Brazos Past: Sportswriting legend Jinx Tucker surely smiling on Baylor this year

Henry Harrison “Jinx” Tucker covered sports from 1920 until his death in 1953 for the Waco News-Tribune, which merged with the Waco Times-Herald in 1927.

Henry Harrison “Jinx” Tucker, legendary sportswriter for the Tribune-Herald for more than 30 years, would have been elated to cover the football frenzy involving RG3.

Tucker, who began chronicling sports in 1920, passed away almost 60 years ago this month. But if he were still around, he likely would lead media accounts of Baylor’s Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Robert Griffin.

In his career as a sportswriter, Tucker penned almost 50 million words on sports.

“Self-imposed slavery to the world of sports resulted in a production of wordage that has never been approached by any other newspaper writer,” lauded one colleague decades later.

Tucker was born Christmas Day 1893 in Brenham, to Janie Parham and George Tucker. He was one of six children, the son of the editor and publisher of the Brenham Evening Press (1886-1913).

As a youth, Henry Tucker was an avid fan and participant of nearly every extracurricular endeavor offered by area schools, especially baseball and football. He played shortstop for the Brenham baseball team in 1914, but a broken ankle ended his season.

That summer, at age 19, he acquired the nickname he would wear the rest of his life. His team had a long winning streak and was scheduled to play Temple.

The game was going well until after Tucker arrived and took his seat in the stands. Suddenly, nothing went right on the field and Brenham lost.

One of the players complained that Tucker had brought them nothing but bad luck and thereafter tagged him with the nickname “Jinx.” Tucker couldn’t shake the moniker from then on.

After high school, Tucker enrolled in a few writing courses at Blinn College so he could play football on its team.

He later used his knowledge of linotype operation that he had learned from his father to work his way to New York City, where he saw his first professional baseball and football teams play.

Composing rooms

Tucker found regular work in the composing rooms of Manhattan’s many dailies, but regularly was dismissed because he had a habit of skipping out of the shop.

On Saturdays, he would go to ballparks instead of tending the linotype. This pattern of avoiding deadlines lasted until he was fired from his final newspaper. Having burned every professional bridge in New York, he headed back home to Texas.

About 1916, he landed a job as a linotype operator for the Waco News-Tribune. In those days, the Trib did not have a full-time sportswriter and relied on a cadre of young men (usually Baylor students) to cover athletics around town.

Tucker approached the editor one Saturday about covering a Baylor football game and was given a chance at print. His first byline appeared on Oct. 15, 1920 — and from then on, rarely a day would pass without a Jinx Tucker byline in the newspaper.

As sports editor of the News-Tribune (a job he performed, incidentally, in addition to his full-time employment as a union linotype operator), Tucker sometimes would officiate a high school football game and immediately follow that chore by traveling to the Trib to write his article on the contest.

He had the ability, in fact, to “compose at the keys” — not the typewriter, mind you, but transcribing his ideas directly into hot lead.

From 1920 to 1948, he had no desk in the newsroom. He usually was found in the composing room at his machine, on the second floor of the old Tribune-Herald building at 215 S. Sixth St.

Tucker was a pioneer in the field of prognostication. In 1924, he began the practice of predicting the outcome of important games, using his encyclopedic knowledge of sports and its local players.

Studying the statistics, he would predict the scores a day or two in advance. He was said to have an accuracy rate of 90 percent. More often than not, he came close to forecasting the final score.

Reverse psychology

Some of his colleagues believed the prolific sportswriter engaged in reverse psychology. To affect the morale of the home teams, he used a specific technique to rile the emotions of the players by intentionally writing a column on the opposing team and their abilities, just days before a big Baylor or Waco High School game.

He would lead readers of his column to believe he favored their rivals and thought they would win. The end result was the home team fought harder, just to prove Tucker wrong.

For example, in 1941, the University of Texas was ranked No. 1 and headed to Waco to play the Bears on Nov. 8.

Baylor had lost three in a row. In his column, Tucker picked the Longhorns to win 50-0 and said he was going to College Station to watch Texas A&M in a good game.

That slap at the home team was credited with firing up the Bears as they tied Texas, 7-7, to ruin UT’s Rose Bowl hopes.

After that game, a crowd of Baylor boosters came to South Sixth Street and the old Tribune-Herald building, howling for Tucker’s hide. It likely never dawned on them that he was as delighted as they were about the outcome.

Many times in his long career of sportswriting, Tucker’s frank assessments outraged his targets and he occasionally was threatened with bodily harm.

For his protection, his more burly colleagues in the mechanical department sometimes would intercept his less friendly “visitors.”

Ironically, the one time he was punched out by an irate reader — a ballplayer who waylaid him after luring him away from his linotype machine under false pretenses — it was for a story he didn’t even write.

When the News-Tribune and the Times-Herald merged in 1927, Tucker’s workload doubled and he loved it, by all accounts.

His column, Jinx’s Hot Shots, made him one of the most widely read and often-quoted sportswriters in the Southwest.

“Sportswriting was his life and he knew only one way to do it — full steam ahead,” one colleague later eulogized.

An excitable journalist

He temporarily was sidelined in fall 1947 by a heart attack and lived the rest of his days in the “shadow of imminent death,” as one writer put it. He paused only to “retire” from his composing room chores to devote his remaining energies to his beloved sports coverage.

Tucker covered all local Baylor and Waco High games until a second major heart attack in 1952, which resulted in his doctor’s edict that it was too risky for the excitable journalist to continue his avocation.

Tucker complied for a time, but was soon back to the grind. Until his health betrayed him, he had been a competitive tennis player, solid bowler and an avid hunter and fisherman.

On Dec. 13, 1953, weeks before his 60th birthday, Jinx Tucker died in his sleep. He was found by his wife in the armchair he often favored more than his own bed — but not until after she had read her Sunday paper and went to his room to tell him about a laudatory letter to the editor from a fan.

Tucker covered playoff games the day before that closed the 1953 season for Waco High and La Vega. After watching Waco lose to Lamar of Houston, he wrote about the game for deadline, and visited with some sportswriter friends in his home before turning in for the night.

At his funeral, the Rev. Clyde S. Sherman, pastor of Central Christian Church, eulogized, “We need not grieve because up there in the great stadium of eternity, Jinx Tucker is writing again.”

Tucker was buried in Oakwood Cemetery. The Waco Quarterback Club started a journalism scholarship at Baylor in his honor. 

Additional sources: Term paper by Dawn Rush, 1979; the Texas Collection at Baylor University; Tribune-Herald clip files; The Handbook of Texas online.

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