Friday, June 26, 2015

Houston name change stymied Topps

Many baseball card collectors believe that potential litigation over the team nickname "Astros" resulted in Topps using the city name "HOUSTON" in the banner of the First Series of Astros cards in its 1965 set.

That wasn't the case at all. 

When the dome opened in 1965 the field was natural Bermuda grass blended for indoor use. When players complained that the semi-transparent Lucite panes that made up part of the done's ceiling made fielding difficult, they were painted over . . . and the grass died. Most of the 1965 season was played on painted dirt and dead grass.

The artificial surface was not laid until 1966, and then in stages, since supply of the material was tight. At that time, the product was named ChemGrass. It was soon rebranded as Astro Turf. If any litigation was forthcoming, it seems it would have been the team suing Monsanto, the turf's manufacturer.

In actuality, the fact that "HOUSTON" appeared on the First Series 1965 Topps cards stems from the fact that there WAS legal wrangling over the team name. The legal posturing, however, was between the team and Colt Firearm Co.

The nickname "Colt .45s" for the expansion Houston National League team had been the result of a "Name the Team" contest. Initially, the gun maker reportedly had no objection to the team using the name and a smoking six-shooter as its logo.

By 1964, however, Colt was voicing concerns about the team sub-licensing the name and logo to manufacturers of souvenirs and novelties. While it was no doubt couched in terms of "maintaining control, brand integrity, blah, blah, blah," it obviously came down to money; Colt wanted royalties.

Team president Judge Roy Hofheinz, being loath to give up the revenue or share the profits, decided he'd rather switch than fight. There was no fan contest this time. 

A couple of months after the end of the 1964 season, Hofheinz announced he was going to change the team nickname to Astros, in recognition of Houston's role as the hub of the U.S. space program. The 18-story, $24 million stadium subsequently dropped its original Harris County Dome name and adopted the Astrodome label to be in synch with its principal tenant.

A reported early favorite of Hofheinz' was "Stars," but local pundits felt it would be too pretentious a name for a team that didn't have any.The  Sporting News weighed in to suggest that the team revert to the nickname "Buffs," which had been used for Houston's American Association team for the three years prior to the N.L. expansion of 1962. Houston's minor league team had been known as the Buffaloes nearly every season between 1896-1958, which nickname was often affectionately shortened to "Buffs."

That change from Colt .45s to Astros came too late for Topps to reflect in its First Series 1965 cards, so the first five Astros cards (#16 Rookie Stars, #31 Mike White, #48 Claude Raymond, #80 Turk Farrell, and, #109 Walt Bond) are found with only "HOUSTON" on the banner at lower-left. Beginning with the Second Series, the banner was changed to read "HOUSTON / ASTROS", except on the later-series "Rookie Stars" cards, which continued to use the "HOUSTON" banner.

Another baseball card result of the name change is that there is no Houston team card in the 1965 Topps set. All the other 19 American and National League teams have a team card, but nothing for the Astros.


  1. Great info. I knew they were the Colt 45s at one point but I never knew the details. Great article.


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