Several years ago the Houston Astros established a Media Wall of Fame, which is found in the press box. The first three honorees, Anita Martini, Gene Elston, and Neil Hohlfeld, were among the most worthy honorees that have ever been placed in a Hall of Fame.
Martini was one of the great female journalists who battled prejudice to get into locker rooms and paved the way for the Hannah Storms and Erin Andrews of the sports world. Elston was the first play-by-play voice of the Astros. He worked games with a quiet dignity and he didn't cheer and shout, but he painted marvelous word pictures that allowed you to see the game in your mind. And Hohlfeld was perhaps the last great beat writer produced by a Houston newspaper. He covered the Astros, he treated them fairly, but he refused to kiss ass and called things as they were.
The media today is turning in its votes for the next addition to the Hall. For the most part, the nominees are pretty standard. Milo Hamilton, the bombastic loudmouth who forced Elston out of the Astros booth. Then there's Bill Brown who has been with the team since 1987 and is part of the one of the best booth combos in sports, and Harry Shattuck, the former Houston Chronicle writer who covered the team for many, many years.
Also up for the spot is former Houston Post and Chronicle writer Mickey Herskowitz who, along with writing about the Astros, worked PR for the American Football League and co-authored many a biography of famous people, and Tim Johnson, who photographed Astros games for UPI, AP, the Post, the Chronicle, and various national publications.
But there's one name that deserves this spot above all others. And to me, it's a rather surprising name since it's a name that I never associated with the Houston Astros or with baseball.
Lloyd C.A. Wells is, in many ways, a far more worthy and famous man than any of the other names, especially if, like me, you know of his history in football and with the American Football League. Wells, a TSU grad, was known for his ability in the 1960s to get African-America players from small southern colleges signed with teams in the AFL instead of the NFL.
He was the first full-time African-American pro football scout, a job for which he was employed by the Kansas City Chiefs and to whom he delivered such stars as Buck Buchanan, Willie Lanier, and Otis Taylor. But, more important than that, he was one of the people responsible for the desegregation of fan seating at sporting events in Houston.
I knew of Wells. Any person who has read tales of the battles between the AFL and the NFL knows of Wells, who often went on "babysitting" duties with the players before they signed. This was to make sure they signed with the Chiefs, and that the people from the NFL could get nowhere near them.
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What I didn't know was of his role in the Houston sports media.
Wells was the one responsible for desegregating the Astrodome press box. It's kind of shocking, and disturbing, to think that the press boxes were segregated in the 1960s. Yes, I know of what was going on in the South in the 1960s, but it's still hard to believe that professional African-American journalists, who were covering African-American players on desegregated teams, were forced to sit apart from their white counterparts. Anita Martini might have been the first woman to get into the locker room, but Wells was battling racial bigotry in the heat of the Civil Rights movement in the South.
For 35 years Wells was the sports editor of the Houston Informer and the Forward Times. But the work he did had a far greater impact than just covering sports.
Bill Brown, Mickey Herskowitz, Harry Shattuck, and Tim Johnson have accomplished many things with their coverage of the Houston Astros. But none of them took the chances, or had a greater impact on the coverage of Houston sports, or the Astros, than Lloyd C.A. Wells. So if there is any person that deserves to be honored on the Houston Astros Media Wall of Fame, then it's Lloyd C.A. Wells.