Goldie Holt, we barely knew you

 

Holt  In the past 145 years, nearly 4,000 professional baseball players have been born in Texas. Most never made the big leagues, and many only had a sniff of life in the minors. Even with Texas’ vast geography dwarfing most of the lower forty-eight states, with so much rural and undeveloped acreage, the larger cities of Houston, Dallas, Austin, and San Antonio claim a large percentage of Texas’ native professional ballplayers. But, many communities and settlements ranging from those large enough to host junior colleges to those never exceeding a population of 500 lay claim to a professional ballplayer. Such is the case with Enloe, a tiny Delta County community. The town, which was built and died with one-time Texas League franchise owner E.H.R. Green’s Texas-Midland Railroad, saw the height of its population in 1929, with 450 residents. Today, fewer than 100 live in what remains of Enloe, a virtual ghost town with a shuttered front street lined with the shells of businesses having closed doors nearly seventy years ago.  It’s likely few, if any, of those remaining in Enloe realize their settlement can claim a little-known but influential professional baseball player and scout as its own. It’s just as likely that those who lived in Enloe during its heyday had never heard of Golden Desmond Holt.

The Holt family is well-known in Sharp County of northeast Arkansas. Sometime in the 1840s, the family patriarch, Enoch Holt, moved to the area from Tennessee and began purchasing marginal farmland. Over the years, his several children had several of their own until the Holt name became widespread in the area. The Holts learned to live off Sharp County’s rocky soil on the eastern edge of the Ozark Mountains.  A Holt born in Sharp County didn’t normally leave the area, much less the state. But, around 1901, twenty-one year old Lacy C. Holt made the controversial decision to relocate to Texas, where he hoped opportunities for farming, most likely cotton, were more lucrative. Eventually, Lacy Holt made a name for himself as a Delta County farmer before moving to West Texas later in his life.

In 1901, Lacy apparently convinced his cousin James Holt, eleven years his senior, to come to Delta County as well. James, more of a carpenter than a farmer, likely saw the continued growth of Texas and its cotton industry creating demand for carpentry skills, and he uprooted his wife Mary Elizabeth and their five children, travelling 300 miles southwest by wagon to Enloe.

Soon after arriving in Texas, James realized he had made a mistake. The area, in terms of terrain, farming practices, and availability of building materials was far different than Sharp County, and both Mary Elizabeth and the children yearned for a return home.  The journey back to Arkansas would be most comfortable following the intense heat of August, and it’s likely the family decided to leave Enloe in the early fall. As the date to head home approached, though, the Holts learned Mary Elizabeth was pregnant with the couple’s sixth child. They decided to delay the trip until spring, after the baby was born.

Golden Desmond Holt was born in Enloe the day after spring officially arrived on March 22, 1902. Assuming the Holts remained in Enloe until mother and baby were up to the long trip, they likely left for Arkansas before the summer heat set in. As far as history and ancestral records are concerned, James and Mary, as well their children, had seen the last of Delta County, Texas.

Back in Arkansas, James resumed his carpentry business, but Mary Elizabeth became ill and passed away in 1904, leaving James a thirty-five year old widower with six children between two and sixteen years old.  As often happened at the time, James wasted little time finding a new wife, marrying Linne Oyler, a woman barely older than his first child, a year later. The couple went on to have at least two children of their own, the last born in 1916.

Exactly how the only native Texan of the Holt family, “Goldie” as he was called, became involved in baseball is unclear. By the age of seventeen, he was assisting his father and learning the carpenter’s trade, but four years later he made his professional baseball debut with the Fulton Railroaders of the Kentucky-Illinois-Tennessee League. His twenty games as an infielder with the Railroaders cemented Goldie’s future, and over the next twenty-three seasons, he played professionally in fifteen different minor leagues and twenty cities, mostly in the Southern United States and California. At  5’-7” tall, Goldie remained a steady, though not outstanding, minor league infielder throughout his career, finally retiring in 1947 after posting a .293 career batting average and a .938 fielding percentage. Goldie never caught a sniff of the big leagues, playing only five games at the AAA level at the age of forty-four.

Despite a lifetime in the mid-level minors, Goldie Holt had a reputation for his knowledge of baseball.  He spent six of his twenty-three seasons as a player-manager, winning the Western Association Championship in his first year as a manager with Ponca City in 1938. He couldn’t duplicate the feat with other organizations, but he became well-known among baseball executives.

Even though Goldie Holt qualified as a native Texan, he did not appear in the Texas League until his final season, as player-manager with the 1947 Beaumont Exporters. At the age of forty-five, Holt appeared in one game for the Exporters that season, pitching a five-hit complete game victory in only his twenty-second pitching appearance in 2,011 minor league games. The Exporters, a New York Yankees affiliate, finished tied for last place in the Texas League under Holt, winners of only sixty games despite having nine future major leaguers on the roster over the course of the season.

In 1948, Goldie Holt finally found his way to the major leagues, serving as a coach under manager Billy Meyer for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Coaching alongside Honus Wagner, Holt spent three seasons with the Pirates before moving on to his duties as a scout and minor league manager with the Brooklyn Dodgers until 1958. He then coached with the Cubs for several years before returning to the Dodgers organization as a scout until the 1980s.

Though spending little time in Texas and seemingly forgotten in professional baseball circles, over the course of his six-decade involvement in baseball, Goldie Holt made two pronounced contributions to both Major League and Texas baseball history. First, while scouting an American Legion team in California in the early 1950s, Holt attended a game in which he expected to see a young second baseman who reportedly showed professional potential. Coincidentally, the team’s pitcher failed to show for the game, and the coach called on the second baseman to pitch in his place. Though he had never pitched a game in his life, the fellow did well enough that Goldie approached him after the game to ask if he’d ever thought about changing positions. The young player, Don Drysdale, went on to a Hall of Fame pitching career with the Dodgers, including a Cy Young Award, eight All-Star teams, and five World Series.

For Texas baseball fans, Goldie Holt’s most important contribution to the game may have come in 1970 during Dodgers spring training. While passing Charlie Hough, a pitching prospect who had struggled in his first few seasons with the organization, Holt took him aside and suggested Hough consider adding a new pitch to his repertoire or finding a new profession. Holt taught Charlie Hough the art of the knuckleball on the spot. The rest is history. After a decade as a Dodgers reliever, Hough joined the Texas Rangers in 1980 and converted into a starting pitcher. In eleven seasons with a team who played profoundly poor baseball, Hough posted double-digit wins nine times. His famous knuckleball also managed to hit 89 batters and helped catcher Gino Petralli set a major league record when he allowed four passed-balls in a single inning in 1987. Twenty-five years after throwing his last pitch in Arlington, Charlie Hough remains the Rangers all-time leaders in wins, strikeouts, and complete games.

Back in Enloe, Texas, there is no sign of Goldie Holt to be found. It is not known if the native son ever returned to his birthplace after leaving it in 1902 at the age of about eight weeks. Holt may not be remembered in Enloe, but he does offer the community its only recognized connection to professional baseball. Twenty-three professional seasons as a player and another forty years of involvement as a coach, manager, and scout is nothing for Enloe to sneeze at, and for Texas Rangers fans, neither is Charlie Hough.

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Elmer Countryman: A Texas League Tragedy

As a researcher of obscure Texas League characters, I wish I could write of a great debate about the true identity of “Countryman,” as he is listed in the 1896 Texas League record books. Some sources suggest he was Ellis Countryman, a pitcher from the Eastern Iowa League a year earlier. In Marshall D. Wright’s comprehensive “The Texas League in Baseball: 1888-1958,” however, he is noted as Elmer Countryman. Both Ellis and Elmer came from the same area of the country, and both were born around 1870, so a case of mistaken identity is entirely understandable. Unfortunately, no debate exists, as neither Ellis nor Elmer played more than a handful of games professionally. But, since I my interest rests in the Texas League, I will trust my Texas League resources. Besides, the sad saga of Elmer is far more interesting than that of Ellis, who spent most of his life as a police officer. In fact, Elmer could have been the perfect inspiration for Edwin Arlington Robinson’s tragic character of poetry, Richard Cory.

___________________________________________________________________________________

Whenever Richard Cory went down town,
We people on the pavement looked at him:

Elmer J. Countryman was born in Ogle County, Illinois, about fifty miles due west of Chicago. Unlike many of his day, Countryman received an education, having attended and graduated public schools in nearby Rochelle, a community of about 1,800 residents at the junction of the Chicago & Northwestern and Chicago & Iowa Railroads. As a junction city, Rochelle offered ample opportunities for an aspiring young businessman. Elmer Countryman seemed a perfect fit for the city’s future.

He was a gentleman from sole to crown,
Clean favored, and imperially slim.

After finishing his education, Elmer took a job as cashier of the Rochelle National Bank, where he remained for three years. By 1893, his experience managing money led him to relocate to Dixon, Illinois, where he entered business with his uncle, Isaac Countryman. Isaac had grown a small mercantile business into a 5,000 square foot department store with twelve full-time employees. Elmer spent three years helping his uncle build the business into the most prominent in Dixon. At the same time, he quickly became an influential citizen. In 1896, however, Isaac left the business, and Elmer somehow temporarily found himself in North Texas.


And he was always quietly arrayed,
And he was always human when he talked;

The circumstances of Elmer’s arrival in Texas are unclear, as are those surrounding his brief professional baseball career. The sport was popular in the Iowa-Illinois-Indiana area; in fact, the Three-I League formed in 1901 and dominated minor league baseball in the area for the next six decades. Assumedly, Countryman had taken up the sport as a hobby, and when his uncle left the department store, he saw an opportunity to take a shot at playing professionally.

In 1896, the Sherman Students baseball club represented the city’s second season in the Texas Leauge. Under the management of Frank Ryan, Countryman served as the team’s primary pitcher and played alongside A.C. Jantzen, George Nie, Billy Oswald, and future famed artist William Van Dresser. The Students got off to a poor start, and a tornado striking Sherman the afternoon of May 16 sealed the team’s fate. With local residents far more interested in rebuilding their town than watching baseball, the Students relocated to Paris, due east along the Texas and Pacific Railroad. While some players abandoned the team for other Texas League cities, Countryman loyally made the move to Paris.

 

But still he fluttered pulses when he said,
‘Good-morning,’ and he glittered when he walked.

 

In Paris, Elmer Countryman probably found a community very similar to Dixon. The city plaza bustled with activity, with businesses lining the streets and cotton traders crowding the plaza area. Countryman likely felt he fit in a lot better with the Paris business community than he did a professional baseball team. But, he was well-liked by his teammates, with intelligence higher than the average ball player.  Later, Countryman would be described as a man with a “total absence of anything sinister or anything to conceal, ready to meet his obligations with… conscious, personal ability… and a habitual regard for what is best in the exercise of human activities.” In short, Elmer Countryman was known for everything the average ball player of the late 19th century lacked. His business success probably didn’t hurt his image, as ballplayers made little money.

On the season, Elmer started fourteen games as a pitcher, posting a 5-9 won-loss record for a team finishing in seventh place.  Although he was limited to less than fifty plate appearances, he led the team in batting average at .340, adding three doubles, two triples, and a home run. But, at some point during the season, the business world beckoned.  Countryman left Texas and returned to Dixon, his professional baseball career ending shortly after it began.


And he was rich – yes, richer than a king –
And admirably schooled in every grace;

 

Back in Illinois, Elmer took over his uncle’s business, continuing to operate under the name I.B. Countryman Company until 1910. Upon reorganizing as the E.J. Countryman Company, Elmer became president and rapidly expanded the mercantile operation. His two-story department store employed up to twenty-two residents and expanded to an astounding 15,000 square feet. Elmer became one of the most admired businessmen in all of Lee County. He and his wife, Alice, frequented Dixon social engagements, often hosting events in their “abode of a warm-hearted hospitality.”

 

In fine, we thought that he was everything
To make us wish that we were in his place.

 

Aside from owning a tremendously successful business, Elmer also became involved in civic matters. He held membership in both the Masonic and Elks Lodges, spent four years as a member of the Board of Education, and helped bring a new high school to the community. Finally, he chartered the Union State Bank and served on its board of directors.  Local citizens described Elmer Countryman as “a square man,” one who held the public’s confidence with dignity, frankness, and cordiality.

 

So on we worked, and waited for the light,
And went without the meat, and cursed the bread;

 


                Seemingly, Elmer Countryman was the man everyone in Dixon wanted to be; rich, respected, educated, well-known, and extremely successful. Yet, shortly before 1920, Elmer made one of the few poor business decisions of his life when he and his partner invested $100,000 in a bull named Ragapple Thorndyke. The bull had a reputation of siring calves which grew into sources of the finest milk and cream found in the Midwest. Yet, soon after the purchase, the partners discovered Ragapple Thorndyke to be a fraud. A laborer of the bull’s former owner confessed  he had poured cream into fresh milk extracted from the bull’s offspring. In reality, when tested legitimately, the milk held no more quality than any other milk from the dairy farms of the region. Some of the calves Ragapple sired turned out to be “squibs,” a term normally used to describe failed explosives. In other words, Ragapple Thorndyke fathered “duds” in the dairy world.

The results of the failed investment sent Countryman’s partner into bankruptcy. Soon after, Union State Bank suddenly closed, its clients left penniless at the hands of a failed financial institution.  Countryman blamed the closure on a single stock transaction which left his bank nearly $300,000 in debt.  Investigators, on the other hand, discovered otherwise. As it turned out, when Elmer Countryman felt pressure, his personality, respect for human dignity, and warm-hearted hospitality failed even faster than his bank.  Authorities charged him with thirteen counts of larceny, embezzlement, and forgery. Elmer suddenly faced a lengthy prison sentence.

Much like today when beloved celebrities like Bill Cosby, Mark McGwire, and Jarred the Subway Guy betray their status, Elmer Countryman’s sudden downfall shocked all of Dixon.  On January 13, 1921, a sheriff led Countryman into the Lee County Courthouse for a plea hearing. When entering the courtroom, Elmer stopped to use the washroom behind the gallery, likely experiencing his last moments of freedom. With the sheriff standing guard outside the door, a sudden “pop” echoed through the building. The sheriff and judge rushed into the washroom where they found Elmer J. Countryman resting on the floor, a revolver in his hand and a bullet through his brain. He is buried in Lee County’s Lindenwood Cemetery with no sign of his brief baseball career or successful business ventures to be found.

And Richard Cory, one calm summer night,
Went home and put a bullet through his head.

Pete Weckbecker: Ballplayer, Soldier, Inventor

Pete Weckbecker spent four seasons as a player-manager in the Texas League, but one day generated a controversy that haunted, if not destroyed, his baseball future.

Weckbecker was born in 1869 in Butler, Pennsylvania, about 30 miles north of Pittsburgh. Peter was the fifth of six children of German immigrants George and Maggie Weckbecker, who arrived in the U.S. a decade before start of the Civil War. George worked as a molder, and most likely supported the Union war effort when hostilities broke out.

While early baseball had been popular in the northern states before the Civil War, when troops returned home, New York and Pennsylvania became the focus of the game’s growth.  Pete Weckbecker grew right along with baseball, and it’s safe to assume he played many games during his youth. In 1886, he signed his first professional contract as a catcher with the Mobile, Alabama, franchise of the Gulf League. A season later he moved northward, honing his catching skills in New Haven Connecticut, and Burlington, Iowa for three summers. Weckbecker had what he considered his best season in 1889 as a member of the Burlington Babies; however, statistics show he played in less than half the team’s games and batted a lowly .215. Considering the 1889 Babies sent 16 players to the major leagues, Weckbecker may have assumed his teammates’ talent to be contagious. On the other hand, a catcher’s game is not necessarily measured by offensive statistics, and at season’s end, Pete briefly appeared in the big leagues with the Indiana Hoosiers. A year later, he made his first legitimate big league appearance with the Louisville Colonels of the American Association. Statistics suggest Weckbecker as the Colonels’ best defensive catcher, but his 5’-7” 150 pound frame did not translate to success at the major league level.

After his season in Louisville, Weckbecker returned to the Northeast and played with some of New York’s top minor league clubs. Following a hiatus in 1894, he moved to the South and became player, manager, and owner of the Texas-Southern League’s Shreveport Grays. Despite a highly successful season, Shreveport was dropped from the league when lowly San Antonio folded. Weckbecker moved on to Galveston, a team he remained with through 1896. It was with Galveston that Pete truly had his best professional season, batting .291 with 36 stolen bases for the second place team. By this point, Pete Weckbecker had established himself as a solid player-manager, and when Sherman and Denison joined forces to field a Texas League franchise in 1897, team leaders quickly signed him to lead their team for the a sum of $500.

In assembling his team, Pete Weckbecker scraped the bottom of the barrel, signing some of the best known scoundrels in Texas. Pearce Chiles, an outfielder known for cheating in the field and on the run from a rape charge, arrived as an outfielder, and future cheating umpire and bank robber Frank Quigg joined the pitching staff. Weckbecker’s ways of handling his roster and team did not sit well in the staunchly conservative city of Sherman. When he attempted to swindle Sherman representatives out of another $250 in salary, he likely damaged his name in professional baseball circles. When team officials didn’t pay him the money, Weckbecker ordered his players to rip the “S” from their jerseys, and the team played the next few games in Denison. On July 11, Denison folded while in second place in the league standings. Weckbecker played out the season with Fort Worth and Paris.

In 1898, Weckbecker had plans to manage the Burlington franchise he claimed to have played so splendidly for a decade earlier. He lobbied heavily for the job, reminding owners of his great success in Burlington. But word of his escapades in Sherman-Denison may have reached Iowa before his letter of application. Weckbecker had been so positive of securing the job he failed to line up another team, and in mid-May found himself jobless in Fort Smith, Arkansas. When President McKinley called for 25,000 Army volunteers to serve in the Spanish-American War, Weckbecker enlisted as a private with Company D of the 3rd Brigade, 1st Arkansas Infantry. He and 900 fellow Arkansas volunteers traveled to Camp Thomas in northwest Georgia expecting to be trained and shipped to Cuba. But Weckbecker’s unit never left the Camp. He received an honorable discharge after just five months of service and once again began lobbying to return to Burlington, this time with the credentials of a U.S. Army Corporal. Again, he had no luck and settled for a job as manager of the San Antonio Bronchos. Weckbecker took one more unsuccessful shot at the Burlington job in 1900 before accepting a position with the Virginia League’s Portsmouth Boers. It would be Pete Weckbecker’s last season in professional baseball, as an illness derived while in the hot, marshy area of north Georgia resulted in his requesting a soldier’s disability pension.

With a frustrating baseball career behind him, Weckbecker moved to Quincy, Florida, and worked as a machinist, a profession similar to that of his father. In 1903, he and local farmer Joseph Howard Sylvester received a patent for a new method for hanging tobacco. What became of the invention or Pete Weckbecker for the next 17 years is unclear. Some sources suggest Weckbecker married at one point but was soon widowed. His name does not show up in the census records in 1910, but in 1920 he is listed as Pete “Woodbecker,” and claims to be born in Maine. The reasons for the misleading information will never be known, but it is clear that Weckbecker’s health was deteriorating. By 1930, he was declared mentally incompetent and addicted to morphine. But both the addiction and mental deterioration may have been a result of cerebrospinal syphilis, a late-stage infection with no cure at the time. Coincidentally, in 1930, Weckbecker returned to the town where his baseball career ended and was admitted to the U.S. Veteran’s Hospital in Portsmouth, Virginia. He remained there for five years, finally succumbing to heart disease on May 16, 1935. He was buried with full military honors and now rests in Virginia’s Hampton National Cemetery.

Dr. Otto McIver: It wasn’t in the cards

When Theresa McIver gave birth to the only son of herself and Dr. John D. McIver in Greenville, Texas, on July 26, 1884, we can only assume the couple had grand plans for the future of young Edward Otto McIver. After all, John was a respected physician in Hunt County, and his father had also been a doctor in Grimes County since before the Civil War. Medicine was rapidly evolving, and railroads were in demand for doctors to work in corporate hospitals. As Otto grew into a teenager, Texas’ first College of Medicine opened at Galveston, and the Baylor School of Medicine was founded by 1900. But if Otto’s parents had any ideas he would continue the family tradition and follow his father and grandfather into medicine, they would be sorely disappointed. Like so many Americans at the turn of the 20th century, Otto McIver was obsessed with a game—baseball. The opportunity to eek out a living playing baseball was too much for Otto to pass up.

McIver, a left-handed outfielder, made his professional debut with the Dallas Giants in 1904 at the age of 19. Although he played in only 20 games, it was the first season of a long career spent mainly in Texas and including a small cup of coffee in the major leagues.

His first season in the books, Otto returned to the Texas League in 1905, playing 87 games for Temple and Corsicana. His .212 batting average offered little indication McIver would be a household name in Texas baseball for the next two decades. But in 1906, Otto became a tool in Dallas owner J.W. Gardner’s grand plan to control the league by owning two franchises, the second in Greenville serving as a “farm team,” of sorts, for his Giants. When Greenville folded mid-season, Otto moved on to Dallas, and his grew into .255 batter, a solid hitter for his era.

At the start of 1907, Otto McIver took a chance and left the Texas League, signing with the Shreveport Pirates of the Southern Association. The break from Texas suited him well. In 67 games with Shreveport, he improved his batting average to .278. At mid-season, however, Otto left the Class A Southern Association and returned to the Class C Texas League, playing 74 games with the Temple Boll Weevils. Under the teaching of Manager Ben Shelton, who had turned Tris Speaker from a pitcher into a future Hall of Fame outfielder a season earlier in Cleburne, McIver turned in the best two months of his career. With Temple he batted .322 with a .427 slugging percentage. The confidence he gained encouraged him to return to Class A baseball a year later.

Whatever 1907 did to improve Otto’s confidence, 1908 destroyed. Playing for the Mobile Sea Gulls, he batted just .162 in 102 games. A return to Shreveport, now a member of the Texas League, did little to improve his production, and McIver headed into 1909 wondering if he could continue a professional career for as long as he had hoped. He signed with the defending champion San Antonio Bronchos and hoped for the best. He was not disappointed, and neither were baseball fans in the Alamo City.

While the Bronchos did not win a Texas League title during McIver’s two seasons anchoring the outfield, Otto established himself as a force to be reckoned with both offensively and as a baserunner.  In 1909, he tied for the team lead by batting .290 and added speed to his game as he stole 42 bases, again leading the team.  He improved again in 1910, batting .303 with 51 stolen bases. For the first time, Otto had an element of power at the plate gaining 48 extra-base hits, including 7 home runs. The Big Leagues took note, and prior to the 1911 season, the St. Louis Cardinals signed McIver to a contract.

Otto McIver’s stay in the major leagues was brief, but not nearly as brief as many others who have tried and failed at the highest level of professional baseball. Backing up three established Cardinal outfielders, McIver appeared in 30 games and batted just .226. But the most likely reason for his failure to stick with a major league club was that the speed that served him so well in Texas wasn’t up to Major League standards. McIver did not have a single stolen base with the Cardinals despite reaching base one out of every three times he came to bat.

After his time in St. Louis, in 1912 McIver found himself in the Class AA Pacific Coast League with the San Francisco Seals. Unfortunately, the magic he’d discovered in San Antonio continued to allude him, and by mid-season he’d returned to the Texas League with the Austin Senators. Slowly, McIver began to regain confidence, and over the course of a half-season in Austin his batting average returned to the point of respectability while he once again found an element of success on the base paths. He held steady the following season while performing double duty as the Senators’ player-manager, and in 1914, McIver began a three-year stint with the Fort Worth Panthers.

“Solid” best describes Otto’s time in Fort Worth as he consistently batted in the high .200s. In 1915 he set a personal high in stealing 69 bases, only topped by his teammate Bobby Stow who led the league with 70. After spending 1916 as the Panthers’ player-manager, in 1917, McIver returned to Shreveport for a third stint in the city but appeared in only 39 games.

While many of his baseball counterparts were called to serve in World War I beginning in late 1917, Otto McIver was not drafted. Still, he did not play baseball either, instead taking a position his parents had probably wished he had pursued a decade earlier, working as an accountant for a Dallas automobile dealership. In 1919, he tried to rekindle his career with Sacramento of the Pacific Coast League; yet, he never made it onto the field. At age 34, it appeared McIver’s career had come to an end. He took a job managing a Dallas cotton compress and planned to settle into his second occupation.

After four years out of baseball, the Class D Texas Association formed, and Otto McIver put his cleats back on for a productive season with the Sherman Twins.  A year later, he signed on as manager of the league’s Waco franchise but moved onto Austin in the same position late in the season. Finally, in 1925, McIver spent his final year in baseball as manager of the Texas Association’s Terrell Terrors. After 18 seasons in professional baseball, Otto McIver officially called it a career and entered the traditional workforce, continuing in the cotton business and living out his years with his wife, Alene. The couple had no children.

On May 4, 1954, Otto McIver died of a heart attack in Dallas. He never became a doctor, but if his parents had been paying attention, he had certainly done them proud in becoming an early star of the Texas League with one of the longest tenures in the league history when he retired. He is buried in Dallas’ Greenwood Cemetery.

Ivey Tevis: Knowing when it’s never too late

Even though Ivey Tevis began his professional baseball career in North Texas in 1902, it didn’t take long for the native of South Texas to return home. Upon his return, Tevis spent six years in the South Texas League when the state divided its professional circuit into two separately operating leagues. He also became among the best pitchers in South Texas, but his won-loss record doesn’t tell the whole story.

Iva Tevis was born June 20, 1873, to Randolph and Susan Wingate Tevis in either Beaumont or Jefferson. Randolph, a wagoner by trade, and his wife had both been born in Jefferson, and in 1880 the family resided in the important East Texas city providing the nearest navigable water way to Dallas. So contrary to some suggesting Tevis to be a native of Beaumont, it is more likely Jefferson was where he spent his youth. In 1893, Ivey Tevis married Belle Blanchette Merritt, and by 1900 the couple had indeed moved to Beaumont where Ivey worked in a saw mill. Whether he spent any of his time cutting blanks to be turned as bats is unknown, but somewhere along the way, Tevis became involved in baseball, playing in Beaumont’s amateur ranks before 1900. At the same time, he also competed on the local rodeo circuit.

In 1902, at the age of 29, a fellow South Texas baseball enthusiast, Charles  Eisenfelder of Galveston, convinced Ivey Tevis to pitch for his new Texas League franchise in Paris, far north of Galveston. Eisenfelder was a bit of a bungling businessman, but he had been involved on the Galveston sports scene for some time, serving as boxing commissioner for the city, as well as owning a feed and grain business. Apparently, Tevis either didn’t know Eisenfelder well enough to avoid his business shenanigans or at his advanced age assumed he would only get one chance to play professional baseball. He did make the trip north, if only briefly, and played eight games with the Paris Parisians. As a pitcher, Tevis went 2-3 and walked twice as many batters as he struck out. But considering his teammates finished the season 40 games out of first place, he wasn’t much worse than anyone else on the pitching staff.

The southern cities were left out of the Texas League in 1902, and a year later San Antonio, Houston, Galveston, and Beaumont formed the South Texas League. Ivey Tevis, not satisfied with his brief taste of professional baseball, signed with the Houston Buffaloes before finishing the season with the last place Beaumont Oil Gushers.  Ivey wasn’t particularly overpowering with any team, combining for a 6-11 record in 1903. A year later, he spent the entire season with the Houston Wanderers and continued his mediocrity with a 2-4 record.

At 32 years old, one might have expected Tevis to hang up his spikes, but someone still saw something in him as a pitcher. Early in 1904, Ivey played for the Beaumont Millionaires, but when the team relocated to Brenham, he moved to Galveston and joined the long-time Texas League franchise, the Sand Crabs. It was in Galveston where Tevis experienced his greatest success to date.  In 42 appearances on the season, Tevis posted a 15-18 record. But he also led the South Texas League in strikeouts with 201. He also led the league in walks with 79. He returned to Galveston in 1906, tying for the team lead with 11 wins; however, he also led the league in losses with 17.

In 1907, the North Texas and South Texas Leagues reunited, and Ivey signed with the Houston Buffaloes. While Houston finished in fourth place, Tevis was surrounded by the best lineup he had played with to date, most notably the second-year outfielder Tris Speaker.  The Buffaloes posted a 79-60 record, finishing just 8.5 games behind league champion Austin. As for Tevis, he was phenomenal in Houston, posting a 24-17 record while leading all eight teams in wins. A year later, Tevis returned, but he couldn’t match his 1907 performance, posting a 12-13 record on the third place Buffaloes. At season’s end, Tevis was signed to play in the American Association for the Indianapolis Indians. The Indians were the class of the American Association in 1908, taking the championship with a team including 20 future major league players. No record of Ivey Tevis actually appearing in a game with the Indians exists.

With the 1908 season over and Ivey Tevis beyond his 35th birthday, Ivey decided it was time to give up his unlikely foray into professional baseball. In a span of eight seasons, he managed to work his way from the ranks of an amateur ballplayer to one step shy of the major leagues.  Playing on few competitive teams, he managed to post a record of 72-83, far better than many Texas League pitchers playing far more seasons in the league. Yet, Tevis’ most notable success as a pitcher was with Galveston when he won four games in two days, pitching both ends of doubleheaders on consecutive days.

With his baseball career behind him, Ivey returned to the ranks of the regular working class. But with a little fame behind his name, Tevis no longer labored in a saw mill; instead, he returned to Beaumont and took a job with the city, first as superintendent of streets and bridges and later as a county commissioner and constable. He still held the position of constable on May 12, 1942, when he suffered a stroke and died in Beaumont’s hospital. His wife lived another five years, dying of a pulmonary embolism following a fall in which she broke several ribs. The two are buried in Beaumont’s Magnolia Cemetery.

The Ballad of Neal Vance: Texas League Bad Boy

Neal vanceIn the Ozark Mountains of Arkansas, people have a saying: “It’s not that the mountains are so tall; it’s that the valleys are so deep.” Neal Vance was reared in one of those valleys in Jefferson Township, now known as Valley Springs. While the community lies along a major highway today, in the late 19th century, like all of the Ozarks, it was secluded and inaccessible. Those who scraped out a living in this area of the country were hardened souls. So it might have been expected Neal would have a bit of a mean streak in him.

Despite a reputation in baseball circles, whether deserved or undeserved, he seemed to be on his best behavior Texas. Still, when newspapers turned on Vance for alleged on and off-field actions, they placed the blame on Texas and its poor influence. Thus, Vance became one of the most traveled professional ballplayers in the early 20th century. His ballad reads like the log book of a trans-continental airline pilot.

Neal Hendrix Vance, also known as “Neil Vance,” “Gimbert” Vance, and “James G. Vance,” is born in Boone County, Arkansas, on October 10, 1884. Vance is the fourth child and first son of Morris David Vance and his second wife, Terry Hicks. Neal’s father operates a dry goods store in Jefferson Township, a wise choice as opposed to those of frontier Arkansas farmers attempting to scratch out a meager subsistence in the shallow rocky soil surrounding the community. Before entering the mercantile business, M.D. Vance had served as a Confederate Soldier, named a captain in the 11th Arkansas Cavalry when he was only 18-years old. Captain Vance must have impressed, as by war’s end, he is a 20-year old Colonel. Later in life, he informally becomes a General when he is involved in organizing Confederate veteran affairs at the state level in 1920s Arkansas.

Terry Vance dies when Neal is just five-years-old. Having already been married twice, M.D. does not remarry, leaving Neal’s raising in the hands of his three daughters. As Neal grows older, his father enters the insurance business and moves the family to the less rugged but still secluded terrain of Springdale, Arkansas. Exactly where and how Neal becomes involved in baseball is unclear as is most of his career. Record books show Neal Vance playing only three seasons of professional baseball, two in Texas and one in California. Additional research, however, reveals a far more complicated capsule of his career. Neal Vance, to say the least, becomes a well-traveled player, signing with several teams he never plays for under at least four different aliases.

1905: Vance debuts with the South McAlester/Fort Smith of the Missouri Valley League. He plays sparsely and is shipped to the Tulsa Oilers. His 1905 pitching record is an unimpressive 1-4.

1906: Vance arrives in Temple, Texas, to play for Con Lucid’s Boll Weevils. Temple’s season is cut short when Greenville ceases operations and the league drops Temple to allow for even scheduling. Vance leads the Boll Weevils to eight of the team’s twenty wins. It is not documented in Texas newspapers, but later in Vance’s career he is accused of threatening to kill Con Lucid’s replacement, Fred Moore.

1907: Vance moves to Houston and posts a 9-8 record in 22 games. He also plays in the Oklahoma-Kansas League with Bartlesville and Muskogee. As 1908 approaches, Vance’s reputation and legends of the Texas League’s influence send the young pitcher on an eight-year roller coaster ride through baseball.

1908: Vance signs with Waco before Toledo of the American Association purchases his rights. His time in Toledo is short. On April 13, Vance pitches miserably for Toledo’s second team in an exhibition matchup in Fort Wayne. When pulled from the game, the Fort Wayne News reports Vance “went through a few stunts of a highly illuminating nature.” At the hotel that evening, Vance attempts to attack his manager with a steak knife and threatens him with a pistol. Toledo releases Vance, and he is reportedly picked up by Springfield of the Ohio State League. Instead, he plays the season in Green Bay of the Wisconsin-Illinois League.

The incident in Fort Wayne and the newspaper accounts cement public view of Vance’s difficulties having arisen from his time in Texas. Reporters inaccurately state Neal Vance spent “almost his entire life” on the “Texas frontier where he probably picked up his wild and wooly ideas.”  Toledo’s owner notes Vance’s “Indian warfare ideas” as intolerable. Neal begins playing under the alias, “James G. Vance.”

1909: Vance begins the season with York and Johnstown in the Tri-State League but moves to California and pitches with Vernon of the Pacific Coast League. He posts a 6-13 record for the last-place team in a league that plays over 220 games on the season.

1910: Vance signs with the Detroit Tigers of the major leagues, but never plays a game. He does play in Rochester, Minnesota, and is hospitalized after being hit in the head with a pitch. He returns to play with Green Bay for several games. Detroit sells Vance’s rights to the Cleveland Naps for the maximum price, $1,500. Cleveland recognizes an error in the transaction that saves them $700. Detroit balks, and Vance travels to Albany and the New York State League. The Decatur, Illinois, newspaper piles on Vance, noting he is so disruptive no club wants to sign him. The same newspaper reveals the incident with Fred Moore in Temple several years earlier. Vance does not appear with Albany and instead pitches in the Virginia League for Norfolk, his most successful season to date, posting a 16-7 record.

1911-13: Vance returns to New York, winning 7 games for Syracuse. Mid-season, he moves back to the Virginia League, signing with the Petersburg Goobers. Here, Vance has his greatest success. He posts a perfect 11-0 record in is first season. Vance remains in Petersburg the next two seasons, sans a brief move to Roanoke. He leaves Petersburg in late 1913 and returns to Texas, playig a few games with Bonham in the Texas-Oklahoma League.

1914-16: Vance plays for Georgetown of the East Texas League in 1914, takes 1915 off, and finishes his career with Crockett in 1916.

After 11 tumultuous years playing, and sometimes not playing, in cities from California to New York, Neal Vance, “James G. Vance,” and “Gimbert Vance” retires from baseball, likely along with some other alias Vances. For those keeping score, over the course of Vance’s 10 year active career he plays for or is signed to play for 24 franchises in 14 leagues.

Soon after Neal Vance’s baseball career ends, he accepts an honest job with a Tulsa oil company, reportedly as a “chemist.” His career has come full circle as he works in the oil industry in the same city he began his baseball career as a member of the Oilers franchise. But like most everything about Neal Vance’s life, his time in the traditional workforce is short. On the cold evening of February 10, 1919, Vance retires to his room in Tulsa and turns up the gas furnace. The following morning, he is found dead. Reportedly, after just a few hours of exposure to toxic fumes from the furnace, Vance’s body advances to a state of decomposition rendering identification difficult. Officially, the cause of death is listed as “asphyxiation,” something we’d likely consider carbon monoxide poisoning today. In any event, Neal Hendrix Vance dies at the age of 34.

Neal’s father, now working as a janitor in the Central Arkansas town of Conway, brings his son’s body back to his home state where he is buried in Conway’s Oak Grove Cemetery. For 21 years, Neal rests in an unmarked grave until General Morris David Vance dies at the age of 95. The grave marker erected for General Vance recognizes Neal as well.

And so ends the ballad of Neal Hendrix Vance, a man who deserving or not, is labeled as a baseball pariah, thus earning him a hesitant designation as a Texas League “Bad Boy.”

Beisbol arrives in Paris (Texas)

The history of baseball in Mexico goes back almost as far as it does in the United States. The earliest contests south of the border are thought to have been played in the 1840s, but historians do know for sure that baseball was being played regularly in Mexico by the 1870s. While a century-and-a-half later players of Hispanic or Latino descent make up 30% of all professionals, it took many decades before the first Mexican players signed contracts in the United States. Even in Texas, where professional baseball has been played since 1888 and numerous leagues popped up statewide, including along the Mexico border, Mexicans were not warmly received in American baseball.  In fact, it was 1924, Paris’ 18th season of professional baseball, before Lamar County saw its first player of Mexican descent.

Nazario Faustine Gallegos, Jr., was born September 25, 1898, in New Mexico, the son of a newspaper publisher. Nazario’s grandfather was a prominent farmer, raising 9 children on a farm not too far west of El Paso. Nazario’s grandparents and parents both emphasized the importance of an education, and the Gallegos children were discouraged from pursuing farm work. In fact, the family employed three domestic servants. While it is unknown just how wealthy the Gallegos family may have been or their expectations of Nazario and their other children, Gallegos attended and graduated high school in El Paso before going to work as a typist at his father’s newspaper. But Nazario, who went by the nickname “Teen” (short for his middle name of Faustine), was more interested in making news than typing about someone else’s exploits. By the time he was 22, Teen left Texas for Illinois where he signed to play professional baseball with the Rockford Rox. While Nazario appeared in 134 games in his first season, his .230 batting average did not impress, and he returned to Texas a season later.

The West Texas League was two steps below Rockford, but Narario’s skillset was better suited for the secluded circuit, and he played in both San Angelo and Sweetwater in 1921. By all accounts, he sat out of professional baseball for the following two seasons before turning up in the East Texas League with the Paris North Stars in 1924. It was in Paris that Gallegos’ career started to show promise as he hit for both average and power, and showed speed on the base paths. His work in Paris impressed Texas League owners enough that San Antonio signed him to finish its season. While he played only 14 games in San Antonio, his .326 batting average was an impressive figure in any league. But when the 1925 season opened, Nazario was back in Paris, this time with the newly-named Bearcats. Over the next two seasons, he remained in Paris and put up the best numbers of his career. Nazario batted .320 combined in 1925-26 with 280 base hits, 93 of which he stretched beyond first base.

Following the 1926 season, Nazario Gallegos once again caught the attention of the higher levels of the minor leagues and moved to Jacksonville, Florida, where he played the majority of the next four seasons with the Southeastern League’s Jacksonville Tars. Then he suddenly disappeared from the record books.

It’s unknown what became of Nazario Gallegos in the early 1930s in terms of baseball. In 1930, census records note him employed as a painter in Jacksonville, and a year later the local directory includes a listing under his name as an inspector with Ford Motor Company. Whatever Gallegos had been doing during the early Depression years apparently did not mean baseball was out of his system. In 1936 he returned for one final season of minor league ball, this time splitting the year with four teams affiliated with Cincinnati and Detroit. All four teams allowed Gallegos to continue playing in Florida and Georgia. Following his baseball career, he remained in the area, adopting Florida as home where he lived with his wife, Thelma, and two sons, Faustine and Dudley. No records suggest Nazario Gallegos ever set foot in Paris after the 1926 East Texas League season. After his career ended, he went work as a longshoreman. But that career was short, and in January of 1943, he died of unkown causes.  His place of burial is unknown.

Nazario Faustine “Teen” Gallegos, Jr., may never have been a household name or achieved notable feats in his nine seasons of professional baseball. But in Paris, Texas, baseball circles, he holds one distinction that has like never been recognized or considered particularly important. Gallegos was the first player of Mexican descent to appear in Paris professional baseball uniform.