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Jan 9, 2013
@ 12:13 pm
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The Best Uniforms in Houston Astros History

It only took a couple of months, but we’ve finally seen the complete package—the 2013 Houston Astros uniforms are now completely unveiled.  The team, coming off the worst season in their collective 50 years, has a new owner who’s looking to break away from the old ownership and what better way to do that than with new uniforms? 

Since we’re on the cusp of a new uniform era in Astros baseball, this seems like the perfect time to look at the past to see where what the most influential designs were in team history.  Below is my list, ranked from worst to best, with the notable players who wore each set, a few notes about each design, and my thoughts on why I like or dislike them.

6. Astros in Pinstripes: 1999 - 2012

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As worn by:  Lance Berkman, Roy Oswalt, Roger Clemens, and Carlos Lee.

You remember these, don’t you?  Of course you do!  These are the most recent uniforms the team has worn.  They ushered in a new era of downtown baseball withMinuteMaidParkand were worn during the team’s most successful period (multiple playoff appearances in the 2000s including a World Series appearance in 2005) and also the worst (back to back 100 loss seasons in 2011 and 2012). 

Perhaps history will be more kind to this set, but I was never a strong fan of this design even from its inception.  For the first time in team history, the traditional colors of navy and orange were completely abandoned.  In its place were brick red, sand, and black.  These colors were not just random choices—they were representative of elements of the new downtown ballpark: Brick red for the red bricks of outer facade, sand to represent the native limestone (also an incorporated building material), and black for the train tracks that were once part of Union Station (which is the where the stadium is currently located).  The open star cap design from the preceding uniform was retained and modified slightly.  Solid white, brick red, and even black jerseys were introduced with this set. 

Besides abandoning the Houston’s traditional look, the team also went for a more traditional look with a typical script font used on the front of jerseys and in the logo along with pinstripes—a first in Astros history—on home uniforms.  The result was uniforms that were conservative and clean-looking, but also a bit generic and boring.  And I think that’s my biggest gripe here:  This look is not really representative of what an Astro should look like nor what fans from other cities tend to associate with the team. Grade: C-

5. History Remembered: 2013 - ?

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As worn by:  Jose Altuve, Jason Castro, and Bud Norris. 

This is the newest uniform set, first unveiled in early November.  This is the first new uniform under Astros owner Jim Crane who, wisely, recognized that the return of navy and orange was long overdue.  New uniform designs were whispered and speculated about for much of 2012, and also leaked a few times running up to the official unveiling, but the complete uniform set was a total surprise to many fans (including myself).

Just like their preceding set, there are many variants with these new uniforms:  A total of four caps (home blue, alternate orange, alternate orange/blue, BP orange/blue) and four jerseys (home white, alternate orange, alternate blue, road grey) will now be used.  The organization has also brought back a slightly revised H-Star cap and with block lettering on the jerseys that’s somewhat reminiscent of the original 1960s “Shooting Star” set.  Somewhat bizarrely, though, the shooting star is missing from both the home and orange alternate jerseys, so you end up with what appears to be an unfinished look.  In conjunction with the new blue alternate jerseys (with rainbow striping down the sides) and batting practice caps (with similar color gradation), the entire set looks a bit mismatched. 

But perhaps my biggest problem issue is that these uniforms are too much a slave to past designs.  Not that there’s anything wrong with that if you can pull it off, of course, but this has always been a forward-looking franchise unafraid of being trendy.  These uniforms are watered down Kool-Aid:  Not as good as the real thing, but also inoffensive. Grade: C 

4. “Tequila Sunrise:” 1975-1986

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As worn by:  Jose Cruz, J.R. Richard, Cesar Cedeno, and Joe Niekro.

This set might be THE most memorable uniforms in Astros franchise history to some.  They were completely unlike anything seen up to the point they were revealed and unlike anything ever produced since.  This set was so unique, in fact, that there were no separate road uniforms.  Over the years, this uniform set has achieved cult status for being garish, wacky, and totally 1970s. 

The H-Star cap design used by the previous “Shooting Star” uniforms was retained but the primary color was now orange.  The rest of the uniform set was entirely new.  The jerseys were covered in multi-colored horizontal stripes in varying shades of red, orange, and yellow (hence the Tequila Sunrise nickname).  A circular white marque was added to the back, with the uniform number placed inside, and uniform numbers were also added to the front of the pants. 

At the time they were introduced, they were completely wild by MLB standards but the 1970s was a different time and many other teams were also experimenting with their uniforms, too. (The most extreme example of this might be the Chicago White Sox.  They wore shorts for a brief period in 1976).  This design was very contemporary of the time—the uniform equivalent of barbed wire tattoos and Ed Hardy shirts—so this is likely what also led to their demise.  While many Astros fans have expressed their desire to bring this uniform, like a powder blue tuxedo they seem best left in the closet for most of the year.  An Influential design?  Yes, but also horribly dated. Grade: C+

3. New Decade, New Uniform Era: 1980-1993.

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As worn by:  Nolan Ryan, Glenn Davis, Kevin Bass(!), and Jim Deshaies. 

Starting in 1980, this uniform set was meant as a home alternate for the Tequila Sunrise uniforms.  However, team ownership grew fond of the new design and, by the mid 1980s, they completely replaced their predecessor.  Like many other uniform sets in team history, this group has its own quirks—most notably the lack of a true road grey.  (The team initially wore an off-white colored road uniform before later opting for a beige road set in the 1990s.)  The H-Star hats returned, but this time they were navy (which hadn’t been used since the original “shooting star” set) with blue piping down the sides.  The font and revised star from the Tequila Sunrise jerseys was also carried over.  A toned down gradated color band, reminiscent of the previous set, ran down the shoulders.  A blue spring training/batting practice jersey was also first introduced with this group. 

The Astros made their first ever playoff appearance wearing these uniforms, nearly reached the World Series in 1986, and saw an early ‘90s rebuilding effort led by youngsters like Ken Caminiti and Craig Biggio.  These uniforms also coincided with the boom—and bust—of baseball cards as a hobby.  (Perhaps this is why so many fans remember these uniforms set so fondly?)  Go to any Astros home game and, of all the throwback jerseys you see, you’ll probably see more from this era than any other.  Sure, this look dated now, but it’s an attractive that’s surprisingly refined (especially when so many other teams were wearing powder blue pajamas with white panel front caps).  To me, this was a good mix of new and old, but maybe not strong enough of a design to be remembered as the all-time best. Grade: B+

2. “The Future Star:” 1994-1999.

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As worn by:  Shane Reynolds, Craig Biggio, Jeff Bagwell, and Billy Wagner.

Why is this uniform set ranked so high, you ask?  This was a design that didn’t look to the past uniforms for any design cues.  Think about that for a second:  Every uniform the Astros had worn to this point, minus their original uniform, was some sort of homage to the past—be it in the color scheme, logos, or fonts used.  This uniform set was entirely new.  The navy in the color scheme was left alone, but gold now replaced orange.  A futuristic, italicized font was used on the jerseys and gone was the H-Star cap (for the first time in nearly 30 years) and replaced for a logo featuring an italicized star with an open side (a design that would be kept and slightly modified in the next uniform set).  A blue and a black alternate were introduced.  

When I think of this time, I think of the exciting Astros teams of the late 1990s with the “Killer Bs” and also the end of the line for the Astrodome.  I also forget just how great these uniforms look in person, which is a thought that hadn’t come to mind until the Astros wore this set again in 2012 (for the first time in over a decade). 

The “Future Star” uniforms were different, played heavily upon the themes of the future and the connection Houstonhas with NASA, and also appropriately restrained.  As fans, I’m not sure anyone ever got sick of this set (since they were only around for six seasons).  Even after 15 years, these uniforms look great—and remain relevant. Grade: A

1. The Shooting Star 1965-1970, revised 1971-1974.

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As worn by:  Joe Morgan, Rusty Staub, Jimmy Wynn, and Larry Dierker.

Yes folks, the original Houston Astros uniforms are still the best.  

There are two reasons why I think this: 

1) The Astros were fortunate in that they came in existence during the 1960s: The pinnacle of modern baseball uniform design, as far as I’m concerned.  Gone were the big, baggy flannel uniforms of the 1940s and 50s.  Polyester was just starting to come in to use so, naturally, the uniforms were cut a lot slimmer.  This was also an era before some of the more nutty designs of the 1970s (yes, including the “Tequila Sunrise” unis), but after the more conservative years of the 1950s.  It was a time of movement and expansion coast-to-coast when many teams (like the Athletics, Twins, Mets) really carved out their identity.  

2) This was the first ever uniform for the Houston Astros and, being that they were an expansion team with no real history, they had the chance to either create something really memorable or produce a total flop.  The need to get it right must’ve been enormous, so the resulting shooting star logo over a stylized “ASTROS” and the H-Star caps shouldn’t be undersold.  This set was simple, clean, and so strong a design that it continued to influence all later designs.  The H-Star cap, first introduced with this set, was used over four decades before being retired (and now revised with the newest Astros uniforms).  This design is single biggest influencer on the current uniform set.  In fact, the new road grey jerseys and solid navy caps look almost identical to what was worn by the Astros in the 1960s.

The combination of many influential elements (including an embracing of orange & navy—the defacto Astros color scheme, the H-Star hats, and the stylishly understated uniforms) make this the greatest uniform set in Houston Astros history. Grade: A+

Bonus: The Colt .45s: 1962-1964

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As worn by:  Turk Farrell, Nellie Fox, Bob Aspromonte, and Hal Brown.

The Colt .45s were a different team, but I didn’t want to leave them high and dry because, well, they were Houston’s first MLB team and they had a memorable (and now somewhat controversial) uniform set. 

When a lot of people not from Texas(particularly those from other countries) think of Texas, they think of the Wild West.  Of course, if you’ve been to Houston anytime in the past few decades, you know that couldn’t be further from the truth. Houston is the fourth largest city in the United States and highly urbanized.  But the owner’s of Houston’s first MLB franchise, perhaps wanting to play up that connotation or maybe due to the popularity of western themed TV shows/movies, chose Colt .45s—a pistol that won the old west—as the team’s official name. 

Like the Astros, the Colts arrived on the scene during the golden age of uniform design, so they have their own stylish look.  The navy and orange (a look that was supposedly inspired by an Astros team official coming over from the Orioles) was first introduced here.  A stylized “COLTS” logo on the chest, with a smoking revolver that formed the “C” in the name, was featured prominently on the home jerseys.  Appropriate to the era, there are no names on the back and the stirrups are an alternating navy and orange stripe.  (These were later changed to a solid color with a star when the team changed to the Astros.)  The road uniform was, more or less, kept the same when the team became the Astros.  The caps are navy with “.45s” in orange block letters.  The result is straight to the point, but also a unique.  

In an era where guns have no become a hotly debated topic, this team name is now rediculously politically incorrect.  Of course, doesn’t that just scream Texas?  Texas has always marched to its own beat and has never apologized for being too brash and/or offensive.  As for the uniforms, the simplicity and clean lines remain stylish even today.  The Colt .45s, I would argue, were authentic to the state which they called home.  (How many other teams are named after a gun?)  I give them a high amount of credit for both originality and execution in design.  Grade: A