The SW Texas League: My Grandfather’s World

The 1910 Beeville Orange Growers Southwest Texas League 1910-11

The 1910 Beeville Orange Growers
Southwest Texas League

The Southwest Texas League: It started with the best of intentions

The Class D Southwest Texas League lasted only two years back in 1910-11. Its six teams included the Bay City Rice Eaters, the Beeville Orange Growers, the Brownsville Brownies, the Corpus Christi Pelicans, the Laredo Bermudas, and the Victoria Rosebuds. Brownsville won the 1910 pennant and was awarded a beautiful trophy as their reward. Beeville won the 1911crown when playoff opponent Bay City refused to play them in a championship series due to some still live grievances the Bay Citians held for Beeville and the behavior of their fans. By this time, all unresolved team feuds were moot to the fact that the league was now busted financially and out of business. Before the final death rattle, the league office tried to retrieve the championship trophy from Brownsville so they could transfer it to the 1911 winner. Brownsville reacted firmly, in effect, sending the league this message: “The 1910 trophy belongs to Brownsville. Go buy another one for this year’s winner.” It never happened. Beeville did not win their championship on the field. And their was no money left for a new one, anyway. The trophy and the league were done.

Round Up the Usual Suspects

W.O. McCurdy Publisher/Editor The Beeville Bee 1886-1913

W.O. McCurdy
The Beeville Bee

It’s easy to make an unscientific case for the usual reasons for failure. When human organizations of any kind are governed by the driving forces of ego, greed, and a lack of concern for others, things can go bad fast. The variables attendant to keeping baseball trusted and credible also kick in like mules. Not surprisingly, gambling and drinking figured into the failures of trust and integrity between participating towns. Here’s what my grandfather, William O. McCurdy I, Publisher and Editor of the Beeville Bee (1886-1913), wrote about the situation following a three-game sweep of the visitors from Beeville down in Brownsville in 1911, as quoted in this re-print from the Victoria Advocate:

“As was expected, the Orange Growers lost all three games to the Brownies. Gambling on baseball has certainly played havoc with baseball as a clean sport. The national game is all right as long as all gambling is prohibited, and all who best on the game should be prosecuted. This condition is not so bad in Beeville as it is in the Rio Grande cities. Down there they bet a good sum of money and are going to do their best to win that money, whether they do so fairly or otherwise. These umpires are easily bribed and many a good ball team loses a ball game because the umpire is receiving a commission. One umpire can win more games than a lot full of Ty Cobbs.” – W.O. McCurdy, Beeville Bee, as quoted in the Victoria Advocate, 4/22/11.

Grandfather McCurdy was also convinced that baseball scouts who doubled as game umpires were also subject to calling balls and strikes in favor of the players they represented. If the umpire/agent’s client was the batter, he was likely to draw a four pitch walk. If the pitcher was the umpire-man’s client, he had a good chance of getting a three called strike “K” by pitching way inside or way outside. We may only suppose that things then got as fair as possible only when the umpire was the representative for both pitcher and batter – and he had no team money behind his game-calling choices.

Other complaints about play in the SWT League included widespread fan rowdyism and drinking at games that often spilled onto the field as fighting between home crowds and visiting teams, poor gate proceeds, and clubs missing paydays of their players due to the lack of funds.

Failure to Communicate

Base Ball Today Beeville, Texas Early 20th Century

Base Ball Today
Beeville, Texas
Early 20th Century

 It happened when the league and Brownsville ran into different understandings about the temporary/permanent presence of the championship trophy down in the Valley town in 1910, and it happened again, big time, when Victoria withdrew from the league in 1911 because of what they felt was a blanket bias against their city by the other teams in the circuit. When they tried to reclaim their $500 deposit that all clubs had been required to put up at the start, they learned that only $100 was coming back to them because most of these monies had been used to help Corpus Christi make payroll and to take care of other unspecified league office expenses. There had been no clear discussion or written contract set up for how the deposit money could be used when it was collected.

Grandfather McCurdy chose a newspaer masthead that bore the full weight of his great expectations. He once wrote that "a newspaper must never grow larger than its search for the truth". I've always liked knowing that fact about the grandafther I never got to meet.

Grandfather McCurdy chose a newspaper masthead that bore the full weight of his great expectations. He once wrote that “a newspaper must never grow larger than its search for the truth”. I’ve always liked knowing that fact about the grandfather I never got to meet.

Goodbye, Southwest Texas League!

Beeville did enjoy having future UT great Coach Billy Disch join them as Manager of the Orange Growers for most of the 1911 season, but even that cherished figure could not offset the climate that killed this effort to cultivate organized baseball in South Texas. Sadly for my dad and me, Grandfather McCurdy died of tuberculosis in 1913. My dad had to grow up from age 3 without him. And I never even had the chance to know him – except through his 27 years of writing for The Beevile Bee.

Hello, Native Major Leaguers!

In spite of the SWTL failure, the 3,062 people who made up the population of Beeville in 1920 apparently had a baseball gene running through their bloodlines. Shortly before and after 1920, three native sons of Beeville had gone on to successful careers in the big leagues. They were Melvin “Bert” Gallia, RHP, Curtis “Curt” Walker, OF, and Lloyd “Lefty” Brown, LHP. For more information, check out this earlier column I wrote on the total history of organized baseball in my birthplace of Beeville, Texas on 6/26/2012. I have a little clearer idea today of what went amiss in the SWTL, but this is still a nice survey of organized baseball history in the place that is now a city of 14,000 people.

Have a nice day!

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6 Responses to “The SW Texas League: My Grandfather’s World”

  1. Tom Hunter Says:

    This article reminded me of “Eight Men Out.” I read the book and enjoyed the movie–except for the major flaw of depicting lefty “Wee” Dickie Kerr as a right hander.

  2. Tom Hunter Says:

    Yes, Bill. I read somewhere that Ray Liotta couldn’t bat lefthanded, so they just went with what they had–and the inappropriate accent. Of course, the all time worst casting move for me is Anthony Perkins as Jimmy Piersall in “Fear Strikes Out.” A good drama ruined by an actor who couldn’t make a little league team.

  3. Davis O. Barker (Jacksonville, Tx) Says:

    A Narrative on the Gulf Coast League of 1926 that I wrote several years ago …. Davis O. Barker
    On Sunday, April 11, representatives from Beeville, Corpus Christi, Cuero, Kenedy, Kingsville, Robstown, Victoria, Yoakum, and Yorktown met in Beeville for the expressed purpose of forming a professional Class D baseball league. Ultimately, four of these would emerge as contenders rather than pretenders and the 1926 edition of the Gulf Coast League was inaugurated. These four survivors – Beeville, Corpus Christi, Kingsville, and Victoria – elected George P. Blevins as president and W.E. Dickerson as vice-president of the new circuit. Although the area had always had a strong semi-pro/independent background, it was the first time since the demise of the Southwest Texas League in 1911 that the region’s cities had ventured out into the professional waters.
    Blevins, who was paid an annual salary of $250 per year per league team, first presided over the discussion of what to name the new entity. The Gulf Coast League was chosen, but among those others considered were Southern Texas League, the Texas Mid-Coast League, and the Coastal Bend League. The name Gulf Coast League was a popular and identifiable one and came from the name of a highly successful independent semi-pro league that existed in the immediate vicinity as late as 1921.
    The player limit was set at twelve, with teams being allowed to carry fourteen until June 1, and the salary limit was set at $1,400. It was decided that their individual rosters could contain no more than five players with previous professional experience , with none of that service coming higher than Class D. The remainder had to be made up of players that were rookies with no previous pro experience.
    Admission prices were set at fifty cents for grandstand seats and thirty-five cents for general admission, with ten percent of the gross receipts from each game set aside for the general operating expenses of the league. This “ten percent” decision was a compromise over the discussion of a visitor’s guarantee. It was determined that this money would be held in reserve in the league’s treasury until the end of the season and any remaining monies would then be divided up equally to defray all existing and remaining financial liabilities held against the individual franchises. It was also agreed upon that gate receipts from the “holiday doubleheaders” on Memorial, Independence, and Labor Days would be pooled and equally divided among the existing clubs.
    A 102-game schedule was adopted with the season running from May 12 – Labor Day on September 6. Each team was set up to play the others thirty-four times on a seventeen home-and-away basis over the course of the season. Although it was not mentioned in the news coverage at the time, it became apparent that the director’s agreed, at some point, on a split season format with the two half-season winners having a playoff at the end of the season. Doak Roberts, Texas League president, was hired to build the schedule.
    The schedule was set up for six games a week arranged in three-game sets, with doubleheaders scheduled for every Sunday. It also provided for league “off-days” on Monday and Tuesday, days that were officially set aside for travel and make-up dates for potential ties, protests, and rainouts. All of the franchises eventually put this time to good use, scheduling games with regional semi-pro and independent teams for the purpose of raising additional revenue, scouting area amateur talent, and trying out potential recruits in game-like situations.
    Jack Britton, former Texas League and Texas Association umpire, was hired as Umpire-in-Chief and was charged with the “responsibility of recruiting, training, and maintaining an able-bodied umpiring staff.” It must have sounded like a big deal at the time, but using a single-umpire format in a four-team league meant he had to keep an eye on himself and one other umpire. Britton hired Ed Gollihar of Corpus Christi as the second umpire. Gollihar was synonymous with baseball in the Coastal Bend, having been the best pitcher in the region just after the turn of the century, playing with Corpus Christi’s most famous semi-pro team, the Corpus Christi Kids Britton lasted in the GCL for less than three weeks and Gollihar assumed his role as chief and Jake Anderson, formerly of the East Texas League, was added as his second umpire.
    The umpire salary for the league was set at $200 per month, which included expenses. Later, as umpires came and went like the Coastal Bend’s morning and evening land-sea breezes and some “local” umpires had to be utilized on a last-minute game-by-game basis, this was changed to a flat rate of $2.50 per contest (expenses included) to be deducted from the “ten-percent” draft and payable immediately following each game. Besides Britton, Gollihar, and Anderson, the following men served as regular umpires in the 1926 Gulf Coast League: —– Cunningham (of Topeka, Kansas), —– Harlan, Red Leahy, —– Scott, and Jim Tongate (of Waco). This list does not include those local umpires who served for one or two games as a substitute.

    Ownership of the four franchises was basically a mixed bag. Victoria was a limited partnership with a few influential leaders in the community footing the bill. However, in an attempt to save the franchise with a transfusion of cash in early August, the group reorganized the franchise into an incorporated joint-stock company and sold stock to the public. The Corpus Christi franchise was majority-owned by two individuals, George S. Gray and C.W. “Chick” Brannon, with a very small minority existing as limited partners in the club. On the other end of the spectrum, Beeville and Kingsville were owned, operated, and even managed on the field by a single individual.
    All four groups were quick to point out that while gate receipts were an important part of making a franchise work, the sale of players to higher organizations was where the money was to be made. Emmett Rodgers, owner of the Beeville club, reminded everyone in an interview with a San Antonio paper that the predecessor to the Gulf Coast League in the region, the Southwest Texas League (which ran from 1910-1911), had sold over a dozen of their top players, many of whom eventually made the majors, to clubs in higher classifications for a price of over $16,000. The most noteable of these players include Jack Adams, Del Baker, Pete Compton, Jack Fenner, Bert Gallia, Larry Gilbert, George Harper (who was still in the majors at the time this statement was made), Chick Knaupp, Roy Morton, Buddy Napier, Harry Sweet, John Taff, and Howard Wakefield. He went on to add that he was sure this league would be no different.
    When the valley teams joined, each was also owned a little differently. Laredo was purely joint-stock owned by members of the community. Like Corpus Christi, Edinburg was more or less owned by two individuals. Mission was structured like Kingsville, with one man as owner, operator, manager, and player.

    Many GCL teams in 1926 used a version of the “semi-pro” managerial model. However, this should really come as no real surprise since the only foray of professional baseball into the region had been with the Southwest Texas League about fifteen years earlier. Under this system, the club was organized with a Bench Manager and a Field Manager, with both men serving dual roles. The Bench Manager, as the name implies, occupied a place on the bench during the games, but was not a player. He doubled as business manager and his input on on-the-field decisions varied from club-to-club. The Field Manager doubled as a player and a manager. As a result, it is often difficult to determine who actually should be given credit (or blame) for the managerial record.
    With some teams, the arrangement was more equal in stature and was more like a dual-manager role. Bart Cahill, who had previously managed the highly successful San Antonio Aztecs, and Earl Burke, who had previously managed the Alamo-Peck Indians, both had a long track record of success in the San Antonio semi-pro ranks and worked together with the Rosebuds in this dual-manager system. Others, like Corpus Christi, had the Bench Manager doing most of the decision-making on the field and a team Captain (or “Cap”) taking the place of the player-manager.
    There were exceptions to this model, however. In Beeville, owner Emmett Rogers, a former major leaguer, turned over the running of the team on the field to a true manager. This is probably due to the fact that he was an old veteran of many professional baseball wars. Kingsville’s Tom Deering was a man of many caps. Deering was owner, operator, business manager, traveling secretary, bench manager, and playing manager all rolled into one. He also suffered from the league’s most unsuccessful franchise.
    When the valley teams joined in, the variations continued. Edinburg, under Cam Hill, used the Captain system. Laredo, owned by a joint-stock company, was apparently operated under a more conventional baseball player-manager system. Mission, under Ed Marburger, functioned under a system similar to that of Kingsville, whose franchise he took over. Marburger was also serving as owner, operator, manager, and player.

    During the life of the original four franchises – Beeville, Corpus Christi, Kingsville, and Victoria – homeruns were somewhat of an unusual occurrence. All of the home ballparks were large by any standard. Corpus Christi’s Kleberg Park was reportedly the largest of these with the outfield fence being over 400’ from home plate all the way around. When the Seahawk’s star centerfielder Donald Frazee (AKA George McDonnell) homered there in mid-season it marked the first time since 1921 that someone had knocked a ball out of Kleberg Park. Victoria’s Rio Vista Park, which as the name applies overlooked the Guadalupe River, was only slightly smaller. Although its exact location is in question, it is believed that the site was very close to its replacement, Riverside Park, which first opened its gates in May of 1947. Rio Vista occasionally suffered damage from the rising of the Guadalupe and the new park reportedly was a little farther from the banks of the river. Compared to Kleberg and Rio Vista, the parks at Beeville and Kingsville, names unknown, were smaller in size but still considered spacious.
    When the valley teams entered, however, it was a different story. The valley parks were usually on older sites, located closer to the middle of town, and were apparently originally constructed during the dead-ball days. At these parks, homeruns were a common event. This was especially true in Edinburg, where the park contained a short rightfield porch and homeruns often fell like rain. Probably the most famous fields along the Rio Grande was Laredo’s Legion Park, where over the years it had been an exhibition host to numerous major and minor league clubs training in the San Antonio area.
    Maybe as a result of the larger parks, the 1926 Gulf Coast League appeared to be more of a pitcher’s league. From available data, the league batting average was just under .240 and its slugging percentage was a paltry .320. Sacrifices were numerous, as teams, especially in games between the original four franchises, played a conservative station-to-station style of baseball. The league pitchers, although not overpowering strikeout wise, had a runs per game average of only 3.85 and hurled 28 shutouts in just 200 games. The pitchers accomplished these totals despite the fact that the league was below average fielding-wise, with the average game seeing just fewer than five errors per team per contest. One case in point was Laredo pitcher Fred Edgar, who played Class D baseball throughout the state during the 1920’s. Edgar finished the 1926 Gulf Coast League season 13-3, with a runs per game average of 2.66. From available records, Fred was a .500 pitcher, at best, the rest of his career.

    Opening Day found Kingsville on the road in Beeville and Victoria at Corpus Christi. According to a statement released by the league office following the completion of the two initial GCL three-game series, the league was “pleased with the fan support” and that support would guarantee the financial successes each franchise. It was also mentioned by the newspaper reporters that it was apparent that the league was destined to be a very competitive and balanced one, since the outcomes of four of the first six games played were determined via extra innings. Both assumptions would eventually be proven wrong.
    Within just a few weeks into the season, both of the privately-owned franchises, Beeville and Kingsville, were having severe cash-flow problems and were in danger of folding. With a four-team circuit, having just one drop team out was usually the kiss of death for the whole league. Beeville managed to peddle its franchise to Laredo, which the directors had no choice but to approve in order to keep the league going. Besides, the Laredo move was one that the directors felt comfortable with, since the group shared common baseball experiences dating back to the Southwest Texas League days. Kingsville was another matter. After unsuccessful attempts to sell the franchise to a regional city, the Kingsville operator decided to sell the club to a group in Galveston. Faced with huge travel increases, the league’s owners opted to purchase and then temporarily operate the team until a suitable regional site could be located. However, such an offer never came from close by and the Kingsville franchise was eventually also dispatched to the Valley.

    Franchise Transfer: Beeville to Laredo
    The Beeville club was owned and operated by Emmett Rogers, an old baseball veteran in his early sixties whose career dated back well into the Nineteenth Century. Although born in New York, he had resided in San Antonio for many years. He had played in the first Texas League in 1888 for league organizer John J. McCloskey, and was reportedly associated with McCloskey for a number of years organizing baseball leagues in various parts of the country. It was rumored that Rogers’ silent partner in his Beeville venture was Dick Phelan, another long-time baseball man who also had settled in San Antonio. Rogers and Phelan were good friends and had even been teammates in the 1890’s in both the Southern and Pennsylvania Leagues.
    Except for its central proximity to the rest of the league, there was no real indication why Rogers chose Beeville as the site for his Gulf Coast League franchise. It was commented that the city had apparently supported its local team well in the old Southwest Texas League in the previous decade because the franchise had survived in tact during the run. However, it would prove not to be a good choice.
    Rogers hired E.C. Newberry as his manager. But because his managerial choice could not show up until after opening day, Rogers managed the first two games of the season. When Newberry arrived on Day 3 of the season, Rogers turned the field reins over and assumed the role of franchise owner and operator. However, he was never very far away from the action and did travel with the team and usually joined Newberry and his squad on the bench of every game.
    The Bees opened the season at home against Kingsville, dropping two of the three contests before fair-sized crowds. Victoria then wandered in and by the end of first week, Beeville assumed the role of cellar-dweller, a position they would hold for the remainder of the franchise history. Rogers, losing money fast, began looking for a buyer to bail him out. With all of his baseball contacts in the region, it did not take long for Rogers to find an interested party.
    Henry Alexander Dupuy purchased the club from Rogers for the amount that Rogers was in debt. Dupuy, a native of Marlin, had owned and operated the Waco team in the Texas Association earlier in the decade. He claimed that he had purchased the franchise with the understanding that it would be moved to Laredo. Before that could take place, however, a group of local businessmen from Laredo contacted Dupuy about purchasing the club. In the end, Dupuy would make a tidy profit from his investment, almost doubling his money in one week’s time.
    As the Bees departed for their series in Victoria, officials from Laredo boarded a train bound for the same location. Negotiations were finalized on Tuesday’s off-day and on Wednesday, May 26, the team opened the series in Victoria playing under a new banner, Laredo. Old habits die hard, though, and the brand new Laredoans lost their first game to the Victoria Rosebuds in typical Beeville fashion. With the transfer of the franchise to Laredo completed, the city of Beeville quietly backed away from the Gulf Coast League without as much as whimper of a final farewell; and exactly fifty years would pass by before the town would attempt to field another team in professional baseball.
    The franchise was purchased by S.P Coblentz and associates of Laredo for almost $1,000 and was quickly incorporated under the name of the Laredo Baseball Association. The team was to be run under the direction of the Laredo Chamber of Commerce. J.T. Wise was hired as business manager and despite Newberry’s lack of success with the team in Beeville; he was retained as playing manager. After being swept by the Rosebuds, the team departed for Laredo for its home opener at Legion Park.
    On Saturday, May 29, the new Laredo club opened before a packed house in the Border City and responded with a 4-3 extra inning victory over league-leading Victoria. According to reports, virtually the entire town shut down to attend, with the opening day celebrations being presided over by the queen of the Laredo team, who was chosen by a hasty popular vote. On Sunday, the queen’s first duty was to christen the team the Laredo Oilers, a name which was selected by a vote of those fans who attended Saturday’s opener. Only ten of the fourteen former Bees were asked to move with the team and four new players were added to the roster. It was soon became obvious to the rest of the league that the Laredo Oilers were going to be different from the dormat Beeville Bees, and the Oilers quickly greased their way out of the cellar and ended the first half just one game under .500.
    Fred Edgar took over a manager on September 1. It is not exactly clear why Newberry was replaced because his squad had a winning percentage of over .600 under his orchestration in Laredo. It is possible that the change was made because Newberry was not going to be able to manage the team in the upcoming GCL playoffs.
    As a result of an incident in a game on July 14, Newberry had been fined $25 and ordered to appear within a week at the office of league president H.A. Dupuy. When Newberry did not pay the fine or show up the following week as ordered, Dupuy notified him that he was adding $15 to the fine for failure to appear and would add $15 per week until he did show. He also stipulated that if the fine was not paid and appearance was not made then Newberry would be ineligible to participate in the post-season playoffs in any capacity.
    Newberry continued to refuse to pay the fine or appear before Dupuy and filed an appeal. When Dupuy was replaced as president, all of Laredo assumed the issue would be swept under the rug. However, with the appeal on record, it did not just disappear. With the appeal eventually denied and the fine up to almost unpayable $250, Newberry was questionable, at best, to lead the Laredo Oilers into the championship playoffs.

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  5. Ann Roach Stokes Says:

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