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LAGRAVE FIELD

LAGRAVE FIELD. LaGrave Field is the name of two baseball parks in Fort Worth, Texas. The original LaGrave Field operated as the home field of the minor league Fort Worth Panthers from 1926 to 1958 in the Texas League, 1959 in the American Association, a shared home of the Dallas-Fort Worth Rangers from 1960 to 1963 in the American Association, and finally the Fort Worth Panthers in another Texas League franchise in 1964. The stadium was demolished in 1967. In 2001 the second LaGrave Field arose on the site of the original and became the home of the Fort Worth Cats, who played in several Dallas-Fort Worth minor-league baseball leagues from 2002 to 2014. 

The Fort Worth Panthers played games in Panther Park, located west of North Main Street in Fort Worth, from 1911 to 1925. They won six consecutive Texas League pennants and five of six Dixie Series pennants from 1920 to 1925. John Jacob Atz managed the team from 1917 to 1929. It became apparent that a larger park was necessary to accommodate the Panthers’ fans. In 1925 owner W. K. Stripling and team secretary Paul LaGrave elected to move the Panthers to a larger park. They selected a site east of the original but closer to levies on the Trinity River. The new concrete and steel structure seated about 12,000 fans, an increase of 4,000 seats. Most of the grandstand seats were made of wood. Panther Park became known as one of the best in the minor leagues and was similar to its predecessor, with the majority of seating down the first baseline and behind home plate. Only a short wooden grandstand stretched toward third base.

The Panthers played in the new park for the 1926 through 1929 seasons. The team did not enjoy as much success on the new field as at the original. They finished third in the league in 1926, fourth in 1927, and third in 1928. Paul LaGrave strongly supported children attending baseball games, and set aside parts of the right field pavilion for special low priced seats for members of the “Knot Hole Gang.” These seats could be claimed by children who presented a membership card. 

In January 1929 Paul LaGrave died of cancer in El Paso. Stripling elected to honor him for his work by renaming the field for him. Shortly afterward, Stripling sold his interests in the Panthers. Ted Robinson bought the team from Stripling, promptly fired Jake Atz, and hired Frank Snyder as team manager. The triumvirate that brought the team such great success and built LaGrave faded into history. 

Evening games began in the Texas League in 1930 when the Cats visited Waco for the first night game. They lost 13–0 to the Navigators, but league and team officials agreed playing at night could increase gate counts, as working people could attend the evening games. Lights installed at LaGrave Field for the 1931 season ensured the expansion of night games.

Both fire and flooding damaged LaGrave Field in the spring of 1949. A night-time fire destroyed the grandstand and a total of nearly 10,000 seats on May 15, 1949. Despite damage to the field, the Cats played their regularly-scheduled game the following day. Two nights later the worst flood in the history of Fort Worth inflicted additional damage to the field and stands. Brooklyn Dodger officials, including Branch Rickey, came to Fort Worth to evaluate the field to determine whether to abandon the Cats as a farm team. Ultimately, they elected to rebuild rather than abandon it. Construction began after the season concluded with work continuing into the 1950 season. Officials dedicated the new and improved field on July 5, 1950. The stands seated 13,005 fans in form-fitting bucket seats with arm rests and with fewer posts to obstruct the views. The improved concession stands featured grills, bun warmers, and larger cold drink containers. The press box stretched 100 feet in length, and facilities for television broadcasts aided media coverage of the Cats. The right field pavilion gradually deteriorated until it was removed following the 1954 season. LaGrave Field remained in that configuration for the remainder of its existence.  

The integration of baseball reached Fort Worth in 1952, when the Texas League’s first African American player, Dave Hoskins pitched for the Dallas Eagles. Later that season, the Cats held “Dave Hoskins Night” to honor him. The first Cats African American players, Maury Wills and Eddie Moore, came as Dodger farmhands in 1955.

In 1960 the Cats merged with the Dallas Rangers to become the Dallas-Fort Worth Rangers. They played at LaGrave Field and Burnett Park in Dallas until 1963. In 1964 the Cats resumed their old name and returned for one final season at LaGrave Field. They formed part of the Dallas-Fort Worth Spurs from 1965 to 1972 but played their games at Turnpike Stadium in Arlington. Turnpike Stadium later became Arlington Stadium after the Texas Rangers arrived in 1972.

LaGrave Field remained empty and unused for three years following the1964 season and was finally demolished in 1967. Texas communities and schools purchased relics from the demolished stadium. Bleacher seats went to Marble Falls High School and the softball field at St. Mary’s University in San Antonio. The light standards were relocated to the baseball field of Pan American University in Edinburg (renamed University of Texas-Pan American and currently part of University of Texas Rio Grande Valley).

The former site of LaGrave Field sat as an empty field for decades. In the late 1990s an effort to bring back the Cats and professional baseball to Fort Worth emerged. Carl Bell, owner of the new Fort Worth Cats, demanded that a new LaGrave Field be constructed on the original site. The Cats began playing at the new field in 2002. Home plate is located in the same spot as the old park. The original dugouts remained as super suites on the new field. The park seated 4,100 people and included a right field pavilion for the restored Knot Hole Gang. Grandstands extended along the first and third base sides with extended bleacher seating. The dimensions of the field were 325 feet down the left field line, 400 feet to straightaway center, and 335 feet down the right field line.

The Cats never achieved financial stability and bounced from league to league as a result. In November 2014 the owners of LaGrave Field terminated its lease with the Fort Worth Cats. Park owners approached the city of Fort Worth and the Trinity River Vision Authority regarding the property, but both declined.  

In January 2015 the United League Baseball folded after seven years of operation, leaving the Cats without a home field or a league. At the end of 2015 the ultimate fate of the second LaGrave field remained to be seen. The land was located in a prime-development area and would likely be sold for redevelopment purposes as part of a rapidly expanding area of Fort Worth called Panther Island. The Trinity River Vision was actively developing the Trinity River waterfront.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: 

Fort Worth Star-Telegram, July 1, 1950. Jeff Guinn with Bobby Bragan, When Panthers Roared: The Fort Worth Cats and Minor League Baseball (Fort Worth: Texas Christian University Press, 1999). Anton Joe, "United League Baseball Folds After Seven Seasons," Baseball Essential (http://www.baseballessential.com/news/2015/01/15/united-league-baseball-folds-after-seven-seasons), accessed July 23, 2015. Dave King and Tom Kayser, The Texas League Baseball Almanac (Charleston: History Press, 2014). Mark Presswood and Chris Holaday, Baseball in Fort Worth (Charleston, South Carolina: Arcadia Press, 2004). Laura Zakalik, "After Cats kicked out, LaGrave Field future in the air," WFAA (http://www.wfaa.com/story/news/local/tarrant-county/2014/11/06/fort-worth-lagrave-field-future-unclear/18616959), accessed July 23, 2015.

Bruce Bumbalough

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Handbook of Texas Online, Bruce Bumbalough, "Lagrave Field," accessed November 19, 2017, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/xvl02.

Uploaded on November 19, 2015. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.