Last weekend, your Houston Astros wore replicas of their 1965 home uniforms, the legendary “Shooting Star” jerseys, to celebrate the Astrodome’s 50th anniversary. Sure, honoring the stadium you abandoned for new digs downtown is a little like sending your ex-wife a Happy Anniversary card 10 years after you left her and moved in with your personal assistant, but let’s not quibble. Sartorially, it was a lovely weekend, and the ’Stros took two games out of three against the Angels, which is not bad at all.
Seeing those old uniforms, the togs of first-generation Astros legends like Larry Dierker, Don Wilson, and Jimmy “The Toy Cannon” Wynn, was a revelation. Forget the Yankees pinstripes and the cursive script on the Dodgers jerseys and the bat-perching birds logo the Cardinals wear; that ’65 Astros uniform, streaks of orange tailing from a simple blue star, is the most elegant, the most memorable, the most beautiful uniform in baseball history. It’s what our team should be wearing for every home game.
When it comes to uniforms, the Astros have always been, um, star-crossed. A few years after the Shooting Star came out, the club brain trust decided to invert the colors, making the navy parts orange, and the orange parts navy. It was a little like casting the kid from Breaking Bad in Exodus: Gods and Kings: “Aaron is basically Jesse Pinkman in sackcloth and a beard, right?” you imagine a studio exec thinking. “They’re both younger men, caught up in the mystery and power of a strange, charismatic father figure. Aaron Paul is perfect for this part! It’s a sure winner!” Except it wasn’t.
Four years into the “orange is the new navy” experiment, things got weird. The ’Stros began taking the field in jerseys featuring their uniform numbers on their hips, and a big blue star nested in nine horizontal stripes of varying widths, ranging in color from red to orange to canary yellow. Nolan Ryan, the manliest Texan this side of Sam Houston, threw a no-hitter, set a strikeout record and won a couple of ERA titles in those horrors, which is a little like John Wayne filming The Searchers dressed in a Hawaiian shirt and cargo shorts. Some people say they love the “Tequila Sunrise” uniforms, but mostly they love that the Astros won a couple of division titles in them. The stripes eventually evolved into a vestigial shoulder adornment, sad little rainbows trailing down the sleeves of sad little Astros like Jim Clancy and Karl “Tuffy” Rhodes.
Which brings us to the Drayton McLane years.
McLane, who got a new stadium by threatening to relocate the club to Virginia, ruined the team's farm system, and replaced the able Gerry Hunsicker with the feckless Tim Purpura, also did serious harm to the team’s look. First he replaced the orange with a garish gold trim and a horrid, hard-to-read typeface, before finally settling on a bleak “brick, coal and sand” color scheme. And pinstripes. He also briefly contemplated renaming the club the Houston Diesels. McLane’s Astros did win a lot of games, no thanks to him. (The key components of the team’s best seasons, most notably Craig Biggio and Jeff Bagwell, were in place long before McLane took control, and Mr. Hunsicker took care of the rest.) They just didn’t look like the Astros while they were doing it.
Current owner Jim Crane, a longtime Houston baseball fan, understands. He’s put the Astros back in orange and navy, the way God and Judge Hofheinz intended, and he’s eliminated the pinstripes. It’s a good start, but the current uniforms don’t quite set things right: the wordmark is a bit too generic, the presentation muted and unmemorable. There’s no need to go Tequila Sunrise crazy—the days of having the players look like a collection of custom-painted ’76 Econoline vans is mercifully past – but last weekend reminded us that the Houston Astros can be as vibrant and fun and endearingly quirky as the city they call home.
Please, Mr. Crane, bring back the Shooting Star.