Posts Tagged ‘Clark Nealon’

ROOTS 3: Houston Sports Writers 1965

February 21, 2013
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.

Post Time by Clark Nealon: Duke Duquesnay

July 25, 2011

Sometimes it’s better to let those you wish to honor speak for themselves through a sample of their own work. Today I find that one past article from the Sunday, November 7, 1965 pages of the Houston Post speaks volumes for two men: It screams loudly for the time-and-energy-generous man it’s about – and it calls equivalent attention to the genuine sincerity and Houston-heart of man who wrote it.

Their names were Duke Duquesnay, Houston Youth Baseball organizer, and Clark Nealon, Houston Post sports writer supreme. Both men had great impact upon my generation of post World War II Houston kids and our attachment to the game of baseball – more than I could ever hope to cram into a single column by way of explanation. I’ll be content today to simply allow Mr. Nealon to tell the story for us.

Thank you, Mark Duquesnay, for sending me this column and other items about your late grandfather to me. He was a great man, as was the felllow who wrote this version of his story. Houston is the lesser today for both their absences.

Perhaps Houston;s most significant baseball career came to an end Wednesday night. P.E> (Duke) Duquesnay died in Saint Joseph’s Hospital after a long, game fight following a stroke on Oct. 8, and old and new friends paid final respects at services Friday to a 78 year-old energy, dedication to baseball and organizational ability who may have touched more male lives in Houston than any other.

For almsot 60 of his 78 years, Duke Duquesnay was a firm force at the grass roots of baseball in Houston. No, his wasn’t a Hall of Fame career as a pro. He didn’t get the acclaim of a major or minor leaue manager, the newspaper space in big headlines, and certainly never the complete honor due his untiring efforts.

Duke Duquesnay: 1907-1965; H for Houston; H for Heart; H for a Man at Home in Baseball.

 YOU SEE Duke didn’t operate at the top, glamorous level. Ol’ Duke worked at the greass roots, the, the amateur and kid baseball foundation of a game to which he gave a lifetime of day-by-day devotion.

From the time he came to Houston in 1909, mind you, until the last few months, Ol’ Duke worked with baseball and kids. Through at least three generations, over more than five decades, this kindly onetime railroad clerk devoted himself, and most of those around him, to keeping kids playing baseball.

Yes, from days when baseball was the only game – and it never was anything else to Duke – through yers when the hardest things for a baseball struck young fellow to get was a glove, a bat, a ball, and a place to play and and organized team. Duke used amazing promotional ability to provided these facets. Through wartime and finally into the the time of pplenty with Little League and the abundance of youth baseball, Duke was a big man at the small fry level.

PERHAPS THE POPULARITY of Little League and all other youth baseball of recent years was a fitting reward to Duke. We’ve always thought that if there was such a thing as a Baseball Hall of Fame to be constructed on a vacant lot on a Saturday morning, then such a shrine be most fitting to the lifetime crusade of Duke Duquesnay.

That was where Duke operated longest and best, a ball bag in oe hand, a few bats in the other and a string of small fry chattering behind him.

Ankenman, Moers and Guggenheim

In a hundred offices, conservatively among thousands of Houstonians, Friday, there was a keen, intimate memory of DUke and his passing. A large percentage of those men either got their start in baseball or athletics under Duke, or knew him well from competing against his teams.

Duke, for instance, was on the Houston baseball scene a year before Fred Ankenman, the longtime president of the Houston Buffs. And Fred paid Ol’ Duke one of the highest of tributes.

“DUKE DUQUESNAY MEANT more to youngsters and parents of this city than any other man I know of,” said Fred. “He worked unceasingly for baseball and kids in the same proportion. And he had so many ideas about ways and means to keep a youngster program going. He was doing so many things that are popular now when he was practically the only one had thought of them.”

Then there’s Bobby Moers, now a prominent Houston physician and surgeon., but back there in the 30s a kid looking for a game of ball in the Heights.

“Duke started me,” Bobby said Thursday. “We used to walk across a trestle over the bayou to get to a diamond he had out there. Duke provided the the bats and the balls, the team and found a place to play when all of them were hard to find. Duke did as much as anyone for Houston kid and amateur baseball.”

MOERS, OF COURSE, WAS ONE of Houston’s finest all-around athletes, easily could have gone on to major league status as a baseball players but for World War II and his choice of medicine as a career. But Bobby is only typical. Duke had so many (of) Houston’s standout ball players at a tender age – Marion Asbell, Bobby Runnels, Mike Schroeder, Emmett Fore, on and on, back through the years. So many, many. So many years and teams.

And right on through the tough years into the plenty of the post World War II seasons.

Alvin Guggenheim, past president of Rotary Club Activities, Inc. described Duke and his work:

‘I DON’T KNOW OF ANY three men who did as much for youth baseball in Houston as did Duke Duquesnay. The man’s dedicaiton, his organizational and promotional ability, his energy were amazing.”

‘What You Want Me To Do, Duke?’

Roger Jeffery and Duke worked together on PeeWee baseball for the smaller small fry, played against his kid teams at an early age. “I’ve know Duke forever,” said Roger, “as a worker for kid baseball. When he called, I got so I had a stock answer: ‘What do you want me to do, Duke?’ You knew he wanted you to do something for for kid baseball and you did it if you could because you knew DUke.”

PERHAPS THAT WAS DUKE’S top secret, besides dedication. He had an organization of the generations of kids he had started, given that memorable first chance..

And Duke, through his baseball, was a social worker before that term was invented as we now know it. A man of limited means himself, he specialized in areas where it was harder for kids to get a chance to play. And he specialized in benefits, too, including a ovel one with Ankenman one time when the goal shoes for needy kids, and they provided truck loads of them, new and used.

DUKE GOT SOME honors for his efforts. He was an Honorary Rotarian of the North Side Club in appreciation for his efforts when  Rotary International entered sponsorship of Little League. A Little League field is named for him. He was an assistant manager of Houston’s Little League National Champs in 1950, and he was presented (with0 the keys to the City of Houston in a ceremony in appreciation of his long work.

Reward Was in the Doing

In our experience, Duke was unique for dedication and length of that dedication, and for the fact that, to him, there was only one season, baseball, 12 months of the year. For no other have we witnessed as many baseball notices. In the spring, baseball notices for Duke filled a letter-size page for every week end — teams in all divisions, supporting organizations, etc. He once had the Dukettes, a pep squad for girls of Little League age. ANother time time he had a complete team of lefthanders. Name it. Duje had it. For baseball.

DUKE, IN THE 30 YEARS we knew him, never asked for anything for his own benefit, on any angle. He never used a ball player nor his baseball prgrams for personal reward tp our intimate knowledge. Duke’s reward was in the doing.

In the past few weeks, as the years took their toll, you missed the almost daily calls and the greeting:

“Duke, talking.”

There won’t be any more calls now, but the memory of the man won’t e forgotten. By thousands of Houstonians whose lives he touched. From Saturday morning on the vacant lot until right now.

Clark Nealon: Houston Sportswriter DeLuxe.

May 2, 2010

Clark Nealon: He wrote what he saw.

The late Clark Nealon was a Houston sportswriter back in the time of honest reporting on the games themselves. He didn’t write to gain his readers’ accolades or ire. He wrote to tell us what he saw – what we would have seen, had we been at the particular game he was covering. The difference between Clark Nealon and today’s “pay attention to me” writers was the proverbial difference between night and day. Clark didn’t hit the pings on his typewriter keys just to get people writing into the editor about his wiseacre commentary. He wrote to give us as accurate and down-to-earth an account as he could about the specific game in progress.

I missed the privilege of ever meeting Clark Nealon in person during his lifetime, but it’s hard to have grown up having breakfast with his writings without feeling as though he were a member of the family, anyway. I grew up going to Buff Stadium as often as possible,  The rest of the time, I got to fill in the blanks from radio accounts by broadcaster Loel Passe and by the game stories in the Houston Post written by Clark Nealon. Those two men talked and wrote their way into the kitchen table conversations of Buff fans all over Houston.

There is a nice exhibit on the late Clark Nealon at the new and revived Houston Sports Museum at Finger Furniture on the Gulf Freeway. Check it out when you visit the place. I’m not for sure by any specific dates when Clark Nealon started, when he retired, or when he passed away. I only know that he did a great job while he was here and that he is sorely missed today. It was fun reading the work of someone who actually knew something about the sport he was covering – and who could write on sports without throwing his ego in the way of everything he did, as is more often the case in today’s fast-food mentality of Internet electronic sports coverage.

We also have Clark Nealon to thank for being the significant mentor to the funniest, most literate and educational  writer to ever cover sports in Houston, the great Mickey Herskowitz. The fact that both men later found honor by admission to the Texas Baseball Hall of Fame comes as no surprise. Both were consummate professionals as everyday beat writers and each is richly deserving of our fondest Houston Buff memories. Today the attention is simply focused on Nealon.

Thank you, Clark Nealon, for teaching me much about baseball – and for making breakfast about yesterday’s sports action an interlocked experience for as long as I can remember.

Addendum: I just discovered at mid-morning that David Barron has written a nice account of the Houston Sports Museum reopening at Finger Furniture on the Gulf freeway for today’s Sunday, May 2, 2010 Houston Chronicle Sports Section. Way to go, David!

Check it out.