Posts Tagged ‘Texas League’

Some Texas League Longs and Shorts

June 5, 2011

The Texas League also has served as home to clubs from several surrounding states.

Over the long sometimes interrupted history of the Texas League of Professional Baseball Clubs, a number of records stand alone for their association with famous people. Others are remarkable for their deviant defiance of the norms for achievement in any average baseball season or individual game. That team record 21 homers that Corsicana hit against Texarkana on June 15, 1902 is a prime example of that challenge to the norm. Almost needless to add the eight straight homers that Nig Clarke hit in that famous game, or his record 16 runs batted in that same day are hardly marks to ignore as impossible challenges in the Texas League record book.

Bob Turley, San Antonio, 1951

Bob Turley of the 1951 San Antonio Missions holds the Texas League record for most strikeouts by a pitcher in a single game, He pulled off that feat with 22 K’s on August 11, 1951. Dave Righetti of the Tulsa Oilers is second on that list. He fanned 21 on July 16, 1978.

The longest Texas League by innings and time unsurprisingly was the Jackson at San Antonio game that was played over the course of three dates, from July 14 to 16, 1978,  The 26-inning contest finally went to San Antonio by a score of 1-0, as it also consumed a record 7 hours and 23 minutes of actual play.

The shortest regular season Texas League occurred on te last day of the season, September 7, 1913, when San Antonio met Galveston on the Island City in a contest of no consequence to anything but our ancient need to eat everything on our plate. In awareness of that consideration, the game umpire told both clubs prior to the first pitch that he was ready to go home. Each club was advised to swing at anything because every pitch was going to be called a strike.

The short of it is: The boys took the ump to heart. They were ready for a quick getaway too. Galveston took the game, 4-0, in only 49 minutes for a full nine-inning contest.

The game became something of a benchmark on the development of ethics and rules against making a farce of any baseball game. Had baseball not acted to discourage this kind of chicanery, we would have needed to change the lyrics of our anthem to “Take me out to the ball game, but keep the meter running.”

Have a nice Sunday, everybody, but try not to hurry things up too much.

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.

The Father of the Texas League.

February 11, 2010

John J. McCloskey: Father of the Texas League & 1st Houston Pennant Manager.

As we’ve recently examined on these pages, professional baseball got off to a rough start with the 1888 Texas League season. Ballparks had to be built; patterns of regular game attendnce had to be established; players had to be signed and paid; weather and transportation had to cooperate so that games could be played on time as advertised; and ball club owners had to devise ways of making all this happen without losing money.

How this all happened over time is a total testament to patience, will, passion, and the power of professional baseball to become the first American sport to win over the hearts and minds of the American public. It didn’t come as easy as the “if you build it, they will come” exhortation from the movie “Field of Dreams”,  but it happened in Texas too, thanks to numerous pioneers, and none more notable of mention than John J. McCloskey, the man we remember today as “The Father of the Texas League”.

It all started innocently enough.

In the early fall of 1887, the world champion St. Louis Browns of Charlie Comiskey and the New York Giants of John Montgomery Ward toured Texas, mostly playing local amateur town teams that possessed only that “snowball-in-hell” chance of winning. None did.

Another team of younger minor league stars from Joplin, Missouri also came through Texas at this time and just “happened” to intersect with the Giants in Austin. The Joplins were led by a “black-haired lively young Irishman” named John J. McCloskey. In little time flat, McCloskey had arranged for a series of three games in Austin, pitting his Joplins against the Giants for what promised to be the biggest crowds that either team had seen in their separate barnstorming tours.

It was the perfect wild west scenario – a gunfight between the old established gunslinger (the Giants) and Billy the Kid (the Joplins). We don’t know today how much McCloskey played up that angle, but it would be very surprising to learn that he did not. From what we can know of the man, he was a fellow who loved baseball, but one who also possessed that P.T. Barnum huckster spirit for selling whatever angle he could find that would lure crowds to the game.

In spite of three future Hall of Fame members (John Montgomery Ward, Buck Ewing, and Tim Keefe), the Giants quickly dropped two games to the young and spirited men of Joplin. For some reason, weather or travel plan conflicts entering into it, the third game was not played and the Giants left town.

The smoke that lingered in Austin after the Giants-Joplin games included a taste for the blood offerings of professional baseball and the willing guidance of one John J McCloskey on how a Texas League of Professional Baseball Clubs could be put together fairly quickly.

McCloskey and his young Joplin aces gave Austin supporters the nucleus for a good club as “Big John” and his group spread out to all the other larger cities in the state, and as far away as New Orleans, and they recruited participants in the formation of the Texas League.

The Texas League got underway in 1888. The rest is history, shaky history, but successful history over time. The unchallenged, clearest thing about it is that John J. McCloskey, indeed, was the true Father of the Texas League. His baseball DNA is all over every park built for play in the Texas League from 1887 through about 1900.

Texas League Birth Came by C Section.

January 12, 2010

The early years of the Texas League of Professional Baseball Clubs were anything but smooth. In fact, it’s even hard to believe that the league that launched the storied history of professional baseball in Houston through the team that finally came to be known as the Houston Buffaloes even survived its first 1888 season of operations. By all contemporary standards and expectations, in fact, we would be forced to write it off as an abysmal failure. except for one thing: Playing somebody somewhere was apparently more important in 1888 than the accuracy of the league standings, the exact composition of the league by teams on any given day, or the statistical accomplishments of each player.

In brief, here’s how the Texas League got started and how its first season of operations played out for history:

In the fall of 1887, the champion St. Louis Browns of the American Association, led by Charlie Comiskey, toured Texas for s series of exhibition games against their traveling companion, the New York Giants of the National League, led by John Montgomery Ward. At the same time, a minor league club from Joplin, Missouri, led by fiery young John J. McCloskey, also invaded Texas to pick up some loose change playing local amateur clubs. Like the boys from Joplin, the Browns and Giants also played more games against local groups than they did against each other.

When the minor league star Joplins finally crossed paths with the major league  Giants in Austin for a series of exhibitions, the passion of the cranks (fans) for these games was hardly lost to the watchful eye of the energetic 25-year old McCloskey. After his Joplins soundly defeated the Giants in the first two games of a schedule three-game series, New York declined to play the last contest. These results caused Austin businessmen to go after McCloskey to start professional baseball in Austin and Texas, something he wanted to do anyway. McCloskey already had appraised that Texas was ready for a professional league of its own. Now he had Texas power and money to back him and he quickly harvested the good contacts he had cultivated around the state on his tour and added to these the names of other influential people supplied by his Austin contacts.

Big John went right to work.

John J. McCloskey of Louisville, Kentucky was a charismatic guy, one that just oozed with passion for the game of baseball. In a way, many people caught the baseball “bug” directly from their 1887 contact with John McCloskey.

A much longer story made short: Instead of returning to Missouri for Christmas, McCloskey’s business in Texas simply segued from playing the game to promoting the start of a new league. For the amazing work he did in a relatively short period of time, John J. McCloskey is remembered today as the Father of the Texas League. By December 15, 1887, McCloskey had pulled together a group of prominent business people from all over the state and the City of New Orleans for a Texas League organizational meeting in Austin.

Houston, Dallas, Austin, and New Orleans were represented in person at the December 15th meeting. San Antonio, Galveston, and Fort Worth were also on board with the idea, even if their people couldn’t get to the meeting. New Orleans pulled out in favor of joining the “closer to home” league forming in the South as the Southern Association. The others held together to form the six-club all Texas city group now forevermore known by charter as The Texas League of Baseball Clubs. Waco also sent a letter of support for the idea to the meeting, but was unable to form a local plan for competition during the league’s proposed first season in 1888. The new league had hoped to start with eight clubs, but had to settle for the six groups that held together. One of those clubs, the Austin group, was really the old Joplin club. McCloskey had simply relocated his established group of young stars to the Texas capital city.

The Texas League started with a fairly organized plan. Salaries were established at $1,000 per season and playing rules were adopted to fit the club into the growing pattern of organized baseball. Ticket prices were set at 25 cents per game and a contract was reached with the A.J. Reach Company of Philadelphia for the production of the official Texas Leagye ball. Umpires (one per game) would be paid $75 plus train fare. The league secretary was approved for a salary of $50 per month for the entire year.

The league secretary needed a pencil and eraser fund. Most of the first year would be spent making and rearranging schedules and trying to keep up with game outcomes that were frequently unreported or not reported accurately. The biggest problem would be the crashing of franchises in mid-stream of the league’s first active season.

Season play started on April 5, 1888. By early June, every club, but Dallas, was in financial trouble and San Antonio was forced to fold. This fatality required a schedule revision to accomodate five teams. The effect was to leave one team idle for three or four days each week as the other four played.

Shortly aftr the San Antonio collapse, Fort Worth also folded its tent as a professional club. They didn’t disband. They simply declared themselves “amateurs” and started playing other local teams in their home area. The Texas League now had to survive as a four-club loop.

Change was far from done. When Austin began to fail, San Antonio rose from the dead and took it over, becoming the first city in baseball history to sponsor two different teams in the same league during the same season. That relocation was quickly followed by the return of New Orleans as a mid-season entry into the pennant race as a brand new fifth team. Any connection between game outcomes and a credible standing of the teams had now been totally removed. The goal now was staying alive as an organization, but how was the Texas League to do that with the plug now pulled on believability?

By September 1888, Houston and Galveston both dropped out of the league for financial reasons. This move prompted New Orleans to quit again rather than continua their trips into Texas to play the two remaining teams.

With no clubs other than Dallas and San Antonio remaining, the Texas League simply stopped playing ball in early October. The Dallas Hams reorganized as the “State Fair and Exposition team” and kept on playing ball against amateur teams at the state fairgrounds. This was back in the pre-Big Tex days at the State Fair, if you recall.

With a record of 55 wins and 27 losses, and a winning percentage of .671, Dallas had the best reported record for 1888, but no official champion was named for that first season, although the Dallas club always felt that it had justly earned it. The Houston Mudcats of 1889 would become the first recognized official champions of the Texas League.

Before we can keep score of anything that matters, we have to survive, and that’s the position that the Texas League faced when they first opened their doors to competition in 1888.

Because Houston, led by S.L. Hain, had been the last group to aign on with an approved plan, they briefly acquired the ignominious initial nickname of “Babies.” By popular demand from all fronts, the Babies quickly renamed themselves as the Houston Red Stockings in 1888. They would become the Mudcats in 1889 and go through Magnolias and Wanderers ovr the early years before finally finding their permanent identity as the Buffs in the first decade of the 20th century.

The 1888 season was zany. For the league founders and everybody else.