Baseball fans were generally amazed when the Chicago Cubs’ lineup included a bunch of twenty-something-year-old players in their historic run for the World Series title during this past post-season.
Indeed, Major League Baseball has become a young man’s game, but the Houston Colt .45s took this to an extreme back in 1963 when they fielded a youthful, all-rookie team on September 27, 1963. New Orleans native Rusty Staub, only a year removed from Jesuit High School, was part of that momentous lineup.
A combination of factors, which would probably never happen in today’s environment, contributed to the odd occurrence then. Nonetheless it was one of the most unique games in baseball history. The players in today’s game of baseball seem to be getting younger and younger each year. But that Houston team in 1963 fielded the youngest lineup of all time. The Colt .45s, Houston’s nickname before they became the Astros in 1965, inserted a rookie at each of the nine starting positions in the lineup.
In only their second season of existence in the National League, Houston was a struggling franchise on and off the field. They were playing their home games in a small stadium in an area of Houston where humidity and mosquitos prevailed during most of its night games. Attendance at their home games for the month of September had been hovering around four thousand fans, so the team’s front office management decided to deploy this unique lineup as a promotional ploy to boost attendance.
Houston was able to pull off this feat by taking advantage of late-season player call-ups when major league rosters could be expanded beyond the normal twenty-five player limit after September 1. The Colt .45s were going nowhere anyway, since they were a whopping 35 games out of first place. Although it was a dismal season, they were actually not in last place in the National League—that was reserved for the New York Mets, another league expansion team in 1962, who were 49 games behind the league-leading Los Angeles Dodgers.
During most of the season, the regular lineup of the Colt .45s had included of a number of “also-rans” who had been acquired by Houston in the National League expansion draft before their inaugural season in 1962. Aging Colt .45s players like Bob Lillis, Pete Runnels, Johnny Logan, and Don McMahon had been pretty decent players earlier in their careers, but they were well past their prime in 1963.
Here’s a run-down of Houston’s starting lineup of rookies on that historic day in September.
1B – Rusty Staub was 19 years old, only one year out of Jesuit High School where he was a schoolboy phenom in baseball. After being recruited out of high school by all sixteen major league clubs, Staub eventually signed for a $100,000 bonus with the expansion Houston club. He had made his major league debut in April and thus had put in a full season with the Colt .45s which qualified him as the “veteran” of this bunch.
2B – Joe Morgan was 19 years old in his first pro season. He was promoted from Single-A to the major league club.
SS – Sonny Jackson was 18 years old, making his major league debut on September 27. Like Morgan, he had been advanced from the Single-A level.
3B – Glenn Vaughan was 19 year old. 1963 turned out to be his only major league campaign, and he was out of baseball altogether after the 1964 season.
LF – Brock Davis was 19 years old in only his first pro season. He had started the 1963 season with the Colt .45s in April, but was later demoted at the end of June.
CF – Jimmy Wynn, at 21 years old, was the elder statesman of this lineup, in terms of age. He had made his major league debut with the Colt .45s on July 10.
RF – Aaron Pointer was 21 years old (only a month younger than Wynn), but he was actually playing in his third pro season in the minors before being called up.
C – Jerry Grote was 20 years old, playing in his first pro season after attending Trinity University for a years.
P – Jay Dahl was the real “newbie” of the bunch at only 17 years old. His starting assignment on September 27 turned out to be his only major league appearance of his career. He pitched in only one more pro season before being out of baseball altogether.
This lineup had collectively played in a total of 261 major league games prior to the game on September 27, with Staub and Wynn claiming 214 of those. In all, the Colt .45s fielded fifteen rookies in the game. Ernie Fazio was the first non-rookie to appear in the game for the Colt .45s when he entered as a defensive replacement in the top of the 6th inning.
The Colt .45s wound up losing the game to the New York Mets, 10-3. Dahl pitched only 2 2/3 innings before being yanked. He yielded seven runs to the sixteen batters he faced. Morgan, Staub, Wynn, and Vaughan accounted for eight of Houston’s eleven hits in the game. Morgan’s triple was the only extra-base hit for the Colt .45s. The last-place Mets banged out fifteen hits against five Houston pitchers that included three additional rookies besides Dahl. Despite the marketing objective of the game, only 5,802 fans were in attendance.
Several of those young Houston players went on to have noteworthy major league careers. Morgan made his mark as part of Cincinnati’s “Big Red Machine” in the 1970s and was eventually elected to Baseball’s Hall of Fame. Staub collected 2,716 career hits, including over 500 at each of four different teams. Staub was an all-star in six of his 23 years. Wynn, who later became popularly known as “The Toy Cannon,” slammed 291 home runs during his 15-year career which included three all-star seasons.
Although younger players largely dominate big league baseball today, we won’t likely see this type of exploit of a team’s lineup again, even if there is a future major league franchise expansion. Furthermore, current league rules regarding free agency eligibility discourage major league clubs from promoting rookies before they are truly major-league-ready.
However, for this one day in Houston in 1963, youth reigned like never before and probably never will again.