demoted; their fans would appreciate winning even more and they would be able to have a much stronger team for the future.

            Even though the English Premier League is different than MLB, look at Newcastle United. They were demoted for the 2009-10 season and got promoted back up. Right now, they are just 1 point away from getting into the final Champions League spot, which is for the best teams in all of Europe to play in (essentially it is a giant playoff structure).

            BTW I’m sorry about not calling you Summer. My bad

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          • Yo, Andrew, Fangraphs won’t let me reply to your comment (mercy rule?) which I’m taking as a sign that I shouldn’t keep this going, but try looking at the link I sent you BEFORE you respond next time? The following teams have had worse or the same records as the Astros’ low SINCE the amateur draft: the Royals, Chicago White Sox, Brewers, Detroit, Rays, the Nationals nee Expos, Braves, Blue Jays, Orioles, Athletics, Marlins, Padres, Diamondbacks, and the Mets. Some of them more than once.

            Mostly, you just don’t get it. The Astros have new ownership so blaming them for their previous draft picks is stupid. Acting like the fact that they aren’t good THIS YEAR is some kind of indictment of the franchise in general and going forward is bullshit and represents that you don’t really understand how baseball works.

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          • Also: saying those stadiums are in bad locations isn’t exactly an argument for keeping those teams there, from an economic perspective.

            Also: I have no idea why I’m still arguing with you about win-loss percentages (maybe because people blatantly getting the facts wrong annoys me) but the bigger point of this entire piece and my feelings about the Astros are that baseball is bigger than who wins the most or who can get a championship. You’re following the wrong sport if you think that teams that aren’t that good or don’t win the World Series should be exiled from baseball. Tell that shit to a Cubs fan and prepare to get smacked in the face.

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    • illinibob says:

      so that makes the Rockies, what? High A ball?

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  3. BJohnson02 says:

    andrew are you a yahoo commenter in disguise?

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    • Andrew says:

      Actually I’m not. I’m a baseball fan who is disgusted that a MLB team like the Astros are allowed to exist. Look at their roster and tell me if they should be here or get sent down to Triple A to get seasoning.

      Seriously look at their roster and tell me if they should be in MLB. They are a stain on our game and should be allowed to play once they prove they are a decent team

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  4. Wedernoch says:

    My parents were at that game last night, and now that I know they wore the Colt 45 uniforms (and the stirrup/high socks!) I’m jealous. Do you know when they’re wearing the c. ’85-’94 era uniforms?

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  5. Bill but not Ted says:

    A word, Brilliant

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  6. Well-Beered Englishman says:

    That photo captures all that is wonderful about the Jose Altuve Phenomenon.

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  7. SAmmy says:

    You can go the right way, the wrong way, or the Altuve.

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  8. Illinois glass M. Michael Sheets says:

    For a self proclaimed “earnest and unfunny” post, this comment thread has been hilarious to read. Is this some sort of master NotGraphs plan to have one of the other writers be “Anderew” to add humor to even the good hearted (and by the way, very well done) pieces?

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