ROOTS 3: Houston Sports Writers 1965

Circa 1965

Circa 1965

From the 1965 Astros Souvenir Game Program, I ran across this group picture of the four major local writers who covered the Houston major league baseball club for the Houston Post and Houston Chronicle in that first exciting season of the “brand new and shiny too” Astrodome.

Clark Nealon was the gold standard veteran of the group, the man who linked Houston writing icon-to-be Mickey Herskowitz with the illustrious Post reporter that came before them.  Lloyd Gregory, the man who took Houston sports writing back to the late 1920s and the early 1930s Post coverage of Dizzy Dean and Joe Medwick as players with the 1931 Houston Buffs, was a homey force of some reckoning power back in the day. In fact, it was Gregory and a female fan who wrote in the suggestion who gave Medwick his famous permanent ink nickname of “Ducky.” The lady wrote to Gregory that she thought Medwick walked like a duck. Gregory must have agreed because he kept using the nickname “Ducky” in local print enough until it made all the rounds and even packed itself in Medwick’s suitcase when Ducky finally waddled off to the Cardinals and big league gas house gang fame in 1933.

Nealon did not write to hang nicknames or rile readers for attention. Clark Nealon wrote to give readers the best reports he could write about the Buff, Colt .45, and Astro games he covered. You see, Nealon labored under the impression that reporters were hired to report on games – not to distort them as devices for drawing attention to himself. With Clark Nealon, the game was the thing and, in my humble every morning reader experience as I was growing up, nobody else ever hit the keys in that direction as well until Mickey Herskowitz came along.

Mickey is the guy with storybook start. He was the frequent kid fan at Buff Stadium who became famous among members of the media for his game time practice of updating player batting averages during games in progress at Buff Stadium in the late 1940s and early 1950s. His talents earned him an invitation to watch the games from the press box so the professionals could have the benefit of this information.

A journalism career was born.

After graduating from the University of Houston, Mickey Herskowitz continued his long career as a sports writer for the Houston Post, shifting over to the Chronicle in the 1990s, when the post died. Herskowitz has since moved on to  chaired position on the journalism-communications faculty at Sam Houston State, but his landmark contribution has been his authorship of over sixty books, mostly biographies, but of figures as diverse as baseball’s Mickey Mantle and Hollywood’s Bette Davis. Mickey is currently a contributing author on the major book that our SABR group is writing on “Houston Baseball, The Early Years: 1861-1961.” Publication for this only comprehensive treatment of Houston’s early rich history of baseball is projected for the spring of 2014, and Mickey Herskowitz will be addressing what went on in the transition of our city’s growth from the minor leagues to the major leagues in the post World War II years.

Mickey took reporting to a new level of entertainment. His game accounts came in excellent-size only, but they also came loaded with the Herskowitz humor that invited the readers to come back for more. Like Forrest Gump’s famous box of chocolates, the reader never knew for sure what he or she was going to get from a Herskowitz article beyond the truth. They just knew that it was likely to contain something that was also funny and entertaining.

For example …

When viewing the profile of the completed Astrodome on his first drive to the venue, Mickey said: “It looks like a giant anti-perspirant bottle that has been buried in the ground up to its neck.”

When the Astros installed the first Astroturf by zipper-connected sections to the Astrodome infield, Mickey said: “Now Houston has the only infield in the big leagues with its own built-in infield fly.”

When the Dallas Cowboys built Texas Stadium, leaving a large section of the middle roof open and exposed to the sky, Mickey said: “On the heels of Houston’s success with a fully covered stadium, Dallas apparently has decided to settle for building themselves a “Half Astrodome.”

Enough. We haven’t got all day to laugh. Do we?

Dick Peebles was the able senior writer for the Chronicle. We were a Post family when I was growing up so i really did not get to read Peebles that often. Perhaps some of you who remember him in greater detail will care to comment.

John Wilson is almost the same problem for me because he was another Chronicle writer, but I do have to stop long enough for giving Wilson credit for hanging one of the best nicknames that’s ever been hung by a writer on a deserving ballplayer. Known for his compact size and big man power hitting strength, Jimmy Wynn became instantly far better known by the nickname given to him by John Wilson.

Yes. Jimmy Wynn was, is, and always will be – “The Toy Cannon!”

Thank you, John Wilson. And thanks to all four of you men from 1965 for helping to place and keep Houston on the media map of national attention.

The play’s the thing.

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4 Responses to “ROOTS 3: Houston Sports Writers 1965”

  1. Bob Hulsey Says:

    Baseball was a sport meant for the morning paper, not the evening one so those who had subscribed to both usually read what the Post said about it. It was “old news” by the time the Chroncile arrived. I was always amazed that the Chronicle absorbed the Post and not the other way around because the Post had more talented writers.

    My favorite writing from Herskowitz came as an introduction to a story on Dave Adlesh who caught Don Wilson’s no-hitter in 1967:

    “A catcher is to a no-hitter what a groom is to a wedding. He is half the ceremony, has probably more than half of the responsibility yet he is treated like an afterthought and no one tells him how pretty he looks.”

  2. Mark W. Says:

    Mickey Herskowitz: we’re honored to have one of the great ones right here in Houston.

  3. Billy DeWitt Says:

    When did Lloyd Gregory retire? Is he related to Thomas Watts Gregory from Gregory Gym at UT? Did Lloyd Gregory attend UT?

    • Bill McCurdy Says:

      Dear Bill DeWitt,

      I asked writer Mickey Herskowitz to give us his best answers to your questions about the earlier houston writing legend, Lloyd Gregory. and here’s everything Mickey had to say by e-mail:

      Hello, Bill —

      Delighted to hear from you. I was out of town last week end and flew back Monday to find the streets flooded and barricaded for 15 blocks or so leading to our home. I spent the last four days in a motel and got home late yesterday. It was really weird.

      I was very fond of Lloyd Gregory, who had been the managing editor of The Post for several years, but just before my arrival. He founded a very successful ad agency, and I can only take a stab at the second part of the name, but it was Gregory-Geisendanner, or close to that. His partner was his son-in-law. Lloyd graduated from Texas and was an avid Longhorn all his life, but don’t believe he was related to Thomas Watts Gregory. Lloyd was still active in the 1960’s and was around for the opening of the Astrodome. I would guess he retired near the end of the ’60s.

      That’s as good as I can do. Tell Bill DeWitt hello for me and you can mention that I met his father a few times and he was a great one.

      Hope all is going strong for you and enjoy all your daily missives.

      Regards, Mickey.

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