Not too long ago, a sign was placed on the chain-link fence behind home plate on the northwest diamond at Holcom Complex.
What was once known as Holcom Gold because of its yellow spectator seats is now officially “Ralph Houk Field.”
Soon, too, the adjacent Holcom Red diamond will be designated as “Louie Heinrich Field” and will also boast a sign similar to the one honoring Houk.
Both of these signs were approved by the advisory board of the Lawrence Parks and Recreation Dept. Did you know parks and rec had an advisory board? I didn’t, either.
Lawrence has countless advisory boards composed of faceless, nameless people. One might be a neighbor. Another could be in your civic group. More likely, though, you don’t know any of them.
The five members of the parks and rec board are Kevin Loos, Jana Dobbs, Kelly Barth, Joe Caldwell and Andrew Clayton. I’m mentioning their names in order to thank them for perpetuating the memory of two native-borns who left a lasting impact on baseball — Houk on the national scene and Heinrich at the grass-roots level.
Ralph Houk and Louie Heinrich were born in Lawrence almost exactly two years apart, Houk in 1919 and Heinrich in 1921. Both graduated from Lawrence’s old Liberty Memorial High and both served in the European Theater during World War II.
Whereas Houk was a combat infantryman who earned numerous military honors, including a Silver Star and a Bronze Star, Heinrich was assigned to the quartermaster corps and remained mostly in a military support role, as thousands of others did.
After the war, Houk returned to his professional baseball career, eventually reaching the majors with the New York Yankees. Yet it was as a field manager and general manager that Houk gained the most fame.
Today, about six weeks from his 90th birthday and living in Florida, Houk is a member of both the Kansas and Lawrence High halls of fame. Heinrich isn’t a member of either shrine, and probably never will be.
After the war, Heinrich returned to Lawrence and opened a floor covering business that he ran for nearly 30 years. When not working, he was heavily involved in youth sports — mostly the city’s Legion baseball teams, although he is credited with being one of the founding fathers of the city’s youth football program, too.
Heinrich, who died of cancer at age 62 nearly 25 years ago, was one of those hard-working blue-collar types who seemed content to shun the limelight. He was a man who would rather drag the infield than make out a lineup card and, boy, did he drag a lot of infields.
In fact, Heinrich was near legendary for turning what looked like a quagmire into a playable facility.
Walt Houk, another long-time city youth baseball coach and a second cousin of Ralph Houk, once said of Heinrich: “He did a lot of good things. He was always around, but no one ever saw what he did.”
So it’s fitting that two youth baseball fields in Lawrence are now named after two men from “The Greatest Generation” — one who played ball as a boy and later became a major-leaguer, and another who played a major role in helping boys play baseball.