From late in the 19th century through 1961, a large number of major league baseball players wound their way through Houston as up-and-coming stars of the game. Most of the names on the following list played for the Buffs on their way up the baseball ladder to the big leagues. Some came through town on their way down the rungs of the same prescious climb. A few of these even made it all the way to the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Although the list is far from complete, it’s a pretty good sample of the quality of players we have been privileged to watch here in Houston during a local baseball interest period that is now chipping its way into a third different century of life. This roll call will not thrill any of you who care little or nothing for the game, but it speaks volumes to those who care enough to get clear on one of my favorite rant-subjects: Baseball goes back to the root years of our city. The first Houston Base Ball Club was formed in April 1861, a mere few weeks after Texas had seceded from the Union – and a good twenty to thirty years prior to the introduction of football in Houston on a minor organizational level at the Univeristy of Texas and Texas A&M Proffessional baseball finally reached Houston in 1888 with the formation of the Texas League. It would take the Texas League nearly two more decades to achieve stabilty, but once it did, it became the cradle of Houston’s greatest players in history.
In short, baseball ignited Houston first. Footbal came much later, and didn’t really take hold until electrification brought “Friday Night Lights” to Texas high school football in the 1930s.
Remember that milestone pattern the next time you are forced to hear another national talking sports head TV guy say that “Houston is growing pretty fast in its knowledge of the game for a city that is basically a football town that only recently discovered baseball!” Don’t pay any attention to these idiots. These are the same ignorant people who still come to Houston expecting to see mountains on the horizon, cacti growing wildly in our neighborhoods, and tumbleweed blowing crazily down Main Street.
The quick list shown here is pretty impressive. Look ’em up individually at either Baseball Almanac or Baseball Reference (d0t.coms) and see what I mean. Most of these guys did pretty darn well at the major league level:
Luis Arroyo, Vern Benson, Ray Blades, Don Blasingame, Don Bollweg, Bob Boyd, Ken Boyer, Al Brazle, Harry Brecheen, Willard Brown, Tex Carleton, Mort Cooper, Walker Cooper, Nick Cullop, Mike Cvengos, Dizzy Dean, Paul Dean, Murry Dickson, Dick Ellsworth, Hal Epps, Herman Franks, Don Gutteridge, Chick Hafey, Wild Bill Hallahan, Solly Hemus, Larry Jackson, Eddie Kazak, Johnny Keane, Johnny Kling, Frank Mancuso, Gus Mancuso, Fred Martin, Pepper Martin, Harry McCurdy, Von McDaniel, Joe Medwick, Larry Miggins, Vinegar Bend Mizell, Red Munger, Danny Murtaugh, Al Papai, Homer Peel, Howie Pollet, Rip Repulski, Art Reinhart, Ron Santo, Al Schacht, Bob Scheffing, Cary Selph, Wally Shannon, Hal Smith, Pancho Snyder, Tris Speaker, Bobby Tiefenauer, Emil Verban, Curt Walker, Harry Walker, Watty Watkins, Del WIlber, Ted Wilks, Billy Williams, Jerry Witte, and Johnny Wyrostek.
By special request from Wade Porter, I am extending this post to include my All Time Starting Line-Up based upon the Buffs/Major Leaguer pool listed previously. These decisions were based upon each player’s ability to perform at both the major and minor league level. That means I faced a tough choice on first base, choosing between my close old now deceased friend Jerry Witte and his 38-homer season for the 1951 Buffs and Bob Boyd for his two .300 plus hitting seasons in 1954-55. Both were also men of outstanding character and fairness too. I finally had to go with Bob Boyd because of his near .400 Negro League marks and his recognition by the Negro League Hall of Fame, plus his several plus .300 or above seasons with the Baltimore Orioles after leaving the Buffs. It was the fair thing to do and I know Jerry Witte would have agreed. He was all about fairness. Jerry Witte only had two very short and not too happy trips to the majors in 1946-47. When we worked on his biography years ago, Jerry even told me: “I just want credit for the things I did. Don’t give me credit for things I didn’t do – and for God’s sake, don’t ever say I was best at something when somebody else was better.” This was one of those times, Jerry, but nobody will ever be a finer man or better person than you were. Nobody did it better in that league.
That being said, here’s my starting lineup of the Greatest Houston Buffs Ever:
Solly Hemus, 2b
Bob Boyd, 1b
Tris Speaker, cf
Billy Williams, lf
Joe Medwick, rf
Ron Santo, 3b
Johnny Kling, c
Don Blasingame, ss
Dizzy Dean, p
I must confess too. I had to go back and add Don Blasingame to fill out the shortstop position. It was hard leaving a few guys out of the starting lineup here, but as Cecil Cooper might tell you, that’s one of the tough parts about managing. Of course, if old Cecil had this talent available at peak form on the roster of the 2009 Astros, we might be running away with the NLC by now. Don’t you think?
If you see a starting lineup that you prefer, please post it below as a comment on this issue.
Have great new week everybody!