Thursday, January 10, 2008

You Can't Call Them ASTROS!

Ever since I started putting together vintage card sets from the late 1960's, I have always wondered what in the world was up with the Astros from 1968 & 1969.

As I mentioned yesterday, the Fleer Emblem sets from 1967 and 1968 have all the teams that were part of MLB at the time except 1 - the Houston Astros. While this is odd, what makes it more of a mystery was the fact that during this time, Topps was only referring to the team by the name of the city, not the name of the team. Why?

Lets travel back in time to late 1964. With the completion of the domed stadium (at the time called the Harris County Domed Stadium), and with problems with the Colt Firearms Company about revenue from team merchandise sales with the Colt .45's logo, the team decided it was time for a new name and new logo.

Here is an article about the decision to rename the team from December, 1964 (click on the article to open in a new window to be able to read):

On December 10, 1964 the new logo was unveiled:

Given that the new logo wasn't announced until December 1964, its understandable that the 1965 Topps Set which had logos did not have the new logo on the first series of cards.
Sadly this was the last Topps set to use team logos for 19 years until the 1984 set had them on the back and then finally they returned to the front in color in 1985.

For the 1965 1st Series, Topps must have at least been aware that a name change was imminent since they simply refer to the team as Houston instead of by the team name as they did for all the other teams.

At least they tried to come up with a logo since they used the state of Texas. Props to Topps for not airbrushing the .45 logo on the caps.

For the remaining series 2 - 7, Topps did use the name Astros, but did not use a logo. Unfortunately Topps resorted to the "Men Without Hats" trick where most of the players appeared without caps.

They also airbrushed the few players who were pictured wearing caps:

BUT - there was 1 card that had the new Astros cap - the 1965 Astros (whoops - I mean "Houston") Rookie Stars shows 3 players with the new caps in the 7th series.

Things were much better in 1966 and 1967 for the Astros as their Topps cards called them by their team name just like every other team.

At this point in 1967, Topps was able to use the name Astros, but Fleer for some reason was not allowed to use the Astros logo in their Team Emblem set. There must have been some type of licensing issue that occurred sometime in 1967 after Topps had already printed their cards and before Fleer got MLB approval to use their logos. The mystery is, what was the licensing issue?

Moving on to 1968, Topps is now apparently not allowed to use the name Astros so they are now again referred to as Houston. Topps is also not allowed to show the emblem on the cap as all the Astros caps are airbrushed.

Here's a link showing all the 1968 Astros cards if you want to see a lot of players without caps and some excellent Topps airbrushing!

As a side note, the A's caps were also airbrushed in 1968 because the team had just moved from Kansas City to Oakland so the KC logo had to be wiped out. This makes for one very airbrushed set! Its almost as bad as the 1969 set which had massive airbrushing and a heck of a lot of "Men Without Hats" due to the expansion that year with the addition of the Royals, Pilots, Padres & Expos.

Fleer had to leave the Astros out of their 1968 Team Emblem set, so 1968 was an Astro-less year in terms of card & sticker collecting.

In 1969, Topps again has to refer to the team as Houston and airbrushs the logos for the first three series.
Starting with the 4th series, it appears the issue over the logo on the cap was resolved since it reappears.

However, even with with the cap logos reappearing, the team is still referred to as Houston for the entire set. I'm guessing this was done for consistency so that half the set doesn't say Houston and the other half says Astros.

Finally, in 1970, everything returned to normal:

If anyone has any insight into the licensing issue regarding the Astros, I'd really appreciate hearing about it. The only thing I can guess (and it is a wild guess at that) is that perhaps it had to do with the Astrodome. Just as the Colt Firearms company was not happy about the Colt .45s cashing in on merchandise sales with their logo, perhaps Harris County or the city of Houston wanted a cut of the licensing revenue since at this point the stadium was officially called the Astrodome and was featured in the Astros Logo (although not on the cap which is why the airbrushed caps make little sense). I'm afraid the answer to this mystery has disappeared with the sands of time, but maybe I'll get lucky and hear from someone who has some knowledge of this.

Getting back to how this relates to Fleer, in 1969 Fleer did not have to leave the Astros out of any of their offerings as we will see when we start covering these sets. Since the Astros got shut out for a few years from Fleer's baseball sets and since we've spent so much time talking about Topps, here's a tease of some upcoming attactions on The Fleer Sticker Project starring the Astros!

I hope this makes Astros fans feel a little better!


dayf said...

This is good stuff - I have a bunch of these '60's Houston cards and I never thought about it long enough to put all of this together before.

Anonymous said...

Wow, just today someone asked about this Houston oddness...and you'd answered it several months in advance. Nice prognostication and thanks!

Anonymous said...

Wow, Great work. If today's sports writers were not such "the past is dead" idiots, someone would have investigated this mystery through retired Topps, Fleer and Astros people. I want to make 2 comments about the 1965 rookie card. Notice that one rookie has only a star with no H. He is the only rookie who didnt play during the rgular season of the three. Does this mean that the Astros spring training cap was just a star? If so, imagine how valuable those caps would be today. Or was it an airbrush job on some minor-league cap (did they even take pics with minor-league caps)? But if you are going to airbrush, why airbrush an incomplete (i.e. wrong logo.)

Jim from Downingtown said...

Heh heh - On the Torres card, even though they may have resolved the logo issue, Topps still managed to show Torres in his road "HOUSTON" uniform, rather than the home "ASTROS" uniform!

Anonymous said...

I have a near complete set of the 1969 cloth patches. The only one that I am missing is the Houston cap patch. Could it be that, given the controversy, the cap patch was not made until 1970? You show three sleeve patch variations and two cap patch variations. The sleeve patch on the left is the one that I have from 1969. I have two of these and, at least two (in most cases, at least three) of all of the other patches. It's not likely that I missed the Houston cap patch in all those packs I bought in 1969.

Thanks for all your work on this blog! You may have solved the Houston cap patch mystery for me!