To the average Lamar County resident, not to mention to those who don’t particularly care, it might come as a surprise that Paris has a rich history of professional baseball. Beginning in 1896 when the Texas League’s Sherman franchise relocated to Paris just a dozen games into the season, the city has been home to 23 professional baseball teams. Along the way, the various clubs experienced some success. From 1921 and 1925, the Paris Snappers, Grays, and North Stars captured four league championships in the Texas-Oklahoma and East Texas Leagues.
A lot of good ballplayers passed through Paris in those days, both as members of the hometown club or visitors. A little-known fact buried deep in the annals of Texas sports history, reveals that Rogers Hornsby, arguably among the greatest baseball players ever to don a uniform, played his first game as a professional in Paris in 1914, albeit for the opposing team. In total, during the 62 seasons from 1896 through 1957, Paris fielded teams in just over half of them — 33 to be exact. And while most seasons meant disappointment fans Paris baseball fans, it is doubtful that any matched the close of 1957. The Paris Orioles reached the championship series of the Sooner State League in 1957, only to lose to the Ardmore Cardinals in four games. But the championship loss was nearly as heartbreaking at what came next. The Sooner State League folded before 1958, and Paris lost its Orioles. Soon thereafter, the lower levels of the minor leagues began to disappear, and Paris never again hosted a professional baseball team. The summer of 2021 will be the 64th year since the Orioles left town. It also marks the first year that Paris has been without a team longer than it was a semi-regular participant in one of 12 minor league circuits during its baseball heyday.
When the Paris Orioles arrived in town in 1955, the team was only the third Paris club affiliated with a major league franchise. Previous affiliations with the St. Louis Cardinals and St. Louis Browns were brief, but as a minor league team within the Baltimore Orioles organization, a long relationship had been anticipated. While the Sooner State League was classified as a “D” league, the lowest affiliation in the minor leagues, the Orioles were a rapidly improving franchise, and locals anticipated many future stars passing through Paris on their way to the majors.
The 1955 season brought a mediocre finish for Paris. Just one win shy of a .500 winning percentage, the Orioles finished in fourth place in the eight team Sooner State League. Still, the 26 games separating Paris from the dominant Lawton Braves were much closer to last place than first. None of the 46 players appearing on the Orioles roster reached the major leagues, but local fans enjoyed watching Paris native Robert Abshire pitch the team to six wins, just one of three pitchers on the roster posting winning records with at least 10 appearances. Offensively, the Orioles were led by New Jersey native Walt Massefski, the only player on the roster appearing in all 137 games. Along the way, Massefski, a catcher, batted a team leading .320 with 178 hits, 47 for extra bases including 14 home runs. The 20-year-old Massefski led the team in all offensive categories.
In 1956, the parent Baltimore Orioles sent an improved roster to Paris. With the Sooner State League expanded to nine teams, Paris finished with a 72-67 record, good for fourth place and a playoff spot. In a best-of-five series against Ardmore, the Orioles fell just short of reaching the championship, falling 3 games to 2.
As in 1955, only one Paris player appeared in every game, this time 21-year-old Richard Lubinski. An outfielder, Libinski batted .304 and accrued 160 hits. Impressively, 74 of those hits were for extra bases and included 34 home runs. He batted in 123 runs and also led the team in stolen bases (15). Despite his equally impressive batting statistics during his three minor league seasons, Lubinski never advanced beyond the “C” level, finishing his career with Stockton of the California League in 1957. In terms of pitching, Minnesota native Donald Bruns led Paris with a 15-8 record, although his wins obscured a bloated 5.06 ERA. He hung on in the minors longer than most of the Paris squad, advancing as far as “AA” with Amarillo of the Texas League in 1959.
Of the 39 players coming and going throughout the 1956 season, one did manage to reach the major leagues. Barry Shentrone, a 17-year-old rookie from Baltimore, made his professional debut with Paris as an outfielder. Appearing in 42 games, his batting average of .294 didn’t strike fear in opposing pitchers, but he put the ball in play regularly while offering the threat of power. Shentrone went on to play 12 professional seasons, including portions of five with Baltimore and the Washington Senators. For the most part, however, he was a high-level minor leaguer, playing below the “AAA” level in just three seasons. Of his 1250 career games played, 965 were at or above AAA in stints with 8 different major league affiliations.
As the 1957 season approached, Baltimore sent its best group of low-level minor leaguers yet to Paris. The team finished with a 74-51 record, edging out Ardmore — a team playing one less game than Paris — for first place by ½ game. The pennant winning Orioles faced fourth place Shawnee in the first round of the playoffs and eliminated them 3 games to 1. The championship series once again featured Ardmore, and at that point the Paris bats went silent. Ardmore cruised to win 4 straight and claim the Sooner State League championship.
The 1957 club had a number of standout players, but at the plate third baseman Richard Simpson and first baseman Robert Beattie led the way. Both appeared in all 125 games and posted impressive offensive statistics. Simpson posted a team leading .337 batting average, with 178 hits including 32 doubles, 7 triples, and 23 home runs. He also showed speed on the base paths with 10 stolen bases. Beattie didn’t trail by far as he batted .300 with 138 hits, 54 for extra bases including 25 home runs. He also led the team in stolen bases with 13. The pitching staff was led by a four-man starting rotation including Harry Guckert, Ted Denney, John Jeans, and Art Benedetto. The foursome combined for 49 wins.
As far as major leaguers were concerned, the 1957 squad included two — pitcher Steve Barber who posted a 9-9 won-loss record and first baseman Roger Marquis, a Massachusetts native, appearing in just 13 games. As for Marquis, he had already completed his major league career before reaching Paris, debuting with Baltimore in 1955 for just one game. Paris would be the last stop in his three-year professional career. Steve Barber, on the other hand, went on to become one of the best major leaguers to have played for a Paris team.
After his rookie season in Paris, Barber pitched in 1958 and 1959 with a number of Baltimore affiliates. His statistics did not impress. But the Orioles stayed with Barber, and in 1960 he made his major league debut, posting a 10-7 won-loss record. He followed in 1961 with 18 wins and eventually won 20 games in 1963. After nearly 7 seasons as an Oriole, he was traded to the Yankees mid-season in 1967. Two years later, he played for the Seattle Pilots, a major league expansion team lasting just one season before moving to Milwaukee. He then moved to the National League where he played for the Atlanta Braves, Chicago Cubs, and San Francisco Giants, with a season with the American League’s California Angels sandwiched between. He retired after the 1974 season having played 15 years in the major leagues during which he won 121 games and posted an overall ERA of just 3.36. He also played for one World Series champion, the 1966 Baltimore Orioles.
With the end of the successful 1957 season, professional baseball left Paris, Texas, for good. The crowds of up to 4,000 no longer showed up summer evenings at City Ball Park on the south end of the fairgrounds to cheer on the Orioles. As minor league baseball began to become less popular across the country, teams left small cities like Paris for greener pastures, bigger crowds, and more money. For most, baseball in Northeast Texas essentially died with the 1957 Paris Orioles. While the bats fell silent, attention turned to the major leagues.
\Although it would take another 15 years, in 1972 all of North Texas had a new team to cheer for — the Texas Rangers, relocated from Washington, D.C. Dreams of World Championships and bragging rights awaited. The Rangers are celebrating their 49th season in Arlington this year. As for Rangers’ fans, we’re still dreaming.