Our Larry Dierker Chapter of SABR (The Society for American Baseball Research) recently took on the multi-year, multi-task job of researching and writing a book on a segment of Houston’s rich history that has been long overdue. The working title of the project is “Houston Baseball, The Early Years: 1861-1961.”
The century of note covers a long and colorful period, from the formation of the first Houston Base Ball Club in 1861 through the last minor league season of the Houston Buffs in 1961. After 1961, Houston’s baseball stage moved to the major leagues, first with the Houston Colt .45s (1962-64) and then to their new and still present identity as the Houston Astros (1965-2011 and counting).
Although we have only been on the job officially since our first May 21st meeting, some of the early discoveries of our fifteen member volunteer research team have been both mind-boggling and sometimes surprising. Back in the late 19th century, for example, four to five members of the Houston professional club were dismissed on a road trip to Dallas for attempting to throw a game for gamblers. And, in that same last decade, a group of Houstonians, still enamored with the still recently new availability of electric lights, rigged up a portable lighting system that allowed the Houston club to play the first night game in Houston history. It apparently wasn’t a mechanical plan for efficient everyday use, but it happened – and it adjusts existing thought by about forty years earlier as to when the first night game in Houston was actually played.
The members of our sixteen-member SABR research team are: Steve Bertone, Lance Carter, Tony Cavender, Bob Dorrill, Marsha Franty, Harold Jones, Bill McCurdy, Tom Murrah, Darrell Pittman, Susan Pittman, Jo Russell, Story Sloane, Joe Thompson, Tom Trimble, Mike Vance, & Herb Whalley.
Wow! Sixteen fired-up people! Just about the roster size of a minor league club back in the early history of professional baseball.
We are tracing the history of baseball in Houston from its earliest amateur roots through its growth as a highly organized professional sport at the highest level of minor league play. Along the way, our goal includes filling in the blanks on the continuation of amateur play, semi-pro ball, women’s baseball, and black baseball. We have our work cut out for us, but we wouldn’t have it any other way. We didn’t take on this project because we thought it would be easy. We took it on for the sake of setting the record straight on Houston’s ancient history with baseball. And yes, we took it on because it needed to be done to help correct a misleading national impression of Houston’s sports history.
As project director and editor-in-chief of this activity, my own interest in the idea peaked during the 2005 World Series when I heard a national commentator say over the air that Houston’s fans seem to understand the game pretty well “for a city that only recently discovered baseball.”
“Whoa!” I thought. “These folks don’t know us very well at all. They think because of our current population’s love-dip with football that baseball is new to everyone around here. How wrong they are. Houstonians were playing base ball before a single shot was ever fired upon Fort Sumter – and long before anyone in Houston had ever seen or held a ball that was pointed on two ends.
The Houston Chronicle gathered some of our crew for a photo shot at Market Square yesterday morning. That’s La Carafe, the oldest commercial building still standing in Houston in the background across the street. It’s that two-story, slender red brick building you will see in the picture above the shoulder of Tony Cavender. The building dates back to the 1840s or 1850s – and it once served as the stagecoach station in Houston. For us, it represents a building that was standing on the night in early 1861 when the first Houston Base Ball Club was founded in this city.
If you have an interest in helping us piece together the true, not speculative, history of baseball in Houston – or if you are in possession of any artifacts or scrapbooks that might shed ligt on the history, especially, of black baseball in Houston, or the women’s game, please, please, please get in touch.
I can be reached by you leaving me a comment on this column, or by you e-mailing me at
Watch for an article soon in the Houston Chronicle. And please get in touch, if you have anything to offer.
Bill McCurdy, Project Director, Editor-in-Chief, Early Houston Baseball Research Project