The Houston Astros will be moving after the 2012 season; not from Houston or their stadium, but from their league, the National League, the league they’ve called home since their debut season 50 years ago in 1962. The Astros also have a new owner and their shift to the American League was a condition of that sale.
When it comes to the Houston Astros any major change to the franchise raises questions amongst the logo and uniform community about what they’ll do branding-wise when the change happens.
The Astros have had a history of introducing entirely new looks at moments such as these. The first time they moved into a new stadium they completely changed their name, when they moved again they nearly changed names once again before settling on merely radically changing their colour scheme and uniform style. Every time a new owner took over: change, change, change.
In 2012-13 the Astros will be experiencing both these events at the same time, I smell change a-comin’. I asked the Houston Astros this week about any plans to change their look to coincide with their league-jump next year, they said that a rebrand in time for 2013 was indeed possible. This came on the heels of new Astros owner, Jim Crane, mentioning he’d seek fan input on a new logo or uniforms.
Personally, I’d like to see a return to the classic blue and orange colour scheme that the team sported during those great Nolan Ryan, Mike Scott, and Craig Biggio days. Were they the best years for the Astros? Maybe so, maybe not, but they sure looked great.
The Houston Astros started life in October 1960 and along with New York (Mets) they were the first two cities awarded Major League expansion franchises in nearly 60 years. The franchise was awarded largely due to the promise of a domed stadium being built by it’s expansion ownership group. The Houston franchise then held a name-the-team contest in 1961 to find the new club moniker.
On March 7, 1961 the Houston Sports Association announced the winner from the more than 12,000 entries for the new name. The team was to be named “The Colts”, and would “use a revolver as an emblem instead of a young horse” as originally reported by the Associated Press.
Although the team was officially known as the Houston Colt .45s, the media and fans chose to brand the club “Colts” and even the team uniforms had “COLTS” blazoned across the front, the letters formed out of the smoke from a freshly fired weapon.
During the same off season as their move into the Harris County Domed Stadium (as it was then known) the Colt .45s became involved in a merchandising dispute with the Colt Firearms Company. The company stated they had no objection to the team retaining the Colt .45s name but took issue with the name being licensed out to manufacturers of merchandise. Instead of being forced into a profit-sharing plan with the firearm company, Houston president Roy Hofheinz opted to take advantage of the unique opportunity presented to him to rebrand everything, including the stadium, name, logos… everything.
After kicking around the idea of calling the club the Houston Stars, Hofheinz eventually settled on the Houston Astros, announcing his decision in December of 1964. Hofheinz explained, in his own unique way, that the new name, “is keeping with the situation in which we are the space capital of the world… the name is taken from the stars and indicates we are on the ascendancy.”
Much like similar drastic brand changes over the years, the “Astros” name was met with negative reactions from Houston fans. “We don’t care for the name Astros, we’re Texans and we’d like the name to fit in more with our heritage”, claimed a manager of a local bond paper manufacturing firm. Keep in mind, space exploration and Houston’s role as the centre of the space world was relatively new in 1965.
The club decided to retain their colour scheme of blue and orange from their days as the Colt .45s but added a shooting star, with an arch similar to that of a home run to the front of their home uniforms. Their new logo was predominantly orange and featured baseballs flying all around a graphical representation of their new domed stadium, The Astrodome. You don’t see teams putting their stadiums on their logos anymore, that’s for sure, but The Astrodome was certainly iconic when it opened in 1965. It was dubbed the “Eighth Wonder of the World”, and was the first domed stadium in sports history. Ever wonder how AstroTurf got it’s name? You guessed it, it was created specifically for the Astrodome when the grass they planted kept dying. They actually had to go through that to figure out grass can’t grow indoors….go figure.
The Astros didn’t introduce their most iconic look until ten years later, when the advertising firm McCann and Erickson was called in to radically rebrand the club with a look never before seen on the baseball field. A pullover jersey with red, orange, and yellow alternating horizontal stripes wrapping around the jersey from mid-chest to the waist, a large blue star and a bright orange cap were added for good measure.
This was known as the “Rainbow Era” in Houston Astros history.
In 1980 a new ownership group took over and the rainbow uniforms were phased out shortly thereafter – being used less and less over the next 6 years before being replaced completely. The new uniforms which officially became the full-time duds for 1987 carried over the rainbow stripes but they were now relegated to the arms of the uniforms and the orange cap gave way to blue creating a much less offensive, but still unique look for the club.
Another new owner in 1992 and another re-brand. For 1994 the rainbows were finally gone, orange was completely eliminated, and a much more space-like colour scheme of navy blue and gold was introduced. Players now wore a blue cap with a gold shooting star and uniforms featuring “ASTROS” italicized across the chest with a star in place of the “O”. Even nearly 30 years after it’s opening, that old Astrodome imagery still kicked around in the graphic package, now actually forming the shape of the primary logo.
In the late 1990s the Astros announced they would be leaving the Astrodome to a new retractable roof stadium in downtown Houston. Their new stadium (which would be known as Enron Field) was to be built next to Houston’s Union Station and would open in time for the 2000 season.
Would it make sense for the Astros to leave their iconic Astrodome and retain their name?
That was a decision owner Drayton McLane wrestled with as they bounced around plans to rebrand the club to fit their new stadium.
Just a few days before the Astros made their first trip to the post-season in 11 years, it was revealed that the club was considering a name change. The Houston Diesels, the Houston Wildcatters, and the Houston Buffs were the names in the running. Diesels would have tied in with the new stadium’s proximity to Union Station to create a railroad motif. Wildcatters would reference Houston’s energy industry and the Astros relationship with Enron who had naming rights to the stadium. “Buffs” was a throwback to the original Houston baseball franchise – the Buffalos, their minor league club which had played off-and-on from 1888 through 1961.
With fans strongly against renaming the club McLane backed off from this idea but a rebrand still happened, for their inaugural season at Enron Field in 2000 the Astros came out wearing a much more subdued, traditional, train engineer-esque set. The colour scheme was switched over to black, brick and sand, pinstripes were worn with the home jerseys. The club mascot which had previously been an alien named Orbit (makes sense right?) was replaced by a train driving rabbit known as Junction Jack. Nothing about this new brand had anything to do with the original meaning behind the name “Astros”.
To this day the Astros are still out there wearing their Houston Diesels uniforms with “Astros” written across the front; at some point near the end of the 2012 season I expect we will hear more serious rumblings of a change with an official announcement coming in November.
Do I think they’ll change the name? Not at all, but I do expect a new logo, uniform, and colour scheme. If the feedback from the Toronto Blue Jays recent rebranding is of any indication it’s possible we’ll see a return to orange in some capacity, hopefully paired with navy blue in a uniform set based upon their first Astros uniform from 1965. That’s what I’d love to see but knowing the Astros and their history of changes it’ll be something new that nobody’s expecting.