Houston’s 1962 1st MLB April

“You can’t roller skate in a buffalo herd!!

In their first 1962 season as a major level baseball franchise, our Houston Colt .45s entered the National League, along with their fellow expansion club, the New York Mets, as the 9th and 10th members of the National League. Meanwhile, Houston fans, owners, and players alike all waited with baited breath for the construction and opening of what was then known ingloriously as The Harris County Domed Stadium to open its gates to the future.

It was a future that was three years and a tad more creative identity recognition away from it’s final arrival in April 1965 as the “Houston Astros, playing in the Astrodome, the Eighth Wonder of the World!” Those original Houston Colt .45s would open their premier season in a topless, classless venue known as Colt Stadium. It was a product of haste on the parking lot that also was destined to hold the wondrous air-conditioned and sun, rain, and mosquito-sheltered domed park that would be going on nearby under the watchful eye of principal owner Judge Roy Hofheinz and every game fan from as far away as Louisiana and Oklahoma who came to Houston in those days to see for themselves.

Neither the Houston or New York new clubs had much talent in the spring of 1962. They got their players dirt cheap the during the off-season from fire sale choices made available to them alternately by the eight long-time NL members at pre-set variable prices in this so-called baseball pool drafting process.

A half-serious young country and western singer named Roger Miller even used the phrase for a line he wrote into a song he called “You Can’t Roller Skate in a Buffalo Herd.” The fitting baseball tagline included was “You Can’t Go Swimming in a Baseball Pool!” — Miller may as well have added, “You can’t go Winning from A Baseball Pool!” It was the truth, even if the Houston Colt .45s used their first month of seasonal baseball life trying to sell a miracle to Houston fans.

The Early Illusion in 1962

As most know, the first Houston club got off to a gangbusters start at Colt Stadium on April 10, 1962, crushing the Chicago Cubs, 11-2, behind little lefty Bobby Shantz and the two-homer day of muscular outfielder Roman Mejias. What fewer know is that the Colts then imposed two more back-to-back losses of 2-0 each on the Cubs to sweep their first MLB 3-game series in history by a total run differential of 15-2.

The Colts played mediocre ball from there through the end of April, but that was OK. No one expected them to finish their first month with a 7-8 record, in a percentage tie bond with the Reds for 6th place and a GB share of 5th place with the Phillies and Reds for 5th place, just outside the first division.

The Colts even won their last April-played game on April 29th, defeating Milwaukee at home in Colt Stadium by 3-2.

1962 NL Standings Thru April 30, 2018

POS TEAM WON LOST W% GB
1 San Francisco 15 5 .750
2 St. Louis 11 4 .733 1.5
3 Pittsburgh 13 5 .722 1.0
4 Los Angeles 13 8 .619 2.5
5 Philadelphia 8 9 .471 5.5
6-7t Cincinnati 7 8 .467 5.5
6-7t Houston 7 8 .467 5.5
8 Milwaukee 8 11 .421 6.5
9 Chicago 4 16 .200 11.0
10 New York 3 13 .188 10.0

The rest of the season was the inevitable reality unfolding.

The Colt .45s finished the 1962 season with  record of 64-96 for a .400 winning percentage. They took 8th place all to themselves, but they ended up resting 36.5 games behind the NL pennant winning San Francisco Giants (103-62, .624) and gasping for air.

They found the breathing room when they realized what we fans already had found as our grasp on hope: By finishing 8th in 1962, the Astros front office had proven they must have been miles better than their Mets counterparts at the baseball pool. — Look. — The Mets finished 1962 in 10th place with a record of 40-120, .250. And sandwiched between the Colts and Mets were the ancient Cubs — and with ho baseball to blame for their failure — unless it was how they gave away their winnable players.

It became easier to remember the 1962 NL as a 3-club loop:

Our 1962 Houston Special NL Standings

POS TEAM WON LOST W% GB
1 Houston 64 96 .400
2 Chicago 59 103 .363 6.0
3 New York 40 120 .250 24.0

A Darrell Pittman Contribution

Darrell Pittman found this article on how the first month success of the Colt .45s bumped the gate in the Hot Springs (AR) Sentinel-Record of May 2, 1962. My hunch is that Houston attendance in April 1962 would have been good, anyway, no matter what, but that winning only could have helped.

 

 

 

********************

Bill McCurdy

Principal Writer, Editor, Publisher

The Pecan Park Eagle

 

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2 Responses to “Houston’s 1962 1st MLB April”

  1. Sam Quintero Says:

    One of my first memories regarding the inaugural season was the “creative” promotional slogan of the marketing department for the Colt 45’s was “Pennant Fever” — sure got my hopes at a ‘fever’ pitch!!

    I look back and fondly remember — “Wow!!!! Were going to win the pennant and play the New York Yankees in the World Series.”

    Childish thoughts as I reflect back to those days!!! But, there is something to say about “Hope springs eternal, people always hope for the best, even in the face of adversity.”

    Problem for me was that I never saw adversity coming squarely at me!!!

    Ha! Ha! But, the AstroDome was for real!!!

  2. Mark W. Says:

    I was at that April 25th tie game, a 13 year-old 8th grader, with my parents and little sister. Regrettably we left after 10 innings because my little sister and I had to go to school the next day. The game was called due to curfew after 17 innings with the score 5-5. The stats all counted, but the rules required that the game had to be re-played in its entirety. For me the game is memorable because a foul pop-up bounced off my seat while I held a coke in one hand and a hot dog in the other. To this day that remains the closest I’ve ever come to getting a foul ball.

    But I noticed an interesting stat as I studied the box score. Bobby Shantz appeared in the game as a pinch-runner for Pidge Browne, who singled pinch-hitting for Dick Farrell in the 13th inning. That was the second-to-last appearance by Shantz in a box score while wearing a Houston uniform. On April 27th, Shantz went six innings in a start vs. Milwaukee in which he yielded one earned run and took the loss in a 2-1 game. That was his last appearance as a Colt .45. He was traded on May 7 to the same Cardinals for Carl Warwick, who had 2 singles in 3 at-bats in the 17 inning game.

    Shantz had one other appearance as a Colt .45 besides the opening day start, the pinch running appearance, and the April 27th start. On April 17th, he started against the Mets in the Polo Grounds and pitched five-and-two-thirds shutout innings. He yielded a 4th hit in the 6th inning, a single to Felix Mantilla, and then induced both Rod Kanehl and Don Zimmer to ground out. At that point Shantz was replaced by Jim Golden, probably due to his chronically sore shoulder, which was an ongoing problem for him during his last several seasons. Golden retired the side to preserve Houston’s 2-0 lead, but the Mets scored single runs in the 8th and 9th innings off Golden to tie the game. Houston won the game 5-2 on a 3-run homer by Don Buddin in the 11th inning.

    When Bobby Shantz left Houston, he left having started 3 games, with 20 and two-thirds innings pitched, 14 Ks and 4 BBs, a 1.31 ERA, a 292 ERA+, and a WHIP of 0.968. And the game in which he pitched most poorly out of the three he started in a Houston uniform probably was that opening day complete game, when he surrendered his only homerun in a Houston uniform to Ernie Banks.

    In the last 3 seasons of his career with Houston, St. Louis, Chicago’s Cubs, and Philadelphia’s Phillies, Bobby Shantz had a 2.51 ERA, a 152 ERA+, a 1.044 WHIP, struck out 173 while yielding 61 walks, and gave up 167 hits in 218 and-a-third innings pitched. He yielded 0.8 HRs per 9 innings.

    Bobby Shantz was a top tier pitcher in effectiveness right up to the final game of his career, but the chronically inflamed status of his left shoulder made it impossible for him to continue pitching after 1964.

    I’m so glad he holds the distinction of starting, completing, and winning the first game in the history of the Houston professional baseball franchise. I’m sorry I never got to see him pitch as a paying customer in a ballpark, but I came so close to seeing him pinch-run.

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