Texas History: Vintage Baseball
Question: What do Nolan Ryan, Greg Maddux, Ernie Banks and Rogers Hornsby have in common? Answer: Each one is a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame, and they were all born in Texas. In fact, 16 of the 263 players in the Hall of Fame are native Texans.
It has been reported that baseball was being played in Galveston before the Civil War! And during the War, baseball was played both in the North and the South. Private Alpheris B. Parker wrote that while playing baseball, “Officers and men forget, for a time, the differences in rank and indulge in the invigorating sport with a schoolboy’s ardor.”
Union soldier George Putnam journaled an incident that occurred while he was stationed in Texas in 1863. His fellow soldiers were playing baseball when “Suddenly there was a scattering of fire, which three outfielders caught the brunt; the centerfield was hit and was captured, left and right field managed to get back to our lines. The attack was repelled without serious difficulty.” Unfortunately for them, the Confederate infantrymen took their only baseball!
After the War, baseball took the field. The Houston Post reported in April 1868, that a baseball game was played on the hallowed San Jacinto Battlegrounds between the Houston Stonewalls and the Galveston Robert E. Lees.
In 1888, the Texas Association of Baseball Leagues was formed, which eventually became the vaunted Texas League. Since the 1890s, a weakly hit single that falls between the infielders and the outfielders has been called a Texas Leaguer.
Leagues were also formed that were exclusively for Black players. And they had some notable athletes like Joe “Sleepy” Lewis. He was born in 1895 and became an outstanding catcher. When Joe was 16, baseball manager Bill Haynes asked Joe’s mother, Bernice, for permission to sign the future All Star to a contract. She replied, “If y’all play on Sunday, he has to go to church first.” Amen!
Two McKinney, Texas, natives became nationally known baseball scouts for the Chicago White Sox from 1926 to1944. Roy Largent and wife Bessie discovered many great athletes including Hall of Famer Luke Appling.
Born in 1879, Roy played baseball at the University of Texas before becoming a high school coach. Since he loved the church, he formed Sunday School baseball leagues. Bessie was a music teacher who taught Sunday School and played the pipe organ, piano, and violin at First Methodist church.
It was professional baseball scout Bessie Largent who wrote:
Let us, as the singing bird,
Daily make our voices heard
In the melodies of praise
To the One who lights our ways.
In His Word, God promised He
Would watch over you and me.
Grateful hearts should burst in song
For such guidance all day long.
She knew that God is greater than baseball. As the Apostle Paul stated in 1 Corinthians 9:25 (ESV), "Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable." Play ball, but God first!