Texas League Birth Came by C Section.

The early years of the Texas League of Professional Baseball Clubs were anything but smooth. In fact, it’s even hard to believe that the league that launched the storied history of professional baseball in Houston through the team that finally came to be known as the Houston Buffaloes even survived its first 1888 season of operations. By all contemporary standards and expectations, in fact, we would be forced to write it off as an abysmal failure. except for one thing: Playing somebody somewhere was apparently more important in 1888 than the accuracy of the league standings, the exact composition of the league by teams on any given day, or the statistical accomplishments of each player.

In brief, here’s how the Texas League got started and how its first season of operations played out for history:

In the fall of 1887, the champion St. Louis Browns of the American Association, led by Charlie Comiskey, toured Texas for s series of exhibition games against their traveling companion, the New York Giants of the National League, led by John Montgomery Ward. At the same time, a minor league club from Joplin, Missouri, led by fiery young John J. McCloskey, also invaded Texas to pick up some loose change playing local amateur clubs. Like the boys from Joplin, the Browns and Giants also played more games against local groups than they did against each other.

When the minor league star Joplins finally crossed paths with the major league  Giants in Austin for a series of exhibitions, the passion of the cranks (fans) for these games was hardly lost to the watchful eye of the energetic 25-year old McCloskey. After his Joplins soundly defeated the Giants in the first two games of a schedule three-game series, New York declined to play the last contest. These results caused Austin businessmen to go after McCloskey to start professional baseball in Austin and Texas, something he wanted to do anyway. McCloskey already had appraised that Texas was ready for a professional league of its own. Now he had Texas power and money to back him and he quickly harvested the good contacts he had cultivated around the state on his tour and added to these the names of other influential people supplied by his Austin contacts.

Big John went right to work.

John J. McCloskey of Louisville, Kentucky was a charismatic guy, one that just oozed with passion for the game of baseball. In a way, many people caught the baseball “bug” directly from their 1887 contact with John McCloskey.

A much longer story made short: Instead of returning to Missouri for Christmas, McCloskey’s business in Texas simply segued from playing the game to promoting the start of a new league. For the amazing work he did in a relatively short period of time, John J. McCloskey is remembered today as the Father of the Texas League. By December 15, 1887, McCloskey had pulled together a group of prominent business people from all over the state and the City of New Orleans for a Texas League organizational meeting in Austin.

Houston, Dallas, Austin, and New Orleans were represented in person at the December 15th meeting. San Antonio, Galveston, and Fort Worth were also on board with the idea, even if their people couldn’t get to the meeting. New Orleans pulled out in favor of joining the “closer to home” league forming in the South as the Southern Association. The others held together to form the six-club all Texas city group now forevermore known by charter as The Texas League of Baseball Clubs. Waco also sent a letter of support for the idea to the meeting, but was unable to form a local plan for competition during the league’s proposed first season in 1888. The new league had hoped to start with eight clubs, but had to settle for the six groups that held together. One of those clubs, the Austin group, was really the old Joplin club. McCloskey had simply relocated his established group of young stars to the Texas capital city.

The Texas League started with a fairly organized plan. Salaries were established at $1,000 per season and playing rules were adopted to fit the club into the growing pattern of organized baseball. Ticket prices were set at 25 cents per game and a contract was reached with the A.J. Reach Company of Philadelphia for the production of the official Texas Leagye ball. Umpires (one per game) would be paid $75 plus train fare. The league secretary was approved for a salary of $50 per month for the entire year.

The league secretary needed a pencil and eraser fund. Most of the first year would be spent making and rearranging schedules and trying to keep up with game outcomes that were frequently unreported or not reported accurately. The biggest problem would be the crashing of franchises in mid-stream of the league’s first active season.

Season play started on April 5, 1888. By early June, every club, but Dallas, was in financial trouble and San Antonio was forced to fold. This fatality required a schedule revision to accomodate five teams. The effect was to leave one team idle for three or four days each week as the other four played.

Shortly aftr the San Antonio collapse, Fort Worth also folded its tent as a professional club. They didn’t disband. They simply declared themselves “amateurs” and started playing other local teams in their home area. The Texas League now had to survive as a four-club loop.

Change was far from done. When Austin began to fail, San Antonio rose from the dead and took it over, becoming the first city in baseball history to sponsor two different teams in the same league during the same season. That relocation was quickly followed by the return of New Orleans as a mid-season entry into the pennant race as a brand new fifth team. Any connection between game outcomes and a credible standing of the teams had now been totally removed. The goal now was staying alive as an organization, but how was the Texas League to do that with the plug now pulled on believability?

By September 1888, Houston and Galveston both dropped out of the league for financial reasons. This move prompted New Orleans to quit again rather than continua their trips into Texas to play the two remaining teams.

With no clubs other than Dallas and San Antonio remaining, the Texas League simply stopped playing ball in early October. The Dallas Hams reorganized as the “State Fair and Exposition team” and kept on playing ball against amateur teams at the state fairgrounds. This was back in the pre-Big Tex days at the State Fair, if you recall.

With a record of 55 wins and 27 losses, and a winning percentage of .671, Dallas had the best reported record for 1888, but no official champion was named for that first season, although the Dallas club always felt that it had justly earned it. The Houston Mudcats of 1889 would become the first recognized official champions of the Texas League.

Before we can keep score of anything that matters, we have to survive, and that’s the position that the Texas League faced when they first opened their doors to competition in 1888.

Because Houston, led by S.L. Hain, had been the last group to aign on with an approved plan, they briefly acquired the ignominious initial nickname of “Babies.” By popular demand from all fronts, the Babies quickly renamed themselves as the Houston Red Stockings in 1888. They would become the Mudcats in 1889 and go through Magnolias and Wanderers ovr the early years before finally finding their permanent identity as the Buffs in the first decade of the 20th century.

The 1888 season was zany. For the league founders and everybody else.

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2 Responses to “Texas League Birth Came by C Section.”

  1. anthony cavender Says:

    Bill: For some perspective, it is interesting to note that the Texas League started shortly after the Civil War ended and nearly within 10 years of Custer’s demise.

  2. Sablo Pandoval Says:

    First SABR meeting he he he he 🙂

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