Cleburne, today a city about 30,000 residents on the southernmost edge of the Dallas-Fort Worth Metoplex, had little going for it in 1906 to support a professional baseball team. With a population of only 7,000, the dusty city did serve as a stop on the Gulf, Colorado, and Santa Fe Rail Line, but previous small cities like Sherman, Denison, and Paris had all tried to support a Texas League franchise and failed. As rural agricultural communities, their residents shared a strong, blue-collar work ethic. A game like baseball and the perceived ne’er do wells and ruffians it attracted could hardly be worth the investment of its ticket price, particularly in a time when a quarter was hard to come by and most men spent long days being a mule or team of oxen. Cleburne had far more in common with Sherman, Denison, and Paris than Dallas or Fort Worth. Cleburne civic leader Charles Thacker convinced friend Doak Roberts to relocate his Temple franchise to the city for the 1906 season. The season followed a bumpy trail, but when over, the Cleburne Railroaders reigned as Texas League Champions. Still, a closer look at the team shows that without Lamar County, which itself had failed to retain a Texas League franchise in its county seat, Paris, the Railroaders may have never been so successful.
Cleburne’s roster had far more in common with Lamar and nearby counties than it did with its home, Johnson County. And, the ties to Lamar County started at the top, with team manager Ben Shelton. Of the fifteen players who carried the bulk of the load in 1906, no less than six had direct ties to Lamar County, and at least two others had played for Paris during its five seasons as a member of the Texas League:
Ben Shelton, manager and first base: Though born in Alabama, Shelton moved to Paris as a youngster and learned to play baseball while his father worked as a cotton buyer in the area. He quickly became not just a talented player, but also a student of the game and one of the most respected baseball minds in the early Texas League.
Rick Adams, pitcher: Adams resided in Providence, a few miles northeast of Paris, where he was born and later owned the family farm. Playing twelve professional seasons, including one in the major leagues, Adams arguably remained Paris’ most well-known baseball product into the mid-20th century. In 1906, he led Cleburne in victories with twenty-five, while batting .276. After retirement, he remained close to the game, coaching both youth and adult amateur and semi-pro teams in Lamar County.
Dode Criss, pitcher: Criss was born in Mississippi, but at an early age his family moved to Texas, eventually settling north of Blossom. Playing for local semi-pro and amateur teams, he built a name for himself as both a pitcher and batter. In 1906, he posted a 19-9 won-loss record for Cleburne, but even more impressively, he led the team in batting with a .396 average. Criss went on to play twelve seasons professionally, including four with the St. Louis Browns.
Charles Parker Arbogast, catcher: “Carl” Arbogast was born in Paris in 1884 and played for the city’s sorrowful 1904 Texas League franchise. His career lasted eleven minor league seasons, including four in the highly-respected American Association and Pacific Coast League. Though posting only a .218 career batting average, Arbogast managed Omaha of the Western League for two seasons, and served as Cleburne’s primary catcher in 1906.
Frank “Mickey” Coyle, second base: Despite posting miserable statistics at the plate and in the field, Coyle served as the Railroaders primary second baseman throughout the 1906 season. He was not a Paris native but had moved to the city during his teenage years and became a close friend of Ben Shelton. Coyle began his professional career at the age of sixteen, retiring at twenty-one. Some credit him with saving National Baseball Hall of Fame outfielder Tris Speaker from being cut from the team after a single game with the Railroaders, his first professional appearance. Mickey also played the 1903 season with Paris’ Texas League franchise.
Roy Akin, third base: While Akin hailed from Tennessee and eventually made his home in Freestone County, in 1902, he played on the Paris roster along with Ben Shelton. After fourteen professional playing seasons, he managed another three in the low-level minor leagues with Galveston and Mexia.
In addition to these players, two other who appeared briefly on the Cleburne roster had previously played Texas League baseball in Paris—infielder Art Pennell, a native of Fannin County, and pitcher James Yeager. Including these temporary additions, Lamar County can lay claim to eight members of the Cleburne Railroaders as either natives or honing their skills within the county borders.
Paris never won a Texas League Championship, and never really contended for one. But for one splendid season, Lamar County provided the nucleus of a team which claimed the title. While the Cleburne Railroaders are long-forgotten in most circles, the team is among the most recognizable in the long list of Texas League champions, representing the only city to win the pennant in its only season on the circuit.