added 8/30/2012 by Glynn Ligon
The Astros move to the American League in the 2013 season is hotly debated at the highest levels. Of the 82 legendary players who took the field for the Houston Colt .45s from 1962 to 1964, 35 of them gather nightly on the edge of the biggest owner's suite they all call "Heaven" to discuss the politics of Major League Baseball.
A little known fact is that God's all-time favorite team is the Colt .45s. Yes, the Angels were created a year earlier in 1961, but that just set off an eternal trademark dispute. In 1969, Saint Diego managed to get the Padres to his namesake city but, by then, the .45s were enshrined as sentimental favorites. The 1969 "miracle" Mets were simply an unintentional, premature Moneyball coincidence; not a Supreme intervention. The Colt .45s were divine because they embraced the noblest of all ventures - giving both veteran players one final opportunity to complete their dreams and rookies that first chance to dig into a big league batter's box or toe a pitcher's rubber.
God personally intervened back in the 60's to gather onto the same team roster over a three-year span a Major League record 16 players who at one time in their careers appeared as All-Stars (Jim Busby, Bob Cerv, Larry Dierker, Dick Farrell, Nellie Fox, Billy Goodman, Norm Larker, Don McMahon, Joe Morgan, Claude Raymond, Pete Runnels, Bobby Shantz, Rusty Staub, Johnny Temple, Hal Woodeshick, and Jim Wynn). This fact is not widely known outside of the Cloud 9 Dugout (not a bad name for the local hangout, is it?).
If it were not for the intervention of Saint Peter, the Colt .45s might have made it to the World Series by 1964. God had already reigned down the first two of the 12 planned plagues against visiting teams (oppressive heat with 99% humidity and swarms of blood-sucking mosquitoes) when Saint Peter mentioned the planned 1989 World Series earthquake. Two extreme baseball interventions seemed a bit too much in the same century, so the gray-flannel visitors received a break.
As a final show of frustration and partisanship, God summarily ended the game of June 30, 1962 by sending down a Bayou-City-style bank of fog that rolled over the 30-foot high centerfield fence and completely hid the opposing fielders. The game was called in the seventh inning to save the .45s' 7-3 victory over the Reds and let Manager Harry Craft make it to the hospital for the birth of his daughter. How could I be making this stuff up, or any of the events that follow?
Jim Umbricht is the one who remembers the debate between God and team owner Judge Roy Hofheinz about the change to the Astros name in 1965. Jim was the first .45 to reach Heaven and was in the restroom when God was calling down to Roy demanding the change. Yes, they have restrooms - not for the typical Earthly purpose, but souls still need places to conduct other business. Don't try to understand the restroom gender thing; you'll just have to wait to see how that works in Heaven.
So everyone here on Earth figured the Judge abandoned the Colt .45s name for the Astros simply to match the Astrodome, but now we know. There was a larger plan. The Colt .45s, God's favorite team with the perfect team name, was being retired for all eternity. God, of course, could foresee that in a few decades, society would not be able to handle Colt .45s as a logo for a baseball team.
The talk around the "9" tonight is that Bud Selig, Baseball Commissioner and former Brewers team owner, must not have had his Milwaukee walkie-talkie tuned to the Almighty's frequency for a few days when he banned the smoking gun logo from the throwback jerseys for the Flashback Friday games last spring. More than a few faithful fans and a midnight visit from a single archangel convinced Selig to see legitimate reasons to wear the smoking gun once again.
Let's get back to the players. Of the 35 .45s gathered at the "9", 19 played in the American League at some time in their careers (Walt Bond, George Brunet, Don Buddin, Jim Busby, Al Cicotte, Dick Farrell, Nellie Fox, Billy Goodman, Joe Hoerner, Gordon Jones, Don McMahon, Don Nottebart, Merritt Ranew, Dave L. Roberts, Pete Runnels, Johnny Temple, Bobby Tiefenauer, George Williams, and Hal Woodeshick). We must remember that in their era, the American League didn't have the designated hitter - a 1973 rule change. Plus, there was no interleague play - introduced in 1997.
Thus, the two leagues were not so different from each other. All this means that the Colt .45s pitchers had to bat, bunt, and pitch into the seventh inning and the veteran position players had to field and make solid throws to the plate in order to stay in the lineup. Therefore, "switching to the American League" is not a "speaking from experience" topic for even those who played in the Junior Circuit back in their day.
For the others, not having any American League experience matters naught when it comes to expressing opinions (John Bateman, Jim Beauchamp, Pidge Browne, Jay Dahl, Ron Davis, Dick Drott, Howie Goss, Al Heist, John Hoffman, Norm Larker, Ivan Murrell, Jim Pendleton, Jim Umbricht, Glenn Vaughan, Johnny Weekly, and Chris Zachary).
Let's listen in on some of the Cloud 9 chatter. Typically, the players would be arguing about whose baseball cards are now worth more on eBay. Tonight, however, the sun is setting on the National League Central Division.
Pete Runnels started the rhubarb when he boasted, "Send me back to the American League. I'll show them some hittin'. My last year there I won the batting championship, then the .45s traded for me and made my veteran eyes hit under those candles in Colt Stadium."
Walt Bond: "Forget that the current Astros team is the worst in baseball and those American League West teams look tough. I liked having our games broadcast by Gene Elston and Loel Passe at a time when fans could listen in on their transistor radios. Soon almost half the games will end after midnight. Hey, did you ever notice how from up here all the players look like ants?"
Dick Farrell: "Forget all that, I want to hit. I think I have it all figured out now. I hit .135 with four home runs in 14 seasons, but I could do so much better now. You have to admit, with me pitching, we really didn't need base runners and runs, did we, guys? A designated hitter is like a stunt double. What fun is that?"
Johnny Temple: "I hit in the American League. Turk, you aren't going to hit in any league, so get your stunt double ready."
Harry Craft: "Guys, I managed all of you, but before that I managed Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris prior to them making the American League. Let's just invite them over to our cloud one night and see what they think."
Norm Larker: "Pete, you're the best American League hitter and I'll stake a claim to being the best National League hitter on this cloud. Not a one of us could play today in the physical condition we were in back in the 60's. We'd have to tune up considerably to match up in either league."
Merritt Ranew: "Squat, catch, and throw. A catcher's skills are pretty simple. Bateman, your franchise home run record for a catcher of 17 for a season still stands. How are the Astros going to compete in a league where catchers hit 17 home runs before the All-Star Break?"
Don Nottebart: "Bring 'em on, boys. In our prime, with the competition of our time, the Colt .45s could have competed in any league. Unfortunately, we were a bit past that prime by the time we got together, weren't we? Not you, Merritt. You, Rusty, the Toy Cannon, and that Morgan kid were babies."
Nellie Fox: "Who cares what league you're in if you get to play baseball? I think Texans deserve to have a team in each league. Now the fans will get to see fewer teams. This whole game is about the fans. I played most of my years in the American League, but that was before the designated hitter took away much of the strategy infielders had to defend each game."
Don Nottebart: "Did y'all catch those prayers from the current players who didn't want to move to the AL West? I'm thinking those prayers might be answered in a way they didn't anticipate."
Jim Pendleton: "Obviously, none of us are losing any sleep over this. I'm glad we're not getting more enclosed stadiums. Houston already closes ours as much as anyone to cool down the fans."
Don Buddin: "The new owners cooled the fans down with the lineups they're seeing. All that swinging and missing keeps the air circulating."
Billy Goodman: "Unfortunately, Seattle keeps the grass dry a lot by not retracting their roof. I'd have kept the Astros in the sunnier part of Earth. I can't see through those roofs."
Hal Woodeshick: "Anyone heard the prophesies about the Astros and the World Series in 2017? Yeah, God let it slip that oil prices will underwrite a bidding war for free agents with the Yankees and Rangers that will bring a championship to Houston."
Pidge Browne: "Well, I've been around Houston baseball as long as anyone. My prophesy is that there's a cloud over there for Selig to sit under and a whole lot of Houston fans just waiting for him to explain why the Brewers couldn't have moved to the AL West instead. I'm thinking this place isn't going to seem like Heaven to poor Bud when he arrives."
The banter goes on into extra innings this evening, at least until down in Houston, the first pitch is thrown by an Astros AAA prospect pitcher to the opponent's All Star lead-off batter. That's been the box score for the Astros this season. Yet this host of eternal fans, even if not namesakes any more, have faith that a better future has been foretold for the franchise. These Colt .45s may be looking down on the move to the American League, but some seem to think times will be looking up for the descendants of God's favorite baseball team.
(Editor's note: Glynn Ligon maintains a website devoted to all the baseball cards ever produced about the Houston Colt .45s. That site is located at www.colt45scards.info. Guest columns are always welcome if they are baseball-related or Astro-centric. If you wish to submit a guest column, write to firstname.lastname@example.org.)