The Changing Appetite of Ballpark Fans

Babe McCurdy also served as the mascot of the UH Mad Dog Defense during the 1979-80 football seasons that the #1 jersey was first sold to Cougar fans. (Omaha World-Herald, Prior to the 1980 Cotton Bowl Game that Houston won over Nebraska.)


As a fan whose personal ballpark experience only goes back to being 9 years old in the east end and those times our dad took us to Buff Stadium to get hooked on the 1947 Texas League and Dixie Series Champion Houston Buffs at Buff Stadium, I will have to start with a broad shot statement: It was both a whole lot the same, but a whole lot different in the post-World War II minor league game days.

Of course, we cheered in Houston. The Buffs had a great ball club in 1947 and we were stirred to clap hands, cheer and release an occasional rally yell any time the Buffs needed to hear from us. Stirred on by Miss Lou Mahan and the magic of her musical organ themes, with every song selected to fit the mood or merit of the particular game situation, Mahan kept us on our toes in soaring good spirit. The old “Happy Days Are Here Again” melody became the virtual theme for Buff walk off hits in the bottom of the ninth.

What we didn’t have “back in the day” were electronic reminders to “make noise” when the game situation merited. We had that base covered without the assistance of automation. We also didn’t have the Buff uniform paraphernalia that could have outfitted us with Houston official game jerseys and the names and numbers for favorite players like Hal Epps and Solly Hemus. ~ Even the big league club fans were denied the use of those sacred adornments in that long ago time and place. If we got out of the ballpark with a souvenir pennant in 1947, we had to have been one of those kids with a daddy who had money to burn.  And that wasn’t my brother or me ~ or anyone else we knew.

In brief, the ballpark back then was a place for the game, hot dogs, soft drinks and beer ~ or plain old peanuts and Cracker Jack ~ and maybe a team pennant and a souvenir ash tray with the word “souvenir” printed onto the object . The ballpark wasn’t a place for souvenirs, buying things on something called a “credit card” ~ and baseball wasn’t an event that rested in the hands of owners with much awareness or skill in the area of “revenue stream creation.”

Then What Happened?

We all know what happened next!

After World War II, the success of credit lending to veterans for housing opened the door on the bigger question: What else can we sell to people on credit that they don’t have all the cash they need to buy now? And why can’t we simply issue credit cards to people which allow them the convenience of either not using cash ~ or the option of paying interest on a slower repayment over time?

Easy credit opened the door ~ and long before QVC, television became the far superior salesman of everything. Technology kept cranking out more things and opportunities we didn’t want to miss. Marketing psychology sharpened seller awareness to the power of fan identity through baseball cards as a clue to something even more addictive. ~ Allow the fans to be the baseball card by selling them the exact name and number jersey of their favorite baseball heroes in sizes in caps and jerseys in sizes that fit their heads and bodies.

Bada Boom!

The big sale of game jerseys led owners to a simple conclusion: “We need more than one home and one away jersey. We need a wardrobe of always changing apparel that fans shall shall want to purchase ~ just to stay up-to-date with the latest team fashion or club accomplishment.

Diversified fan products were off the ground and soaring into a multi-million dollar per year industry. And winning big and was now simply an extension of the proven fact.

The more a team wins, the more it has to sell the following season.

Win Big / Diversify the Items of Celebration

If “affection” is ever classified as an addiction, give MLB and their hard-core fans for putting it there. After a 2018 Houston season of 5 or 6 games made into sellouts by the bonus gift of a 2017 World Series Replica Ring with each game ticket purchased, we have now moved to the playoffs in which different caps and jerseys are for sale at the Minute Maid Park store for each Astros club advancement up the World Series food chain.

Does this mean that a second straight Astros World Series victory will spur the creation of new replica ring nights at the ballpark next year? ~ Is the Pope Catholic? ~ Does the sun always rise in the east?

Today’s Astros Affection Addicts (today’s AAAs) are really no different from who we were back in 1947. They’ve simply had stronger, more powerfully sophisticated forces working on them than we ever saw in those early times. Knowing me, I would have been among the first to have bought a Buffs jersey had that option been available to me back in 1947.

Wearing the Real Thing

Bill McCurdy 1979
(in a tee shirt, not the real thing #1 UH jersey)

As a matter of possibility, we well may have introduced the first sale of an authentic jersey from any sports team to the general public right here in Houston. We might just as easily have been one of the fairly simultaneous waves of change hitting the market place beaches of America with new revenue streams of thought that came to many of us at the same time. Fans want to wear the real thing.

Inadvertently, even as we may have been the first city in the United States to successfully introduced the first of any official jersey for sale to fans at any collegiate or professional sport team level back in 1979. Lord knows, there was was nothing new about our desire to own and wear the real thing. I personally had been wanting such a real thing jersey since my early summer baseball days at Buff Stadium. By 1979, I simply had awakened to the same Walter Mitty fan wish to also dress in the real thing stuff put in use by my undergraduate school alma mater, the University of Houston Cougars.

Only thing for sure is ~ by 1979 ~ the idea of official jersey sale to fans ~ for all reasons summarized earlier here ~ was a marketing hunger ~ a supply and demand idea, whose time had come. By 1981, replica jerseys from everywhere were ~ well ~ everywhere. And many of those new places previously were aware of what he had done at UH.

I thought it would have been cool for UH to build a little tradition by retiring UH football jersey #1 from use by players and making it available for sale to Cougar fans. I presented the suggestion in writing to then UH Director of Marketing Sonny Yates and it was swiftly approved by then UH Athletic Director Cedric Dempsey.

The suggestion sold a lot of jerseys in the two seasons I worked as a volunteer at the UH Athletic program (1979-80), but Dempsey then left to go elsewhere, as UH stepping-stone “leaders” so often do and, by 1981, the #1 was simply and unceremoniously assigned to the jersey of an incoming Cougar football player.

A Perfect Example of How Things Are

In a Houston Chronicle article by Maggie Gordon after the Astros ALDS 11-3 clincher over the Indians she wrote the following about an Astros fan and his immediate aspirations following the game: “I had faith in my team; I knew it,” Sal Rodriguez said shortly after the game ended, as he and a group of friends pushed along in a newly formed line to the Team Store, to purchase fresh merchandise now that the Astros are officially Divisional Champions.”

Now it’s 3 wins in the pan and only 8 more victories to go ~ one game ~ and one new celebratory cap at a time!



Bill McCurdy

Principal Writer, Editor, Publisher

The Pecan Park Eagle


4 Responses to “The Changing Appetite of Ballpark Fans”

  1. Sam Says:

    Oh Bill!

    This should make your night, the one that snuck by you!

    On the Tees at the Minute Maid Park:


  2. Tom Hunter Says:

    Damn, Bill, you’re a skinny bad-ass lookin’ dude in your Mad Dog T-shirt. Looks like you’re at a beach in Galveston.

    • Bill McCurdy Says:

      Thanks, Tom. And I could still play a little ball too in those earlier times. And, yes. That’s the beach in Galveston, It was a beautiful Sunday in October. Some special days never leave our memories. And this one was one of those Louis Armstrong “It’s a Wonderful World” days.

  3. maxwell1901 Says:

    Nice read, Bill. Merle Harmon used to tell the story about growing up in Illinois during the Depression. One time he had earned $2.00 which got him a train ticket to and from St. Louis, a ticket to sit in the bleachers at a Cardinals game at Sportsman’s Park, a scorecard, a pencil, a hot dog…and at the end of the day, he had just enough to buy a Cardinals pennant. You could only get one at the game.

    Years later, Merle opened Merle Harmon’s Fan Fair, which he says was the first store to sell officially licensed team clothing to the public. This would have been late 1970s when he was a broadcaster for the Milwaukee Brewers. I’m sure he had the UH jersey that was on your Christmas list.

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