Larry G. Bowman
Monday, April 6, 2009
It's opening day!
In honor of baseball's opening day, we present this entry from the Handbook of Texas online...
DALLAS-FORT WORTH MINOR-LEAGUE BASEBALL. Dallas entered a professional team named the Hams in the Texas League when it was formed in 1888. The team won the pennant that year, and minor-league baseball was tentatively established in Dallas. As was the case with many minor leagues in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the Texas League's early years were chaotic. Teams appeared and disappeared with great frequency. The Texas League failed to function in 1891, 1893, and 1894 and suspended play in 1898, at the outbreak of the Spanish-American War. In 1899 Dallas did not join the poorly reorganized Texas League when it resumed play. The league again faltered and did not reappear until 1902, when Dallas joined it and struggled to survive as the league warred with the newly formed South Texas League. Finally, in 1907, the stronger franchises of the Texas League and the South Texas League cooperated in forming a reorganized Texas League.
Throughout these years of difficulty, the Dallas franchise underwent a series of name changes. Fans cheered the Dallas Hams, the Dallas Submarines, or the Dallas Steers. Then, as the Texas League matured in the years immediately after World War I, the Dallas franchise became a bulwark in one of the stronger minor leagues in the United States. In 1922 a group of Dallas businessmen, including George and Julius Schepps, purchased the team. The 1920s were the golden age of baseball, and the Steers enjoyed enthusiastic fan support in a highly competitive league. In 1938, during the depths of the Great Depression, George Schepps bought controlling interest in the Steers for $150,000 and renamed them the Rebels. The Rebels did poorly at the ticket window but moderately well in the standings during Schepps's ownership, and in 1948 he sold the team to Richard Wesley Burnett for $550,000. Burnett, who also purchased the Steers' ballpark in Oak Cliff for an additional $265,000, promptly renamed the team the Eagles and the park Burnett Field. Under his brief leadership (he died in 1955), the Eagles flourished. They won three pennants and the Dixie Series, a best-of-seven-games contest between the champions of the Texas League and the Southern Association, in 1953. Burnett also integrated the Texas League in 1952, when he brought David Hoskins to the team and, using the Cotton Bowl as a baseball park, engineered an all-time attendance record of 53,578 for a Texas League game in 1950. Burnett upgraded Burnett Field into one of the best minor-league ballparks in the United States as he sought to bring major-league baseball to Dallas. After his death, his wife and daughters operated the team until 1959, when they sold it to J. W. Bateson and Amon G. Carter, Jr. The new owners transferred the team to the AAA American Association.
In 1960 the Dallas Eagles and their old archrival, the Fort Worth Cats, were combined into one team as the Dallas-Fort Worth Rangers and competed in the American Association. During its years in the association, the team split its home games between Burnett Field and LaGrave Field in Fort Worth. Then, when the American Association disbanded in 1962, the Rangers joined the Pacific Coast League. The Dallas-Fort Worth team competed in the Pacific Coast League in 1963. Fort Worth businessman Tommy Mercer bought the franchise and returned Fort Worth to the Texas League in 1964; Dallas remained in the Pacific Coast League.
During this time when the Dallas and Fort Worth clubs were switching from one league to another, major-league teams were moving to nearly all sections of the country, and expansion franchises were becoming an alternative to a third major league, the Continental League. Throughout this period minor-league baseball remained in the Dallas area, but it was apparent that it was stricken, as local leaders constantly maneuvered to bring major-league ball to the area. In 1965 the Dallas and Fort Worth teams were reunited into the Dallas-Fort Worth Spurs and competed in the Texas League. The Spurs played their games at the newly completed Turnpike Stadium in Arlington, with only mixed success but with good fan support. In 1971 the Spurs joined the AA Dixie Association, and when the Washington Senators moved to Arlington in 1972 to become the Texas Rangers, the Spurs were disbanded.
Minor league baseball thus began for Dallas and Fort Worth in 1888 and ended in 1972. The Dallas team won or shared twelve Texas League pennants, competed in the Dixie Series five times, and won it three times.
BIBLIOGRAPHY: Robert Obojski, Bush League: A History of Minor League Baseball (New York: Macmillan, 1975). Bill O'Neal, The Texas League, 1888-1987: A Century of Baseball (Austin: Eakin Press, 1987). William B. Ruggles, The History of the Texas League of Professional Baseball Clubs (Dallas: Texas Baseball League, 1932).
Larry G. Bowman
Larry G. Bowman