Petty’s Only Major Leaguer (so far)

Eddie Palmer

Petty, Texas struggled to ever top 500 residents, but through the early 1950s, the small town’s baseball players held their own on amateur diamonds. Rivalries with neighbors like Honey Grove, Brookston, and Roxton, as well as semi-pro industrial teams from Paris and Bonham, kept the Petty Nine in top form, and they generally fielded remarkably competitive teams. Except for one young native, though, the men whose names filled Petty’s lineup cards never rose above amateur status.

Will Palmer, a Georgia farmer, arrived in Petty about 1880 to raise cotton. Two years later when Will married Carrie Baughn, daughter of fellow Petty farmer Richard Baughn, the families joined forces and became influential in the local agriculture market. In fact, when Carrie gave birth to her fourth child, Edwin Henry Palmer in 1893, Will and Richard busily led a group planning to erect Petty’s first cotton gin. While his family struggled with the yearly variance in crop yields, young Edwin led a typical 19th century farm boy’s life filled with daily chores and schooling. In his spare time, he enjoyed watching local men play baseball, his hometown’s growing passion.

By 1904, the Oklahoma territory across the Red River lured many from Texas’ northern tier of counties. Both Will Palmer and Richard Baughn bought 160 acre parcels in Stephens County, part of the “Big Pasture” opened to homesteading after the initial Oklahoma land runs. While Richard stayed behind to tend to matters in Petty, most of the family moved 180 miles northwest to work Oklahoma’s untilled land, acreage his daughter described as far more fertile than Texas’ blackland prairie. Within a few months, Will’s brother purchased his own tract several miles south of the rest of the family. Unbeknownst to anyone at the time, his property lay atop one of Oklahoma’s undiscovered oil and gas fields—a streak of fate that soon converted the Palmers from farmers to oil men.

Eddie Palmer took up baseball as an adolescent, perfecting his skills on Oklahoma’s red clay diamonds. By 1914, the Western Association’s Muskogee Mets rewarded the young oil rigger with a professional contract. A daily workhorse with power, Eddie excelled as a rookie, batting .300 with 21 home runs. After nearly 400 games and three seasons in Muskogee, Texas League clubs took notice of his accomplishments. Signing with the Dallas Giants for 1917, Eddie batted .286 and won over the fans as a gritty but gentlemanly shortstop. When Dallas’ schedule ended in early September, the Philadelphia Athletics called on Eddie to play out the major league season. Unfortunately, he performed miserably, batting a scant .212 and committing 6 errors in just 16 games. On the train ride home from Pennsylvania, Eddie didn’t realize those 16 games would make represent his entire major league career. Regardless, Eddie Palmer had earned the respect of baseball managers, and Dallas didn’t hesitate to re-sign him for the 1918 season. Uncle Sam had other ideas.

During World War I, baseball rallied to support the troops. As ball players left for military duty, the Dallas franchise rebranded itself the “Submarines” and the Houston Buffaloes became the “Gassers.” Amateur teams followed suit, and results of contests between the “Tanks” and “Gunboats” filled the daily sports pages. War readiness carried onto the field as well. The Submarines drilled in formation with rifles and played catch throwing baseballs grenade-style. Instead of practicing with his teammates, though, Eddie Palmer traded his baseball cap for a doughboy helmet. Fortunately, the only military action he saw was on his Army camp’s recreational baseball diamond.

When the war ended shortly after the 1918 season, Eddie returned to Dallas. Over the next three summers, his playing time and batting average fell while his fielding errors increased. Dallas fans still loved “Baldy,” as he was known, and cursed when he signed with Sioux City in 1922. Two seasons in the Western League did Eddie well as his 1923 batting average climbed to a career best .365. Over the next seven years, Eddie played in three cities and three leagues, his longest stint as player-manager of the Cotton State League’s Monroe Drillers from 1926-28. He continued posting impressive numbers, batting over .300 against far younger competition. In 1930, after two productive years in Denver, Eddie Palmer retired as a player before returning to manage Monroe one final season. But, baseball and Eddie were not yet ready to part ways. On opening day, 1932, Eddie cried “Play Ball!” as he began the first of ten seasons as a Texas League umpire.

Finally leaving baseball in 1942, Eddie and his wife lived near Marlow, Oklahoma, working the family oil field and battling the emotional scars of losing a son in the Korean War. Following his wife’s death in 1975, Eddie continued to live quietly, eventually dying in Marlow on January 9, 1983.

Eddie Palmer only spent his early childhood in Petty, and the town experienced both its rise and decline after his family left for Oklahoma.   But, the one hundred residents holding on in Petty still claim the one- time major leaguer as a native. Aside from Eddie Palmer, no Petty product has ever flirted with a big league career. Baseball history, though, continues to be written.

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