July 20, 2015

Mickey Herskowitz was our featured speaker at the July 2015 meeting of the Larry Dierker Chapter of SABR in Houston last night. Our Spaghetti Western restaurant sanctuary room on Shepherd Drive never rocked more FULLY with laughs and good information. Matt “The Handsome One” Williams, a local boy and former pitcher for the Toronto Blue Jays and yours truly were the other presenters on the card lined up by our chapter program manager, Jim Kreuz. Mickey was great; Matt was awesome; and yours truly probably would have done well to simply have yielded his time to his two seasoned baseball world program companions.

Matt Williams did a beautiful job describing the awe he felt facing the TV stars of his childhood on the New York Yankees at home in his MLB pitching debut in Toronto – and then again five days later in Yankee stadium. We will never forget the imagery of Matt going “cheek-to-cheek” in hero worship with the Lou Gehrig monument in the stadium outfield at the original Yankee Stadium – and then having to be reeled in by his coach in time to warm up for the game.

Mickey Herskowitz, as per usual, was one seamless flow of funny stories and comments as he poured over memories in much the same way he once wrote about them for about a half century in both the Houston Post and Chronicle. We had never heard the story previously of his Hungarian-born immigrant grandfather, but I will never forget it now. When Mickey was only 14 years old, and already working at Buff Stadium as the volunteer stat manager for Buffs broadcaster Lee Hedricks at AM radio station KATL, Mickey’s grandfather, who neither understood nor cared anything about baseball, used to stay up every night the Buffs were at home – just to hear announcer Hedricks’ sign-off comment – “we would like to close again tonight by once more thanking our 14-year old statistician, Mickey Herskowitz, for being here to help us bring you this game more fully.”

Grandfather Herskowitz simply wanted to hear his grandson’s name go out into the Houston broadcast night before he turned out the light and went to sleep.

Later in life, once Mickey had established himself as one of the top biographers in America, he took on the daunting job of writing for famous actress Bette Davis. Ms. Davis insisted that he change his first name for her book because she felt that “Mickey” was unbecoming of a writer of his stature. In short, her book became the only one that Mickey signatured as “Michael Herskowitz.” – He had no choice. Ms. Davis’s “suggestion” was really a “demand.” – Mickey says he always wondered what his grandfather would have thought about that move, but he already knew.

After thousands of breakfasts over the years, many of us preferred an order of two eggs over easy, bacon, toast, and Mickey’s column as the way we chose to start our day. As such, we had so many opportunities to chuckle quietly over his wit and awareness of little under-the-radar facts that immediately made sense as soon as he wrote them. I brought up a vivid example of such when I spoke last night. – Mickey once wrote about a night in which he and the late Howard Cosell had dinner together.

“Howard Cosell is the only dinner companion I’ve ever known who actually broadcasts the meal,” Mickey once observed.

How great an observation is that one? If you’ve ever heard Howard Cosell drone along on those old ABC NFL Monday Night Football telecasts, can’t you just imagine him doing the same thing that Mickey observed at dinner? In fact, this Cosell propensity to broadcast every waking moment of the day was used at the conclusion of that old Woody Allen movie, “Bananas”, when Cosell was called into the bedroom of Allen’s movie character to telecast the conjugal completion of his “happy ending” wedding.

When asked, Mickey also described the terror attacks at the 1972 Munich, Germany Olympics as the biggest moment in his reporting career. In Munich as a sports writer, Mickey Herskowitz suddenly found himself handed a primary role in reporting on the far more horrible state of human affairs –  and he handled it with all the clarity and professionalism of a seasoned war correspondent.

Mickey Herskowitz is – and always will be – a Houston icon – and a giant of the American world of media and literature. He covered it all – and he covered everything as well or better than anyone else that comes to this mind. And, in a curious way, it just may be that the universality of his work, ironically, has kept him from receiving the Baseball Hall of Fame’s highest award to any baseball media journalist, The J.G. Taylor Spink Award.

Now, if a Houston faction ever wants to get behind a movement, per se, The Pecan Park Eagle certainly will stand with you on promoting Mickey Herskowitz for that honor. From all his baseball books, columns, the delightful “Letters from Lefty”, and newspaper beat work coverage dating back to a 14-year old kid who once kept stats on the entire Texas League, there isn’t a Spink winner out there who has done more for baseball than Mickey Herskowitz!

By “coincidence”, I arrived home last night to find that good old Darrell Pittman had sent me a link to something Mickey Herskowitz had written about Apache Junction back in 1963. – Check it out. – And rack up another run of the idea floor by Mickey H!



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