The club immediately painted over the roof panels, banishing sunlight. "And that was the death knell for grass," says Fred. The grass, Tifway 419 Bermuda, had been specially developed by scientists in Tifton, Ga. But without sunlight the grass was going, going, gone. And yet the death knell for Tifway Bermuda 419 would be the life knell for another kind of turf being developed by scientists at Monsanto—as well as the life knell for knee surgeons for decades to come.
For the remainder of the 1965 season, the Judge simply painted over the dead grass and dirt in his outfield, mixed in some sawdust with it and called it grass, though it was essentially a sandlot.
"I think he suspected all along that the grass wouldn't work," says Pool. "Artificial turf was developed in '64 through a Ford Foundation study that indicated city kids entering the Army had lower coordination than suburban and rural kids. The study concluded that it was because city kids had no play areas. The first artificial turf was installed at Moses Brown Playground in Providence. And Hofheinz had installed a patch at spring training in '65."
Before sealing the deal to introduce artificial turf into the year-old Astrodome, the Judge procured a 30-foot-long sample of the wonder-stuff from Monsanto, installed it at old Colt Stadium and assaulted the surface in sundry Hofheinzian ways that would never have occurred to the manufacturer. Among the durability tests administered by Hofheinz: Rented elephants urinated on the nylon rug while trampling over it—approximating the kind of abuse a Lenny Dykstra might one day deliver to the surface.
In March 1966 carpet was laid in the Dome. In the first major league baseball game played on AstroTurf, a Los Angeles Dodger rookie named Don Sutton got his first major league win. The Astro starter was Robin Roberts, who was headed for the Hall of Fame, and it appeared that AstroTurf was headed there as well. Busch Stadium in St. Louis, which opened later that year, would forsake grass in 1970 for low-maintenance AstroTurf. By 1973 five more stadiums would have synthetic surfaces, and AstroTurf welcome mats would join lawn jockeys and pink flamingos as staples of American exterior decorating.
As would be expected of a man who knows where to rent an incontinent elephant, the Judge traveled widely in life. The 1970 stroke that left him in a wheelchair (until his death, in 1982 at age 70) did little to slow him. No, the Judge smoked life down to the butt end, as if it were one of his Sans Souci Perfectos, the cigars he snuffed out in gold ashtrays shaped like upturned fielder's gloves.
Aides would simply carry the Judge up to the Parthenon, like the potentate he was, on a visit to Athens. Like Lord Elgin, the Judge assembled all sorts of curiosa—unsightly statuary, antique furniture, garish baubles—to cart back to Texas. The crates piled up at his Houston homes, not unlike in the last scene of Citizen Kane.
"I'm surprised they haven't made a movie about this man," says Pool. "He was truly larger than life. At the end he had grown a beard and looked like Orson Welles. And his voice, it had this...riveting intensity."
What was the epigraph that began Kane?
In Xanadu did Kubla Khan, a stately pleasure dome decree.... The Judge had moved into his Dome following the death of Dene in 1966, into his famously sybaritic apartment above the right-centerfield-pavilion seats.