By Nancy Christofferson
HUERFANO- If baseball pitcher Bob McGraw was Huerfano County’s most famous athlete, he had a close runner-up in that sport.
Though not a native of Huerfano or even Colorado, but of Indiana, Ford Christopher Frick became coach at Huerfano County High School in Walsenburg in the mid 1910s after his graduation from DePauw University. During the summer, he worked as a mine clerk for Colorado Fuel and Iron Company’s Farr coal mine at Cameron.
While in Walsenburg, Frick married Eleanor Cowing, daughter of Frederick C. Cowing. After a year of coaching and clerking, Frick moved to New York City where he went to work for the Hearst newspaper syndicate. For the next four or five decades, Ford and Eleanor made an annual trek back to Walsenburg to visit family.
Frick became a well-known sports writer, and in 1924 he took on a new challenge – ghost writing for none other than Babe Ruth, a job he continued until 1932.
With the advent of radio, Frick became a baseball reporter and was one of the first to give a daily report with scores and events. In 1934 he became the public relations director of the National League.
Later the same year, in November, Frick was elected president of the National League. Perhaps his biggest challenge in that position was in 1947 when some players planned to protest the “breaking of the color barrier” when Jackie Robinson became the first black major leaguer. Frick threatened to suspend any player who did indeed protest Robinson’s hiring.
In 1951 Frick made another career advancement when he was named Commissioner of Major League Baseball. He retired in 1965.
1970 brought his nomination and acceptance into the Baseball Hall of Fame, which he had helped to establish.
Frick died in 1978 and is buried in Bronxville, NY. In his honor, that year the annual Ford C. Frick Award was established to be awarded to a broadcaster for “major contributions to baseball.” Notable winners of this award include Curt Gowdy in 1984 and Bob Uecker in 2003.
So while our most famous athlete did not make it to the Hall of Fame, our old high school baseball coach did – Huerfano’s only member of that august body.
A member of another Hall of Fame may be remembered by longtime Huerfanos. Babe Didrickson made several appearances in Walsenburg in exhibition baseball games, playing for the noted House of David, a traveling Jewish team that was sports’ answer to vaudeville entertainment back in the day. Babe was a pitcher, and her team faced the local champs during the 1930s. In 1938 she married George Zaharias, a professional wrestler and native of Pueblo whom she met while golfing. Babe, who’d won two gold medals and one silver in the 1932 Olympics track and field events, was named by the Guinness Book of Records as one of the most versatile athletes of the 20th century, became a star of the LPGA and was one of the first of six members of the LPGA Hall of Fame. So when great-grandfather tells you he watched Babe pitch, better believe him.
In 1946 Babe and George stopped in at Shosky’s Café for a bite to eat en route to a golf tournament. It is no stretch of the imagination to think they’d met the restaurant owner before. Alexander Shosky, was nicknamed Babe also and was an active local sports promoter. “Babe, meet Babe.”
At least two other sports figures have ties, very tenuous ties indeed, to Huerfano County. Byron R. White vacationed in Cuchara in the mid-1960s and despite being a Supreme Court Justice, was known mainly for his football feats and nickname, Whizzer. In 1948, long before being named to the court by President John F. Kennedy, Whizzer had been guest speaker for the St. Mary High School Quarterback Club.
In the 1990s, shortly after his retirement from the major league, Richard Michael “Goose” Gossage was in La Veta to play golf at Grandote and ended up signing autographs at the La Veta Sports Pub and Grub. He also donated a shoe, possibly about a size 30, for the edification of fans.
In 1930, Clyde E. “Upsidedown” Pangborn, “army aviator, veteran of Colorado skyways and co-holder of the world’s endurance record for open-cockpit planes,” gave a three-day exhibition at the Walsenburg airfield, then called Hanson field.
The noted Harlem Globe Trotters made appearances in Walsenburg in the ‘30s, ‘40s AND ‘50s.
Here’s the sad one. Will Rogers, one of America’s most enduring humorists, was in Walsenburg in late July 1935. From here he went to join Wiley Post, first pilot to fly solo around the world, for some research in Alaska. Both men were killed when Post’s plane crashed on takeoff near Point Barrow on Aug. 15.