This is the fourth in a series of articles describing the various uniforms of the Houston Astros, the performance of the team during each uniform era, and the best individual performers in each uniform. It was originally published by SB Nation in 2013 and written by Cliff Corcoran.
Tequila Sunrise: 1975-1986
The 1975 season brought the first truly radical uniform change in Astros history and, arguably, the most radical uniform redesign in major league history. The orange caps with a white H on a navy star remained (though an early prototype replaced them as well), but everything else changed, most notably the jersey. Now a pull-over, the new Astros jersey, which was worn both at home and on the road, featured a solid block of red, orange, and yellow stripes from the chest down which has since come to be known as the “tequila sunrise” design after the similarly gradated cocktail. Amid those stripes, on the left abdomen, was a large navy star, and above the stripes was a newly-stylized navy “Astros.” This jersey also went under various tweaks over the years (primarily to the specific stripe pattern, number stylization on the back, and outline color for the big navy star), and became a home-only jersey in 1980 (the same year that the navy number on the upper right thigh of the pants was eliminated). However, it remained a part of the Astros’ standard uniform set for a dozen seasons and has remained the most popular of the team’s throwback jerseys.
Those throwback jerseys most commonly have J.R. Richard’s number 50 on the back, but while he was the team’s most valuable pitcher during the five seasons that they wore the tequila sunrise jersey both at home and on the road, with 16.9 bWAR, it was corner outfielder Jose Cruz who contributed the most to the Astros both during those five seasons (20.7 bWAR) and over the full tequila-sunrise period (47.6 bWAR from 1975 to 1986, all from a player who was simply purchased from the Cardinals after the 1974 season). The Astros’ best pitcher over those dozen seasons was not Richard, nor Nolan Ryan, who joined the team in 1980 and contributed 16.3 bWAR in the home-only tequila-sunrise years, but knuckleballer Joe Neikro, who was worth 20.6 wins above replacement from 1976 to 1985 after being purchased in the same offseason as Cruz, for a mere $35,000 from his brother Phil’s team in Atlanta.
Niekro’s 1982 season (17-12, 2.47 ERA, 135 ERA+, 270 innings, 6.5 bWAR) was the most valuable single season by a hitter or pitcher over the first eight seasons of the tequila-sunrise era. In 1983, the Astros ditched their orange caps to bring back the navy caps with orange stars at home. That year, 25-year-old shortstop Dickie Thon hit .286/.341/.457 (in the Astrodome, remember) with 20 home runs, nine triples, 34 stolen bases, and elite play in the field to compile 7.2 wins above replacement only to have his career derailed by a pitch that hit him in the left eye the following April.
Three years later, during the final season of the tequila-sunrise jerseys and the Astros’ first season with gray underbills, 31-year-old Mike Scott had one of the greatest seasons in Astros history thanks to his split-finger fastball and, allegedly, something sharp in second baseman Bill Doran’s glove. Scott went 18-10 that season with a 2.22 ERA (161 ERA+) and 306 strikeouts in 275 1/3 innings. In his penultimate start of that season, Scott clinched the Astros’ second division title (the first came in 1980, and they lost the Division Series to the Dodgers in strike-split 1981) with a no-hitter. Scott then allowed just one run while striking out 19 in a pair of complete games against the Mets in the National League Championship series only to watch his team lose the series in six games with Scott scheduled to pitch Game 7. Though his regular season bWAR ranks second, that postseason performance pushes Scott past Dierker in the minds of many for the best pitching season ever by an Astro.