Minor League Memories
BEFORE THE DAYS OF FREE agents, designated hitters, “We Will Rock You,” and I soggy nachos-and before major I league baseball came to the Dallas I area-most minor leaguers played I baseball either because they loved , the game or didn’t wan I to work. The majority weren’t headed any-where, but a notable* number used our own Burnett Field in Oak Cliff and LaGrave Field on Fort Worth’s North Side as stepping stones to the big show.
Branch Rickey, who would later bring Jackie Robinson to the major leagues, earned $175 a month as a catcher and was a .261 lead-off hitter for the Dallas Giants in J 904. In 1934, the Giants agreed to give hurler Pep Hornsby’s little brother a tryout, but 17-year-old Rogers Horns by was cut a few days into spring tracing because, according to a local news reporter, “he couldn’t accomplish much with the hickory.” (Homsby went on to compile the highest single-season batting average in history, .424.) Grower Cleveland Alexander was in a tail-spin to oblivion when be played for the Dallas nine, by thai called the Steers, in 1930. “Old Pete,” who had won 37 3 games in the National League, struggled to win one more for the Steers, giving up 23 runs in 24 innings pitched that year.
Near the end of the 1946 season, young Eddie Snider of the Fort Worth club impressed the Dodgers brass by siamming a couple of 400-foot homers out of LaGrave Field. He earned a one-way ticket to Brooklyn where he became bet-ter known as “Duke.” In 1949, Gits hurler Cad Erskine was mowing down Texas League hitters before he too was called to join the Dodgers. (Brook-lyners called him “Oisk.”) Elroy Face was the ace of the 1952 Cats pitching staff, and in 1956 Jim Gentile and Don Demote! smacked 80 homers between them for the Cowtown team.
In 1952, Dallas Eagles owner Dick Burnett lore down the Texas League color barrier, pathe way for the signing of future National League president Bill White, who hie .295 for the Eagles in 1955, and Willie McCovey, who in 1957 blasted Herculean drives into the jaws of the prevailing winds at the old Oak Cliff park.
By the 1960s, the Dallas and Fort Worth clubs were drifting from league to league, often as a twin entry, while local power brokers courted the majors. Infielder Jim Fregosi and Future Cy Youngaward winner Dean Chance headed the Dallas-Fort WorthRangers of the American Association in 1961, By 1963, the Rangers had moved to the Pacific Coast League; Tony Oliva later recalled how ridiculous he and diminutive roommate Cesar Tovar felt wearing
the full-blown western attire. required on road trips.
By the mid-1960s, die Dallas-Tort Worth team, by then called the Spurs, were back home in the Texas League warming up Turnpike Stadium for the Washington Senators, who would move here in 1972. Don Baylor and Bobby G rich were the stars of die ’69 Spurs. The last local minor leaguer destined to distinguish himself in the, big leagues was future Houston Astros star Enos Gibell, who had a league-leading baiting average of .311 for the Spurs during their last year in 1971.
HITS & MESSES
In 1904, southpaw Jack Huffmeister of the Dallas Giants hurled an 11-inning one-hitter, but lost 6-5 when his teammates committed 16 errors.
In 1922, the Wichita Falls Spudders forfeited what would have been their 25th consecutive win when it was discovered they had painted clear creosote on the game balls, which literally struck Dallas ace Snipe Conley speechless from a swollen tongue and lips.
3,121 FLY BALLS
When Cal Ripkin managed the Dallas-Fort Worth Spurs in their last year in die minors (1971), 10-year-old Cal Jr. helped chase errant flys in the outfield during batting practice. Bet he never missed a day.
STHE BRAIN TRUST
Five players from the Fort Worth Cats team of 1955 later became big league managers: Dick Williams, Sparky Anderson. Danny Ozark, Norm Sherry, and Maury Wills. Three more coached in the majors: Bob Milliken, Joe Pignatano, and Carroll Beringer, pitching coach tor the Dodgers’ tandem of Don Drysdale and Sandy Koufax.
LAST STOP ON A SENTIMENTAL JOURNEY
Pete Gray, the one-armed out-fielder who played for the St. Louis Browns near the end of World War II, spent his last year in professional baseball with the ’49 Dallas Eagles,
WHAT ARE TEAMMATES FOR?
When Chico Carrasquel left Venezuela to join the ’49 Cats,his fellow players helped him overcome the language barrier by teaching him to make a lewd suggestion to waitresses, telling him die expression was English lor “scrambled eggs and bacon.”