This week, Outsports is joining SB Nation in celebrating as well as deriding the sports jerseys, uniforms and kits that have made us proud, embarrassed and given us reasons to wonder, “what on earth were you thinking?” We kick off this theme week with two perspectives on the Houston Astros jerseys from 1975 through 1986. Share your opinions in the comments below!
HATED IT: I distinctly recall the very first time I saw the Houston Astros play in their’ “Tequila Sunrise” jerseys. It was a Friday night 41 years ago, May 16, 1975, and I was 11 years old.
Thanks to Baseball-Reference.com, my memory of that game is refreshed with stats long forgotten: my Mets scored four runs in the first inning in the Astrodome, and went on to win, 10-2. My hero, number 41, Tom Terrific, lasted a full 7 innings and got the W. In the bottom of the 2nd inning, Seaver picked-off Houston’s Rob Andrews at 2nd base. In the lineup for my Mets were my other heroes: Felix Milan, Del Unser, Rusty Staub, Ed Kranepool and Dave Kingman. The relief pitcher who came in for the 8th and 9th innings to finish the game had the last name I loved rolling around in my mouth, Bob Apodoca: “Apodaca! Apodaca! Apodaca!” I was very 11.
I remember sitting with my dad in our family room and staying up past my bedtime to enjoy that game on WOR-TV, Channel 9 in New York City. We were considered lucky to have color TV back then, and dad and I sat across from our RCA color console, a huge piece of furniture with a built-in record player and a cathode ray tube screen measuring a measly 19-inches.
And thank goodness it was a color TV, because when I saw the Astros’ Greg Gross approach home plate for his first at-bat, I chuckled, then laughed my head-off. A black and white TV could not have done his new Astros uniform any justice. “What’s so funny?” my father asked.
“He’s wearing pajamas!” I said, barely able to talk. We spent a good while mocking Houston’s new uniforms that game.
Astrosdaily.com described the 1975 unis as “controversial:”
“The uniforms had multishade stripes of orange, red and yellow in front and in back behind a large dark blue star over the midsection. Similar stripes adorned the pant legs. Numbers appeared on the back as well as on the right pant leg. The loud stripes were meant to appear as a fiery trail like a rocket sweeping across the heavens.”
Maybe they were meant to convey all that, but to 11-year-old me, they looked like pajamas.
Fast-forward 11 years, to October 1986, and to two memorable Game 6’s.
Every Mets fan of a certain age recalls Mookie Wilson’s hit past Bill Buckner’s legs in the Mets’ do or die World Series with the Red Sox the same way you remember your first kiss or the day you came out.
But there was also Game 6 of that year’s NLCS, in which the Astros relief pitcher Dave Smith was so pissed off after relinquishing Houston’s lead in the 9th inning, that he threw the ball down in disgust.
The Mets rallied and went on to win the game, the pennant, and of course the World Series.
Ah, sweet memories.
— Dawn Ennis
LOVED IT: Baseball broke free of the constraints of the past in the 1970s. The reserve clause died in the 70s. Thank you, Hall Of Famer Marvin Miller (Up yours, Bowie Kuhn!), Curt Flood, Dave McNally, and Andy Messersmith. Hank Aaron shattered the spectre of the past with one swing in ‘74.
We saw the “Great American Pastime” actually catch up with the times. It had facial hair (Can you say ‘Rollie Fingers’?), swagger, the “Reggie” Bar, Gaylord Perry’s “super sinker” (quite illegal, allegedly), and even Jim “Ball Four” Bouton came back on the mound to tweak the old game’s nose.
The era also liberated the uniform. The overgrown Curtis Mathes television set my grandmother had showed all sorts of color on “The Game Of The Week” (remember that?). You had more living color than the NBC Peacock.
Even the staid old teams like the Cardinals got in the groove. Those redbirds used to wear blue.
My favorite, though, was the orange sunshine-red-gold-navy of the late 70s-early 80s Houston Astros.
As a third-grader in 1980 they became my second-favorite team after my Royals, in what was turning into a dream spring and summer for me.
In the AL, George Brett was chasing .400 as my Royals led the AL West. In the NL West, the Houston team in the “Rollerball”-style uniforms were fighting the old guard from Los Angeles and Cincinnati.
The uniform fit the ballclub. The Astros were never “traditional”. They didn’t play in some so-called “cathedral of baseball” (Something Shea wasn’t, Dawn!). They played in a space-age, Barbarella-esque Astrodome. They had pitching staff that was first-team all-flammable. Nolan Ryan? Gas! J. R. Richard? Gas! Vern Ruhle? Gas! Ken Forsch? Gas!
They even had a young Joaquin Andujar before he was traded to the National League Sith (aka, the St. Louis Cardinals). And, to cross you up there was Joe Niekro with 20 wins and 11 complete games (remember complete games?). He wasn’t a flamethrower. He was a knuckleballer.
And offensively, they won the NL West with no power and beat two teams with capable launch systems to do it. The Dodgers and Reds were star-studded teams with big lineups. Terry Puhl led the Astros in homers with 13 for the season.
Bill Verdin’s crew won with solid contact hitting, speed and guile. It was wild seeing Cesar Cedeno racing catchers to steal a base with those colors in a blur to second. The team had 6 different players with at least 20 steals, including 36-year-old free agent Joe Morgan, who came in as a refugee from the Big Red Machine (Remember him?).
Watching the Astros execute the hit-and-run and suicide squeezes was a joy.
But the Astros of this era could be best known for having grit. They had to show a lot of it after the All-Star Break in 1980. In July, Richard was working toward a possible Cy Young year when he went down with the stroke that suddenly ended his career, and it sent the Astros reeling through August and September.
They fought the surging Dodgers to the final weekend of the regular season, where the Astros lost three-straight one-run games to the Dodgers which forced a one-game playoff for the division title.
The contrast was stark for that playoff game. The tradition-bound Dodgers in their home whites with subtle blue and red. Tommy Lasorda was the skipper with his Garveys, Bakers, and Ceys versus the rainbow-technicolored Astros with their band of free agents, misfits, and a knuckleballer on the mound.
Tradition got rapped by the knuckles. Niekro held the Dodgers to a single run in a complete-game 7-1 win. I saw the game after I raced home from school. (Day baseball in the postseason was a thing back then.). I was a happy little kid with thoughts of an Astros-Royals world series dancing in my head.
The Royals held up their end by sweeping the Yankees in the ALCS, but the Astros were clipped by the “Wheeze Kids” Phillies in the NLCS 3 games to 2, and then the Phillies took down my Royals to win the 1980 World Series.
The Astros, and those unis, got that close one more time, 1986. High-school sophomore me was pulling for the garish uniforms, Mike Scott on the mound, and savvy at the plate against the experience that was known as the New York Mets.
Game six again showed the character underneath the cartoonish uniforms, fighting all the way to a wild 16th (!) inning. The Astros had to fight off elimination thrice in the extra innings to pull to 7-6. But just like ‘80, it was heartbreak. Thanks a lot, Jesse Orosco (shut up, Dawn!).
The next year, and every year since, the Astros fell in line with tradition.
The orange sunshine-technicolor-dream would be relegated to the occasional throwback night.
Give me my memories Nolan and J.R.. More Jose Cruz and Enos Cabell. I’ll take Joe Niekro’s knuckleball in the “Eighth Wonder of the World.”
They can keep their white-home, grey-road, modern, focus-grouped uniforms dedicated to selling more merch.
I’ll take the old look, sip that “Tequila Sunrise”, and remember a gritty group of teams that made those “pajamas” special.
— Karleigh Webb
Here’s a selection of responses we received via Twitter:
As far as I'm concerned this is the only Astros uniform that exists.— John Osborn; (@john_osborn) April 19, 2020
it's iconic and unique to the Astros... but to me, it's still ugly and indicative of a not-great period of uniform design. I get why it's famous and well-loved, but it doesn't do it for me like other Astros unis (the shooting star, for example).— Anthony (@anthonytx42) April 19, 2020
These always make me think of Nolan Ryan and Steve Carlton trading strikeout records— Crackish Behavioral Therapist (@CallMeNikia) April 19, 2020
— Tracy Franklin (@tfranklinrm) April 19, 2020
What do you think? Tell us below in the comments!