31st July 2006
Last week, I started this somwhat subjective look at executives that I’d like to see in the Hall of Fame, ranking them from 1-5. Some are still alive, while others are not. I started at #5 with George Steinbrenner.
This week, I start with my #4. His name will probably not register on many people’s radar. I expect lots of, “Who the heck is this guy?”
Maybe I should mention some groundbreaking facility designs that are tied to Hofheinz to better make my case:
- First domed stadium;
- First air conditioned facility;
- First use of luxury suites;
- First use of in-stadium restaurants;
- First use of an electronic scoreboard;
- First large scale use of moveable seating (10,000) to allow for conversion to football configuration;
- First facility with its own weather station;
- First facility to have lighting continuously around the playing area;
- First use of artifical turf for professional sports;
Those are just a smattering of what came along with what Hofheinz called, “The 8th Wonder of the World.” That was, and still is, the Houston Astrodome.
Hofheinz was only an executive in MLB for 14 years, but within that time he, and R.E. (Bob) Smith brought MLB to Houston and constructed what is still one of the watershed facilities in all of sports.
He was a co-owner of the Colt .45s from ’62-’64 . In ’65, the Colt .45s were renamed the Houston Astros, and from that point till 1974 he held the position of President, as well as Owner. In 1975 he became Chairman of the Board of the Astros, and the following year lost the ownership on June 24, 1976.
To place Hofheinz as a person in perspective, he was a lawyer at 19, a member of the Texas Legislature at 22, served four terms as a county judge of Harris County when he was 24, and two-terms as Houston’s mayor beginning when he was 40. As Tal Smith, President of Baseball Operations for the Astros, said to me in August of 2005:
Just a fascinating man, a real dynamo, the most eloquent speaker I ever heard in my life—just a master salesman, a master showman. I suspect in your research you’ve seen what he did with his design—and the Astrodome was his concept. The architect and engineers had to draw the plans, but this was Hofheinz’s vision and it was absolutely magnificent—his sense of show-biz. He was a big fan of the circus and, later on in life, actually bought Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey circus and operated that for awhile. He carried out these themes in all of his homes and his offices. He was just a fantastic salesman.
You’ve certainly heard about the Astroturf– stories when we ran into problems with the grass because of the skylights, the lack of light, the lack of water. We had to find a solution to that. Hofheinz had me go out and that’s when we came across Astroturf. When I reported back to him and we brought the people in from Chemstrand and, when they named a price, the Judge said, “That’s exactly what I had in mind for the advertising rights and publicity for you.” He was always thinking. He was a master of radio and television. A master of salesmanship.
We were the first club with, I believe, what was referred to as “luxury suites”. That was an afterthought, after the dome was already under construction. That was something that Hofheinz and the club paid for themselves when we added the skyboxes at the top of the dome on the ninth level. He was the first one to think of seat options and we never actually exercised that concept, but today, of course, it’s commonplace. He was just a step ahead as a promoter, as a showman and as a salesman.
While domed facilities seem arcane next to the use of retractable roofs at this point in time, there is little doubt that if the technology had been close to being perfected, Hofheinz would have been the first to try it out.
Hofheinz was a visionary whose design ideas are still in use today. Hofheinz comes in at #4.