HOUSTON ASTROS. The Houston Astros, a professional baseball team, belong to the Central Division of major-league baseball's National League. Big-league baseball came to Houston in 1962 after Roy M. Hofheinz, with the help of wealthy oilman Robert Everett (Bob) Smithqv, gained control of the Houston Sports Association. Hofheinz was a flamboyant former judge and mayor of Houston who controlled the Astros until the 1979 season. The Houston Colt 45's, the original name of the franchise, began play as an expansion club in 1962. In their first game, the Colt 45's beat the Chicago Cubs eleven to two in front of 25,271 fans in temporary Colt Stadium while awaiting the completion of the Astrodome. That first club finished a surprising eighth in the National League, ahead of the Cubs and the expansion New York Mets. The next two years saw identical ninth-place finishes, with the only highlights being no-hitters thrown by Don Nottebart in 1963 and by Ken Johnson in 1964. The Harris County Domed Stadium, otherwise known as the Astrodome, opened in early 1965, and the team changed its name to the Astros. The stadium occupied 9½ acres and rose 208 feet above the playing surface. The Astros lost the first official game in the Astrodome two to zero to the Philadelphia Phillies. The 1965 season was a financial success, drawing 2,151,470 fans to the new building, but the team once again finished in last place. In fact, despite Don Wilson's no-hitter in 1968, the team still had not finished higher than ninth place since its inaugural season. The quality of play over this stretch was poor, but Judge Hofheinz always made sure the fans were entertained with various promotions and stunts. The quality of play began to pick up in the early 1970s, with the Astros finishing with their best record yet, of 84–65, in 1972. Emerging stars Joe Morgan and Cesar Cedeno were two of the best players in the national league. Morgan was traded to the Cincinnati Reds, however, and the success did not last.
The mid-1970s saw a sharp decline in the Astros record and in fan attendance. In fact, 1975 was the first time since 1964 that the club drew less than a million fans. As the decade moved on, the Astros inched toward respectability, finishing with a .500 record in 1978, but the fans were still not coming out. Judge Hofheinz relinquished control of the Houston Sports Association before the 1979 season, and Ford Credit Corporation acquired a majority interest in the Houston Sports Association and the Astros. The team still drew less than a million fans in 1979, but excitingly, they finished just 1½ games out of first place in the National League West. In 1980 the Astros signed free agent and Texas native Nolan Ryan to the first million-dollar contract in baseball, and they also reacquired Joe Morgan. The team finished in a tie with the Los Angeles Dodgers for first place and won a one-game playoff for their first-ever division title. They lost an exciting league championship series to the Philadelphia Phillies. The 1981 strike-shortened season also went well, ending in a playoff loss to the Dodgers. The Astros hovered around a .500 winning percentage until 1986. Seemingly out of nowhere they then finished with a 96–66 record, the best in franchise history by far, once again winning the National League West. Pitcher Mike Scott was named Most Valuable Player of the National League. The team lost a dramatic league championship series to the heavily favored Mets, however.
As of the mid-1990s the Astros had not reached those heights again. Throughout the late 1980s and early 1990s they never threatened for another division title. Drayton McClain became owner of the Astros in 1993, and the team started to become competitive once again. The club was finally competing for a division title in 1994 under new manager Terry Collins, the team's eleventh manager in thirty-three years, but the season was never finished because of the baseball players' strike. In 1995 and 1996 the team finished second in the National League's Central Division. Collins was nevertheless replaced by former Astro pitcher Larry Dierker as manager before the 1997 season. Dierker guided the team to first-place finishes in 1997, 1998, and 1999, but the Astros lost in the National League Divisional Series all three years. The Astros played their last game at the Astrodome on October 9, 1999. They moved to Enron Field, a newly constructed baseball-only facility, for the 2000 season. In 2000 the team, racked by injuries to star players Craig Biggio and Billy Wagner and the departure of pitcher Mike Hampton as a free agent, fell to fourth place in the division.
Peter C. Bjarkman, ed., Encyclopedia of Major League Baseball Team Histories: National League (Westport: Meckler, 1991).