The Texas Midlands: A Rare Thrill of Victory

On Thursday, July 15, 1897, Paris woke up refreshed. Despite a North Texas drought holding a firm grip over Lamar County since early spring, the previous day had been unseasonably pleasant, with a morning low of a chilly 61 degrees and a mid-day high of only 92. The farmers still prayed for rain, but most every Parisian gave thanks for the break in the heat wave gripping the area.

Though the Texas Midlands, Paris’ 1897 entry in to the Texas Baseball League, had dropped a tight 6-5 contest to the Houston Buffaloes the previous afternoon, local baseball kranks still raved about the Midlands’ offensive outburst on Tuesday, when they gathered 15 hits in route to a 13-10 win in the series’ opening game. And, wins weren’t something Midlands’ fans took for granted. After a disastrous 21-49 last place finish in the season’s first half and an equally disappointing 1-7 start to the second, the current home stand finally offered fans something to cheer about. Taking two out of three games from both Austin and San Antonio over the previous week, the Midlands had pulled out of the Texas League cellar for the first time all year. One more win over Houston, and the Midlands would win three consecutive series, a feat they had yet to accomplish. Ironically, the Buffaloes, who finished a close second to San Antonio in the first half pennant chased, now slurped the bilge of the basement with a 4-13 record. Despite the game being little more than a battle for last place, Paris fans sensed something special about to bloom, if not from the cotton fields than maybe from their beloved Midlands.

As the morning wore on and locals busied themselves in the shops and saloons surrounding the dusty city plaza, Parisians realized Wednesday’s respite from the heat would be short-lived. By mid-afternoon the temperature had topped 100, and when game time arrived at 4 o’clock, the thermometer bumped 104 degrees. Those heading to the ballpark just northwest of where the Santa Fe Railroad crossed North Main had little clue they were about to experience a lot more heat from an unlikely source—the Texas Midlands’ batting lineup.

The July 15 pitching match-up primed the crowd for a fast-moving ballgame. Houston’s Billy Crowell, a member of Paris’ first Texas League club a year earlier, faced Paris’ Charles Nolan. Both boasted low earned run averages, though Nolan had come out on the short-end of many contests thanks to his light-hitting teammates and a defense that mishandled one of every ten chances. In fact, of the 178 runs scored on Nolan on the season to date, scorers rated just 39 as earned. The stocky 5 foot-8 inch, 165- pound Nolan had to be pleased with his performance in Paris, especially considering he’d spent the previous season in the cool, light air of Aspen, Colorado with the Miners in the Colorado State League.

Runs didn’t come easy in baseball’s “Deadball Era,” and they were certainly hard to come by in Paris, where the Midlands’ ranked dead last in the league in runs scored. In the late 1890s, baseball was a game of speed where quick-footed base runners beat out infield singles. Power hitters were unheard of, the lone exception in the Texas League being San Antonio’s “Big” Mike O’Connor who netted a whopping 18 home runs the previous season, tying for second among all minor league players nationwide. Team owners and umpire’s expected one baseball to last an entire game, as fans threw foul balls back onto the field. After all, in 1897 a $1.50 baseball was no cheap commodity. As a game wore on, the loosely-tied baseballs began to soften, and what may have been a line-drive into center field in the first inning transformed to a slow roller to the pitcher by game’s end. But, July 15, 1897, would not be a typical Deadball Era afternoon in Paris.

Billy Crowell likely licked his chops as he prepared to face what was a seemingly impotent Paris lineup. The Midlands’ top batter, first baseman George Nie, rested an injury, replaced by light-hitting Dutch Herold who Paris management prodded from retirement following a miserable 1896 season. The rest of the lineup offered little contest against the experienced Crowell, with the exception of the speedy Elmo Jacobs and Robert Burns. But, with Paris batting just over .250 on the season, Crowell knew they had to actually reach first base to create a threat. He had been stingy with free passes of late, and with the league’s best defense backing him up, Billy expected to make quick work of the Midlands. Meanwhile, with the Buffaloes offense in a slump and two top-notch hurlers in the pitching circle, visions of a 60- minute game crept into the spectators’ minds.

Texas Midland batters doomed the anticipated pitcher’s duel from the outset. The Midlands exploded for seven runs on eight hits in the first two innings, and as Billy Crowell took his spot in the pitcher’s circle for the third, Paris’ bats had just begun to heat up. By the time the Midlands chased Billy a few batters later, he had surrendered another five runs, leaving his team down 12-0 with runners still on base. Paris didn’t let up when second baseman and team manager George Reed traded places with Crowell, continuing to pile on runs until the third inning ended with Paris leading 15-0. The barrage continued in fourth, as Paris added five more runs.

While the batting lineup had a spectacular afternoon, Charles Nolan pitched flawlessly for the home crowd. When the fifth inning ended, he had scattered five singles and a double, while the normally butter-fingered Paris fielders played error-free and turned two double-plays. Houston pitching finally showed up in the fifth inning, holding the Midlands to a single hit and no runs. But, the damage was complete. With five innings finished and the game official, George Reed conferred briefly with the umpire and agreed it was time to cease the affair, his team’s energy better saved for the walk to the railroad depot. The game went in the books as a 20-0 Paris shutout, the most lopsided game Parisians enjoyed in their five seasons of Texas League Baseball.

The story of the day, and perhaps the season, was Paris’ batting. The entire lineup confounded Crowell and Reed, hitting safely 21 times, with more base runners courtesy of seven Houston fielding errors. Among Paris hitters, Elmo Jacobs, Dutch Herold, and Bobby Burns combined for three home runs, a single-game outburst rarely seen. Yet, the home runs only topped the list of a torrent of hits. Jacobs added a double and triple, Burns a single and a triple, and Herold three singles giving him a 4-4 day at the plate. Second baseman William Peeples contributed three hits as well, a single, double, and triple. All nine Paris batters hit safely, six finishing the short game with multiple base hits. Likewise, every batter scored, led by Bobby Burns’ four runs and three each from Jacobs, Peeples, center fielder Charlie Stines, and catcher Dan Boland. Charles Nolan even joined in on the fun, hitting safely and scoring a run.

With twelve singles, three doubles, three triples, and three home runs, on July 15, 1897, the Texas Midlands produced an offensive barrage never matched in Paris’ Texas League history. The only questions remaining were how many more runs the Midlands would have scored had the game gone a full nine innings, and exactly how long the highly-touted pitching matchup actually lasted. Well, the answer to the first will never be known, but as for the second, several men checked their pocket watches as the crowd filed out of the grandstands. Their sixty-minute prediction wasn’t too far off. Despite 20 runs and 21 hits coupled with 7 Houston fielding errors, the Midlands and Charles Nolan made quick work of the Buffaloes. Several fans followed along as Houston started walking toward the depot at 5:15—just 75 minutes after the game began.

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