March 1966: Writers Review Astroturf

 

Going into the second baseball season at the Astrodome, the Houston Astros were busy installing the new Chemstrand artificial turf from Monsanto in the infield of new Domed Stadium. John Lyons, the writer of the following article of Wednesday, March 23, 1966, for the Victoria Advocate was one of 200 scribes that came to the Astrodome by invitation from Judge Roy Hofheinz the previous week to see the turf solution that the club had come up with to solve the need for a surface that played well indoors and stayed green with no help from sunlight. Naturally, Judge Hofheinz felt that “AstroTurf” was a perfect fit name. And who could argue? “The Astros will now play baseball in the Astrodome on an infield covered with Astroturf” simply had a surefire thematic ring to it. And whose going to disagree with the genius of Judge Roy Hofheinz when practically everyone who might not care for the name had a paycheck riding on the outcome?

Besides. The name of the turf was just no BFD (Big Funny Deal).

Thanks to this wonderful research find by Darrell Pittman, here’s how the writer from the Victoria Advocate covered the occasion:

____________________

Victoria Advocate, March 23, 1966

Writers Visit Astrodome

More than 200 baseball writers, radio and television figures were guests of the Houston Baseball Club in the Domed Stadium last week.

They were invited to come and watch the baseball game between the Astros and the World Champion Los Angeles Dodgers, the first games ever played on synthetic grass.

They listened to an explanation about the great potential of this infield covering, then were invited to come on the field and see for themselves. At the same time, the writers had the opportunity of chatting with players and getting their reactions.

It was a fine trip and the writers were treated royally by the Houston Baseball Club.

* * * *

As one enters the Domed Stadium, the bright green infield that is known as the Astroturf, a name given by Roy Hofheinz, head of the Houston Baseball operations, really stuns an observer. It immediately reminds one of a billiard table because of the bright green color.

Later, when one steps on it, it is just like walking on a thick carpet. At first it causes one to wonder if maybe tennis shoes might be more appropriate than then baseball spiked shoes but that was ruled out when a player showed why. The infield ‘gives’ slightly, like you would expect of a carpet and the spikes are needed for a secure footing.

It looked so pretty that some of the writers wiped off their shoes before stepping on the green and one fellow, who was walking on it, was looking around for an ashtray. It looked too bright and clean to sprinkle ashes on it.

Someone asked Nellie Fox, a Houston coach and one of the game’s most prolific chewers, how this innovation would affect tobacco chewers. Nellie appeared surprised and answered, “Gosh, I hadn’t thought about that. It may have an effect at that.”

Astroturf in Experimental Stage

The Astroturf actually is an experiment and whether it will be a great success or a failure remains to be seen. A person just can’t look at something like this and immediately give a definite opinion. If he does, it shows he is not  studying  it closely or he is posing as an expert too quickly.

Even the officials of the Chemstrand Co., division of Monsanto Co., the developers of the Astroturf don’t say for an absolute certainty that this pretty carpet will answer all the problems to a Domed Stadium infield. But they have made a close survey on their subject and they have confidence that it will. And if there are just a few flaws, then they can be remedied.

Most of the observers over the past week end seemed to think that the green carpet was too fast, that hard hit baseballs would shoot at and by the infielders at a terrific clip. Some thought it would be dangerous to the fielders.

* * * *

The foundation, of course, controls the speed of the infield. Judge Hofheinz, himself, conceded that a sand base would provide more softness under the carpet than the dirt base now in use.

He said that the ground would be watered three times more than in the past to help keep the infield from being too hard.

Some of the infielders, like Jim Lefebvre of the Dodgers and Bob Aspromonte of the Astros, declared the bounce of the ball was true on the Astroturf but declared there could be trouble in fielding the ball after it comes off the carpet to the dirt. The ball takes a different spin then, they declared.

It was the general opinion among all of the infielders interviewed that fielding a ground ball on the Astroturf was not as difficult as picking it up after it hit the dirt part of the infield. Hofheinz declares that this problem can be adjusted. He explained that “We just got the fat stock show and rodeo here. We had four inches of topsoil for the rodeo, six inches for the bullfights that were here. We just haven’t had the time to get it fixed.”

The outfield, which was sodded just in the early part of last week with grass from the ball club’s own turf farm, was dyed green to disguise its patched condition.

It is Hofheinz’s plan to lay the Astroturf all over the outfield too.

Officials of the Chemstrand Co. said that the price this synthetic field is $2 a square foot. A satisfactory answer was never given when a question was asked how much the total outlay would cost the Houston team.

A few writers seem to have the opinion that it would cost the Houston National League team very little, if any. Houston is being used as an experiment for this innovation. Also, Hofheinz has taken the privilege of naming the carpet Astroturf and this certainly puts a label on it.

____________________

Remembering Our Mickey. Of course, it remained the province of Houston Post writer Mickey Herkowitz to pen the line about this tour that remains the most entertaining and memorable comment upon the occasion. As Astrodome people were explaining, as part of the installation was happening that day, how the AstroTurf infield was being installed by small sections that zipped into place with each other, Herskowitz must have smiled as he listened.

Hours later, Mickey Herskowitz wrote this iconic line: “Now Houston has the only infield in the big leagues with its own built-in, infield fly.”

____________________


Bill McCurdy

Publisher, Editor, Writer

The Pecan Park Eagle

Houston, Texas

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