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 6�%, 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.