When the subject of the Major League Baseball (MLB) team Houston Astros is brought up, odds are Nolan Ryan is bound to become part of that conversation. Along with his name, the potential of bringing up baseball cards and how much a Nolan Ryan baseball card could be worth these days is also likely. Originally as the Houston Buffaloes from 1888 until 1962, this professional baseball team was not yet registered with Major League Baseball (MLB). It was a minor league until the National League finally brought added a Texas team in 1962 to its roster. At the time, the Houston Sports Association had to purchase the Houston Buffaloes in order to play in the Houston area as an agreement with the Major League Baseball Constitution. Prior to joining the major leagues, the Houston Buffaloes used to be the top farm team for the Chicago Cubs.
When Houston first entered the MLB's National League, it went with the team name of Colt .45s. Among the original lineup of the Houston Colt .45s that came from the Houston Buffaloes lineup were Pidge Browne, Jim Campbell, Ron Davis, David Giusti, J.C. Hartman, and Dave Roberts. Houston's radio broadcasting team also remained the same, namely Loel Passe and Gene Elston as color commentators. Passe retired in 1976, followed by Elston in 1986. When the Houston Colt .45s began playing major league baseball, the home games were held at the temporary venue, Colt Stadium. The team's first game was held on August 10, 1962, and went up against the Chicago Cubs. Bob Aspromonte was the first of the team to score the first run, thanks to an Al Spangler triple hit in the game's first inning. The start of the season saw the Houston Colt .45s sweep the Chicago Cubs by three games and eventually finish in eighth place among the National League's ten-team roster it had at the time. Come 1963, the talent roster of the Houston .45s became a mix of raw young talent mixed with seasoned veterans. 1964 did not end on a positive note for the team, which also saw the team's relief pitcher, Jim Umbricht, die from cancer at just thirty-three years old. Both the players and the fans liked the player so much that his jersey number, thirty-two, was retired in 1965.
From Colt .45s to Astros
It was announced on December 1, 1964, the Houston Colt .45s would change its name to the Houston Astros. There was also a new stadium, the Astrodome, which saw the start of the 1965 season with more than just a new team name. Judge Roy Hofhneinz was now the new team owner, who changed everything. The name of the team, plus the stadium, was due to Houston's position as the center of NASA's new Manned Spacecraft Center that had just opened south of the city. The Astrodome has been dubbed as an Eighth Wonder of the World due to its domed structural design as it doubled as an indoor and outdoor stadium. Despite the new name and the new location, the Houston Astros had yet to present themselves as a strong MLB team competing in the National League. It wasn't until the 1966 season saw a replacement to the stadium's field. Because of the dome's design to reduce the glare from the sun that was affecting the playing performance of the team, the grass experienced health issues. This prompted the installation of an artificial turf that served as a trigger for other teams, regardless of the sport, to do the same. The start of the 1966 season for the Houston Astros was strong, which saw its pitcher, Joe Morgan, named as a starter for the All-Star Team. However, the rest of the 1966 season for the Astros waned as both Morgan and Jimmy Wynch became injured. With a number of changes to the lineup in hopes to break the misfortunes of the Houston Astros, 1969 saw an entirely new team that began to turn some heads. The 1969 season saw the Houston Astros finish at par instead of seeing more losses than wins. When the 1970 season began, it was expected to see the Houston Astros pose as a serious threat in the West Division of the National League. With the lineup of rookie Cesar Cedeno, along with Denis Menke and Jesus Alou, the trio played an instrumental role in helping the team finish fourth by the end of the 1970 season.
Houston Astros Legacy
In addition to lineup changes, the uniform of the Houston Astros also underwent new styles as well. It also experienced another big change when its 1965-2012 run as a National League team changed to an American League team as of 2013. When collecting baseball cards of the team players that spawned from the team's official MLB start in 1963, some of them have proven to be a rather expensive hobby. The richness behind the history of the Houston Astros is as vast as the personalities that made the team who they are today.
5. 2017 Topps Now Bregman/Correa/Altuve (Autographs) #861B PSA Gem Mint 10 ($552.00)
On the Heritage Auction website, this 2017 autographed baseball card features the photos and signatures of Alex Bregman, Carlos Correa, and Jose Altuve. It was sold on May 20, 2021, for $552.00 USD where the buyer has since put it back up on the market, asking for a minimum bid of $828.00 USD should anybody be interested.
4. 2011 Topps Update Diamond Anniversary Jose Altuve #US132 BGS Pristine 10 ($930.00)
If an enthusiastic baseball card collector wishes to go to an auction site in an effort to find a rare favorite, Heritage Auctions is usually one of the top picks. On December 5, 2019, a lucky buyer was able to get their hands on a 2011 Diamond Anniversary Jose Altuve card for the bargain-basement price of $930.00 USD.
3. 1981 O-Pee-Chee Nolan Ryan #240 ($1,699)
The 1981 Canadian version of the 1981 Nolan Ryan Topps baseball card came from O-Pee-Chee at a time when there were two Canadian teams registered in MLB. Canadian baseball cards printed in the French language are uncommon, which shows on this baseball card as it is bi-lingual. During this era, the Montreal Expos had yet to move south to become the Washington Nationals, but its foothold in history as the first Canadian major league team still holds. The Toronto Blue Jays became the second. On the back of this particular baseball card, it displays the first fourteen seasons Nolan Ryan had played for the league. Perfectly conditioned O-Pee-Chee cards from 1981 are extremely hard to come by as the edges already start out rough. There are only ten PSA-10 graded cards known to exist. With Beckett Grading Service (BGS), there are sixteen that have a 9.5 rating. According to Thrill Pack Cards, this O-Pee-Chee baseball card sold for $1,699 USD.
2. 1985 Topps Nolan Ryan #760 ($2,100)
When Nolan Ryan signed a contract with the Houston Astros in November 1979, it was a historical moment as it made him the first player in the history of MLB to earn an average of $1 million USD per year. This 1985 Topps Nolan Ryan baseball card sold at an auction for $2,100 USD. There are a total of 1,914 baseball cards registered with the PSA and BGS. There are 206 of these cards graded at PSA-10 and seven cards sitting at a BGS-10 rating.
1. 1965 Topps Joe Morgan - Astros 1965 Rookie Stars #16 PSA Gem Mint 10 ($144,000)
According to the information at Heritage Auctions, this 1965 Rookie Stars baseball card of Joe Morgan and Sonny Jackson paired up went for $144,000 USD on May 6, 2021. When Little Joe Morgan was scouted and brought to MLB, he was signed to the Houston Colt .45s in 1962. In 1963 and 1964, he played a few games for the expansion team before officially enjoying his rookie career in 1965. He was later traded to the Cincinnati Reds after the completion of the 1971 season and became an integral member of that team's Big Red Machine, along with the infamous Pete Rose.
Written by Dana Hanson
Read more posts by Dana Hanson