Baseball Hall of Fame Dedicates 2006 to the Celebration
of the Houston Colt .45s and Texas Women in Baseball
In this 45th anniversary season of the first 1962 Houston Colt .45s baseball club, in honor of three Texas women who once distinguished themselves as players in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball
League, in tribute to another female who currently makes her mark daily as a distinguished Major League executive, and also in long overdue recognition of one of the greatest Houston Astros outfielders in history, the Texas Baseball Hall of Fame is proud to announce its nine 2006 selections for induction.
Houston Colt .45s
The names of four deceased baseball pioneers are synonymous with the movement that first brought Major League Baseball to Texas in 1962 with the birth of the Houston Colt .45s. Only one these four icons, Craig
Cullinan, Jr. (TBHOF, 1993), is currently enshrined in the Texas Baseball Hall of Fame. This incomplete picture will be remedied in 2006 as each of these missing three founders are proudly presented for induction by the one man who was there from early on to see the results of their passionate labor best on a first-hand basis. That other iconic figure is Tal
Smith (TBHOF, 1998), the longtime President of Baseball Operations for the Houston Astros, and member in good standing in his own right in the Texas Baseball Hall of Fame:
JUDGE ROY HOFHEINZ: The late Roy Hofheinz found his niche early in Texas politics and business. Long before the coming of Major League Baseball, this former Harris County judge and Houston mayor already had distinguished him nationally as an entrepreneurial genius in various business ventures. In 1960, “The Judge” became the dominant figure in the
Houston Sports Association's efforts to bring a Major League baseball team to Houston. Although the HSA provided the necessary money and organizational support, the city still needed a new stadium to obtain a Major League franchise. The visionary Hofheinz fought to build the world's first air-conditioned, domed stadium for baseball and other sports. With significant help from others, Judge Hofheinz obtained bond approval from Harris County for the construction of his dream edifice at a cost of $31 million dollars. As a result of this success, Houston was awarded a National League franchise on October 17, 1960. The ball club began its new life as the Houston Colt .45s on April 10, 1962, playing in a temporary venue known as Colt Stadium that the Judge had built on the grounds near the rising domed structure. The Judge wanted fans to be able to watch his fond dream grow as it rose in construction on the Texas prairie land south of downtown. The Houston Colt .45s defeated the Chicago Cubs, 11-2, in that first game, with current TBHOF board member Bob Aspromonte
(TBHOF, 2005) racking up the first hit and run scored in franchise history. When the ball club moved into the new domed stadium in 1965, Judge Hofheinz offered fans another surprise. He renamed his club as the Houston Astros, an identity they would carry proudly with them 40 years later into the 2005 World Series. At the same time he renamed the club in 1965, Hofheinz also renamed the new domed stadium as The Astrodome, and as he proudly proclaimed it to one and all as “The Eighth Wonder of The World.” Judge Roy Hofheinz passed away in 1982 at the age of 70, but he made his long mark on Texas baseball history 20 years earlier as the driving force that brought Major League Baseball to Houston and the Lone Star State. The Texas Baseball Hall of Fame now further closes the door on unfinished business with the induction of this Texas baseball giant.
R. E. “BOB” SMITH: When it came time for Houston’s power structure to get behind the late 1950’s drive to bring Major League Baseball to Texas, R. E. “Bob” Smith was the man who brought the leverage of reality to the effort. Best recalled today as the figure who brought the contributions of money and land to the fight, to remember Smith only for his tangible contributions is to fail in understanding all that Bob Smith brought to the table as a man of great wisdom, business savvy, people intuition, hard-nosed business sense, and actual experience in baseball club ownership. Few may know this fact about the man, but in 1952, R. E. “Bob” Smith became part owner of the Philadelphia Athletics. A man of little formal education, Tyler native Bob Smith had grown into a giant figure in the Texas oil business, learning well from his father and his own hands-on experience working on rigs. From early in life, he displayed an uncanny natural instinct for finding oil and for acquiring land of potential value. Smith’s ability to find oil by simply examining land conformations was legendary—so much so that he even operated his oil exploration business without employing geologists. Smith made those calls on drilling sites himself—and he was rarely wrong. On the people side, Bob Smith was one of those rare individuals who could intuitively discern the difference between a grand vision and a potentially disastrous pipe dream. As he did with his search for oil, R. E. “Bob” Smith seemed to be able to look beneath the contours of the exposed part of the human spirit and read the depth of what lay hidden inside anyone who came to him with a “good idea.” That ability of Bob Smith to discern genius from madness when he came into contact with the vision of Judge Roy Hofheinz was a turning point in Texas baseball history. In the absence of Smith’s support, it is likely that Judge Hofheinz’s vision of building a domed stadium and bringing Major League Baseball to Houston would have died on the vine. With Bob Smith joining the good fight as Chairman of the Board of the Houston Sports Association, public support for the construction of the first domed stadium was obtained, clearing the way for the coming of Major League Baseball to Houston in 1962. By the time of his death in 1973, at age 79, the legacy of R. E. “Bob” Smith was much larger than his totally critical role in Texas baseball history. Smith is remembered today as one of the state’s most successful oil, ranching, and real estate figures. Far beyond his worldly accomplishments, he is recalled as a man who generously donated millions of dollars to a wide variety of philanthropic causes to benefit to the city and state that he loved. In 2006, the Texas Baseball Hall of Fame will be proud to induct R. E. “Bob” Smith, the man who made Major League Baseball in Houston blossom into a practical reality.
GEORGE KIRKSEY: This former UP sports editor and public relations executive blazed the trail of the movement to bring Major League Baseball to Houston. As early as the late 1940’s, the native of Hillsboro, Texas began his attempts to bring big league baseball to the Bayou City. In 1956, Kirksey found support in Craig F.
Cullinan, Jr., a prominent Houston businessman. George Kirksey possessed an uncanny ability for recognizing the talents of others that he needed in service to his cause. In 1959, Kirksey discovered the writing talents of a young Houston sports journalist named Mickey Herskowitz
(TBHOF, 1997) and he convinced the gifted Houston Post scribe to join the fight. Herskowitz responded in two major ways: (1.) He wrote a six-part series in the Houston Post on “Why the City of Houston Deserves Major League Baseball;” and (2.) He became the de facto volunteer editor and/or “ghost” for articles and letters that the less talented writing Kirksey wanted to produce under his own name in behalf of the cause. This fact is no slight of Kirksey. George Kirksey did the same with Craig Cullinan in his use of the latter’s power. Kirksey’s fire and Cullinan’s skillful application of influence helped organize the proposed 3rd Major League Baseball circuit, the Continental League. In so doing, the Houston group helped create a serious threat to the status quo of organized baseball. This threat served as leverage for the acceptance of Houston as an expansion club member of the National League, starting in 1962. Without the early efforts of Kirksey, and then Cullinan, there would’ve been no opportunity on the 1960 field of dreams for the grand plans of Roy Hofheinz and R. E. “Bob” Smith to germinate. Together, these four men became the “Mount Rushmore” figures in the history of Major League Baseball coming to Houston and the State of Texas. After selling his interests in the Houston Astros in the late 1960’s, George Kirksey embarked upon the good life he had always dreamed of living. He died in a car crash in France in 1971, but he will be remembered in Houston forever as the Daniel Boone of Texas Major League Baseball History.
RUSTY STAUB: He is best remembered in Houston as the first great rookie hope. Signed by Paul Richards in 1961, the red-headed 19-year old 1st baseman made his debut for the Colt .45s in 1963. It was the start of a 23-year MLB career (1963-85) in which Rusty would bang out 2,716 career hits and a career batting average of .279. Rusty Staub and Ty Cobb are the only players in MLB history to have homered before age 20 and after age 40. Rusty’s .333 BA in 1967 stood for years as the franchise’s best for a single season. Houston hearts were broken when Staub was traded to the new Montreal Expos after the 1968 season, but Rusty had an apparent date with destiny as the new symbol of hope for MLB in Quebec. He quickly acquired the tag in Montreal as Le Grand Orange because of his orange-red hair and the Canadian city’s desire to sell him to the public as a ticket-selling icon. Rusty responded well, hitting .302 with 29 homers during the 1969 first year of the Expos. Before his career was done, Rusty Staub would also play several years for the Mets and Tigers, establishing himself also as one of the premier pinch hitters of all time. Rusty Staub today is a successful businessman in New York and he maintains residences there and in Florida. We shall honor him with induction for his contributions on the field to the game, and also for the place he occupies as a producing pioneer in Houston Colt .45s history.
Beyond the Colt .45s
TERRY PUHL: The first memory that comes to mind at the mention of “Terry Puhl” is that sweet and smooth lefty swing he brought to the Houston Astros lineup over the course of his 14-year career with the franchise (1977-90), a time in which he also spent most of those seasons stationed firmly in the lineup as an excellent defensive fielder. The Astrodome was tailor-made for the line drive hitting Puhl, who possessed the ability to “hit-em-where-they ain’t,” but with all the all the authority of seam-finding power hitter. Terry Puhl hit over .300 on three occasions, finishing with a career BA of .280. Terry was a member of the 1978 National League All-Star team. He also played in two league championship series with the 1980 and 1986 Astros. Terry closed out his career by playing 15 games for the 1991 Royals, a fact that ended his possible finish as a career Astro, but did nothing to tarnish our image of him as one of the finest outfielders and men in franchise history. Terry Puhl still lives in Houston. He is a devoted family man and community service volunteer and he now makes his living as a senior level investment consultant. Prior to his selection for a most deserving induction into the TBHOF, Terry Puhl already had been inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame and the Saskatchewan Sports Hall of Fame.
Texas Women in Baseball
By the fall of 1942, World War II had caused many minor league teams to disband. Young men were being drafted into the armed services, and many feared the worst for Major League Baseball. Philip K. Wrigley, the chewing-gum mogul who had inherited the Chicago Cubs franchise from his father, searched for a possible solution to this dilemma. The answer was to establish a league, comprised of the best women's softball players from across the country, which would carry on the tradition of America's pastime. This new organization would be known as the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League.
In 2006, the Texas Baseball Hall of Fame is proud to honor four special women for their past and present contributions to Texas baseball and its rich history. Three of these new inductees (one living, two deceased) are Texas natives who each played significant roles as pioneer players and ongoing ambassadors for the contributions to baseball history made by those people involved in the most successful professional baseball organization of women players. Each of these three Texas women played in the All-American Girls Professional League that existed from 1943 through 1954.
In long overdue recognition of these contributions, the Texas Baseball Hall of Fame is proud to be the first active baseball hall of fame in America to have selected women for induction. Although the National Baseball Hall of Fame will have inducted Effa Manley, owner of the Negro League’s Newark Eagles, prior to our November banquet, they shall only get there first for an actual induction due to a technicality. Our decision to induct three former AAGPBL players was made by our selection committee in 2005. The announcement and induction was delayed until 2006 in order that we might coordinate our special evening with the plans of the AAGPBL Players Association, who will be holding their annual reunion in Houston, for the first time ever, this fall from Nov. 8th through Nov. 11th.
MARIE “RED” MAHONEY:
"Red" was an accomplished defensive outfielder, and is the only Houston native to play in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League. She joined the AAGPBL in 1947 as a member of the South Bend Blue Sox. In 1948, Mahoney played for South Bend as well as the Fort Wayne Daisies. That year she made only two errors, and was named to the AAGPBL All-Star team.
Marie is an active member of the AAGPBL Players Association, and has been instrumental in making the 2006 reunion possible.
She is retired, but still works part time at a local golf course.
Marie still lives in Houston, where she continues her role as an ambassador for the contributions of women to baseball.
ALVA JO “TEX” FISCHER: A
pitcher-shortstop in the AAGPBL from 1945-49, “Tex” was born in San Antonio. She possessed a strong, and a trim body, which she maintained in perfect condition. A shortstop with a fielding percentage of .920, Fischer was also a solid hitter. Competing in 91 games as a pitcher also, she won 34. Alva Jo was forced to retire from the AAGPBL in 1949 due to the death of her father. Alva Jo “Tex” Fischer passed away on Aug. 13, 1973. The Alva Jo Fischer Softball Complex in San Antonio was dedicated in her honor in 1975. She was inducted into the San Antonio Sports Hall of Fame in
RUTH “TEX” LESSING: Also a native of San Antonio,
"Tex" was an outstanding catcher in the AAGPBL from
1944-49, serving as the league All-Star at that position in 1946, 1947, and 1948. She established the AAGPBL record for most games played at catcher when she appeared in 125 contests in 1948. Lessing also holds the league records for highest fielding percentage by a catcher (.982 in 1945) and most assists (141 in 1946). 44 games into the 1949 season, Ruth suffered a career-ending shoulder injury and never played again. Ruth Lessing also is
Beyond a League of Their Own
“Women in Baseball” have come a long way since the pioneer days of the AAGPBL. The fourth Texas woman selected for induction into the TBHOF is making her mark today in Major League Baseball:
PAM GARDNER: Pam Gardner’s nearly twenty years of service to professional baseball as an administrator is a body of work that more than qualifies her on its own merit for induction into the TBHOF. Currently serving as the President of Business Operations for the Houston Astros, Gardner will enter the TBHOF as the first active woman working in MLB to be so honored by any baseball hall of fame in the country. Pam's leadership in the design and development of Minute Maid Park, the unprecedented success of the Astros franchise during her tenure, and her pioneering efforts as an executive in MLB are but a few of the outstanding qualities that make her an honored member of the TBHOF. We feel strongly that this is the appropriate time to honor Pam Gardner, along side the other female inductees, for her exceptional contributions to the business of professional baseball as an administrator.
It is 2006. The TBHOF is proud to recognize the contributions of Texas women in baseball—past, present, and future.
The Jimmy Wynn “Toy Cannon”
This award was created by the TBHOF in 2004 in the name of the great former Colt .45/Astro Jimmy Wynn to honor individuals who have distinguished themselves in areas of community service. The initial 2004 award appropriately went to Jimmy Wynn himself, and the 2005 award was given to broadcaster Milo Hamilton for all the money he has raised for charity over the course of his 60-year radio career.
The award committee has selected iconic Houston sportswriter, author, and now
Sam Houston State University journalism professor Mickey Herskowitz
(TBHOF, 1997) as the 2006 Toy Cannon Award recipient.
For over a half century, Mickey Herskowitz has meant much to our Houston community as a writer, but probably more than most realize. He also has been one of those generous silent contributors of his time and money to a wide variety of community causes. His list of voluntary speaking assignments in behalf of charity is too long to list here.
Beyond the channel of expected community service, the TBHOF also wishes to recognize Mickey Herskowitz for the quiet, but powerful, role he played in assistance to the early efforts of George Kirksey. The six-part series that Mickey wrote in 1959 for the Houston Post on Houston’s case for Major League baseball stirred the pot well. It was a brew that would not quiet itself until the Houston Colt .45s finally took the field for the first time in 1962.
For further information about the 2006 November 10th TBHOF Induction Banquet and the
AAGPBL reunion, please visit
the links above. If you have any questions, please contact our Director of Operations, George Scroggins.