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."