Ardmorites, Ardmorians, or Ardmoraniacs—Whatever you might call a native of Ardmore, Oklahoma, “dishonest” is not a word that comes to mind. So, when someone from Ardmore tells you their city hosted the team holding the worst home winning percentage of any team in professional baseball history, accept them at their word. But how that record came to be takes a bit more explanation.
When William Miller and Guy Rall, two ordinary Fort Worth men with absolutely no experience or any business operating a baseball team, were awarded a Texas League franchise prior to the 1904 season, they were intent on placing their team in Ardmore. The Texas League had previous experience with out-of-state teams, briefly flirting with New Orleans in 1888 and Shreveport in 1895. But it had yet to place a team north of the Red River, in what in 1904 was still known as “Indian Territory.
Ardmore, then a town of about 6,000, was closer to Dallas-Fort Worth than Paris, but Paris had over 9,000 residents and a proven, though fickle, fan base. It also had a record of four season somewhat supporting a Texas League franchise. In the early days of professional baseball a “maybe so” was far more desirable than a “not quite sure,” but, Miller and Rall pushed Ardmore to build the ballpark and sell the season tickets needed to convince other owners it was up to Texas League standards. After all, the city had supported a crack semi-pro club, and the leap to the Texas League wasn’t a challenge that couldn’t be overcome. But, as the 1904 season neared, negotiations with Ardmore city leaders stalled. Miller and Rall reluctantly gave up their effort and sent their franchise where the other league owners wanted it in the first place, Paris.
The history of the 1904 Paris Red Ravens, or “Parasites” as they are often known, has been documented in this column before, but suffice to say, the team owners’ ineptitude as both businessmen and baseball men suffocated any chance for its success. The Red Ravens put on a historically-poor performance in 1904, winning just 23 games. Despite being managed by Texas League Hall of Famer “Big” Mike O’Connor and having serviceable players like Tom Dugan, Sam Deskin, and Cy Mulkey on the roster, the Red Ravens top pitchers, Al Selby and Earl Zook, combined for a 7-40 won loss record. The team’s failures were monumental both within the history of the Texas League and all of professional baseball.
With good reason, as the season wore on, Paris baseball kranks failed to turn out in sufficient numbers. By mid-season, William Miller was losing money faster than he could earn it at his day job with a Fort Worth printer and abandoned the club, leaving his share in the hands of his partner. Guy Rall didn’t last much longer and soon returned to his more successful venture in the telegraph business. With only a few weeks left in the season, the Texas League had a team without a city, and league officials knew a three team league would not survive more than twenty-four hours without a replacement. Ardmore, unwilling to accept terms before the season began, had an outstanding semi-pro team in 1904. Suddenly, city leaders believed they were ready for professional baseball. On August 4, the Ardmore Territorians became the first professional baseball team in Oklahoma history when the few remaining players from the Paris roster who hadn’t already signed elsewhere relocated to the city and joined some local amateurs.
According to The Daily Ardmorite, the Territorians were not formally admitted to the league and would simply play exhibition games against Paris’ scheduled opponents; however, the results of those games and player achievements are definitely included in the Texas League’s official records. So, indeed, Ardmore did host a Texas League team in August of 1904. On August 5, the Fort Worth Panthers made the trip across the river to christen Ardmore’s entry into professional baseball with a planned two-game series.
No record can be found of how many spectators turned out in Ardmore that afternoon, and little about the game is known. William “Zena” Clayton, a sixteen-year-old for the Territorians, hit a home run, but the rest of the game was largely a comedy of errors on Ardmore’s part, and Fort Worth took the contest 4-2. A day later, heavy rains came through southern Oklahoma, and Ardmore’s ballfield was described as a “mud pit.” So, Fort Worth headed back to Texas for a series with Corsicana, while Ardmore hit the road to face Dallas in the first game of a ten-day road trip. The team would then close out the season with twelve games at home.
The Territorians won three games in the early stages of its road trip, an impressive number considering Paris won the same number during the entire month of June. But before the team could return to Ardmore for its season-ending home stand, the Texas League abruptly cancelled the remainder of its regular schedule on August 14. The two top teams, Fort Worth and Corsicana, went on to play a marathon 19-game championship series, which Corsicana won, 11 games to 8. Coincidentally, a number of Ardmore’s players signed with Corsicana and Fort Worth and participated in the series.
The Territorians were left out of the Texas League in 1905, and Ardmore did not field another professional team for six seasons. The city did go on to host a number of franchises through the first half of the twentieth century, but another Texas League game was not played in Ardmore until 1961, when league officials once again called on the city to finish out a more lengthy Victoria Rosebud schedule.
In the official record books, the 1904 Ardmore Territorians, the first professional baseball team in what would soon become Oklahoma, posted a home won-loss record of 0-1, a winning percentage of 0.000. When it comes to the list of records that will never be broken, those living in Ardmore can safely say that their Territorians remain as entrenched as Tony Dorsett and his 99-yard touchdown run. While there are likely few Ardmore residents aware of their city’s distinction, rest assured it is no lie.