In late 1963, the two-year old Houston MLB franchise found itself in a position that would become even more familiar as the years of trying to field a winner grew in numbers. Late September in Houston is deep into football season. A baseball club that’s finishing near the bottom doesn’t draw very well at the gate against the competition from professional, college, high school, and kiddie game football in the State of Texas as the clock ticks closer and closer to October.
So, in what seemed like a good promotional idea to pique the interest of the curious fans, and maybe give people a glimpse of better days to come, the Houston Colt .45s decided to promote a game on September 27, 1963 that would feature an all rookie starting lineup against the club’s even more hapless expansion club brothers, the New York Mets.
The starting lineup for Houston read like this: (1) Sonny Jackson, SS; (2) Joe Morgan, 2B; (3) Jimmy Wynn, CF; (4) Rusty Staub, 1B; (5) Aaron Pointer, RF; (6) Brock Davis, (LF); (7) Glen Vaughan, 3B; (8) Jerry Grote, C; & (9) Jay Dahl, P.
Six other rookies would also enter the game before Carl Warwick broke the theme in the bottom of the 8th at old Colt Stadium in a pinch-hitting role as the first veteran player to enter the game.
It was a fun experiment, but the major hopes for victory and a big crowd got snuffed out pretty early. Only 5.802 fans showed up to watch as New York jumped to an 8-0 lead through the first three innings. The Mets won the game by a final score of 10-3.
For an account of how the game played its way to the door, let’s go back and follow the action through the eyes and words of Houston’s greatest sportswriter. Here’s how Mickey Herskowitz covered the game for the Houston Post:
Mets Wallop Colt Rookie Lineup, 10-3
by Mickey Herskowitz
Houston Post, Saturday, September 28, 1963
Houston’s team of tomorrow found the going rather rough in the here and now Friday night. The New York Mets, the big bullies, whomped them, 10-3, in the opener of the season’s final series at Colt Stadium.
As promised, Manager Harry Craft started an all rookie line-up, and he stuck by it through thin and thinner. Fifteen Colts saw service before a non-rookie, Carl Warwick, entered the game as a pinch hitter in the eighth. The Mets took advantage of Houston’s youth, as the saying goes, to pound five pitchers for 15 hits and make life easy for Lefty Al Jackson.
Nevertheless, the night was an historic one for the Colt .45s.
Chunky Jay Dahl, a 17-year-old southpaw from California, became the youngest pitcher to start a game in the majors since Joe Nuxhall made his wartime debut for the Redlegs in 1945, at 16. Von McDaniel was a mature gentleman of 18 when he made headlines for the Cardinals in 1957, fresh out of high school in Oklahoma.
Dahl, the first of three rookie southpaws to perform for the .45s, gave his all, and the Mets took it. They scored three in the second — with the help of two errors — and five more in the third, strafing Dahl and Danny Coombs for seven hits. That gave New York an 8-0 lead at the end of three, and a crowd of 5,802 faithful Colt fans settled back to a long, quiet evening.
One of the highlights of the game came in the next inning, when the Mets seemed headed for another big rally. But with runners at second and third and one out, Lefty Joe Hoerner struck out Tim Harkness, and the crowd appreciated it. They cheered loudly, and a moment later the inning was over.
You could forgive the Colt rookies if they were a bit jittery Friday night. Five of them had never played pro ball before this year, and three of them were starting for the first time in a major league game, sort of. It may be stretching a point to say that Dahl had a major league lineup behind him. And if you wanted to be unkind — and why not? — you could say it was doubtful that he had one facing him.
The Colts started their greenhorn squad for the novelty of it, and out of curiosity, and just possibly for the sake of a little publicity. There was no reason to be disappointed, except, that this ended Houston’s four-game winning streak.
Ol’ Casey Stengel didn’t exactly play fair. He started his best pitcher, Jackson, who is even tough on adults. Al wasn’t at his sharpest Friday night, but the Colts could do little with the several chances they had.
Jackson gave up 11 hits, and at least one Colt reached base in every blessed inning. But he struck out eight, and Houston left 12 bodies on base. Al more or less coasted to his 13th victory against 17 defeats. Rusty Staub scored the first Colt run in the fourth and drove in the second an inning later, and then Joe Morgan tripled home the last one in the ninth. There were .45s at first and third when Jackson retired the next three hitters to end the game.
Jim Wynn and Aaron Pointer were the only Houston starters old enough to vote Friday night. When the rookie Colt pitchers got in trouble it was Staub who walked over to give them a comforting word, as befits a veteran of 19.
Dahl, Coombs and Hoerner — all southpaws — went the first six innings, before rookie right-hander Jim Dickson came on. Dick Drott pitched the ninth, giving up the final Met run. Hoerner, 24, and up from San Antonio, did a fine job in his three-inning chore, blanking the Mets on two hits and striking out two.
The average age of the Houston team that took the field Friday night was 19 years and four months, a fact that has been rather widely advertised. So it was duly noted in the press box that when Rod Kanehl replaced Frank Thomas in left field in the eighth, it lowered the Met average to 32 years and four months.
The fact that the Colt rookies failed to win did not exactly ruin the night. They provided some sort of thrill on almost every play as typified by Brock Davis in left field. He overran one base hit and dropped a fly ball for an error, then made two spectacular catches, one facing the wall in left center and another into the Houston bullpen.
So the Colts still need one victory to surpass last year’s total, and they send Don Nottebart after it Saturday at 1:30 PM against New York’s Craig Anderson.
Thank you, Mike McCroskey, for suggesting this game as a great subject for this column.