Oh, What a Tangled Web we Weave…

Few mistook the 1897 Paris Midlands for a quality baseball club. Though backed by the deep pockets of Edward Howland Robinson Green, among America’s richest citizens, the Midlands just didn’t have the lineup to compete with the rest of the Texas League. Finishing the first half of the season buried in last place with a 21-49 record, few had great expectations for the second half, set to begin on June 29 at Dallas. Still, the entire purpose of a split season was to provide hope for baseball kranks of the “tail-enders.” Despite their miserable first-half performance, when the Midlands and Colts met at Fairgrounds Park, all eight Texas League teams entered the day on equal footing. Considering Dallas finished the first half just in one place ahead of Paris, Midlands fans held out hope the three game series might get their team off to a hot start.

 

Many North Texas farmers feared a coming drought for the summer of 1897, but June 29 dawned with hopes of rain. A southerly wind drove the temperature to the mid-90s by mid-afternoon, but storm clouds could be seen forming southwest of Dallas. Still, there was a ballgame to be played, and at 4 o’clock umpire Mackey signaled for the first pitch. The Midlands sent staff ace Charles “Daddy” Nolan to the mound. Nolan, described as a “fine little twirler” by the Galveston Daily News, came into the game with a poor win-loss record but a fine earned run average, his lack of success in the win column mainly the result of the Midlands miserable offense. In fact, just a few weeks earlier, Nolan had struck out 11 Austin Senators batters, a season-high for Texas League pitchers. He seemed just the pitcher to punch the Midlands ticket to a successful second half.

 

Paris batters stuck to their usual form that afternoon, notching just three hits and no runs over the first four innings. Charles Nolan while pitching relatively well, found a porous defense behind him. Despite surrendering just six hits on the day, the Midlands defense committed 11 errors over its five innings in the field, giving Dallas 11 runs on the day, only three charged to Nolan. First baseman George Nie, normally among Paris’ most dependable fielders, led the Midlands in errors that afternoon, but the true story of the game isn’t found in the box score.

 

In 1897, unlike today, the home team batted first. A full five innings had to be played for a game to be considered official. On June 29 in Dallas, the Paris Midlands found themselves down 8-0 after just two innings, and chances of a comeback appeared bleak. Dallas catcher James “Tub” Welch, just a .238 hitter on the season, slammed what the Dallas Morning News claimed as the longest home run ever at Fairgrounds Park in the first inning, and young third baseman Hoover registered a bases-clearing triple. By the top of the fifth inning, as storm clouds settled over Fairgrounds Park, the Midlands realized their best chance to call the afternoon a success would be to insure a rainout before the last inning could be completed.

 

When the Midlands took the field to lead-off the inning, they did everything possible to delay the game. The usual fast pace of late 19th century baseball slowed to a crawl as Nolan took his time between pitches, lobbed balls half-heartedly over the plate to eager Dallas hitters, and assisted his defense in committing a number of fielding errors even a schoolboy would have turned into outs. With two outs and the skies about to burst, former Midland Warren Beckwith reached base on George Nie’s fourth error of the game, and immediately attempted to steal second by walking to second in hopes of making the inning’s final out. As Nolan made no attempt to toss the ball to second baseman Elmo Jacobs, Beckwith continued his walk to third, passing William Peeples who stood with his hands on his hips. Finally, as Beckwith approached home plate, Nolan offered a veiled attempt to record the out, throwing the ball fall over catcher Dan Boland’s head and allowing Beckwith an easy run. By this point, the umpire caught onto Paris’ scheme and warned team managers Dan Boland and Bobby Burns to play ball or face a forfeit. Whether the managers relayed the order to their team is unknown, but Charles Nolan attempted to slowly offer the next batter a base on balls, pitching wildly outside the strike zone. The Dallas batter, now onto the Midlands plan as well, swung at all three pitches, and registered the final out, seemingly forcing Paris into a final at bat. As the Midlands strolled off the field, the skies opened and sheets of rain swept across the ballpark. Clearly a regulation game would not be played that afternoon, and the Midlands began to look forward to replaying the game from its start the following day, an unblemished 0-0 record still intact.

 

Unfortunately for Paris, umpires of the day had great leeway in applying the rules as they saw fit. As the rain turned into a torrent, Umpire Mackey declared the game official, with Paris forfeiting by an official score of 9-0. Dan Boland put up a feeble protest, but the umpire’s decision stood. By intentionally delaying play, Paris had manufactured an unofficial game, but Mackey refused to back down. Paris went on to not only lose that game, but six of its first seven to open the season’s second-half. Clearly, the split season would offer the Midlands no chance at redemption.

 

 

The results in Dallas did little to dissuade Paris from attempting to take advantage of what they believed was a loophole in the league rules related to official games. Under similar circumstances just over a month later in Galveston, the Midlands attempted the same strategy, this time as a means to a different end.

 

Although they had little chance of making a run at the second-half title, in Galveston the Midlands were far more interested in getting out of town with the $50 guarantee paid to any visiting team playing an official game. Ranking as the worst drawing card for any team in the league, Paris made far more money on the road than at home, and other Texas League owners dreaded their arrival, knowing the crowd would not pay to watch an uncompetitive game. In fact, in most cases, owners hosting the Midlands were lucky to earn any profit after paying the guarantee. But, the inconvenience didn’t deter the Midlands. Undoubtedly, E.H.R. Green had grown tired of losing money in baseball and ordered team management to avoid financial losses at all costs.

 

With the team scheduled to spend another night in Galveston before catching a train out to San Antonio the next morning, Boland and Burns realized a shortened game would allow for an overnight train ride, saving hotel costs. So, as Paris quickly fell behind the Sand Crabs, the managers looked to the skies and realized a short game would be to their boss’s financial advantage. As the Midlands put up little effort on defense in hopes the rain would soon begin, the umpire, apparently warned in advance of Paris’ tactics, immediately forfeited the game to Galveston. Mission accomplished. E.H.R. Green saved twenty dollars, and Galveston gleefully accepted the unearned victory as they fought for the league championship.

 

Limping into San Antonio early the next morning, the weary Midlands put up little fight against the Bronchos a few hours later and played with even less heart over the last 20 games of the season, which they finished with a 5-15 record. The Midlands combined 41 wins in both halves of 1897 left Paris as the cellar dweller in the overall standings, 34-1/2 games behind the champion Sand Crabs, and nearly ten games behind 7th place Dallas.

 

His endeavor into professional baseball a financial disaster and personal embarrassment, E.H.R. Green moved on to more lucrative pursuits the following year. He quickly built the Texas Midland Railroad, for whom he had named his baseball franchise, into a Texas empire linking the remote northeastern counties to Dallas-Fort Worth and South Texas. Undoubtedly the hotel costs he saved that afternoon in Galveston contributed greatly to his success.

 

 

 

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s