Jess Derrick: A Texas League Milestone

 

Over the course of its history, nearly 200 Texas League pitchers (or combinations of pitchers) have thrown no hit ball games of nine innings or more. For a league in existence since 1888, the statistic may not sound all that impressive; after all, in the same time frame, Major League Baseball has seen 272 no- hitters. Then again, when considering the fact that the Texas League has, for the most part, been an eight-team circuit throughout its existence, an average of 1.5 no-hit games per season means one of two things: the League has seen its share of great pitching or its share of lousy hitting.

While the list of Texas Leaguers having achieved every pitcher’s dream afternoon includes a sprinkling a names casual 21st century baseball fans might recognize like Martin Perez, Neftali Feliz, and Matt Harrison (oddly, all future Texas Rangers); a few true baseball buffs may recall from the 1970s and 80s: Larry Andersen, Greg Harris, Edgar Ramos, Bob Forsch; and maybe one “household” name among fans, Johnny Van der Meer, the list is littered with names mostly remembered only in the records books and newspaper archives. Names like Farmer Moore, Rick Adams, Ivy Tevis, Joe Berry, Red Mann, and Hooks Lotts make up most of the list.

Even the Texas Leaguers pitching multiple no-hitters like Dode Criss (3, including two in 1915); Grover Brant (3, including a 12-inning and 6-inning game); Rick Adams (2); George Henrickson (2); Henry Thormalen (2), and Harry Ogle (2) ring hollow in the ears of even seasoned baseball fans. A couple of truly household names are also on the list: Hornsby (sorry, the older brother) and Dimaggio (no known relation).

Of all those whose names are in the Texas League record book, a few went on to the major leagues, if only briefly, and a few toiled season after season in the minors. Most, on the other hand, could probably be classified as “One Afternoon Wonders.”  The first no-hitter, pitched by Jess Derrick in just the Texas League’s second season in 1889 surely falls into the latter category.

On June 24, 19889, Jesse Thomas Derrick led his Waco Babies to a 3-0 win over the Austin Senators. For the 26-year old playing in just his first full professional season, Derrick’s pitching performance that afternoon turned out to be the highlight of his otherwise brief and forgettable career.

Jess Derrick was born February 10, 1863, the second child of Albert Derrick and Miriam Cohee Derrick in Tippecanoe County, Indiana. His father had enlisted in the Union Army the previous July, serving in the 72nd Indiana Infantry. In January of 1863, however, Albert Derrick was wounded in action at Murfreesboro, Tennessee, and received his discharge. He was home in time to witness Jess’ birth but died just two days later. Jess’ 21-year old mother was left to raise two sons, Jess and his 2-year old brother, Albert. But even that bit of comfort didn’t last long for the Derrick boys, whose early lives were filled with tragedy. Less than three years later, they lost their mother as well.

While Jess and Albert had been orphaned before either turned five-years-old, the Derrick-Cohee family was large, and most lived in Indiana. Although the boys became separated, Jess grew up in the home of his uncle and aunt, Joseph and Rebecca Switzer, while Albert was sent to live with other relatives. By the time he reached seventeen, though, Jess had set out on his own, living and working on a farm in Jackson, Indiana. In 1885, he worked as a mechanic in Wellington, Kansas. That same year, Jess married Elizabeth Scott, a Kansas schoolteacher also from Indiana. Albert, on the other hand, became a bit of an adventurer and staked his claim in the Indian Territory of Oklahoma during the 1893 land run.

Exactly how Jess Derrick became involved in baseball is unclear. No records of him playing prior to 1888 exist, but it’s likely he played at the amateur or semi-pro level for a number of years. In any event, in 1888 Derrick traveled south to join the Fort Worth franchise of the newly-formed Texas League of Professional Baseball Clubs. Records show Derrick appeared in just one game with the Panthers, but the following season he signed with Waco, a new entrant into the league. As a whole, Jess Derrick had a dismal season, pitching 37 games and finishing the year with a 13-24 won-loss record. He was equally ineffective as a batter, posting a .181 batting average. But the Babies as a whole didn’t offer the rest of the league much competition, finishing finished in last place with a 33-50 record. The sole bright spot for Waco was pitcher Edgar McNabb, who somehow managed to win 20 games for a team that batted just .222 on the season. Perhaps his league-leading 261 strikeouts and a 1.53 earned run average helped his cause.

Waco’s initial year in the Texas League was forgettable, as was Jess Derrick’s. But for one hot afternoon on June 24, everything fell into place, and Derrick permanently placed his name in the league record books.

While the Waco Babies brought up the tail-end of the 1889 Texas League, on June 24, they played host to the Austin Senators. The Senators, on their way to a third-place finish on the season, were led by Texas League Hall of Famer Mike O’Connor and 25-game winner George Kittle. The previous week, the Senators had dominated Waco in Austin, and with the Babies having fallen from contention, the expectations for the series in Waco were no different. In fact, rather than sending Kittle to the pitcher’s circle, Austin started John Bates. Though not nearly as powerful as George Kittle, Bates could be expected to hold the light-hitting Waco club in check after several days of rest. Likewise, with Jess Derrick pitching for the opposition, Austin manager Mike O’Connor probably assumed an easy tally in the win column. What he didn’t expect was that Derrick would pitch the finest game in the Texas League’s short history on an afternoon when the temperature in Waco reached 96 degrees.

Based on the Galveston Daily News’ account of the game, it’s a wonder O’Connor’s expectations didn’t come true. Reportedly, the umpire favored Austin throughout the game to the point that Waco spectators called for his removal in unison. In the seventh inning, the crowd had become so hostile that the umpire singled out a seven-year-old and ordered him removed from the grounds or he’d declare Austin a victor by forfeit. Despite his threats, the boy remained and Austin did not receive an unearned win.

For Jess Derrick’s part, however poor the umpiring may have been, nothing was going to overcome his pitching performance. He struck out ten Austin batters on the afternoon or in the words of the Galveston News, “The Austin batters failed to find the ball except in a few instances when they were thrown out at first.” Aside from three walks and a reportedly mean beaning of Austin third baseman William Mussey, Jess Derrick was perfect on the afternoon and did not yield a single base hit to Senators’ batters. While, as usual, the Waco offense didn’t lend much support, left fielder C.A. O’Neil’s three hits along with four Austin fielding errors provided just enough firepower to help Derrick to a 3-0 win. Perhaps not realizing the significance of Jess Derrick’s achievement, newspapers paid little attention. The Galveston News noted that Derrick “pitched a fine game.” Another Texas Leaguer would not pitch such a fine game until 1902.

Despite Derrick’s mediocre season with Waco, the Burlington Daily Gazette (Iowa), referred to him as the “crack pitcher of the Texas state league” when lauding the Evansville franchise signing him for the 1890 season. In reality, he never played for Evansville, as in 1890 Derrick returned to Waco and posted a 6-4 record before playing one game with Galesburg/Indianapolis in the Central Interstate League. Over the next several seasons, Derrick played sporadically in the Midwest, turning up in Wisconsin, Michigan, Iowa, Pennsylvania, Nebraska, Missouri, and his home state of Indiana. Perhaps his 1895 stint with the Kalamazoo Celery Eaters left a lasting impression, as after his retirement from baseball in 1898, he relocated from his offseason home in Kansas and soon settled in Michigan with his wife Elizabeth and two children.

Following his baseball career, Jess Derrick entered the construction business, serving as a wrecking/construction superintendent in Detroit until 1930 before he became involved in fire equipment sales. Following the death of his wife in 1935, he returned to construction, working beyond his beyond his 80th birthday. Ultimately, Jesse Thompson Derrick died on November 6, 1951, at the age of 88. He is buried alongside his wife Elizabeth in Clark’s Hill Cemetery in Tippecanoe County, Indiana.

Since Jess Derrick’s no-hitter on June 24, 1889, many other Texas League pitchers have accomplished the same feat. Lamar County’s Rick Adams through one in 1905, and in 1910 Roxton’s own Bill Lattimore tossed a no-hitter for Fort Worth. Most impressively, however, Blossom native Dode Criss threw three no-hitters in an eleven month stretch in 1914-1915. Five no-hitters from pitcher’s hailing from a small, rural northeast Texas county is likely a record in itself.

The last no-hit game pitched in the Texas League was on May 17, 2016, when Arkansas’ Jordan Kipper added his name to the record books in a 6-0 victory over the Northwest Arkansas Naturals. Though the feat is not achieved nearly as often as it was during the first three decades of the 20th century, place your money on a new pitcher being listed beside Jess Derrick in the upcoming season.

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One comment

  1. Mitchell Lutzke

    In 1895, Jess Derrick played on the Adrian (Michigan) Demons in the Michigan State League. He is included in my upcoming book about the black, all star baseball team, the Page Fence Giants, who were also based in Adrian, Michigan. Derrick was involved in a couple of controversies while on the Demons.

    Liked by 1 person

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