Posts Tagged ‘San Antonio Missions’

The 1950 San Antonio Missions.

April 26, 2010

The 1950 Texas League Champion San Antonio Missions.

When I was growing up as a Post World War II of the Houston Buffs, my second favorite Texas League club (and I do mean a far second place, one with no chance of ever being number one) was the San Antonio Missions. My cousins Jim and Mel Hunt of San Antonio were big Mission fans, so I threw my support behind the boys from the Alamo City once in a while, if it were late in the season in one of those rare years that the Buffs were out of it with no chance for a comeback.

1950 was one of those saddest of Buff seasons. My boys were on their way to an 8th place last place finish behind Shreveport while San Antonio was squeaking into a fourth place finish and a shot at the pennant through the Shaughnessy Playoffs. The hope for San Antonio didn’t stop me from secretly crying myself to sleep on the night that Houston clinched last place, but it did reach a spot on the “item of interest” shelf of my mind as school started again on the Tuesday after Labor Day.

Besides, I needed a diversion from the pain I felt for my fallen Buffs. I was getting ready to start the 7th grade. Big boys don’t cry. I really needed to kill even the quiet crying over my favorite team’s painful  losses. If I were going to do any crying in the future over any disappointment, whether it be over a baseball disappointment, or lost love, it would have to take place deeper inside, silently, in that place called my heart. It wasn’t the world’s business anyway, but mine alone. Period.

I learned. And it’s good that I did. The Colt .45s and Astros were coming our way in a decade or so.

Meanwhile, the 1950 Missions were doing their very best to buoy the spirits of my loyal cousins over in San Antonio. The Missions surprised the first place Beaumont Roughnecks of manager Rogers Hornsby in a four-game sweep in the first round, a feat that surprised everybody. The Roughnecks featured pitcher Ernie Nevel, one of the three 21-game winners of the 1950 Texas League season, a young fellow named Gil McDougald at second base who led the TL in hits with 189, and a fiery young catcher named Clint Courtney. They had all this power and talent going for them by way of their New York Yankees player pipeline, but to no avail. Beaumont just fell flat against San Antonio in 1950, leaving the pennant open to the finals match series between 4th place San Antonio and 3rd place Tulsa, who also had swept 2nd place Fort Worth in the first round.

San Antonio then took Tulsa, 4 games to 2, capturing the 1950 Texas League pennant.

The 1950 San Antonio Missions weren’t done. They went on from their pennant victory in the Texas League to defeat the Southern Association champion Nashville Vols in a seven-game 1950 Dixie Series championship round that brought even greater honor to their city and the State of Texas. And they did it all as a farm team of the notoriously win-challenged major league club known as the St. Louis Browns.

A brief look at some of the headliners from that 1950 Missions team is in order:

Don Heffner, Manager

Don Heffner enjoyed an eleven season major league career (1934-44) with the New York Yankees, the St. Louis Browns, the Philadelphia Athletics, and the Detroit Tigers. For his MLB career as a middle infielder, Heffner batted .241.

For the next 23 years (1947-69), Heffner filed his time as a major league coach, minor league manager,  and developer of young talent. The ’50 Missions were lucky to have the right man at the right time.

Lou Sleater, Pitcher

Lou Sleater led the ’50 Missions pitching staff statistically, finishing with a record of 12 wins, 5 losses, and earned run average of  2.82. The lefty went on to a seven season career (1950-58) as a major leaguer, posting a total record of 12 wins, 18 losses and an ERA of 4.70.

Frank Mancuso, Catcher

Frank Mancuso served as the voice of veteran experience on this 1950 championship club. At age 32, he was six seasons removed from his American League championship season with the St. Louis Browns and was now the back up man to both manager Don Heffner and catcher Dan Baich. Frank would come home to Houston as a Buff in 1953. For 1950, he would bat .238 in a backup role.

Dan Baich, Catcher

Dan Baich would hit .258 with 17 home runs for the 1950 Missions. He also had a chance to briefly handle a young late season arrival named Bob Turley in his 0-2 start with the Missions. In spite of his power and pretty good stick for average, Baich would never see  a single time at bat in the big leagues. Go figure. His 16 season minor league career allowed him to produce a career batting average of .267 and slam 107 home runs. Why Baich never got even a major league look-see is beyond what I know of his career without further research. I know just enough about him to want to dig deeper. I just don’t have the answer today.

Frank Saucier, Outfield

Frank Saucier led the 1950 Texas League season in hitting with a .343 batting average. As we discussed the other day in the first article on Eddie Gaedel, Saucier was the Browns outfielder who suffered humiliation over his removal from a game in 1951 for a midget pinch hitter. The experience apparently chased him from baseball after he went only 1 for 14 in 18 games in 1951. Too bad. Saucier tore up the Texas League in 1950. The Missions could not have rallied to win it all without the presence of Frank Saucier in their lineup.

Rocco Ippolito, Outfield

Rocco Ippolito banged out 24 homers in 1950 to pace the Missions, even though his .235 batting average was nothing to write home about. He batted .283 over the course of his eight season minor league career, but neither that improvement nor his 135 total HR were enough to buy him  single shot in the big leagues either. In the fewer MLB teams structure of the reserve clause era, a lot of talented players never got a big league shot – and that may be the best explanation we shall find to explain what happened to guys like Baich and Ippolito. You didn’t need many weaknesses to get scratched off the “prospect” list back then, especially if an MLB club needed your body to help fill out their overall minor league roster plans. You either did the club’s bidding or went home to pump gas. Swell choice that was.

Jim Dyck, Third Base

Jim Dyck was a hitter. He batted .321 for the ’50 Missions and he posted a lifetime minor league batting average of .293 over a 16-season career (1941-1961) that finally did result in major league time. In six major league seasons, Dyck batted .246, far below his value as a contributor to numerous minor league clubs over the years. At least, Jimmy got his shot, even it came late and fell short of what he always hoped it would be. I know from some talk with him that he suffered disappointment in his big league production, but he loved the game – and he left this world with no other regrets.
The 1950 San Antonio Missions had a number of other good players, but these guys featured here speak well for the lot of them. They were champions when it was time to show that worth on the field and they got the job done. Even us Houston Buff fans had to appreciate the power of their accomplishments.