Posts Tagged ‘History’

The Man Who Named Medwick “Ducky”

May 2, 2011

  Long before Richard Justice and the Houston Chronicle there was another major newspaper in this town known as the Houston Post. A third one was the Houston Press, which perished from print even earlier, but none of the local rags covered sports quite like the Post. The great Mickey Herskowitz carried the sportswriting banner for the Post through their abrupt business-shark-kill death in 1996 and before Mickey was the incomparable Clark Nealon, leaning all the way back to the 1930s with both the Press and the Post. Along the way, writers like Morris Frank, John Hollis and Tom Kennedy made their own marks with the wonderful Dame News Girl, the morning Houston Post, along with others too numerous to mention. Does the names Bruce Layer and Clyde LaMotte ring any bells with any of you back-in-the-day Houston sports readers?

Go back far enough and you will run into one name that stands out as the godfather of all who came after him. That would be the one and only Lloyd Gregory, a native Texan and the first great sports writer in Houston publishing history. Gregory got to Houston in time to take over his duties here shortly after Ross Sterling bought both the original Post and also the Dispatch in 1924 and put them into the administrative hands of William P. Hobby as the new Houston Post-Dispatch. Hobby would eventually acquire the newspaper from Sterling and drop the “Dispatch” part of the identity, but the 1930s were a period for dragging Houston full-bore into the marketplace of early 20th century journalism.

With radio in its infancy during the 1920s, and with no TV, Internet, or low-cost telephone access, Houstonians were like all Americans in their growing dependency upon newspapers for up-to-date news. The 1920s were the era of the “special edition” paper that came out when big news couldn’t wait for tomorrow’s edition and there was money to be made is from a special edition run.

Most of the time, the morning Post-Dispatch and the afternoon Houston Chronicle and Press had the time field covered, but big news breaking after 4:00 PM opened the gate on special edition possibility.

Lloyd Gregory was there for the growth of the Houston Buffs as the face of farm team baseball for Branch Rickey and the S. Louis Cardinals back in the 1920s. Gregory was there to greet Rickey and Baseball Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis when the two men came to Houston for the original opening of buff Stadium on April 11, 1928. He covered the arrival of lights and night baseball at Buff Stadium in the early 1930s, and saw Houston Buffs baseball through the Great Depression of that decade and into the 1942 stoppage of the Texas League in 1942 due to World War II.

Somewhere in that World War II and post war period, Lloyd Gregory retired from everyday reporting at about the same time I was awakening to baseball with the 1947 Houston Buffs club as a nine-year old. Eventually, his place at the Post writing mentor table would be taken over by Clark Nealon and the others who followed in both their footsteps.

My memories of Lloyd Gregory are of the man who hosted “The Hot Stove League” weekly half-hour TV program every winter into the spring training season from about 1950 to 1952. Gregory would gather other writers around a prop hot stove to discuss the Buffs chances for the coming year with team President Allen Russell and others. By that time, I was a fully-invested baseball nerd and a devourer of statistical data on our prospects for the coming season. That made for some great anticipation of each new weekly show. If memory serves, Morris Frank, Clark Nealon, and Bruce Layer all worked with Gregory on the show, but all seemed to defer to Lloyd as the leader of the pack. I can still here that calm drawling Texas voice of Lloyd Gregory playing out in my memory. He was a good baseball man, the kind of guy that innately left his audience crying for more.

Ducky Medwick

One time writer Lloyd Gregory left a player crying for less, most probably. The issue came up with Joe Medwick, back when Joe was playing outfield for the great 1931 Houston Buffs. Medwick and the terrific Dizzy Dean, of course, went on from Houston to become hinge-pin players for the 1934 Gashouse Gang World Champion St. Louis Cardinals, with both later making it into the Hall of Fame. While he was in Houston, however, Medwick acquired a nickname he never requested as the result of a female fan letter written to Post-Dispatch writer Lloyd Gregory for his “Lookin’ Em Over” sports column.

A female fan wrote Gregory that she loved Medwick, but added that she felt he walked like a duck. She even admitted to growing into the thought  of her favorite Buff as “Ducky” Medwick whenever she saw him walking around the field at Buff Stadium.

Well, columnists have space to fill on a daily basis. Lloyd Gregory protected the identity of his writer, but he divulged the story in one of his 1931 daily columns, He then started referring to the player as “Ducky” Medwick in his game coverage stories.

“Ducky” stuck. Soon everyone else was calling him “Ducky” too. By the time Medwick moved on up to St. Louis, that “Ducky” nickname needed no special packing. It was stuck all over him.

Somewhere out there, most probably in a Houston cemetery by this late date, is the never identified Houston girl who gave Joe Medwick his famous nickname with the help of sportswriter Lloyd Gregory. Too bad Joe never met or maybe married that girl. Any woman who can lay a nickname like “Ducky” on a guy is bound to have held other gifts of good fortune for the man who once caught the light as the object of her affections.

Thank you, Lloyd Gregory, for all the good and fun things you did for Houston baseball.

World’s Oldest Ex-Big Leaguer Turns 100!

May 1, 2011

Connie Marrero was born April 25, 1911 in Sagua LaGrande, Cuba.

Former major leaguer Connie Marrero, the world’s oldest living former major leaguer, turned 100 years old last Monday, April 25, 2011. He now lives simply in the home of a cousin in Havana, Cuba, but with all the remembered honor that his fellow countrymen and equally fervent Cuban baseball fans can quietly bestow upon him with a look and a smile, here and there, in the shrinking space of his everyday environment.

As the old song goes, Connie “don’t get around much, anymore,” but there was a time when he did, using his considerable pitching stuff to post a 39-40, 3.67 ERA record for the lowly Washington Senators back in a five-season career (1950-1954) during the Golden Era of Big League Ball.

Do the math. The heralded Cuban pitching ace was already near age 39 when he reached the American League to pitch for one of the worst clubs of the game – and back in the halcyon period of young Mantle and the great Yankee post-DiMaggio World Series machine.

Connie Marrero is the sixteenth former big leaguer to reach the century mark in age. The oldest survivor to date was Chester Hoff, who reached 107 years and 4 months at the time of his death in 1998.

Here’s a link to a good SABR article on the living list, plus those who’ve lived to reach age 100 as former big leaguers.

Congratulations, Senor Marrero!  You are what Ernest Hemingway had in mind when he wrote “The Old Man and the Sea. These days you even look the part.

Jerry Witte: Remembering a Best Friend

April 28, 2011

Jerry Witte and the Scouts, Buff Stadium, 1951.

Not that I ever forget him. He was my great childhood baseball hero with the Houston Buffs, my late-in-life best adult friend, my palling around the old Houston East End buddy, my best company in late summer afternoon baseball conversations on Oak Vista Street, the booming loud and smiling patriarch of the seven daughtered Witte family, the sometimes cantankerous partner to Mary Witte in a marriage that stretched  this one man’s  affection over a half century of loving dedication to God, marriage, family and the simplest most powerful connections to life, the biggest hunter  I ever met, but an even bigger collector of raw or slightly used building materials, a gardener with a Kelly green thumb, and a Telephone Road area driveway fly swatting champion of unparalleled success.

All these things were simply the veneer of the deeper soul that was Jerry Witte, one of the best men that God ever put down here to walk the earth as an honest-to-goodness everyday hero. In baseball and in life, Jerry Witte was tough, honest, and dedicated to the goal of giving everything he did his best shot. Whether it was playing the game of baseball, landscaping an entire property as the head of his own post-playing career company, or simply chewing the fat with friends, you could always count on Jerry Witte to give it his most earnest effort.

Today marks the ninth anniversary of Jerry’s departure from the Earth. Depending upon what we know is true (He actually passed away on April 27, 2002, which is how all the Internet baseball stat sites show it.) or when it was recorded (The death record lists his final date of life as April 28, 2002 and that’s how it is marked on both his grave marker and in his autobiography.), Jerry Witte passed away on either April 27th or 28th of 2002.

We will be thinking especially hard of you today, Jerry, and all in the name of our love for the influence you still are in our lives. Years ago, I wrote these feelings in the following way on page 324 of your post-mortem published autobiography. I could not improve today upon anything I said then:

OUR FAREWELL TO JERRY WITTE, on The Day of His Funeral, May 1, 2002.

I’ll never see a summer sky,

And fail to think of you.

For all the love you brought to life,

Each day came shining through.

 Your wife and seven daughters,

Were the center of your world,

But your spirit spread beyond the nest,

To others – it unfurled.

And we are all the richer now,

For the luck of meeting you.

You gave to every life you touched,

A friendship – blood-red true.

You rose from salt that made this world,

A place that honored labor.

You worked for everything you had,

With integrity – as your saber.

You never wasted precious time,

On the stuff that doesn’t matter.

You saw through fame and fortune,

As the path of growing sadder.

Instead, you gave your giving heart,

To those who needed love.

And we were captured on the spot,

Like pop flies in your glove.

And on this day we say farewell,

Our hearts hold this much true,

We’ll always have that special gift,

– The gift of knowing you!


Bill McCurdy, May 1, 2002

A Kid From St. Louis, Pecan Park Eagle Press, 2003.

Jerry Witte was born on July 30, 1915 in St. Louis Missouri. He played professional baseball from 1937 to 1952, finishing his career as the Houston Buff first baseman from June 1950 through the end of the 1952 season. Jerry had two brief exposures to the big leagues with the St, Louis Browns in 1946-47, but mainly played out his game over the years as one the great home run hitters in minor league history, including a 50 homer season for the 1949 Dallas Eagles.

Beautiful 317-page hard-cover copies of Jerry Witte’s autobiography are still available for $25.00, which includes shipping within the USA. If you are interested, please endorse your check to me, “Bill McCurdy,” and send it, along with a clearly typed mailing address, plus any personal signing instructions for me as Jerry’s co-author to: Bill McCurdy, PO BOX 940871, Houston, TX 77094-7871.

If you have any further questions, I am easily reachable through my e-mail address:

Who’s On First?

April 27, 2011

Costello: "Well then who's on first?" Abbott: "Yes!"

The routine never grows old to those of us who love baseball. The Hall of Fame even uses it as a greeting sound to visitors at their Cooperstown museum and exhibit hall. The recorded voices of the late comedians Bud Abbott and Lou Costello go on forever in tandem daffiness there over their perpetual misunderstanding of what each is saying in the vain effort to nail down the name of the player assigned to first base and other positions on the diamond for the legendary, but fictional St. Louis Wolves.

Subtract Bud Abbott as the manager of 1895 St. Louis Wolves and insert Brad Mills of the 2011 Houston Astros and the whole absurd collision of misunderstandings goes away with all the fun too:

Costello: Well, then who’s on first?

Mills: Brett Wallace.

Costello: Thanks, Brad. Now who’s on second?

Ouch! As long as “who” can be anywhere, including first, we’ve got no comedy wedge-point, but thanks to Abbott and Costello and the St. Louis Wolves, baseball rides an ongoing comedy premise that never dies or even ages.

Here it is again in complete script form for your whatever-time-of-day-it-is reading amusement. This time through, if you haven’t done so previously, pay attention to the fact that “the boys” eventually name eight of the nine players at each position in the field. If you use a strong fingers and toes count, you will be able to identify the one position on the field that they never tie to a player’s name in their insane routine.

Sometimes we get to hear or read this comedy classic on a day it does us the most good. Hoping this is one of those thirty times for you too, here it is again in all its unedited glory:

“Who’s On First?” by Bud Abbott and Lou Costello.

Abbott: Well, Costello, I’m going to New York with you. Bucky Harris the Yankee’s manager gave me a job as coach for as long as you’re on the team.

Costello: Look Abbott, if you’re the coach, you must know all the players.

Abbott: I certainly do.

Costello: Well you know I’ve never met the guys. So you’ll have to tell me their names, and then I’ll know who’s playing on the team.

Abbott: Oh, I’ll tell you their names, but you know it seems to me they give these ball players now-a-days very peculiar names.

Costello: You mean funny names?

Abbott: Strange names, pet names…like Dizzy Dean…

Costello: His brother Daffy

Abbott: Daffy Dean…

Costello: And their French cousin.

Abbott: French?

Costello: Goofe’

Abbott: Goofe’ Dean. Well, let’s see, we have on the bags, Who’s on first, What’s on second, I Don’t Know is on third…

Costello: That’s what I want to find out.

Abbott: I say Who’s on first, What’s on second, I Don’t Know’s on third.

Costello: Are you the manager?

Abbott: Yes.

Costello: You gonna be the coach too?

Abbott: Yes.

Costello: And you don’t know the fellows’ names.

Abbott: Well I should.

Costello: Well then who’s on first?

Abbott: Yes.

Costello: I mean the fellow’s name.

Abbott: Who.

Costello: The guy on first.

Abbott: Who.

Costello: The first baseman.

Abbott: Who.

Costello: The guy playing…

Abbott: Who is on first!

Costello: I’m asking you who’s on first.

Abbott: That’s the man’s name.

Costello: That’s who’s name?

Abbott: Yes.

Costello: Well go ahead and tell me.

Abbott: That’s it.

Costello: That’s who?

Abbott: Yes. PAUSE

Costello: Look, you gotta first baseman?

Abbott: Certainly.

Costello: Who’s playing first?

Abbott: That’s right.

Costello: When you pay off the first baseman every month, who gets the money?

Abbott: Every dollar of it.

Costello: All I’m trying to find out is the fellow’s name on first base.

Abbott: Who.

Costello: The guy that gets…

Abbott: That’s it.

Costello: Who gets the money…

Abbott: He does, every dollar of it. Sometimes his wife comes down and collects it.

Costello: Who’s wife?

Abbott: Yes. PAUSE

Abbott: What’s wrong with that?

Costello: I wanna know is when you sign up the first baseman, how does he sign his name?

Abbott: Who.

Costello: The guy.

Abbott: Who.

Costello: How does he sign…

Abbott: That’s how he signs it.

Costello: Who?

Abbott: Yes. PAUSE

Costello: All I’m trying to find out is what’s the guys name on first base.

Abbott: No. What is on second base.

Costello: I’m not asking you who’s on second.

Abbott: Who’s on first.

Costello: One base at a time!

Abbott: Well, don’t change the players around.

Costello: I’m not changing nobody!

Abbott: Take it easy, buddy.

Costello: I’m only asking you, who’s the guy on first base?

Abbott: That’s right.

Costello: OK.

Abbott: Alright. PAUSE

Costello: What’s the guy’s name on first base?

Abbott: No. What is on second.

Costello: I’m not asking you who’s on second.

Abbott: Who’s on first.

Costello: I don’t know.

Abbott: He’s on third, we’re not talking about him.

Costello: Now how did I get on third base?

Abbott: Why you mentioned his name.

Costello: If I mentioned the third baseman’s name, who did I say is playing third?

Abbott: No. Who’s playing first.

Costello: What’s on base?

Abbott: What’s on second.

Costello: I don’t know.

Abbott: He’s on third.

Costello: There I go, back on third again! PAUSE

Costello: Would you just stay on third base and don’t go off it.

Abbott: Alright, what do you want to know?

Costello: Now who’s playing third base?

Abbott: Why do you insist on putting Who on third base?

Costello: What am I putting on third.

Abbott: No. What is on second.

Costello: You don’t want who on second?

Abbott: Who is on first.

Costello: I don’t know. Together: Third base! PAUSE

Costello: Look, you gotta outfield?

Abbott: Sure.

Costello: The left fielder’s name?

Abbott: Why.

Costello: I just thought I’d ask you.

Abbott: Well, I just thought I’d tell ya.

Costello: Then tell me who’s playing left field.

Abbott: Who’s playing first.

Costello: I’m not…stay out of the infield!!! I want to know what’s the guy’s name in left field?

Abbott: No, What is on second.

Costello: I’m not asking you who’s on second.

Abbott: Who’s on first!

Costello: I don’t know. Together: Third base! PAUSE

Costello: The left fielder’s name?

Abbott: Why.

Costello: Because!

Abbott: Oh, he’s center field. PAUSE

Costello: Look, You gotta pitcher on this team?

Abbott: Sure.

Costello: The pitcher’s name?

Abbott: Tomorrow.

Costello: You don’t want to tell me today?

Abbott: I’m telling you now.

Costello: Then go ahead.

Abbott: Tomorrow!

Costello: What time?

Abbott: What time what?

Costello: What time tomorrow are you gonna tell me who’s pitching?

Abbott: Now listen. Who is not pitching.

Costello: I’ll break you’re arm if you say who’s on first!!! I want to know what’s the pitcher’s name?

Abbott: What’s on second.

Costello: I don’t know. Together: Third base! PAUSE

Costello: Gotta a catcher?

Abbott: Certainly.

Costello: The catcher’s name?

Abbott: Today.

Costello: Today, and tomorrow’s pitching.

Abbott: Now you’ve got it.

Costello: All we got is a couple of days on the team. PAUSE

Costello: You know I’m a catcher too.

Abbott: So they tell me.

Costello: I get behind the plate to do some fancy catching, Tomorrow’s pitching on my team and a heavy hitter gets up. Now the heavy hitter bunts the ball. When he bunts the ball, me, being a good catcher, I’m gonna throw the guy out at first. So I pick up the ball and throw it to who?

Abbott: Now that’s the first thing you’ve said right.

Costello: I don’t even know what I’m talking about! PAUSE

Abbott: That’s all you have to do.

Costello: Is to throw the ball to first base.

Abbott: Yes!

Costello: Now who’s got it?

Abbott: Naturally. PAUSE

Costello: Look, if I throw the ball to first base, somebody’s gotta get it. Now who has it?

Abbott: Naturally.

Costello: Who?

Abbott: Naturally.

Costello: Naturally?

Abbott: Naturally.

Costello: So I pick up the ball and I throw it to Naturally.

Abbott: No you don’t you throw the ball to Who.

Costello: Naturally.

Abbott: That’s different.

Costello: That’s what I said.

Abbott: you’re not saying it…

Costello: I throw the ball to Naturally.

Abbott: You throw it to Who.

Costello: Naturally.

Abbott: That’s it.

Costello: That’s what I said!

Abbott: You ask me.

Costello: I throw the ball to who?

Abbott: Naturally.

Costello: Now you ask me.

Abbott: You throw the ball to Who?

Costello: Naturally.

Abbott: That’s it.

Costello: Same as you! Same as YOU!!! I throw the ball to who. Whoever it is drops the ball and the guy runs to second. Who picks up the ball and throws it to What. What throws it to I Don’t Know. I Don’t Know throws it back to Tomorrow, Triple play. Another guy gets up and hits a long fly ball to Because. Why? I don’t know! He’s on third and I don’t give a darn!

Abbott: What?

Costello: I said I don’t give a darn!

Abbott: Oh, that’s our shortstop.

Costello: (makes screaming sound)

Who Was Mayor of Houston When…?

April 22, 2011

Obscuria Houstonia Quiz #2?

Today’s second Obscuria Houstonia quiz reveals another catch to the answers: Unless a reader correctly identifies the answer in the comment section that accompanies the inquiring story post, the question will remain an unanswered enigma until someone does. Whenever correct answers occur, I will acknowledge them as replies to correct answers provided in the comment section.

These little ytivia excursions are intended simply for fun and some minor educational purpose on the subject of Houston’s more arcane historical facts. I have no interest or intention of running them all the time, but, when the whim strikes, look out. Here we’ll go again.

Today’s feature is totally about the history of Houston mayors. All you have to do here, if you are interested in trying, is name the ten mayors in Houston History who were in office when these identified events occurred? In each case, the mayor variably may have had something to do with the creation of the identified event – or, more likely, simply been the person in office when the thing expressed unfolded.

Obscuria Houstonia Quiz #2: Who was Mayor of Houston when…?

(1) …Houston selected it’s first mayor ever?

(2)…Texas joined the United States of America?

(3)…the State of Texas seceded from the Union to join the Confederacy?

(4)…the original Houston Base Ball Club was founded in the city at a meeting on the second floor above J.H. Evans’ Store on Market Square?

(5)…the Civil War ended?

(6)…the city fielded its first professional “base ball” team?

(7)…the person who would hold that office longer than any other was first elected?

(8)…Houston launched both the professional football Oilers and the professional baseball Colt .45s?

(9)…Houston opened the Astrodome?

(10)…Houston opened the downtown baseball park first known as Enron Field?

... Good luck – and have a loving, blessed, and restful Easter Weekend too!

Longest Professional Game in Baseball History

April 19, 2011

Cal Ripken, Jr.. 3B, Rochester Red Wings

It started thirty years ago on Easter Saturday, April 18, 1981. The longest professional game in baseball history began to play out its tired and weary way to a 33-inning 3-2 conclusion that would ultimately unfold over three dates in time before it pinged to a ragged conclusion June 23, 1981. In the end, the home town Pawtucket Red Sox defeated the visiting Rochester Red Wings on a single in the bottom of the 33rd off the bat of Pawtucket first baseman Dave Koza.

The game began before an International League crowd of 1,740, but it started at 8:25 PM due to a half hour delay caused by trouble with the lights. It was an omen for “late start” playing directly into “late finish” – as in latest finish ever for any International League game. The league had a rule ending or suspended any game from starting a new inning beyond 12:40 AM of the next day, but Dennis Cregg, the umpire who worked home plate for this game in McCoy Stadium in Pawtucket that night, had a rule book copy that contained no reference to the time-top rule. As a result, the game played on in zombie-like speed into the wee small hours. Finally, some time after 3:00 AM, someone called league president Harold Cooper. Mortified by the news, Cooper ordered that the game be stopped at the end of its current 32nd inning, if not ended by a score differential, and rescheduled for continuation later.  The inning finally droned to a halt 4:07 AM with score still tied at 2-2.

What a way to drift into Easter Sunday. Only nineteen fans remained in te stands by this time and all were given season passes for their willingness to stick-it-0ut to the very end. No note is made of what the married ones received from their wives after stumbling home that late in the pre-dawn hours of Easter Sunday morning. I can’t see that going so well in a number of instances.

Another interesting sidebar note is the fact that each club featured future Hall of Famers playing third base. Cal Ripken, Jr. handled those honors for Rochester that night. Wade Boggs played thrid base for Pawtucket. Ripken ended up setting a record with two teammates for most plate appearances in a game with 15. Ripken was 2 for 13 in official trips. Wade Boggs was 4 for 12 with a game-ting RBI in the bottom of the 21st.

Wade Boggs, 3B, Pawtucket Red Sox

Following the suspension, the same clubs were set to play a fresh game at 11:00 AM on Easter Sunday morning. That sounded like a stroke of bad timing anyway, but it was mainly the fear of injury that led the two teams to reschedule the continuation of their unsettled marathon for the next regular trip to town for Rochester. The game would be continued in the top of the 33rd at McCoy Stadium on June 23, 1981.

As so often proves true, the spell, tempo, and mood of the continued game was no longer controlled by the tempo of the original production. After Rochester went down harmlessly in the top of the 33rd, Pawtucket quickly put men on base in the bottom half and won on the Koza hit described earlier. It was a game for the ages, setting numerous records that were only reachable because of its longevity.

The time of the game, 8 hours and 25 minutes, set a record of its own as the longest game ever played by the clock.

For further information, here’s a nice little summary of the whole ordeal.

The Streets of Downtown Houston

April 16, 2011

Downtown Houston

Do you have all the one-way streets of downtown Houston memorized? Or do you simply wait for the arrows to tell you left or right? If you are lke most of us, you may know some to all the names, but you’d have to wait and see the arrow before you could tell a visitor which street goes left/right, north/south, east/west.

To be technical about it, Houston’s downtown doesn’t exactly run north/south in a way that’s solidly true to the magnetic north compass. Our north/south streets run more northeast/southwest – and our east/west avenues run more southeast/northwest. I choose to stay NSEW here for purposes of simplicity.

Looking at downtown area  strictly as the concentrated business district with all the skyscrapers that is bordered on the north by Buffalo Bayou, on the east by Chartres,  and at the south and west points of the compass points by the US 45 South and North freeway elevated bend around downtown, here is a  listing of the north/south, east/west major streets in the order of their appearance and with an easy to follow notation of the direction their traffics are set up to travel. Only two of the streets, Bagby and Main, are bi-directional.

The North/South Streets of Downtown Houston By Their Direction of Traffic (starting west and moving east)

Bagby (bi-d)

Smith (S)

Louisiana (N)

Milam (S)

Travis (N)

Main (bi-d)

Fannin (S)

San Jacinto (N)

Caroline (S)

Austin (N)

LaBranch (S)

Crawford (N)

Jackson (S)

Chenevert (N)

Hamilton (S)

(US 59 Freeway)

Chartres (N)

The East/West Streets of Downtown Houston By Their Direction of Traffic (starting north and moving south)

Commerce (W)

Franklin (E)

Congress (W)

Preston (E)

Prairie (W)

Texas (E)

Capitol (W)

Rusk (E)

Walker (W)

McKinney (E)

Lamar (W)

Dallas (E)

Polk (W)

Clay (E)

Bell (W)

Leeland (E)

Pease (W)

Jefferson (E)

St. Joseph Parkway (W)

Pierce (E)

Most of the streets are named for early Texas heroes, but how we missed out on prominent downtown streets named for Davy Crockett and James Bowie is beyond me. Even Allen Parkway, a late after-thought renaming of “Buffalo Drive” in favor of the Allen Brothers as Houston Founders loses its identity once it reaches the downtown area.

At any rate, these are the ones we have, along with the directions they travel. If you would like further information and more ongoing data on street construction effecting downtown travel, check out this website for further ongoing advisories. You know you’re not in downtown Houston unless you encounter some section of road way that’s been torn asunder for your travel inconvenience – and this place is designed to help you get advance word on routes to most avoid.

SAN JACINTO DAY CELEBRATION IS TODAY, SATURDAY, APRIL 16TH! Have a nice weekend, everybody. If you read this article early enough, don’t forget the big San Jacinto Day celebration at the San Jacinto Battlegrounds this Saturday, April 16th. April 21st is the actual 175th anniversary date in 2011 of the battle that won Texas its independence from Mexico, but that historic 18-minute  battle will be reenacted today ay the battlegrounds at 3:00 PM.

Long Live Texas!

Union Station Revisited

April 15, 2011

Opening in 1911 with additional floors added in 1912.

Entering Minute Maid Park from the Union Station “Great Hall” door on Opening Day of the 2011 baseball season, an old friend of deep orange attachment to the ball club’s early history stopped to ask me which way the tracks ran when this historic place lived its life as a train station. He didn’t ask it quite that way, but that is the way I heard his question. I told him the answer, but in so doing, it also told me that it was time again to do a little Pecan Park Eagle spotlight on the history of this hallowed ground.

First, let me say this much. There are numerous article sites on the history of Union Station available over the Internet. Just do a search with the words “Union Station Houston” and watch what happens. The output from there is absolutely delicious.

Union Stationed opened in 1911. A year later, a 1912 continuation of the work added several stories to the structure. The building was designed by architects Warren & Wetmore at a cost of five million dollars. Upon completion, Union Station became the largest passenger rail terminal in the Southwest. In addition to rail connection to all parts of the country, Union Station served for years as Houston’s base for electric interurban rail service to various mass transit points in Houston and to Galveston. In 1928, with the opening of Buff Stadium four miles  east of downtown, Union Station was a primary departure pint for baseball fans heading for games after work from downtown on the Galveston Interurban line that ran by the new venue.

Tracks ran east-west from the Great Hall of Union Station.

From a point of view that basically corresponds to looking at the ballpark today from across the street on Texas Avenue from the Home Plate restaurant of 2011, the street-side tracks coming into Union Station are quite obvious. I can neither remember exactly how many there were, nor can I find the information online quickly, but I think there were about four to six parallel track sets, stretching parallel on the entire north-south width of the building as you see it here, and extending about as deep as the current third base line for the deepest interior set of incoming rails.

All I recall as a little kid was going there to pick up “Papa” (my grandfather) on his trips to Houston for visits from San Antonio – and looking around at what then seemed like an endless run of railroad tracks and trains coming and going from the station. It was a loud, bell-clanging place too.

For those who have never seen it, this 1999 article by Tom Marsh on the rediscovery of Union Station’s Great Hall is worth the read and photo review.

The thought that never leaves me is the juxtaposition of time and space effect generated by the conversion of Union Station from its grave as Houston’s once early 20th century center of transportation into the city’s hub of 21st century major league baseball. Think about it for a moment or two or more. – Forget the time differential for now:

Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Dizzy Dean, Ducky Medwick, Craig Biggio, Jeff Bagwell, Lance Berkman, and Roy Oswalt, at first one time and then another, now and then, all traveled this same ground with fairly identical goals in mind – to play baseball in the City of Houston – and that’s to say nothing of the fact that FDR, Judy Garland, and Ronald Reagan also all could have been there too – just to watch the game – were it not for the fact that most were not traveling by the same ticks on the clock.

Enough said. Union Station is hallowed ground in a Houston history that has now been both preserved and extended by the ongoing presence of Minute Maid Park and the Houston Astros. Think about that one the next time you go downtown to see a game. It makes the trip even more fun and worthwhile.

A Buff Stadium Pictorial

April 13, 2011

Houston Sports Museum (on site of old Buff Stadium)

Buffalo/Buff Stadium was located on what is now the site of Finger Furniture Store on the Gulf Freeway at Cullen Boulevard. This ballpark was the home of the minor league Houston Buffs from 1928 through 1961. Technically, it was renamed by Cardinals/Buff owner August Busch in his own family image in 1953, but few of us old-time Buff fans ever made the emotional change to the full acceptance of its new identity as Busch Stadium from 1953 through 1961.

The mural featured above, plus a nice display of memorabilia from the era of the Buffs is on display at the Houston Sports Museum located in the Finger store. In fact, the original site of home plate is commemorated in place on the floor there. Drop inside sometime and take a look at the place and its collection of materials on Houston’s professional sports history.

Buff Stadium Home Plate Site at Houston Sports Museum.

First Opening Day, Buff Stadium, April 11, 1928.

Buff Stadium, 1928: Check out the buffalos on the left field wall.

Game Day, 1930s & 1940s.

Field of Dreams, From Early On.

Night Ball Lighted Buff Stadium through the Great Depression.

Lights Awakened Summer Nights of the 1950s too.

Note the circles above the front entrance to Buff Stadium.

Those eighty 36″ metal circles were medallions that each featured a buffalo silhouette. There were a total of eighty spread along the exterior walls of the ballpark and, when they tore old Buff Stadium down in 1963, they fell like a clanging steel rain upon the concrete surface below. Those that survived were sold for four dollars a piece to the few persons who showed up to watch Houston go through an everyday act of work for that era. It was called “tearing down the past to make room for the future.”

One of the survivors. Close to all my memories. Close to all in my heart.

Houston has changed. We still aren’t perfect and never will be, but we now live a more invested idea of preserving and restoring the past. If we were not that way, many of us would not be so upset today that Houston has been denied the opportunity of keeping one of the space shuttles as an artifact of our deep history with NASA and the space program. Those forces of community outrage weren’t so strong on the day they tore Buff Stadium down and threw out the Buffs as our historic baseball identity.

Sometimes our best energies are spent on researching and discerning the truth about our various local histories, whether its our legacy from baseball or space exploration. Good research and reporting live  at the heart of historic restoration and preservation – and each serves the end of any honest museum and hall of historic commemoration that is ever built on any deserving subject.

That statement will either mean everything to you or it won’t matter at all. Find your category and move on from there.

Astros Lineup: Where’s the Future?

April 12, 2011

By current age, where are the 2011 Astros prospects?

The 2-8 start of the 2011 Houston Astros is little more than an early bite into the new season, but it sure does accelerate the questions we all have about our prospects for the future. I haven’t talked with or read anyone lately who disagrees with the club’s intent upon rebuilding the farm system and getting younger on the major league field too. It seems to be the way to go.

The real question is: What does getting younger really mean?

To me, it means reaching a point where you have a minimum of at least five of the eight regular position starters and at least three of the five starting pitchers on board with the prospect of five quality seasons ahead of them. Hey! You would always like more, but the way natural decline in ability sometimes just falls off the table at age 32, you can’t count on it.

If we use age 32 as our arbitrary early end of the road measuring stick, this means that a safe prospect needs to be age 27 or younger. Everyone else on a club can be a prospect backup guy, a veteran star, or a journeyman regular position player or relief pitching specialist, along with two veteran or starting pitchers.

How do the current eight regulars and five starting pitchers stack up as prospects by their birthdate ages in 2011? Let’s take a look, using bold type to qualify those that fit our 27 and below general age standard for prospects. In the case of catcher, I’ll go with Jason Castro as our regular man, even though he’s on the DL until late in this season.

Catcher: Jason Castro (06/18/87) age 24

First Base: Brett Wallace (08/26/86) age 25

Second Base: Bill Hall (12/28/79) age 32

Third Base: Chris Johnson (10/01/84) age 27

Shortstop: Clint Barnes (12/06/79) age 32

Left Field: Carlos Lee (06/20/76) age 35

Center Field: Michael Bourn (12/27/82) age 29

Right Field: Hunter Pence (04/13/83) age 28

Starting Pitcher # 1: Brett Myers (08/17/80) age 31

Starting Pitcher # 2: Wandy Rodriguez (01/18/79) age 32

Starting Pitcher # 3: J.A. Happ (10/19/82) age 29

Starting Pitcher # 4: Bud Norris (03/02/85) age 26

Starting Pitcher # 5: Nelson Figueroa (05/18/74) age 37

Based on our standard for the 8 field positions and 5 starting pitcher slots, the Astros currently use only 4 age critical players who might be considered prospects for the future. There other prospects on the roster and some ripening ones at AAA, so, hopefully the ratio will improve as this “tune up” season continues.

While we were busy making plans over the last two to three seasons, Michael Bourn and Hunter Pence grew too old to be considered prospects any longer. In fact, along with Carlos Lee, Bill Hall, and Clint Barnes, Bourn and Pence are now members of our seasoned veterans group.

If it becomes even more obvious that the Astros aren’t going anywhere in 2011, and if Hall and Barnes cannot provide the extra punch that GM Ed Wade was hoping to see from the keystone bag crew, I would have no problem seeing those jobs turned over to prospects too. Also, this is Chris Johnson’s last year as a legitimate prospect. He needs to show that last year’s hitting was no fluke and also improve his fielding.

We also need to see good hitting from Mr. Wallace at first – and I think we will.  I was very impressed with his time at bat against closer Marmol of the Cubs Monday night. Brett has a good eye and some quick wrists. He’s also looking cool under pressure. I like what I see.

I also wouldn’t mind seeing the speedy Jason Bourgeois get more playing time. Bourn’s age creep and his new agent Scott Boras almost make Bourn seem like a double-edged sword. If he hits .250 this year, the Astros cannot afford to keep him in center field in 2012, even with his gold glove. If he hits .300, agent Boras may make it so expensive to re-sign him for 2012 that the club will need to have someone in the wings to take his place.

Bottom Line: Bring on the prospects. We need to see more of the future. And we need to play the past as little as possible.