Posts Tagged ‘Early Houston Baseball Research Project’

Early Houston Baseball Project Getting Some Pub

July 1, 2011

Market Square in Houston, June 30, 2011: SABR's Tony Cavender, Josh Thompson, Joe Thompson, Lance Carter, & Tom Trimble. (Apologies to Junior for not having his first name handy at publication time this early morning. Send it to me, Joe, and I'll correct it.)

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

 houston_buff@hotmail.com

Watch for an article soon in the Houston Chronicle. And please get in touch, if you have anything to offer.

Regards,

Bill McCurdy, Project Director, Editor-in-Chief, Early Houston Baseball Research Project

The Early Houston Baseball Research Project

May 12, 2011

Was West End Park built on the same site as the 1888 Houston Base Ball Park? The Early Houston Baseball Research Project aims to find out.

SABR research team ready to take on the early 1861-1961 history of Houston baseball.

As Houston Baseball History prepares to turn the page into the future with the sale of the Astros by Drayton McLane, Jr. to local businessman James Crane, a smaller, less financially heeled, but equally dedicated group of researchers and writers prepares to turn equal attention and passion to a  project involving the ungathered, unanalyzed, unclassified, unclarified, and, to date, unpublished  pages of Houston’s first one hundred years of baseball history – the period from 1861 to 1961, from the formation of the first Houston Baseball Club in town, just weeks after Texas seceded from the Union prior to the Civil War through the last season of Houston’s fabled minor league club, the Houston Buffs.

About ten members of SABR, the Society for American Baseball Research, Larry Dierker Chapter, are taking on “The Early Houston Baseball History Project: The Early Years, 1861-1961” in both the hope and expectation of clarifying certain mysteries and points about the history of baseball in this area. Our first meeting of the team is set for Saturday, May 21st,  at 10:00 AM in the downtown Central Houston Public Library. That’s one week from this coming Saturday at the time of this column writing date of Thursday, May 12th – or nine days from today when we set sail.

Most of the major cogent answers we seek are contained somewhere in the files and public records housed at the library. These simply have not been attacked previously with enough qualified research power until now.

We shall also have the backing of the Houston Library Research Staff. In our meeting plan discussions with Ms. Hiawatha Henry of the professional library staff, Ms. Henry noted with this puckish challenge: “If it’s about Houston, we most likely have all the answers your SABR team is looking for right here in some form. Unless you’re looking for the Lost City of Atlantis, we will be here to help your staff accomplish its goals.”

There are no guarantees in life, but I feel good about our chances of pulling together a sound body of work that has been needed for some time in one central comprehensive publication. Our goal is to research, collate our data, write our work, and go into publication with our findings by 2013. All of us on the team are volunteers with no financial investment in the profits of this endeavor. Any profitability that results from the publication of our work will be used to support our local SABR chapter and its other preservationists activities in the Houston area.

In general, we shall be examining any records that help us trace the growth of baseball from its earliest amateur roots in the mid 19th century through the formation of Houston’s first professional club in 1888 and on into the well-chronicled history of the club known in minor league circles as the Houston Buffs consistently from 1907 through 1961, the year before the coming of major league baseball to this area. We will also try learn all we are able about the growth and development of school, amateur, semiprofessional, and black baseball in the Houston area back in the unfortunate days of segregation, We already have some significant, albeit sketchy information about the black baseball clubs that played here in the early to mid 20th century s the Monarch, Black Buffs, and Eagles.

Some major questions cry out for resolution: (1) What was exact location of J.H. Evans’ Store on Market Square? It was in a room on the second floor above Evans’ business that the first Houston Base Ball Club was formed on April 16, 1861. (2) Was the site of the Houston Base Ball Park, where, so far, we think that Houston played its first professional game in downtown Houston on March 6, 1888 located in the same place that the later-titled  West End Park was built in 1907? Or was it constructed on a distinctly separate location?

We need to know the answers to both those questions so that all sites of historical importance to history can be duly noted with commemorative plaques and recognition in print.

Printing words does not make them true.

The earliest lesson hammered at me years ago about research from my mentors is still the most important guide I use. Most of you probably know what it is. If you ever wrote a term paper, and you did, someone hit you with it too. It’s this big one: In research, always use primary sources of information, whenever possible, and always document your resources of support for any conclusion you may reach. 

Well, that’s all well and good – until you wade into historical social research and quickly find that most of your primary resources, your recorded eye witnesses to history, are now dead and definitively unavailable for further comment. Then you quickly find that historians did not usually sit around and record what people in the pre-high tech days of the 19th and early 20th century had to say for later examination by historians of the future.

In effect, newspaper stories and public records, plus the individual diaries and privately recorded correspondence of historic figures become about as close to primary sources as we shall find. The first problem here is that newspaper reporters may write us the only history of record we can find, but that was not their original intent. Newspaper people don’t write for history. They write to sell newspapers with what they hope will be interesting enough to sell that day’s copy.

Newspapers don’t write for history, but they are often the only history we can find.

Sometimes, as in the case of the Houston Post’s non-by lined coverage of Houston’s first 1888 professional game, the writer simply assumes that all his contemporary readers know the location of the “Houston Base Ball Park.” As a result, the whole first game gets reported without a single reference to the park’s location. The writer simply assumes that listing the game site address would  be unnecessary information. He’s not writing for history.

If you have anything you wish to contribute to the effort, please let us hear from you. As project director and editor-in-chief, I’m confident we can find a good balance between carrying out a known work plan that also leaves the door open to new information and new avenues of research. I can be reached with a comment on this column that includes your e-mail address – or you may simply write me directly at houston_buff@hotmail.com

Houston knew baseball before the Civil War – not because of it.

Finally, and I need to say this here, we start our research project with a piece of information from the HPL newspaper files that first framed “100 years” as the minimal period of time that baseball has been important in Houston. Obviously, if the first Houston Base Ball Club was formed in April 1861, and in the wake of secession, that local interest in the game most likely existed much earlier. I think it did, but we need evidence to back up that conclusion. The fact that Houston was started in 1836 by a couple of real estate speculators from New York suggest that early recruitment efforts attracted some northeastern state settlers who already knew about base ball prior to their arrival on the sunny downtown banks of Buffalo Bayou. We simply need to see further corroborating proof, if it can be found worthy of elevation from the theory category to factual confirmation.

The discovery of the 1861 first founding date in Houston already blows away one of the most popular generalizations about how baseball spread in popularity to the Old South. That theory was the one that had baseball spreading to Confederate soldiers in POW camps from their Union soldier teachers – and from Confederate soldiers spreading knowledge of the game to other in their home communities once the Civil War ended.

I’m not suggesting that none of that POW education didn’t happen with some Houston Confederates. I’m just saying that we now have objective proof that Houston knew the game even before the start of the war. And that serves as my best example of the attitude we all take into this project from the start.

At best, history is the connection of documentable facts in a meaningful way about what actually happened. No assumptions need apply. And no treatment of written opinions shall be held up as facts. We are dedicated to giving this work our best, most objective effort for the sake of bringing the truth to as much light as we can find about the early history of baseball in Houston.

Thanks for your time and indulgence. Class dismissed.