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Original Issue


After 87 years, the National League should be impervious to shock. Wait till it runs into Houston's Roy Hofheinz, the man behind the new Colt .45s

Whatever the problems of the National League in the seasons that lie ahead, a shortage of baseball parks in Houston will not be one of them. On the southern fringe of the city, in a field where cattle once grazed and geologists roamed, two stadiums rise into the sky as if both Barnum and Bailey had just hit town. One, built in furious haste of galvanized steel and wood at a cost of $2 million, will be the 1962 home of the new Houston Colt .45s. The other, a gleaming hemisphere of glass and chrome and polished concrete, with a revolutionary domed roof and an air-conditioning system that would turn Abner Doubleday blue in his grave, is being built with all the tender care that $22 million and man's passion for creating monuments to himself can devise. It will not be ready until 1963. Rising as they do together out of the flat Texas plain, the two stadiums would present a fascinating sight were they not largely obscured by a vast cloud of dust and smoke. Part of this is caused by the heavy construction equipment that snorts and clanks across the premises. Most of it, however, is thrown up by a tornado in human form named Roy Mark Hofheinz.

Roy Hofheinz (with stadium model, right) is a large man with an even larger stomach, a theatrical flair and a mind as quick as a cash-register drawer. He smokes a box of cigars a day, sleeps only when there is nothing else to do and would, if charged with the U.S. space program, have had John Glenn in orbit by the astronaut's third birthday. He is considered unusual even in Texas. The grandson of a Lutheran missionary, who spoke 11 languages and came over from Alsace-Lorraine to preach and plant potatoes, Hofheinz has been a dance-band promoter, a radio huckster and a boy-wonder politician (he was Lyndon Johnson's first campaign manager). He also is a multimillionaire and at one time was the most controversial mayor in the history of Houston. Few are surprised that he is now a baseball executive as well, although Hofheinz admits that this is a field in which he possesses a certain lack of knowledge. "After examining the way baseball's business has been conducted in the past," he says, "I figure this gives me a marked advantage over the rest." He will be 50 years old on opening day, a fact that seems part of the plan.

Hofheinz and his relatively silent partner, R.E. (Bob) Smith, a 67-year-old Croesus with a mane of white hair and a mania for physical fitness, own 66% of the stock in the Colts, but the original credit for getting big league baseball interested in Houston belongs largely to two others: George Kirksey, a visionary public relations man, and Craig Cullinan Jr., grandson of the man who founded Texaco. Kirksey spent nine years trying to outfit the city with a big league team. In vain he offered to buy the St. Louis Cardinals, the Cleveland Indians, the Athletics, the Cincinnati Reds and both the Chicago White Sox and the Cubs.

"I was desperate," Kirksey says now. "Those were years of ineptness and stupidity. The only thing I learned was that big league baseball was a citadel and that we would have to take it by storm."

When the Continental League came along, Kirksey and Houston were ready to join; a $20 million revenue bond issue was authorized to build a stadium, and the Houston Sports Association was formed. When the National and American leagues voted to expand, killing the Continental League, Kirksey realized that neither his energy nor Cullinan's money was enough. "We had to have help, big financial help," he says, "and, even more than that, we needed know-how." That he should turn to Smith and Hofheinz was as natural as bowing one's head when passing the San Jacinto Battleground.

Since that day in the summer of 1960, Hofheinz has been running the show. Partly because of his flamboyant political image, partly because he was too busy to take bows, Hofheinz remained behind the scenes—a spot he would have avoided in previous years. Smith was named chairman of the board. Cullinan, with 15% of the stock, became president; Kirksey, awarded a 2% interest because of his spadework, became executive vice-president; Bud Adams, owner of the Houston Oilers of the American Football League, bought in for 10% and became vice-president. Hofheinz assumed the title of chairman of the executive committee—and went to work.

In place of the $20 million revenue bond issue, which staggered under an interest rate of 6½%, Hofheinz bulldozed through a general obligation bond bill for $22 million—at an interest rate of less than 4%—to build a stadium that would become "an Eiffel Tower in its field." When time came to bid for a franchise, it was Hofheinz who stormed the citadel of the National League in Chicago in October of 1960; once Hofheinz began to talk, the National League didn't have a chance.

Back home, working 20 hours a day, Hofheinz defeated a lawsuit contesting the wisdom of Harris County's going into the baseball business; put together a $3 million land package for a site on which to construct the stadium; and convinced the Texas highway department that a 14-lane expressway conveniently bordering the stadium site should be pushed to completion five years ahead of schedule. Racing between Houston and Madison Avenue, he sold radio and television rights to the Colt games; in Washington he talked the U.S. Government into a plan to equip the stadium as an emergency fallout shelter, collecting $750,000 to help finance the project.

He decided that old Busch Stadium, Houston's minor league park, was inadequate in both seats and parking facilities to serve as a temporary stadium for 1962. So Colt Stadium was built to seat 32,000 at a cost of $2 million. In Houston they will tell you that this temporary stadium may well be the most colorful baseball park in either league. Says Hofheinz: ' "You might as well go first class." He is amused that the New York Mets moan about having to spend $300,000 to repaint the Polo Grounds.

Besides watching every bolt and plank that went into Colt Stadium, Hofheinz pushed tickets, helped select a name and a uniform and insignia for the team and decided to hire girl ushers instead of men. Aware that first-base box-seat sales were lagging behind those at third base, where the home team's dugout is located, Hofheinz decided to build a stadium club behind first base, patterned after an old western saloon, with an 83-foot bar. First-base box-seat sales jumped.

After a few disagreements concerning young players and the wisdom of building a domed stadium, Hofheinz convinced Gabe Paul, Houston's first general manager, that the climate would be better for him in Cleveland. To replace Paul, Hofheinz hired Paul Richards, the man he wanted for the job in the first place. Neither general manager complained about the money he was given to spend: $3 million for ballplayers last year, more than any of the 18 operating big league clubs, more than $1 million for young bonus prospects alone.

"This guy Hofheinz," says a New York television executive, "is the most refreshing mind to come into baseball in years. You watch him. He'll out-O'Malley O'Malley and out-Veeck Veeck. I just hope he doesn't decide to change the rules of the game."

Rules have never been too much a part of Hofheinz' life. In the sixth grade he won a prize for oratory with a rendition of the Gettysburg Address that would have moved Jefferson Davis to tears. A high school honor graduate at the age of 15, he had to pass up two scholarships to the University of Texas in order to stay at home when his father, a laundry-truck driver, was killed in an accident. He studied at Houston Junior College, Rice, and Houston Law School, usually at night, and during the day he worked. But Roy Hofheinz was not a man to wait on tables or drive a laundry truck. At 16 he was booking bands into dance halls all over East Texas. At 17 he began to buy and sell radio time, and was soon making more money than the station manager.

Having learned how easy money was to make, Hofheinz gave it up. He passed his bar exams at 19, a year before receiving his law degree. At 22 he was elected to the state legislature. In 1936 Hofheinz became judge of Harris County, at 24 the youngest man ever to hold such office in a major county in the nation's history. Today most people still call him Judge and it is a period of his life that he remembers with pride and satisfaction. For eight years Hofheinz presided over three courts and four boards, a work load that required the services of three men after he finally retired.

Hofheinz replaced the county's old oyster-shell roads with permanent roads; he initiated a program to build two toll-free tunnels under the Houston ship channel; he formed the Harris County Flood Control District. Hofheinz also challenged Houston's Goliath, Jesse Jones, on a series of tax principles—and lost. "But we had a whale of a fight there for a couple of years," says Hofheinz, "and in those days I wasn't exactly picking on a cripple."

In 1944, Hofheinz announced that he would retire, not to reappear in politics until he was a millionaire—sometime before his 40th birthday. Borrowing money, he bought a radio station, Houston's KTHT; then he bought another. He went into the sludge business. He built up his law firm and began to deal in real estate. In 1952, a millionaire at the age of 40, he was elected mayor of Houston. Ten minutes after he went into office, Hofheinz began a fight with his eight-man city council that was to last for three years.

As mayor, Hofheinz was a Jekyll and a Hyde. He put through a street-building and public works program without which Houston could never have continued its dizzy growth. He overhauled the city purchasing department so thoroughly that taxpayers were saved $360,000 a year. He built the new Houston International Airport. But Hofheinz, usually smooth as velvet before the public, can also be as tough as a roughneck's hands, and some of his operations—he likes to get things done yesterday and he likes them done his way—didn't sit so well. His political enemies—and soon there was nothing exclusive about the club—branded him arrogant and domineering, a dictator in an elective office. Still, he was reelected in 1954. Then the fight really began.

The mayor told the city council that he could run Houston better without their help and called them "cooky-jar boys" with their hands in the public till. One councilman challenged him to a fistfight. He was indicted by the council in an ouster attempt dramatically labeled impeachment. Hofheinz laughed in the council's face, compared the members to "penitentiary inmates attempting to oust the warden," and routed them with a legal counterattack before which the six-count indictment crumbled like old cheese. But by then the three Houston newspapers, two of them Hofheinz backers in his previous campaigns, were tired of the whole noisy show. "By earning the hatred of the city council," said the Post, "Hofheinz has made efficient city government virtually impossible. Rule-or-ruin tactics must go." In a special 1955 election, Hofheinz went.

"No one ever questioned my honesty or integrity," he said bitterly. "I still have that."

Hofheinz also emerged with a very close and valuable friendship intact. Bob Smith is an independent oilman of fabulous wealth even among the fabulously wealthy oilmen of Texas. One day, his face swathed in towels while getting a shave in a downtown barbershop, Smith heard a particularly vicious attack on Hofheinz from a neighboring chair. Leaping to his feet, Smith threw aside the towels and in his shirtsleeves chased the mayor's assailant down Main Street. "The most loyal friend," says Hofheinz, "that any man ever had."

Smith is also probably the largest single landowner of municipal or suburban real estate in Texas, making it virtually impossible to expand Houston in any direction without running into R. E. Smith property. As partners, Smith and Hofheinz have been involved in some of the most ambitious building projects in Houston's explosive history. Of all these ventures, however, none means more to Hofheinz than the all-weather stadium. "When completed," he says, "it will antiquate every other structure of this type in the world." With some enjoyment he notes that the New York Mets' Flushing Meadow Stadium, also scheduled for 1963 completion, and Walter O'Malley's Chavez Ravine will fall within this antiquated class.

The great domed roof, made up of rectangular panels of translucent plastic, 3 feet by 6 feet in size and set into steel girders, will rise 200 feet above the playing field, high enough to tuck the 18-story Shamrock Hilton inside. No pop fly or towering outfield drive will ever touch the roof. Distrusting the figures of O'Malley, who once conducted a test with baseball's best fungo hitter, Ed Roebuck, and decided on 176 feet as the maximum trajectory of a batted ball, Hofheinz made his own tests. He took some ballplayers out to a blimp base and had them swing away. Several baseballs ticked the steel framework at 160 feet but none touched the 170-foot ceiling itself.

Hofheinz, an expressively profane man, admits that "we had a hell of a problem with filtration of the sun's rays. We had to design a roof that would transmit enough light to grow grass but opaque enough to diffuse any heat not absolutely necessary for the growth of the grass. Then we had to find a special grass. Until I got into this thing, I didn't know there was anything but Johnson grass."

The air-conditioning system was designed to reduce temperatures at least 15 degrees from a maximum anticipated temperature of 95, even though most of the games will be played in the relatively cool hours of evening. With a sellout baseball crowd of 46,000, the system must move 6,250 tons of air. The great blowers are so strong that Warren Spahn of the Braves views them with even more than a left-hander's normal distrust. "When we're at bat, you'll have the wind blowing in," he accused Hofheinz. "When we're in the field, you'll make it blow out." Hofheinz grins around his corona cigar. "Actually," he says, "we can do better than that. If we're behind in the top of the fifth, all we have to do is turn off the air conditioners and it begins to rain." Because it really will rain, the air-conditioning system must operate all year round, although something less than 1,000 tons' displacement is enough for unoccupied days.

Hofheinz doesn't anticipate many unoccupied days. "The Oilers will play here in the fall," he says. "For football, the stadium will seat 53,000; we push a button and in five minutes 10,500 field boxes move over to the sidelines." The stadium capacity is increased to 66,000 for fights, and Houston has already shown promise of developing into a sizzling fight town. "We'll have circuses here, too," says Hofheinz, "and rodeos and stage spectaculars." A national political convention? "We have already bid for both in 1964."

Hofheinz and the scientists were concerned about smoke. "No group smokes more than a fight crowd," he says. "Particularly cigars. So we made density and visibility tests in boxing arenas over a year. Then we got together with Minneapolis-Honeywell. They created artificial smoke of various densities, and through the smoke we projected Lew Fonseca's World Series film. We tested filter components until we could take every smoke particle out of the air. This is ad absurdum, of course; this is the problem scientists face in laboratories and it doesn't apply to a sports crowd. We only wanted to arrive at the point where people were comfortable and could see." After watching the Yankees demolish the Reds for 10 straight hours one day, they settled on the degree of clarity required.

The stadium is a spectator's dream. Twelve access roads, handling 70 lanes of traffic, will clear the 25,000-car parking lot in 20 minutes, less than half the time required for fewer cars at O'Malley's Dodger Stadium in Chavez Ravine, according to Hofheinz. "A matter of scientific measurement," he says complacently, "not a guess." Although the stadium has six levels, it can be completely emptied in nine minutes flat. And because the playing field is 25 feet below ground level, the maximum rise on any ramp is 34 feet. "You can walk down to virtually every seat," Hofheinz says. "This is partially a matter of convenience for the spectators, of course, but we are also aware of the status symbol of walk-down seats."

Some 26,000 box seats will be of the foam rubber theater type; in fact there are no bad seats. No posts or pillars or supporting columns mar the view, and the design is such that each spectator will feel that he is looking straight toward the center of the diamond, a few feet behind second base. "Optical illusion," Hofheinz explains succinctly.

The seats themselves will be color-coded, as will the tickets: six levels, six basic colors, each section of each level a gradation of that basic color. "A person that gets lost in this stadium will have to be color-blind or an idiot," says Hofheinz. "For those, we will have ushers, beautiful ones. And they won't have their hands out for tips."

The stadium will cost $15 million to build; the land ($3 million) and roads ($4 million) account for the remainder of the walloping $22 million bond issue. The Houston Sports Association has signed a 40-year lease agreeing to amortize the cost of the bonds and also to pay all operating expenses. Aside from personnel, it will cost $10,500 a day to run the stadium. "Where baseball is concerned," says Hofheinz, "my only question is whether the stadium will produce 250,000 extra customers a year. That's an average of about 3,000 extra customers for each home date. If you were assured comfort and convenience such as this and a guarantee against rain-outs, even on the most miserable day, what would you do? You'd go to the ball game, just as sure as there's a pig in Texas. I've already bet almost two years of my life and several dollars on that."

Judge Hofheinz is so enamored of the domed stadium that he may decide to live there once it is completed, although this is hardly necessary. On a 110-acre plot just beyond diamond-studded. River Oaks and well within the Houston city limits, he owns a showplace home, equipped with a swimming pool, an indoor, steer-sized barbecue pit, a complete soda fountain, nine television sets and a kitchen in which a banquet staff could operate. Upstairs there are six bedrooms and six baths; downstairs a bewildering assortment of spectacularly decorated rooms, including a playroom with a circus theme. Old circus posters adorn the walls, a white piano with red polka dots stands alongside a gaily painted jukebox, the ceiling is striped like a circus tent. On one wall, in white wooden gingerbread frames, are large caricatures of the judge and his family in circus themes: Hofheinz, the lion-tamer; Mrs. Hofheinz, on a flying trapeze; and the three children, as clowns. Roy Jr., called Butch, is now 25; a 1956 Rhodes scholar from Rice, he speaks eight languages and is at Harvard studying for a doctorate in Chinese history and philosophy. Fred, 22, called Spud by his family, is in graduate school at the University of Texas with a fellowship in economics, and is a Rhodes scholar nominee himself. Dene, 19, is a sophomore at Texas. "She takes after her mother," says Hofheinz. "She's not brilliant, but she does all right in human relations."

On the property, which abounds with rabbits and quail and little boys carrying BB guns, there is also a guest house, a four-car garage overflowing with Cadillacs, Fords and Fiats, a kennel full of gun dogs, Labradors and pointers, a stable containing four horses, servant quarters and another garage full of trucks. Despite its size, the residence is a homey sort of place; both the Judge and Mrs. Hofheinz are cordial hosts. "We like to entertain at home," they say. "We just like folks."

Actually Hofheinz doesn't spend too much time at home anymore. In one of the long black Cadillac limousines, which he drives himself since he has never been able to find a chauffeur willing to work his hours, he ricochets between an office at the ball park, a downtown office, a remarkable beach home on Galveston Bay, two hunting camps and a farm. Each is better than a museum.

The downtown office, a former residence painted charcoal and white, is surrounded by a high stockade fence. Inside the fence, banana trees and groves of bamboo and a fountain decorate a garden path. Inside the house, Hofheinz prefers to work in what was once the kitchen, standing up, a position in which he believes he thinks better. For more formal occasions, he passes through a door that is really a sort of secret panel, into a glorious office full of towering, hand-crafted brass chairs with red and yellow velvet cushions. "French ormolu," he says. "They came from some castle." The desk is Louis XIV. Behind the desk is another panel leading into a bathroom with gold fixtures—including the toilet seat.

Downstairs is LeTrou, the pit, a basement room copied after a Parisian sidewalk cafe. Quai d'Orsay, Boulevard Montmartre, Place Pigalle, Rue de la Paix, say the signs on the walls; Parisian menus are everywhere. There is a piano from London's Great Exhibition of 1851, and an old French wood stove. An intercom TV set allows Hofheinz to watch his secretaries and receptionists, and any visitors who might appear in the offices above. There is a freezer, painted like a packing case, and a well-stocked bar; steaks, usually enough to feed the entire Colts baseball team, and enough good Scotch to entertain the Texas Senate, are never far from Hofheinz, who believes in wall-to-wall living, all the time.

There is a billiard table in the basement, but no one has shot a game of pool there in years; on top of the table sits one of the two models of the domed stadium. The other is usually on exhibition in Dallas or Corpus Christi or Monterrey, Mexico. "We built the models out back in the shop," says Hofheinz. "They come completely apart, and it would require 72 blueprints to duplicate what they can show."

One of the hunting camps, called Loose Goose Lodge, is on 550 acres west of Houston on the Katy highway; it is full of guns, decoys, fishing rods, goose calls, hunting jackets, waders, and all the absurd and humorous signs that Hofheinz, a compulsive collector, has gathered down through the years. The other camp, located on 250 acres near Danbury, south of town, is called the Kwikwack Klub and it is decorated with political mementos and memorabilia of Hofheinz' career: photographs, newsclips, cartoons, awards, plaques. The farm, on 550 acres near Houston's westerly city line, is an antique collector's paradise: old churns, a Dutch window-washer, bronze cannon off a British warship, old fowling pieces, spinning wheels and a noodle-slicer.

Hofheinz also has a great wooden chest, beautifully carved and compartmented, that belonged to a Union general; he likes to show it off but has a lot of trouble with the lock. "You can see now," he puffs, struggling to get it opened, "why the North lost the Civil War." Outside, on the farmhouse lawn, stands the bell from an old locomotive; it has a thunderous tone and the judge delights in ringing it at 2 a.m. "Just to let the neighbors know we're around," he says.

Hofheinz calls the beach home Huckster House in honor of the money that bought it, and it is a bright, garish, wonderful place. Each room has a different theme—the Old Wild West, a harem, the South Seas, a gambling casino, even a jail, with bars on the windows and steel bunks suspended from the ceiling by chains. There are television sets here, too, most of them built in, usually in the ceiling over a bed or high up on a wall. "That's the only way to watch TV," he says, "lying on your back in bed." There is a player piano and a priceless old Regina music box. Outside, the pool and surrounding area are decorated in a circus theme, with fanciful animal statues peeping out of the bushes. One, a lion, has a drinking fountain in his mouth; all you have to do is put your head inside. Hofheinz' real pride and joy is a circus calliope. "When that thing plays," he says, "you can hear it across the bay in Galveston. Man, it really drives the neighbors wild."

The Houston Colts may not win many games in '62, for they have concentrated on building for the future, but big league baseball will be new in Texas this year and the crowds should pour in. Next year, even if the team has not progressed too far, there will be the new domed stadium, an attraction in itself. By 1964, with baseball and the stadium no longer novelties, Houston hopes to produce a contender. But should they fail, the Colts still have one more attraction to offer: Roy Hofheinz. Most people would be glad to pay money to watch a man like that.