Posts Tagged ‘Houston’s True 1st MLB Game’

Houston’s True 1st MLB Game

March 4, 2018

Old News is New Again
March 10, 1962
“Aspro” Scores 1st Run in Houston MLB History

 

Bud Shrake: Texas Firsts in California

Publication Source: Dallas Morning News

Publication Date: March 11, 1962

Palm Springs, California (March 10, 1962) –

For history, it should be recorded that the first pitch ever thrown to a batter for a major league team from Texas was a ball outside. The pitch was thrown by Eli Grba of the Los Angeles Angels and the man who let it go past was Houston Colt .45 center fielder Al Heist. Promptly, Heist let a few more pitches go past and struck out without swinging his bat. That was the beginning.

It would have been difficult to find a finer setting for all those historic events that happened Saturday afternoon. The scene was a ball park called the Polo Grounds in Palm Springs. Mountains rose all around and off to the left the peaks were crested by snow. There had been a sandstorm out on the desert earlier in the day but by the afternoon the sky had cleared to a soft blue and it was bright and cool.

Palm Springs is sort of what Taos, N.M. would be if you put it in Preston Hollow and turned the job over to a Mexican architect. The climate and the gold courses and the nearness to Los Angeles and the fashionableness of desert living naturally attract a lot of celebrities and a lot of money. Charles Ferrell used to be the mayor.

The Celebrity Hour

Saturday, three celebrities were involved in the ceremony before Houston’s – or maybe we should say Texas’ – first big league exhibition game.

Gene Autry spoke and told the fans and the radio and television audience that he’s a native Texan. He’s also an owner of the Angels who train here in Palm Springs.

A couple of high school majorettes danced with baseball bats and sang “They Walk Like an Angel Walks”. The high school band played “The Eyes of Texas” and the Colts, including Dick Farrell who lives in Pennsylvania, put their hats over their hearts.

Then Tony Martin sang “The Star Spangled Banner” accompanied by the band. At least, he tried to sing it. Made a bunch of us envious wretches wonder how a nice girl like Cyd Charisse could go for a guy who doesn’t know the words to “The Star Spangled Banner”.

Suddenly, from right field, (TV actor) Gene Barry came riding in on a bicycle. You know Gene Barry – Bat Masterson? He rode up to the mound, dismounted, and threw the traditional first pitch, with Tony Martin as the catcher.

Barry tried hard. His shirt tail came out. He threw three pitches, and the third one was close to the plate, and it was a big deal. Barry threw it like your wife would if she were in the back yard playing catch (with you), except that none of her pitches bounced.

The First Look

Meanwhile, hidden in the dugout, Houston manager Harry Craft was wondering exactly what he would see when his club went out on the field for the first time. It was only an exhibition game, but Harry recognized the significance of being Texas’ original big league manager.

“It’s pretty confusing,” he said. “Of course, we’ve studied these guys in camp. We’ve paid a lot of individual attention to them. The thing that has really pleased me has been their cooperation.

“They’ve worked harder than they did in any other camps. I don’t mean the other clubs don’t work hard enough. But we had more work to do. And there hasn’t been much griping at all.”

The Colts obviously aren’t going to threaten for the National League pennant. As one Houston writer said, “We’re 10 (feet) deep in mediocrity.”

“But I hope we can put together a sold defensive club,” said Craft. “If we can hold scores down we’ve always got a chance for that key base hit that can win a game.”

The time arrived and the Colts went out to put up some history.

The first pitch ever thrown by a big leaguer representing Texas was a strike. Pitcher was Bob Bruce. The first run was scored by third baseman Bob Aspromonte on a wild throw by Angel second baseman Marlan Coughtry. The first run scored against the Colts was scored by Leon Wagner, who dashed home on a 5?? foot double to center by huge Steve Bilko.

The history kept getting thicker. First Houston Double Play was Bob Lillis to Don Buddin to Norm Larker (4-6-3), on a ground ball to second by former Dallas-Fort Worth catcher Bob Rodgers. It’s only a modest achievement, of course, but I (Bud Shrake) was the first man to miss the team bus and also the first man to trip on the dugout steps.

(The last sentence in the Shrake column is not clearly legible, but his tongue-in-cheek point is abundantly clear from the decipherable parts of it. Paraphrasing the writer: “I mention these minor things because it wouldn’t have seemed right to mark the specifics of this notable day in Texas baseball history without giving Dallas-Forth Worth a few pieces of it.)

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We do not have home access to the Houston papers for 3/11/1962, but we would expect them to have much more on the first ST game. The sample of AP and UPI short articles we did find were far too incomplete and poorly written, but these historical facts are important and are reported here as excerpts from several of these sources: The home team Angels won the game, 7-3, Bob Bruce started for Houston, but Hal Woodeshick took the loss in relief. Eli Grba started for LA, but Johnny James picked up the win in relief.

We do not have the box score for this actual first game, but here’s the score, one missing most detail facts of interest:

March 10, 1962 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
Houston Colt. 45s 0 0 1 0 2 0 0 0 0 3 7 1
Los Angeles Angels 0 2 0 3 2 0 0 0 X 7 8 3

 Batteries

 Houston

 Bob Bruce, Hal Woodeshick (L), Manuel Montejo, Bob Tiefenauer and Merritt Ranew.

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Los Angeles

 Eli Grba, Johnny James (W), Tom Morgan and Bob Rodgers, Ed Sadowski.

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Another Irony. As he would again, one month later, in the first official game that counted, Bob Aspromonte was busy at the dress rehearsal game, establishing some “firsts” for himself in the game history books. Now we know that Apro scored the first run in franchise history, whether you start counting at March 1 or April 10 of 1962. We are reasonably sure that his RBI double in the Angels early game is the first RBI and probably the first double and possibly the first club hit in all franchise history, but we really need to see a more detailed record of what happened and hen did it happen to journey further down that road.

Again, as I’ve often said, thank you, Darrell Pittman, for awakening our attention to the fact that this landmark first season game may have been, until today’s groundbreaking search began by all of us for more information, the most neglected big moment in the club’s early history and – what do you know – it was also their first rattle out of the box as the Houston “big league anythings.”

 

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Bill McCurdy

Principal Writer, Editor, Publisher

The Pecan Park Eagle