The 1931 Dixie Series: Houston v. Birmingham.

Ray Caldwell (age 43) of the Barons faced Dizzy Dean (age 21) of the Buffs in Game One.

The 1931 Texas League Champion Houston Buffs (108-51, .679) were supposed to walk all over the Southern Association Champion Birmingham Barons (97-55, .638) in the Dixie Series, but it did not happen. Led by rising star hurler, the 21-year old Dizzy Dean (26-10, 1.57) and the slugging young outfielder and next great future Gas House Gangster Joe Medwick (.305, 19 HR), the Buffs were on the tab as heavy favorites to take it all, but this would be another of those Aesop examples of the race going to the wiser over the swift.

Game One: 9/16/1931. Rickwood Field, Birmingham, Alabama: Barons 1 – Buffs 0.

43-year old Ray Caldwell (19-7, 3.45) wins a pitcher’s duel with Dizzy Dean. Barons lead the Series, 1 game to 0.

Game Two: 9/17/1931. Rickwood Field, Birmingham, Alabama: Buffs 3 – Barons 0.

Because Tex Carleton (20-7, 1.90) is injured and unable to play, the Buffs are allowed to borrow 25-year old Dick McCabe (23-7, 1.97) from Texas League rival Fort Worth as Carleton’s replacement for the Dixie Series. McCabe promptly shuts out the Barons to square the Series at 1-1. (The quality of mercy overflowed back in those days, I guess. Can you imagine last year’s 2009 Yankees allowing the Phillies to borrow Valverde from Houston, had Lidge been injured and unable to play in the World Series?)

Game Three: 9/19/1931. Buff Stadium, Houston, Texas: Buffs 1 – Barons 0.

The Buffs shut out the Barons again behind 42-year old George Washington Payne (23-23, 2.75) to take a 2-1 led in Series games won.

Game Four: 9/20/1931. Buff Stadium, Houston Texas: Buffs 2 – Barons 0.

Dizzy Dean comes back with a vengeance, His shutout of the Barons takes the Buffs to  3-1 Series lead and an over-confident cliff of hoping they will finish the Series at home the next day.

Game Five: 9/21/1931. Buff Stadium, Houston, Texas: Barons 3 – Buffs 1.

Clay Touchstone (15-11, 4.76) saves the day for Birmingham as the Barons win to force the Series back to Alabama with a 3-2 Houston lead, but with “Mr. Mo” now shifting back to the Southern Association boys.

Game Six: 9/23/1931. Rickwood Field, Birmingham, Alabama: Barons 14 – Buffs 10.

The Barons rack four Buff pitchers for 23 hits to even the Series and set up one final winner-take-all game featuring Dizzy Dean going up against 35-year old Bob Hasty (21-13. 3.67). The 3-3 Tie in the Series has Buff fans back home pulling their hair. Their major consolations are that Dean is pitching the deciding contest and that Game Seven will be played at home in Buff Stadium.

Game Seven: 9/25/1931, Buff Stadium, Houston, Texas: Barons 6 – Buffs 3.

Dizzy Dean strikes out five in the first two innings, but he cannot hold onto his dominance of the Barons. By the end of eight innings, the Barons led by 3-2. The visitors add three more runs in the top of the ninth, even though it’s not all on Dean. Two of the runs are unearned, but they still add up to a 6-2 Birmingham lead with the Buffs coming up for a final time at bat. – Once the Buffs push across a run with one out in the bottom of the ninth, Barons manager Clyde Milan pulls Hasty for an unnamed save opportunity that he hands to old warrior Ray Caldwell. Buffs manager Joe Schultz plays the hand he owns, sending Joe Medwick and Homer Peel out to face the old run-stopper. – Medwick fans and Peel slips easily into a 4-3 ground out to end the game and the Series.

Houston and Buff Stadium are stunned into silence. The Birmingham Barons go home to Alabama as the 1931 Dixie Series Champions.

Like a legion of other Buff fans, my (Grand) Papa Willis Teas was very unhappy with the outcome of the 1931 Dixie Series.

My Mom’s family lived in the Heights in 1931. My maternal grandfather Willis Teas, the man we all called “Papa”, was very unhappy with the Buffs loss, but he also liked to later use this story as an example of how we can never take anything for granted in life. The Buffs may have won this Series in their own minds in advance, but they didn’t then go out and win it on the field, according to Papa.

These also were the early years of the Great Depression, when some even harder lessons about taking things for granted were raining down on Papa and lot of other folks caught up in the great economic and agricultural dust storm. I think Papa saw that comparison too. He just didn’t talk with me about it in the years that followed. I wasn’t even around in 1931 – and I was still too little to learn much of anything about economics during Papa’s lifetime.

The lesson for me came down to this statement by Papa: “Don’t count your chickens before they hatch, even if you have Dizzy Dean sitting on the eggs.”

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3 Responses to “The 1931 Dixie Series: Houston v. Birmingham.”

  1. Anthony Cavender Says:

    Bill: I assume these games were all played in the afternoon. Is there any information about the length of the games and the attendance (the Depression was starting to bite at that time)? Were the games also broadcast on the radio?
    Very interesting and a great way to start the week!

  2. ProfDIgoryKirke Says:

    20,000 for the first game in Birmngham. I wonder what the other games drew in Birmingham, and in Houston. For the first game in Birmingham, Zipp Newman, Birmingham Sports Writer, began his column, “The Southland waits … “. It was one of the greatest moment in athletic history in Alabama. Twenty years later there was kind of repeat, B’ham won the series. The Buffs had the thetety year old sensationk, Vinegar Bend Mizell. I had just entered the 7th grade.

  3. BigTex Says:

    In the 1930 Series, the total attendance for all six games between Fort Worth Panthers and Atlanta Crackers was a combined 73,930, a record never broken. So, the attendance for 7 games of the 1931 series was less than this total.

    In 1931, Dizzy Dean pitched Games 1 (L) and 4 (W) in the daytime. Game 7 was a night game in Houston. Before Game 7 (L), Dean was quoted saying “Them Barons didn’t see me at my best in the daytime. Nighttime is my time to shine.”

    source: “Baseball in the Lone Star State” by Kayser & King, 2005

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