In Search of the Texas League’s First Texan

Until recently, the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR), held the official position that Frank J. Hoffman, long-believed to be born in Houston, was the first native Texan to appear in the major leagues. Hoffman, a right-handed pitcher, debuted with the Kansas City Cowboys of the American Association in August, 1888, a year after his professional career began with the Southern League’s New Orleans Pelicans. Between New Orleans and Kansas City, Hoffman played for the Austin/San Antonio franchise in the Texas League’s inaugural season and posted a 22-11 won-loss record with an incredible 0.70 earned run average. By default, it would appear that Frank Hoffman was not only the first Texas-born major leaguer, but also the first in the Texan to play in the Texas League (TL) as well.

After Hoffman left San Antonio for Kansas City, he was apparently dubbed “The Texas Wonder” by a sportswriter or teammate.  But he was far from a “wonder” in the American Association. Hoffman pitched only 12 games for Kansas City, finishing with a 3-9 record and a comparatively horrific 2.77 ERA. Those 12 games represented the extent of Frank J. Hoffman’s big league career. The following spring, after being released by Kansas City, Hoffman signed with Denver of the Western Association then returned to the TL in 1890 with the Houston Mud Cats. Later, he left for the West Coast and was out of baseball by 1893. Circumstantial evidence led most researchers to believe Hoffman was, indeed, the first Texan to play in the major leagues, and likewise the first in the TL. This was largely considered fact until about three weeks ago.

Bill Carle, a baseball historian and member of SABR, recently completed thorough research into Frank Hoffman’s life. Though a difficult man to trace, Carle found documentation indicating Hoffman was not born in Texas at all; rather, he was a Mississippi native. So, the question is once again on the table. “Who was the first native Texan to play in the TL?”

When the TL formed, many of its ballplayers followed the league’s founder, John McCloskey, from Missouri and other Midwestern states. In fact, in the first two years of the TL, not a single player has been documented with Texas listed as his home state. But, many of the names on those early rosters have no associated birthplace. Fortunately, few “Smiths” or “Browns” are included, and researching the birthplace, or at the where the players were not born is not very complicated, although a bit tedious. Over the past few weeks, I have reviewed the rosters of all Texas League clubs in 1888, 1889, and 1892, the league’s first three years of operation, and I believe I have narrowed the contenders for the coveted title of “The Texas League’s First Texan” to four players.  Interestingly, three can be traced to Texas’ most important city in the late 1800’s, Galveston.

First, George “Piggy” Page is a documented “Born on the Island” (BOI) resident, from 1873. Page debuted with his hometown Galveston Sand Crabs in 1892 then went on to play numerous seasons until 1908, mostly in Texas, either with the TL or a smaller circuit.

The next candidate also began his career in 1892 and played alongside George Page in Galveston. Claude G. Hardy was three years older than his teammate, but documents confirm he, too, was BOI. Hardy eventually pitched and played outfield for Galveston, Houston, and Waco. Hardy played five professional seasons, all in Texas except for a brief stint with Natchez of the Mississippi State League in 1893.

A third candidate is James P. Toohey, also a Galveston resident with records indicated his being born on the island and residing there his entire life. Toohey appeared in nineteen games with the 1889 Sand Crabs. If truly a native Texan, his appearance three years before Page or Hardy would likely clear the way for James Toohey to be the TL’s first home-grown player. But, one more obscure contender remains.

Wiliam “Billy” Koerps, a San Antonio resident officially recorded as having played in a single game for his hometown Missionaries on August 7, 1892, can be documented as having been born in Texas. Newspaper accounts suggest Koerps played for San Antonio’s railroad team, the Galveston, Houston & San Antonio railroad club, both before and after his TL appearance.

As interesting as it might be to declare Billy Koerps, a completely unknown player who barely even sipped coffee in the TL, as the first Texan to appear in a TL, unfortunately his debut in August, 1892, makes him the easiest to eliminate, as both Page and Hardy appeared earlier in the season. And, the Page-Hardy question is quickly answered with a glance at the opening day box scores of May 7, 1892. On that day, Claude Hardy pitched for the Texas Stars, a barnstorming team unaffiliated with the TL. George Page, on the other hand, was in the starting lineup for the Galveston Sand Crabs in their season opening loss to Houston.

So, the question of the First Texan in the TL, can be narrowed to two players, George Page and James P. Toohey.  The answer lies with the true identity and birthplace of Toohey.

James Patrick Toohey was born around 1865 and initially began his baseball career in 1889 in the Southern League, first with Birmingham, then Mobile. Later in the year, he played catcher and first base with Galveston. But, when it comes to Toohey, records of his birthplace are contradictory.

A railroad engineer most of his life, James Toohey is listed in the 1920 census as living in Galveston and having been born in Texas in 1865. Then again, in both 1900 and 1930, the same James Toohey with the same wife, is listed as being born in New Orleans in 1862. The lack of census records for 1890 complicates matters. According to baseball records, Toohey played the 1890 season in Canada and 1891 in the Eastern Association. Combined with his 1889 play, the three seasons represent his entire professional baseball career.

There is no indication, however, of the James Patrick Toohey of Galveston ever playing professional baseball. His obituary only mentions his life as a locomotive engineer, and it does not include his birthplace. Likewise, Toohey’s son, born in 1908, is repeatedly listed in the U.S. Census records from 1910-1940 as being born of a father from Louisiana. Newspapers, in particular the The Galveston Daily News, never mention Toohey in connection with baseball, although he is often referred to on the “Society” page.

Ultimately, the evidence in confirming James Toohey as a native Texan, and the James Toohey residing in Galveston from the 1880’s through his death in 1935 ever having played professional baseball, is scant, and most likely in error. With that, George Page, a rookie with the Galveston Sand Crabs in 1892, can likely be designated as the first native born Texan to play in the Texas League.

In reality, the answer will probably never be known for sure. At some point, a team may have found itself short a player and picked up a local ballplayer for a game sometime in 1888 or 1889. This type of information is not easily found, however, and even if a Texas-resident has filled in now and then, there is nothing to say any was actually born in Texas.

Based on the evidence at hand, it would appear that George “Piggy” Page has wrestled the title of the “Texas League’s First Texan” from Frank Hoffman, an apparent imposter for the past 125 years. The next question at hand—If not Frank Hoffman, who was the first Texan to play in the major leagues? I’ll hold that for a future project.

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