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TEXAS LEAGUE. The Texas League is one of the oldest, most colorful and historic circuits in organized baseball. There was great enthusiasm for the national pastime in Texas when the State Base Ball League began in 1888. Charter franchises were located in Austin, Dallas, Fort Worth, Galveston, Houston, and San Antonio (the only charter city still participating in the league in 1990), and New Orleans fielded a replacement team late in the inaugural season. During the formative years clubs sometimes failed to make payrolls, teams folded in midseason, and occasionally the league shut down before the scheduled end of play. The Texas League did not operate in 1891, 1893, 1894, 1900, and 1901, and suspended play during World War II for three seasons. But by the early years of the twentieth century the league was securely established. The Corsicana Oilers of 1902 formed one of the legendary teams of minor league baseball, winning twenty-seven consecutive games, including a record-setting 51 to 3 defeat of Texarkana in which the catcher hit eight home runs. In an era of independent minor league clubs, local owners could maintain a championship team for years. The Fort Worth Panthers put together the greatest dynasty in Texas League history, winning six consecutive pennants from 1920 through 1925. For nearly four decades—1920–42, 1946–58, and 1967—the most popular baseball event in the South was the Dixie Series, a playoff between the champions of the Texas League and of the Southern Association. A procession of great players honed their talents in the Texas League, from Hall of Famers such as Tristram E. Speaker, Al Simmons, Hank Greenberg, Jay Hanna "Dizzy" Dean, Ducky Medwick, Duke Snider, Frank Robinson, and Brooks Robinson, to modern stars like Jack Clark, Fernando Valenzuela, Orel Hershiser, Steve Sax, and Darryl Strawberry.
Historical architecture provides a tangible link with the past, and numerous old Texas League ball parks offer evocative nostalgia trips for baseball buffs. In 1930 Katy Park in Waco became one of the first stadiums in organized baseball to install lights for night games. Houston's Buff Stadium and Fort Worth's LaGrave Field were showcase stadiums for minor league ball, and when LaGrave Field was rebuilt in 1950 following a fire, it was the first new baseball park to include a television booth. The central grandstand at El Paso's Dudley Dome was constructed of adobe, a unique feature in a professional ball park in the United States, while Albuquerque Sports Stadium made available drive-in baseball for more than 100 vehicles per game just above the outfield limits. The Dudley Dome (constructed in 1924) and Little Rock's Ray Winder Field (1932) still operated in 1990, providing a direct connection with baseball history, at the same time that Shreveport's streamlined Fair Grounds Field represented the latest in modern concrete and fiberglass facilities. By 1994 the El Paso Dudley Dome was no longer in use, and Cohen Stadium, constructed in the late 1980s, was the site of Texas League games.
The direct and indirect associations of Texas League teams reach throughout a considerable portion of the baseball world. Through the first century of the circuit's operation, a total of thirty-eight cities in eight states have hosted Texas League teams. In Texas alone, 101 cities—more than in any other state—have supported minor league franchises. The following circuits were Texas-based minor leagues: Texas Association, East Texas League, Rio Grande Valley League, Panhandle-Pecos Valley League, Texas Valley League, Southwest Texas League, Southwestern League, Middle Texas League, Central Texas Trolley League, South Central League, Texas-Oklahoma League, Sophomore League, Gulf Coast League, Longhorn League, Big State League, Lone Star League, and, of course, Texas League. Most of the important cities of the state have held Texas League franchises: Amarillo, Austin, Beaumont, Cleburne, Corpus Christi, Corsicana, Dallas, Denison, El Paso, Fort Worth, Galveston, Greenville, Harlingen, Houston, Longview, Midland, Paris, San Antonio, Sherman, Temple, Texarkana, Tyler, Victoria, Waco, and Wichita Falls.
As of 1994 only three Texas cities, San Antonio, El Paso, and Midland, were part of the eight-team loop, and there have been only fifteen years in which the Texas League has had an exclusively Texan makeup throughout the season: 1889–90, 1892, 1896–99, 1902–03, 1905–07, and 1912–14. Shreveport, Alexandria, Lafayette, Lake Charles, and New Orleans have represented Louisiana. Oklahoma City and Tulsa were longtime members of the Texas League, and Ardmore fielded a team on two occasions. Albuquerque, New Mexico, and Memphis, Tennessee, once held franchises. In 1994 members of the league included Jackson, Mississippi; Little Rock, Arkansas; Wichita, Kansas; Shreveport, Louisiana; and Tulsa, Oklahoma. The thirteen out-of-state cities that have participated in the Texas League also have participated in numerous other minor leagues, in which they have been associated cumulatively with scores of other minor league cities.
Player-manager-organizer-umpire John J. McCloskey is regarded as the "Father of the Texas League." Hall of Fame executive Branch Rickey played in the Texas League in 1904 and 1905. William B. Ruggles, for decades a league executive, statistician, and historian; J. Doak Roberts, league president, 1921–29; J. Alvin Gardner, president, 1930–53; and Carl Sawatski, president, 1975–91 have been key figures in the development of the Texas League. During the history of the league club executives have developed and utilized innovative management and promotional techniques that have spread throughout baseball. Attendance in the Texas League has been excellent in recent years, because of energetic promotions and because minor league baseball offers wholesome, inexpensive family entertainment. Venerable by baseball's calendar, the Texas League has evolved vigorously throughout its existence, establishing many all-time playing records and reflecting every development of professional baseball. As the Texas League proceeds into its second century, the circuit's fans will continue to witness the major league stars of tomorrow and all of the changes of the subtle, ritualistic, graceful game that may still be called the national pastime.
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).
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Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Modified on April 13, 2017. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.