When the Texas League left Paris after the 1904 season, it by no means signaled the end of professional baseball in Lamar County. From 1905 until 1957, Paris was home to many teams playing in circuits like the North Texas League, the Sooner State League, and the Western Association. For several years beginning in 1912, Paris placed a team in the Texas-Oklahoma League. Playing under the names “Boosters” and “Snappers,” the teams played quite well, although no particularly memorable names are found on the rosters; that is, with the exception of one. It won’t be found in any record books and it’s likely not mentioned in any of his several biographical works, but for one forgotten game in 1914, Paris was home to a rather self-absorbed shortstop who would go on to become among the greatest ballplayers the game has ever seen.
In 1896, Ed and Mary Hornsby of Winters, Texas, about mid-way between Abilene and San Angelo, had their sixth and final child. They named the boy “Rogers,” in honor of his mother’s maiden name. Two years later, Ed died, and his wife moved the family to Fort Worth where her older sons took jobs in a meat packing business. From as early as he could remember, young Rogers was involved in or hanging around baseball. Before he turned ten, Rogers had organized a team of classmates, and his mother supported his interest by sewing denim uniforms for all nine players. When he took a job as a messenger with the meat packing plant, he occasionally played on the company team, even as a pre-teen. And by the team he was 15, Rogers was playing semi-pro ball in Fort Worth.
Rogers was encouraged in his efforts to play baseball by his older brother Everett, a long-time and moderately-successful pitcher in the Texas League. In early 1914, Everett arranged a tryout for his 17-year-old brother with his own team, the Dallas Giants. Rogers played well and did, in fact, make the team. But by the second decades of the 1900s, the Texas League had become well established as a breeding ground of major league talent. Rather than use a roster spot on a developmental player, the Giants entered into an agreement with Hugo of the Texas-Oklahoma League to watch over Rogers and help him develop into a Texas League-caliber infielder.
The rest of the story is history, at least most of it. Rogers Hornsby played with Hugo until the team folded in June, then he played with Denison the remainder of 1914 and most of 1915. Hornsby never played in the Texas League, being signed away from Denison, now a Western Association team, in September. It would be many years before Rogers Hornsby wore another minor league uniform.
Between 1916 and 1937, Hornsby played for the Cardinals, the St. Louis Browns, Boston Braves, New York Giants, and Chicago Cubs. While not endearing himself to any owner, manager, or teammate, Hornsby put up some of the greatest seasons a batter has ever recorded, posting a lifetime average of .358 and three seasons in which he batted over .400. Hornsby’s 1924 batting average of .424 is the highest of any player in baseball history. In the meantime, he spent 13 years in the dual role of player-manager. While Hornsby’s fielded percentage was mediocre at best, his batting earned him easy election to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1942. Following his major league career, he returned to the minors as a manager for 11 seasons. With all of his accomplishments in baseball well-documented, one sliver of Rogers Hornsby’s career is buried so deep in century-old newspaper clippings, most all biographers have overlooked it.
When Dallas optioned its young shortstop to Hugo of the Texas-Oklahoma League on March 10, 1914, Hornsby did not immediately leave town. The Paris Snappers had come west to play some pre-season games against the much stiffer competition of the Texas League in Dallas and Fort Worth, and on March 15, Rogers Hornsby suited up for his first-ever professional baseball game. Facing the Fort Worth Panthers, Hornsby donned a Paris Snappers uniform at shortstop, batting eighth in the lineup.
The game was a tight affair, the pitchers dominating the opposition through six and a half innings. Ultimately, the Panthers broke through for three runs in the seventh and eighth inning and took the contest 3-0. Fort Worth managed just five hits on the day to Paris’ three in a game lasting less than 90 minutes. As for Rogers Hornsby, his professional debut was unremarkable. He batted four times without reaching base and recorded one put-out in the field. He had no assists, a rarity for a shortstop. In fact, Hornsby’s play on March 15, 2014, was so innocuous, his name wasn’t even mentioned in the Fort Worth Star Telegram’s account of the game with the exception of his line in the box score. For a player who would go on to reach base in 43% of his major league plate appearances, Hornsby’s debut with Paris was indeed a rarity.
Of course, Rogers Hornsby was not a stranger to Paris after the game against Fort Worth. For the remainder of 1914 and again in 1915, he made regular trips to Paris with Hugo and Denison, and he faced the Paris teams in his home park as well. But according to available records, Rogers Hornsby wore a Paris uniform only one day, a day that just happened to mark his debut as a professional. With that, we can add one more scratch in the remarkable history of baseball in Lamar County.