Astros Do Right by Milo Hamilton. They Should Honor Gene Elston, Too

Milo Hamilton died last week. Within a matter of days, the Astros announced that the Minute Maid Park press box would be named for Hamilton, and that the team would wear a Milo Hamilton patch on its uniform for the rest of the season. Hamilton was the radio voice of the Astros for many, many years, so it’s fitting that the team honor him. Yet the team has not honored Gene Elston, the original voice of the Astros who died over Labor Day weekend, in the same way as Hamilton.

I've heard some people say that it’s because Elston has not been associated with the team for many, many years. To me, that feels like a punishment for something that was out of Elston’s control. And despite that, Elston was the original voice of the Astros, going back to the Colt 45 years. Elston will always be the voice of the Astros to many Houstonians. 

A friend wondered if the same thing might happen this year with Moses Malone. It’s been many, many years since Malone was a Houston Rocket. Yes, he’s one of the greatest players in team history — probably second to Hakeem Olajuwon, the man he mentored and tutored. Still, it’s likely that there are a lot of current fans who have never heard of Malone, which raises the question of what the Rockets will do to honor Malone and his career, if anything.

Is there a statute of limitations for how long one can be associated with a team? Sure, the Lakers will probably honor Jerry West in some fashion when he dies — great player, coach and GM — but does his work for other teams after being replaced as Lakers GM sully him for Lakers fans? And who gets to honor a player like Earl Campbell? Should it be the Texans, a team for which he never played but that plays in the city where he spent most of his career, or should it be the Titans, who before they moved to Tennessee were known as the Oilers, the team that still gets to count his records on its books?

Maybe none of this matters to anybody but me. Still, it bothers me, this way we honor some people but forget people who were around earlier. The treatment of Elston, to me, resembles somewhat the Astros' treatment of J.R. Richard. Richard nearly died attempting to prove to team management that he was suffering from an actual ailment, but though he was one of the best of pitchers in MLB for the late 1970s, his jersey’s never been retired while Mike Scott’s has, though Scott’s peak was shorter than Richard’s. Or the team’s treatment of Joe Niekro, the winningest pitcher is franchise history who has yet to have his jersey retired and who has never really been honored by the team despite being a key member of the rotation for the Astros first ever playoff teams.

And I will be angered if the Titans try to honor Earl Campbell if something happens to him because his career was in Houston (and New Orleans) and not in Nashville. But it will be strange to see the Texans, a team that embraces mediocrity, try to leech onto Campbell’s legacy.

So how about it, Astros? You’ve been doing so much else right this year, how about doing something for Gene Elston and his family? Something like you did for Milo Hamilton. Elston’s was the voice that turned many of us into fans of the Astros and of baseball. Perhaps put another patch somewhere on the uniform, and if the press box is now named for Milo Hamilton, maybe the radio booths can now be named after Gene Elston. It seems only fitting, right?
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John Royal is a native Houstonian who graduated from the University of Houston and South Texas College of Law. In his day job he is a complex litigation attorney. In his night job he writes about Houston sports for the Houston Press.
Contact: John Royal