Texas League: Smaller Rosters, Bigger Decisions

The Last Round Up of the Houston Buffs in 1995 Brought Back Memories of the 19-Man Roster Days.

Texas League: 19-Man Rosters Intensified Managerial Decisions

In the era of post World War II Texas League baseball, those 19-player rosters intensified critical decision-making on how the game would be played – and it all started with how a club met their needs by position. Most Texas League clubs carried 8 pitchers, but some rarer instances did occur when a club tried to get by with 7 pitchers for part of the season, Placing 2 catchers was standard, but he second guy, if not both receivers, often had the ability to also play one of the infield or outfield line spots. The other 7 starters also included several players who had the ability to play multiple positions and the 2 utility players usually stood as the personification of their title, with capacities at several infield spots, including catcher, and also outfield.

During the game, it was not unusual for TL pitchers to be used as both pinch hitters and pinch runners. Fortunately for the game, this was the era of the long innings starter. Starters began with the hope and expectation that they would finish the game too – and it’s just as well. With an 8-man pitching roster, there was little margin for error and no room for today’s specialty situation pitcher. Almost all relievers started at times. And when any man started, he was expected to last out there as long as possible.

The 1951 Texas League Champion Houston Buffs as a Model

The ’51 Buffs are about as successful a model of the 19-man roster as I can think of. Of course, I can also think of the 1947 and 1954 champion Buffs in that same light, but let’s stick with the ’51 roster for demonstration purposes:

8 pitchers

(1) Al Papa1 (23-9, 2.51 era, 272 ip); (2) Octavio Rubert (19-5, 2.28 era, 225 ip); (3) Vinegar Bend Mizell (16-14, 1.97 era, 238 ip); (4) Fred Martin (15-11, 2.54 era, 237 ip); (5) Dick Bokelmann (10-2, 0.74 era, 85 ip); (6) Jack Crimian (1-2, 0.90 era, 30 ip); (7) Mike Clark (10-7, 2.78 era, 139 ip); and (8) Elroy Joyce (1-2, 4.79 era 82 ip).

The five starters (Papai, Mizell, Martin, Rubert, and Clark) started 141 of the Buffs’ 154 games.

2 catchers

(9) Les Fusselman (.255 ba, 12 hr, 132 g) and (10) Dick Landis (.199, 0 hr, 54 g).

7 other starters

(11) Jerry Witte, IB (.249 ba, 38 hr, 159 g); (12) Ben Steiner, 2B (.262 ba, 1 hr, 130 g); (13) Eddie Kazak, 3B (.304 ba, 13 hr, 104 g); (14) Billy Costa, SS (.255 ba, 0 hr, 120 g); (15) Larry Miggins, LF (.260 ba, 27 hr, 157 g); (16) Pete Lewis, CF (.199 ba, 2 hr, 87 g); and (17) Vann Harrington (.257 ba, 0 hr, 149 g).

2 utility players

(18) Frank Shofner, 3B, 1B, OF  (.241 ba, 6 hr, 96); and (19) Elbie Flint SS, 2B (.178 ba, 1 hr, 67 g).

The 1951 Buffs, of course, were something of a revolving door that spun faster with the parent Cardinals’ needs. That, of course was a condition that existed every year. The club never got their center field situation solidified. Pete Lewis was fast enough, with good defensive skills, but he could not hit water if he fell from a boat, as Tommy Lasorda liked to say. Some other, younger promising guys came through as outfield temps and these included Russell Rac, Rip Repulski, Mel McGaha, and Roy Broome. Not known for his power, Broome was here long enough to hit the mightiest home run I ever saw in my life. It was a crushing deep moonshot to right field, one that turned the ball into a flying period across the summer sky. Future Hall of Fame manager Earl Weaver also was here briefly as a second baseman, but he got sent down quick because he cold not hit Texas League pitching.

Baseball works with a 19-man roster, but you must have starters with confidence and ability to pitch deep into the game. It also helps if the pitchers can also hit and if most of your players can play more than one position.

Oh well. It’s a long way down the road until pitchers and catchers report for spring training, but it’s never too early to start thinking and talking baseball, even if it’s the reverie for the old days kind of thinking.

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