Overblown and Underrated

So you know Houston's goats, heroes and high points? Think again.

Center Carl Mauck exemplified the team. Blunt-spoken and irascible, he looked and sounded like an offensive lineman should. He recorded "The Oiler Cannonball," sung to the tune of "The Wabash Cannonball," and sold thousands of copies despite having a voice like a downshifting 18-wheeler.

But, says Zierlein, on the field his contributions were less stellar. Zierlein's dad has long been an offensive line coach -- he currently has that job at the University of Cincinnati -- and back in the day Zierlein père et fils would bond over game film.

"My dad kept pointing out to me how Mauck was getting beat quite a bit," Zierlein says. "Every game, it seemed, Carl didn't play all that well. People just got caught up in the hype and the Luv Ya Blue and his character. He was this lovable offensive lineman, but it seems somewhere along the line people have just assumed he was better than he really was."

Moody Park was the scene of a '78 clash between protesters and police.
Moody Park was the scene of a '78 clash between protesters and police.
Otilia's: Fine Mexican fare in a former fast-food joint.
Otilia's: Fine Mexican fare in a former fast-food joint.

Most Underrated: Astro Bill Spiers

Zierlein doesn't reach too far back in Houston history for this name -- he picks someone who is still playing the game.

"I'd put Billy Spiers up against anyone on that team, and anyone in the league in the last 15 years, when it comes to being a clutch hitter," he says.

Spiers, 34, has been a jack-of-all-trades in his five seasons with the Astros. A utility infielder, he was one of only four major-leaguers to play six different positions during the 1999 season.

But on a team where runners get stranded on base with frustrating frequency, Spiers makes his mark mostly with his bat. He hit .301 last year with 43 runs batted in during the Astros' disastrous season-long meltdown.

Spiers is never going to make the Hall of Fame, but he quietly has made major contributions to the Astros -- even when they were having good years. (Like the Oilers, the Astros -- even in their good years -- leave all sumbitches in pristine condition.)

Spiers might be better known, Zierlein says, if he could put together a full year: He's been prone to injuries.

"For some reason, he just has a hard time staying healthy," he says.

Civil Rights Moment

When the noble history of the nation's civil rights movement is written, it usually bypasses Houston.

City fathers like that just fine. The local news media played along in the '60s, promising not to cover any events as restaurants, hotels and theaters were quietly integrated.

Houston's history has not all been smooth -- one of the most famous race riots of the first half of the last century happened in 1917, when black soldiers protested against unfair treatment at Camp Logan.

Roger Gray, political columnist for Inside Houston magazine and longtime radio talk-show host, wasn't around for the Camp Logan riot, but he's watched a lot of other Houston history since then.

Most Overrated: The Moody Park riot

The 1978 Cinco de Mayo celebration at Moody Park came one year after the infamous drowning of Joe Campos Torres. Torres had been beaten by Houston police officers and thrown in a bayou.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the 1978 celebration became violent as tempers flared between protesters and the cops on hand to keep an eye on things. Police cars were overturned and burned, $500,000 in damage was done, 15 people were hospitalized and 40 arrested.

Travis Morales, who still pops up manning the barricades when there are fights to be fought, became the leader of the Moody Park Three, defendants who faced felony charges of inciting a riot (newspaper ads and shop-window signs saying "Free the Moody Park Three" briefly brought the '60s back to late-'70s Houston). Their convictions were later reversed, and they pleaded no contest to misdemeanor charges.

To Gray, the riot served no purpose, had no lasting effect.

"Although my old friend former reporter Jack Cato of KPRC-TV [now Harris County treasurer] was stabbed covering this event, it still remains a solidly forgettable community snit led by Travis Morales, the Quanell X of the '70s and '80s," Gray says.

Morales's role in the riot, Gray says, seems to have grown as the years have passed.

Most Underrated: Election of Lee Brown

Throughout the '80s and '90s, Houston minorities had been exercising more and more power at the ballot box, electing a slew of local officials. But the mayor's office seemed out of reach.

State Representative Sylvester Turner seemed to have the prize in his grasp in 1991, when he was favored to beat businessman Bob Lanier in a runoff election. But days before the vote, KTRK-TV aired a report linking him to an insurance fraud, crushing his chances (and, incidentally, sparking a landmark libel suit).

The 1997 race to replace Lanier was uninspiring, with the stiff Brown facing pretty boy Rob Mosbacher. But at the end of it, Houston finally joined a long list of other large American cities by electing its first minority mayor.

"Maybe it's his management style, which makes G.W. Bush seem like a dynamo, and maybe it's just that the time had come with little fanfare," Gray says. "But the election of our first black mayor met with surprisingly little hoopla considering Jim Crow was still our governing principle just 30-some-odd years earlier."

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