Following the Civil War, baseball became a way for citizens to transition back into a normal lifestyle. In Houston, the great sport can be traced back to San Jacinto Day 1867, when the Houston Stonewalls beat the Galveston Robert E. Lees 35-2 on a field at the San Jacinto Battleground. Just over twenty years later in 1888, the Texas League was born in Houston.
Houston had a variety of teams, but the most prominent club became the Buffaloes, or Buffs for short. The Houston Buffs fielded future Hall of Famers such as Dizzy Dean, Joe Medwick, Chick Hafey and Tris Speaker along with numerous other major league greats. The Buffs won multiple Texas League and Dixie Series championships and played a key role in the development of a minor league system for Major League Baseball.
Following the success of the Buffs, George Kirksey, a local sportswriter and public relations executive, began the effort to bring Major League Baseball to Houston in the 1950s. Along with local businessman Craig Cullinan (heir to Texaco), Kirksey formed the Houston Sports Association ("HSA") and enlisted Houston businessman and landowner, R.E. "Bob" Smith, to pursue a major league franchise. To do so, Smith welcomed Roy Hofheinz, a former Houston Mayor and Harris County Judge, into the HSA. Known for his knowledge of large civic projects, Hofheinz was working on plans for an indoor, climate-controlled regional shopping center on Houston's expanding west side when Smith approached him. Hofheinz consulted with designer Buckminster Fuller, who would go on to design the geodesic dome, and plans quickly shifted to developing the world's first domed stadium. Following a masterful presentation by Hofheinz to major league owners, Houston was awarded a major league expansion team in the National League on October 17, 1960.
In 1961, the HSA purchased the Buffs, then playing in the American Association, and transitioned into a major league operation the following year. At that time, the Buffs moved to Oklahoma City and became the Triple-A club of the newest major league team - the Houston Colt .45s. Named after the "Gun that won the West," the Colt .45s debuted on April 10, 1962 beating the Chicago Cubs 11-2 at Colt Stadium in the first-ever major league game in the southern United States. The western-themed Colt Stadium was baseball's first temporary stadium as the revolutionary domed stadium would rise a few hundred yards away in southwest Houston.
Ground broke for the Harris County Domed Stadium on January 3, 1962 as the HSA, Harris County Commissioners, and civic leaders fired Colt .45 pistols into the ground. Roman Mejias, Bob Aspromonte, Al Spangler and Bob Lillis emerged as key players for the club as Rusty Staub, Jimmy Wynn and Joe Morgan worked their way onto the roster as home-grown stars. The Colt .45s name was retired after the 1964 season.
On December 1, 1964, in honor of the Houston-based NASA-manned Space Center and the local astronauts, team president Roy Hofheinz declared that the team would be known as the Astros and the domed stadium would become the Astrodome. The Astros and Astrodome were to emulate the space program as cutting edge and lead the way into the future in one of the fastest growing cities in America. The Astros opened the Dome in grand fashion with a 2-1 exhibition game victory against the New York Yankees on April 9, 1965. Three days later twenty-two U.S. astronauts tossed the first pitch to open the Dome's first regular season.
The Astrodome was a revolutionary structure that placed Houston on the international map. The interior was set in a 72-degree environment under an 18-story, 642-foot span dome with theater seating across six levels and home to five restaurants. A four-story, 474-foot wide scoreboard stretched across the outfield where the famous "Home Run Spectacular" would light up after every Astros home run and victory. The Astrodome also featured the first luxury skyboxes and an exclusive five-level Astros VIP suite, where President Lyndon Johnson viewed the first game in 1965. Astroturf, a revolutionary artificial playing surface, debuted at the Astrodome in 1966 and, through the next thirty years, spread throughout almost every major sports stadium. Although built for baseball, the Astrodome was designed to be a multi-purpose facility that also hosted the NFL Houston Oilers, the University of Houston football, the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, soccer, auto thrill shows, mini grand prix races, bloodless bullfights, championship boxing, festivals, concerts and numerous other events that brought some of the best talent in their industry. The 1968 and 1986 Major League All-Star Games were also held in the Astrodome.
In the late 1960s, the Astros saw the emergence of great pitching talent from 20-game winner, Larry Dierker, and two-time no-hit pitcher, Don Wilson. Six no-hitters were tossed in Astrodome history, which, during a 1965 visit, the legendary Satchel Paige once deemed a "pitcher's paradise." Jimmy Wynn, the "Toy Cannon," set most of the original offensive franchise records.
The 1970s saw the arrival of Doug Rader, Bob Watson, Cesar Cedeno and Jose Cruz while pitchers J.R. Richard, Ken Forsch, and Joe Niekro emerged on a team built for speed, pitching and defense. Ownership of the Astros changed in the mid-1970s when financial difficulties forced Roy Hofheinz to relinquish control to team creditors, Ford Motor Credit Company and General Electric Corp. The team was sold in 1979 to a group of investors led by John McMullen, a New Jersey ship builder, who oversaw many renovations and upgrades to the Astrodome in the 1980s.
The Astros of the 1980s featured some of the club's most dominant pitching with a staff anchored by Nolan Ryan and Mike Scott. A nucleus of Craig Reynolds, Alan Ashby, Bill Doran, Phil Garner, and Kevin Bass led the "Orange Force". Glenn Davis, the power hitting "Big Bopper", arrived in the mid-80s. The Astros won the NL West Championship in 1980 and 1986. Craig Biggio's debut in 1988 began a franchise record 20 seasons with Houston and in 2015 became the first Astros player elected to the Hall of Fame. In 1991, Biggio, Ken Caminiti, Jeff Bagwell, Luis Gonzalez, and Steve Finley were part of a rebuilding Astros team which led a string of many winning seasons.
Houston dominated the late 1990s with consecutive NL Central championships from 1997-1999. The 1998 Astros, lead by Bagwell and Biggio, won a franchise-record 102 games with the additions of Moises Alou, Carl Everett, and Derek Bell. The Astros played their final game in the "Eighth Wonder of the World" on October 9, 1999.
Drayton McLane, a grocery distributor from Temple, Texas, bought the Astros from John McMullen in 1992. In the late 1990s, McLane was the driving force behind the "Ballpark at Union Station," which was designed to incorporate and renovate Houston's 1911 Union Station into the Astros front office and a ballpark entrance. As a salute to Houston's roots in the railroad industry, the design came to life with a working 19th century replica locomotive perched upon the left field roof track which celebrates Astros home runs and victories. It also boasts a 9,000-ton retractable roof, shaped in the trajectory of a baseball in flight, which glides over a natural grass surface within 13 minutes. On March 30, 2000, the new ballpark opened as Enron Field with a 6-5 Astros exhibition victory over the New York Yankees.
The Astros entered a naming rights agreement with the Houston-based Minute Maid Company on June 5, 2002. Since the park opened, Minute Maid Park has hosted the 2004 All-Star Game, fifteen playoff series including the 2005, 2017, and 2019 World Series, Hall of Famer Craig Biggio's 3,000th hit and a long list of other great Astros moments. The 2000s Astros lineup of stars featured Jeff Bagwell, Lance Berkman, Craig Biggio, Roger Clemens, Jeff Kent, Roy Oswalt, and Andy Pettitte.
On November 22, 2011, a group of investors led by Houston businessman, Jim Crane, completed the purchase of the Astros from Drayton McLane. Crane, a former standout college baseball pitcher at Central Missouri State University, constructed a staff that once again made the Astros into one of the strongest and advanced player development systems in baseball. The emergence of Jose Altuve, George Springer, Carlos Correa and Alex Bregman form a nucleus of some of the best talent in Major League Baseball and in 2017 skyrocketed the Astros to their first World Series Championship in franchise history. With a blend of advanced analytics, roster depth developed through the Minor League system, and the addition of key veterans such as Justin Verlander and Zack Greinke, through trade or free agency, the Astros have poised themselves as a franchise capable of sustaining success both on and off the field for many years to come. In early 2020, the Astros hired James Click as the new General Manager of Baseball Operations and Dusty Baker as the nineteenth Manager in Astros History.