Posts Tagged ‘Mickey Herskowitz’

Herskowitz Is Our Houston Writing Icon

July 21, 2015


Mickey Herskowitz was our featured speaker at the July 2015 meeting of the Larry Dierker Chapter of SABR in Houston last night. Our Spaghetti Western restaurant sanctuary room on Shepherd Drive never rocked more FULLY with laughs and good information. Matt “The Handsome One” Williams, a local boy and former pitcher for the Toronto Blue Jays and yours truly were the other presenters on the card lined up by our chapter program manager, Jim Kreuz. Mickey was great; Matt was awesome; and yours truly probably would have done well to simply have yielded his time to his two seasoned baseball world program companions.

Matt Williams did a beautiful job describing the awe he felt facing the TV stars of his childhood on the New York Yankees at home in his MLB pitching debut in Toronto – and then again five days later in Yankee stadium. We will never forget the imagery of Matt going “cheek-to-cheek” in hero worship with the Lou Gehrig monument in the stadium outfield at the original Yankee Stadium – and then having to be reeled in by his coach in time to warm up for the game.

Mickey Herskowitz, as per usual, was one seamless flow of funny stories and comments as he poured over memories in much the same way he once wrote about them for about a half century in both the Houston Post and Chronicle. We had never heard the story previously of his Hungarian-born immigrant grandfather, but I will never forget it now. When Mickey was only 14 years old, and already working at Buff Stadium as the volunteer stat manager for Buffs broadcaster Lee Hedricks at AM radio station KATL, Mickey’s grandfather, who neither understood nor cared anything about baseball, used to stay up every night the Buffs were at home – just to hear announcer Hedricks’ sign-off comment – “we would like to close again tonight by once more thanking our 14-year old statistician, Mickey Herskowitz, for being here to help us bring you this game more fully.”

Grandfather Herskowitz simply wanted to hear his grandson’s name go out into the Houston broadcast night before he turned out the light and went to sleep.

Later in life, once Mickey had established himself as one of the top biographers in America, he took on the daunting job of writing for famous actress Bette Davis. Ms. Davis insisted that he change his first name for her book because she felt that “Mickey” was unbecoming of a writer of his stature. In short, her book became the only one that Mickey signatured as “Michael Herskowitz.” – He had no choice. Ms. Davis’s “suggestion” was really a “demand.” – Mickey says he always wondered what his grandfather would have thought about that move, but he already knew.

After thousands of breakfasts over the years, many of us preferred an order of two eggs over easy, bacon, toast, and Mickey’s column as the way we chose to start our day. As such, we had so many opportunities to chuckle quietly over his wit and awareness of little under-the-radar facts that immediately made sense as soon as he wrote them. I brought up a vivid example of such when I spoke last night. – Mickey once wrote about a night in which he and the late Howard Cosell had dinner together.

“Howard Cosell is the only dinner companion I’ve ever known who actually broadcasts the meal,” Mickey once observed.

How great an observation is that one? If you’ve ever heard Howard Cosell drone along on those old ABC NFL Monday Night Football telecasts, can’t you just imagine him doing the same thing that Mickey observed at dinner? In fact, this Cosell propensity to broadcast every waking moment of the day was used at the conclusion of that old Woody Allen movie, “Bananas”, when Cosell was called into the bedroom of Allen’s movie character to telecast the conjugal completion of his “happy ending” wedding.

When asked, Mickey also described the terror attacks at the 1972 Munich, Germany Olympics as the biggest moment in his reporting career. In Munich as a sports writer, Mickey Herskowitz suddenly found himself handed a primary role in reporting on the far more horrible state of human affairs –  and he handled it with all the clarity and professionalism of a seasoned war correspondent.

Mickey Herskowitz is – and always will be – a Houston icon – and a giant of the American world of media and literature. He covered it all – and he covered everything as well or better than anyone else that comes to this mind. And, in a curious way, it just may be that the universality of his work, ironically, has kept him from receiving the Baseball Hall of Fame’s highest award to any baseball media journalist, The J.G. Taylor Spink Award.

Now, if a Houston faction ever wants to get behind a movement, per se, The Pecan Park Eagle certainly will stand with you on promoting Mickey Herskowitz for that honor. From all his baseball books, columns, the delightful “Letters from Lefty”, and newspaper beat work coverage dating back to a 14-year old kid who once kept stats on the entire Texas League, there isn’t a Spink winner out there who has done more for baseball than Mickey Herskowitz!

By “coincidence”, I arrived home last night to find that good old Darrell Pittman had sent me a link to something Mickey Herskowitz had written about Apache Junction back in 1963. – Check it out. – And rack up another run of the idea floor by Mickey H!



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Letters From Lefty Revisited

January 21, 2015

letters-from-lefty Houston’s Mickey Herskowitz wrote a lot of very entertaining pieces during his salad days as a sports columnist for the old Houston Post, but none were more engaging than his “Letters from Lefty” to his girl, Alice. They began with the message he wrote to her on March 19, 1962 from his first spring training camp with the Houston Colt .45’s in Apache Junction, Arizona on March 19, 1962.

“The ball park is a mile from our hotel, and Dick Farrell, who used to pitch for the Phillies, always takes the short cut across the sage and underbrush. Along the way he shoots at various objects with a .22 pistol. I predict that Farrell will be the first guy in camp to lose a toe.” (Letters from Lefty, Page 4)

Now where on earth can 2015 Houston Astros fans hope to get that kind of inside job insight on what’s really going on in spring training with the current club’s season for ascendancy from the realm of hopeless mediocrity? We know that Lefty still has to be on the Astros’ 40-man roster somewhere, even it’s between the lines. He hasn’t been heard from since March 22, 1966, but that could be remedied. All he needs is for Mickey Herskowitz to help him put those letters home together again.

From the start, Mickey made it clear that the character pitcher named “Lefty” was copied directly from the great Ring Lardner’s early 20th century run with the “You Know Me, Al” series of letters about life in baseball, but he did it in the distinctive Herskowitz style. And once Lefty negotiated his base salary with George Kirksey up from $1.50 an hour to $1.75 an hour, he had struck a deal that would insure him a place in the Houston bullpen forever. We think that the record of the 2014 Astros bullpen is fair enough testimony to the fact Lefty is still with the club. He has simply lost his letter-writing buddy, Mickey Herskowitz.

If you’ve never read “Letters from Lefty,” or if, like me, you needed to retrieve a new used copy, a few dirt-cheap original 1966 printings are available at Amazon.Com. Here’s the link, in case you decide to do yourselves a nostalgic favor.

And, Mickey, if you’re listening out there, and you have the time this season, each morning, a few “Letters from Lefty” on the 2015 season that you file away for a post season book sequel would make for a beautiful and popular seller in the 2016 spring training book market.

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.

Forgive Us Our Press Passes, But Thank God for Mickey!

October 2, 2010

Published in 2008: Available at Amazon.Com.

Last night the Houston Media Wall of Honor took on another name in special pre-game ceremony at Minute Maid Park. Local members of the Fourth Estate inducted Houston’s iconic sportswriter, Mickey Herskowitz, into the fold of those who have done this community special service as communicators of news in all its many forms.

Mickey Herskowitz was, and still is, the best. When it comes to writing about sports, and as they alway said about James Bond for other talents, nobody does it better. Houston, indeed, should be proud of this native son and early life cub reporter on the Houston Buffs baseball and Southwest Conference football. He grew up to be the man whose late 1950s articles on this city’s deservedness for major league baseball played their own quiet role in Houston landing a National League franchise that we first knew as the Colt .45s back in 1962.

Mickey covered it all, becoming a nationally celebrated biographer for famous people as diverse as Mickey Mantle and Bette Davis. (Imagine the interview possibilities and problems Mickey might have encountered had he gotten those two figures in the same room for s a single interview back in the day. I would imagine that might have been one “opportunity” that even Mickey might have passed over, if at all possible.)

“Forgive s Our Press Passes: The Mickey Herskowitz Collection II” is a classic collection of Mickey’s work on sports stories from several different areas that will only bring you reading joy, should you choose to acquire a copy. It’s available through Amzon.Com.

Mickey Herskowitz’s daily work with the Houston Post and Chronicle is where most of us got to know him some fifty years ago, but don’t let the passage of time fool you into thinking we are simply talking about a past figure here. Mickey Herskowitz is now a full-time journalism professor at Sam Houston State University. He makes a weekly trek up to Huntsville from his home in the northern Houston hinterlands to teach and then returns home each weekend.

Those lucky SHSU kids! I just hope that some of them are wise enough to appreciate how they’ve been blessed!

Mickey Herskowitz is an inducted member of the Texas baseball Hall of Fame (1997) and he also received the TBHOF’s Jimmy Wynn Toy Cannon Award in 2006.

Speaking of Jimmy Wynn, congratulations to “The Toy Cannon” too for the honor he deservedly received from the Houston Astros, also prior to last night’s Cubs@Astros game. In naming their “Player of the Decade” winners over the half century of their existence, Houston picked Jimmy Wynn as their Player of the 1960s. Jose Cruz was named for the 1970s, Nolan Ryan for the 1980s, Jeff Bagwell for the 1990s, and Craig Biggio for the first decade of the 21st century.

Nice picking, Astros! None of us cold have done it any better!

Back to Mickey for a moment. In case you don’t know, the Baseball Hall of Fame makes an annual award to a single writer that has contributed much to baseball. It’s called the J. Taylor Spink Award in honor of the former publisher of the old Sporting News.

Mickey Herskowitz has never won this award, but a lot us think this omission is an unforgivable, but still correctible passover. If you are interested in supporting Mickey Herskowitz for this honor by the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, please get in touch with the man who is taking charge of the campaign in Mickey’s favor. His name is James Anderson and his e-mail address is> Mickey did not request this help, nor is he participating in lobbying for himself. The whole idea began and carries through from Mr. Anderson, an enormous Houston and Astros fan.

Publication Date is This Friday, Oct. 8th!

Speaking of books, here’s a reminder. “Toy Cannon” is available for purchase now through Amazon.Com too. This wonderful story of Jimmy Wynn’s life and baseball career is officially available this coming Friday, October 8th.

Have a great weekend, everybody. And let’s hope the Astros can turn back the Cubs in their titanic battle for fourth place in the national League Central.