Elton Blanchard sits in his oversized brown La-Z-Boy chair, flipping TV channels among ESPN, MLB Network and Fox Sports Houston.
In the summer, Blanchard spends most of his time off from being a gym teacher and coach at Park View Intermediate School in Pasadena watching baseball. His favorite programming includes documentaries about the way baseball used to be and rewatching games of his childhood.
Blanchard grew up watching players such as Joe Morgan, J.R. Richard and Nolan Ryan don brightly striped uniforms and take the field in the Astrodome, what he calls the best ballpark of its time.
“Back then, when you flipped the channel to a baseball game and saw the rainbow, you knew it was the Astros,” Blanchard, 55, said. “They were just so different.”
In 51 years, the Houston Astros franchise, which started as the Colt .45s in 1962, has changed the look of its uniform nine times—11 if you count minor style changes, 12 if you consider the 2013 uniform design launched in November.
Blanchard represents the faction of Houstonian baseball fans who remember the days of bright, colorful uniforms, who never thought the most recent brick-red symbolized the Astros.
The team, coming off the two worst seasons in franchise history, unveiled the new brand November 2 in front of 5,000 guests on the field at Minute Maid Park. It was part of an effort to in some way reinvent the team before the switch to the American League this season, according to Astros executives.
The “new” Astros look similar to old Astros, reinstating their signature navy blue and bright orange color scheme. The open star logo was replaced with an orange star and capital “H” that is similar to one used previously.
Astros marketing executives said each of the four separate uniforms to be worn this season strategically resemble uniforms from the team’s history, especially those used in the seasons from 1970-90. The organization also brought back its former mascot Orbit, launched in 1990, to continue with the retro theme.
“When we did market research on the new brand, we asked, ‘What are the colors that remind you of the Astros?’ And it came back blue and orange,” said Kathleen Clark, who led the rebranding efforts. “I think it brings the team closer to the fans.”
The New York Yankees have made only minor changes to its uniforms—classic pinstripes at home and gray on the road—in 99 years, with no logo or color alterations. The Boston Red Sox have kept the same red, white and blue colors since 1908, but made style and logo changes through the years.
The Colt .45s uniform featured the word Colts in bright orange letters with dark blue outlining and a .45 six-shooter with gun smoke from the barrel making the “C”. When the team became the Astros in 1965, blue became the prominent color, but orange was used as a streaking effect for a blue shooting star above the new blue name. Three seasons later, the word Astros was changed to orange, and orange was added to the trim on the collar and sleeves.
The team then debuted the famous rainbow look in 1975. Teams were shifting to louder, bolder uniforms, but the red, orange and yellow stripes the Astros introduced in 1975 really stood out.
Playing off the “Space City” nickname for Houston, the stripes were meant to resemble a rocket’s flames during takeoff. The outfits were so unusual that the Astros became the first team to a wear the same uniforms for both home and away games until the mid-1980s.
Choosing to tone it down a bit, in 1986 the Astros evolved from around-the-torso rainbow jerseys to thinner rainbow stripes only on the shoulders.
After the team was bought by Drayton McLane in 1993, it saw a brief stint of just navy blue and white with a gold star until 2000, when the team moved to Enron Field, now known as Minute Maid Park, and the brand changed to its most recent brick red, black and cream look.
The Astros wore orange and blue for 32 of its 50-year franchise history, so in brand discussions, it was important to find what fans considered the true identity of the team, said Mike Acosta, who manages the team’s archives, authentication program and retail operations.
“Many people were still wearing those colors and the logos that were used for so many years,” Acosta said. “There was no need to reinvent the wheel here. Instead an identity was chosen that many fans already closely associated with the team, and it was slightly updated.”
Terri Schlather, a fan who grew up in Houston watching the Astros, said there was no other option for her but to go to a retro look. For Schlather, because the majority of fans was still wearing orange and blue in the stands at games, the team needed to go back to its original identity, and nothing else.
“It’s so familiar to fans that have been around since the ’70s and ’80s,” Schlather said. “It was a comfortable change. There have been so many changes, and so many of them had been so drastic that we needed something comfortable.”
Each specific new uniform pulls from the looks of the orange and blue era, according to Acosta.
The oldest outfit, the 1965-70 shooting star uniform was a basis for the new white jersey, which includes orange piping. The new gray jersey is close to what was used from 1962-70, and the new batting practice jersey features a touch of the old rainbow look.
“Overall, the new identity, although close to a previous look with the Astros, is something that can last for a long time,” Acosta said.
Blanchard said it was nice to see the team return to more of a classic look.
“It looks nice,” he said. “Those are some good-looking uniforms”
Brittany Lamas, editorial intern