Long before Richard Justice and the Houston Chronicle there was another major newspaper in this town known as the Houston Post. A third one was the Houston Press, which perished from print even earlier, but none of the local rags covered sports quite like the Post. The great Mickey Herskowitz carried the sportswriting banner for the Post through their abrupt business-shark-kill death in 1996 and before Mickey was the incomparable Clark Nealon, leaning all the way back to the 1930s with both the Press and the Post. Along the way, writers like Morris Frank, John Hollis and Tom Kennedy made their own marks with the wonderful Dame News Girl, the morning Houston Post, along with others too numerous to mention. Does the names Bruce Layer and Clyde LaMotte ring any bells with any of you back-in-the-day Houston sports readers?
Go back far enough and you will run into one name that stands out as the godfather of all who came after him. That would be the one and only Lloyd Gregory, a native Texan and the first great sports writer in Houston publishing history. Gregory got to Houston in time to take over his duties here shortly after Ross Sterling bought both the original Post and also the Dispatch in 1924 and put them into the administrative hands of William P. Hobby as the new Houston Post-Dispatch. Hobby would eventually acquire the newspaper from Sterling and drop the “Dispatch” part of the identity, but the 1930s were a period for dragging Houston full-bore into the marketplace of early 20th century journalism.
With radio in its infancy during the 1920s, and with no TV, Internet, or low-cost telephone access, Houstonians were like all Americans in their growing dependency upon newspapers for up-to-date news. The 1920s were the era of the “special edition” paper that came out when big news couldn’t wait for tomorrow’s edition and there was money to be made is from a special edition run.
Most of the time, the morning Post-Dispatch and the afternoon Houston Chronicle and Press had the time field covered, but big news breaking after 4:00 PM opened the gate on special edition possibility.
Lloyd Gregory was there for the growth of the Houston Buffs as the face of farm team baseball for Branch Rickey and the S. Louis Cardinals back in the 1920s. Gregory was there to greet Rickey and Baseball Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis when the two men came to Houston for the original opening of buff Stadium on April 11, 1928. He covered the arrival of lights and night baseball at Buff Stadium in the early 1930s, and saw Houston Buffs baseball through the Great Depression of that decade and into the 1942 stoppage of the Texas League in 1942 due to World War II.
Somewhere in that World War II and post war period, Lloyd Gregory retired from everyday reporting at about the same time I was awakening to baseball with the 1947 Houston Buffs club as a nine-year old. Eventually, his place at the Post writing mentor table would be taken over by Clark Nealon and the others who followed in both their footsteps.
My memories of Lloyd Gregory are of the man who hosted “The Hot Stove League” weekly half-hour TV program every winter into the spring training season from about 1950 to 1952. Gregory would gather other writers around a prop hot stove to discuss the Buffs chances for the coming year with team President Allen Russell and others. By that time, I was a fully-invested baseball nerd and a devourer of statistical data on our prospects for the coming season. That made for some great anticipation of each new weekly show. If memory serves, Morris Frank, Clark Nealon, and Bruce Layer all worked with Gregory on the show, but all seemed to defer to Lloyd as the leader of the pack. I can still here that calm drawling Texas voice of Lloyd Gregory playing out in my memory. He was a good baseball man, the kind of guy that innately left his audience crying for more.
One time writer Lloyd Gregory left a player crying for less, most probably. The issue came up with Joe Medwick, back when Joe was playing outfield for the great 1931 Houston Buffs. Medwick and the terrific Dizzy Dean, of course, went on from Houston to become hinge-pin players for the 1934 Gashouse Gang World Champion St. Louis Cardinals, with both later making it into the Hall of Fame. While he was in Houston, however, Medwick acquired a nickname he never requested as the result of a female fan letter written to Post-Dispatch writer Lloyd Gregory for his “Lookin’ Em Over” sports column.
A female fan wrote Gregory that she loved Medwick, but added that she felt he walked like a duck. She even admitted to growing into the thought of her favorite Buff as “Ducky” Medwick whenever she saw him walking around the field at Buff Stadium.
Well, columnists have space to fill on a daily basis. Lloyd Gregory protected the identity of his writer, but he divulged the story in one of his 1931 daily columns, He then started referring to the player as “Ducky” Medwick in his game coverage stories.
“Ducky” stuck. Soon everyone else was calling him “Ducky” too. By the time Medwick moved on up to St. Louis, that “Ducky” nickname needed no special packing. It was stuck all over him.
Somewhere out there, most probably in a Houston cemetery by this late date, is the never identified Houston girl who gave Joe Medwick his famous nickname with the help of sportswriter Lloyd Gregory. Too bad Joe never met or maybe married that girl. Any woman who can lay a nickname like “Ducky” on a guy is bound to have held other gifts of good fortune for the man who once caught the light as the object of her affections.
Thank you, Lloyd Gregory, for all the good and fun things you did for Houston baseball.