A Tribute to Original Colt .45 & Astro Bob Bruce
By James Anderson
These words from lifelong Houston Baseball Researcher and Fan James Anderson were the most eloquent ever written in behalf of the now deceased former Houston MLB baseball pioneer in 2007. We believe they remain so today, ten years later, on March 15, 2017, with our sad reception of the news from the same Mr. Anderson that the wonderful Bob Bruce passed away yesterday, March 14, 2017, in North Texas at the age of 83. As a former member of the last active Board and now moribund Texas Baseball Hall of Fame, I have hereby authorized their reproduction from the still visible, but no longer tended website of that formerly active good-intentioned body.
Thank you for writing this piece, James Anderson. We didn’t know it at the time, but you were circling all the bases when you wrote these words a decade ago.
Sincerely, Bill McCurdy
Former Member and Board Chair for the Texas Baseball Hall of Fame
Current & Forever Committed Publisher, Editor, Principal Writer, & Full-Time Bottle Washer
For The Pecan Park Eagle
Rest In Peace, Bob Bruce!
It was finally over. It lasted 12 innings and took 2 hours and 50 minutes to complete. Jimmy Wynn bounced a single down the third base line off reliever Ron Perranoski that drove in Rusty Staub from second base with the winning run to give the Houston Colt .45s a 1–0 victory against the Los Angeles Dodgers and Don Drysdale. As Staub crossed the plate, Colt .45s pitcher Bob Bruce ran out on the field to give Jim Wynn a big hug in obvious joy of Wynn finally sealing Bruce’s 12-inning effort against LA.
The significance of the game had little impact outside of Houston but to the Colt .45s and their fans it was an end of an era. It was the last game to be played at Colt Stadium and was topped off by Bob Bruce’s 12 inning complete game shutout against the Dodgers and Bruce’s 22nd consecutive inning pitched without giving up a run. Next year, the Colt .45s would don a new name and play in what would be later called “The Eighth Wonder of The World” — The Astrodome.
It was the third and final season of Colt Stadium which opened up to much fan fare on a cloudy day on April 10, 1962 to 25,000 plus excited fans and local dignitaries who were there to watch the first official Major League game to be played in the state of Texas and Houston.
From that illustrious day in April 1962 to September 27th, 1964, hopes were high but reality continued to dampen the hopes of a young and struggling franchise to bring a winning team to Houston. It wouldn’t be until 1969 that the team now called the Astros would finish .500 with an 81–81 season.
To it’s new fans—new to Major League baseball, for many were veteran fans of minor league baseball and the Houston Buffs—1964 was the year that seemed to bring the “hope springs eternal” dreams that infects virtually every fan of the great game of baseball. As 1964 came to an end, there was reason to feel that the future was bright for the franchise and it’s fans looking forward to moving into the newly built and air conditioned domed stadium in 1965. Such stars as Turk Farrell, Hal Woodeshick and Bob Bruce had solidified a pitching staff that finally brought legitimacy and respect for its new loyal fan base. Young phenoms such as Larry Dierker, Jimmy Wynn, Rusty Staub, and Joe Morgan virtually insured a bright future for the team.
Of course, history and back room ownership squabbles would prove otherwise.
To the fans of a new team with a “Colt .45s” six-shooter emblazoned across their jersey’s it was at least a year in which truly legitimate stars of the franchise emerged and would help to lay the foundation of lifelong fans whose second and third generation families and fans would root for the likes of Craig Biggio, Jeff Bagwell, Lance Berkman, and others who were to come later.
Bob Bruce became the first legitimate winning pitcher in team history in 1964 as he finished the season with a very respectable 15–9 won/loss record, 7 consecutive wins, and 22 consecutive shutout innings pitched. He allowed fewer that 2 base on balls per 9 innings in over 200 innings pitched with an ERA of 2.76 and 4 shutouts to his credit for 1964. Numbers that to this day still stand up well against many of the future Astros pitching stars.
With Bruce’s teammate Turk Farrell starting the season with a 10–1 won/loss record, Bob Bruce and the Colt .45s staff were putting up eye-popping stats for such a young pitching staff—leading the league in team ERA and strikeouts. Unfortunately, Farrell would suffer arm trouble and finish the season with an 11–10 record and the rest of the staff with the exception of Bruce and reliever Hal Woodeshick, disappointed. Indeed, it was another disappointing season for the Colt’s and their fans.
If Farrell was the colorful and talented fastballer of the staff, Bob Bruce was the steadying force that was to at least give fans a hopeful glimpse of brighter day’s ahead. Because of Bruce’s fine season in 1964, he was chosen to be the opening day pitcher in 1965 for the Astros in the newly built Astrodome in a well pitched 2–0 loss to Chris Short and the Phillies—the same team that nearly “shutout” the Colts team-wise in 17 consecutive victories against Houston in 1962. In the Colt .45s final appearance against the Phils in their inaugural 1962 season, Bruce would silence the Phillies bats on a balmy Tuesday night at Colt Stadium on September 4, when he pitched his team to the one and only victory against Philadelphia for a 4–1 victory. It seemed almost anti-climactic as Bruce set the Phillies down quietly on 4 hits and 7 strikeouts and drove in 2 of the Colt .45s runs with two hits of his own.
As Bruce recalled, “They even called for a Voodoo night for (the doubleheader played) the day before against the Phils and asked fans to bring out horse shoes, voodoo dolls, cow bells, you name it to hex the Phillies.” The Colt .45s lost both ends of that Monday night doubleheader making it 17 losses in a row. Finally, without the help of voodoo dolls, horseshoes, and whatever else, Bruce would silence the Phillies bats on his own in their 18th and final meeting of the 1962 season.
In 2002 Gene Elston wrote his Daily Recap of the 1962 Houston Colt .45s in tribute to the inaugural season of the franchise and had this to say about that September day in 1962: “…in an effort to do everything within the realm of possibility to stop the season long losing streak to the Phillies, the Colt .45s PR department invites fans to the final meeting and called it Voodoo Night. The fans were asked to bring any item that might hex Philadelphia into a defeat. Suggestions varied from voodoo dolls with hatpins, rabbit’s feet, cowbells or other noisemakers, witches and devils’ outfits. In other words use your imagination and come the necromancer—commit sorcery and magically influence the course of events and effect evil on the Phils…”
But all in all, it was Bruce’s fine pitching that finally did in the bats of the Philadelphia Phillies.
With pinpoint control and a number of off-speed pitches that baffled the opposing hitters, 1965 appeared to be a promising year for Bruce based on his fine performance of the previous season.
1965 did indeed start very promising for Bruce even though he suffered a 2–0 loss to the Phillies on opening day, he pitched a 3–1 complete game victory in his next outing and gave up only 1 run in 7 innings to the Pirates in April 23. His next two starts against the lowly Mets and the Braves resulted in early exits for Bruce. When 1965 had finished—and all the fanfare of the new domed stadium over for at least another season—the Astros still finished near the bottom of the standings with only the New York Mets suffering a worst won/loss record. Bob Bruce pitched 229 innings in 1965—the most for a single season in his career—and with a 9–18 won/loss record.
When asked about his performance in 1965, Bruce gave no excuses. “It was just a tough season” Bruce said, “We didn’t score a lot of runs.” He couldn’t remember suffering any arm trouble that he could pinpoint other than mentioning that “since all of our uniforms were always placed in the same dryer we all once came down with an epidemic of jock itch that was so bad that I thought some of us were going to end up at the hospital emergency room!”
Bob Bruce gave the Houston Colt .45s/Astros the best he had. To a man there wasn’t a player on the team who didn’t go out on the field and give it everything they had to put a “W” in the win column. From 1962 to 1964 as the young Colt .45s continued to suffer more losses than victories, personal goals became important in each of the “dog days” of those early years.
As Bruce spoke of that 1964 season, “I think I could have put up numbers similar to Koufax in previous seasons had we not played in that heat of Colt Stadium. I was pitching a day game at Colt Stadium against Bob Gibson and the Cardinals and it was well over 100 degrees down on the field and about a hundred percent humidity it seemed. The heat on the field was so bad on the mound that my shoes got so hot that I had to put my feet in cold water in the clubhouse between innings and so did Gibson. Even Koufax hated pitching at Colt Stadium who was my nemeses. He beat me more times than any other pitcher I faced. He was a great one.”
On April 19, 1964 Bruce accomplished the rare feat of striking out Bill White, Charlie James, and Ken Boyer on 9 pitches in the 8th inning of a game against the St. Louis Cardinals exactly one day after his “nemesis” Sandy Koufax accomplished the same feat in the third inning of a game against the Cincinnati Reds. Ironically, both Bruce and Koufax were to lose each of those games.
A native of Michigan and born in Detroit where he made his home, Bruce even pitched his first three Major League seasons for the Detroit Tigers. Like many of the early stars of the team such as Woodeshick, Aspromonte, Warwick, and others he eventually made his home in Texas where he still resides to this day.
After the 1967 season after being traded by the Astros to the Atlanta Braves for Eddie Mathews, Bob Bruce’s Major League career was over. In the Colt .45s 1963 Press Guide it stated that Bob Bruce was, “employed in the off season as a real estate salesman with designs of becoming a broker after baseball career.”
Bob Bruce’s career only spanned 9 seasons but as one of the original Houston Colt .45s/Astros he endeared himself to the new legion of loyal followers of the franchise which became the foundation of future third and fourth generation fans that now root for and support the team today at Minute Maid Park.
Along with the ballet like defensive skills of Bob Aspromonte at third base, the elusiveness and skill of Hal Woodeshick on the mound, big Walt Bond, the colorful Turk Farrell, and of course Bob Bruce—the guy with the two first names—and the other early stars of the team were indeed to become the seeds of the beginning of the history and heritage of Major League baseball in Houston and the great state of Texas.
In his book, Colt .45s—A Six Gun Salute, author Robert Reed said it best: “In the end, (1964) it was perhaps the most memorable season thus far. A true roller coaster ride all the way, beginning with the wrenching death of Jim Umbricht and followed only two weeks later by Ken Johnson’s contribution to the baseball absurd—a losing no-hitter—the Colt .45s final season left Houston wondering what the future really held for Major League baseball in the Bayou City. As placeholders for next years team that would christen the long awaited domed stadium, the Colts teased fans with a glimpse of respectability, hanging only 6 games out of first place in June on the wings of hard-throwing Turk Farrell’s sizzling 10–1 record and Bob Bruce’s seven straight wins.”*
As Humphrey Bogart spoke in The Maltese Falcon, “Such is the stuff that dreams are made of.”** And Houston Colt .45s/Astros fans have been dreaming every since of that elusive World Series banner. We can thank Bob Bruce, The “Turk”, Aspro, “The Toy Cannon”, Ken Johnson, and others for planting those seeds of hope in our minds long ago!
Publisher, Editor, Writer
The Pecan Park Eagle