Base­ball is the story of us

Joshua Whit­field: Texas’ first game marked a hal­lowed begin­ning

The Dallas Morning News - - VIEW POINTS -

As far as of­fi­cial games go, base­ball be­gan in our state 150 years ago this week. On April 21, 1867, the Houston Stonewalls beat the Galve­ston Robert E. Lees by the em­bar­rass­ing score of 35-2.

Not much of a game, but it was the begin­ning. And for lovers of base­ball like me, it was a hal­lowed begin­ning, and the in­au­gu­ra­tion of some­thing beau­ti­ful.

Read about it in fun his­to­ries like Clay Coppedge’s Texas Base­ball and Kris Ruther­ford’s Base­ball on the Prairie; get lost in sabr.org, the won­der­ful web­site of the So­ci­ety for Amer­i­can Base­ball Re­search; do some Googling. Look into it and you’ll discover a re­mark­able his­tory that’s more than just Ernie Banks and Nolan Ryan. You’ll discover some­thing of the essence of Texas, and of us.

An odd gift of the Civil War, base­ball in Texas grew with the rail­road, like just about ev­ery­thing else in this state. Small towns and large cities fielded their own teams, sym­bols of com­mu­nity pride and at times shame, teams like the Dal­las Giants, the Sher­man Or­phans, the Deni­son In­di­ans, the Fort Worth Cats and the Cle­burne Rail­road­ers.

For each, the game mea­sured civic and eco­nomic progress or de­cline, the rough evo­lu­tion of mod­ern Texas.

Proud busi­ness­men, who thank­fully had more money than sense and more love for the game than was prob­a­bly healthy, drove Texas base­ball with en­tre­pre­neur­ial grit.

For ex­am­ple, there’s Dick Bur­nett, who rented out the Cot­ton Bowl in 1950 just so he could steal the sin­gle-game at­ten­dance record from Fort Worth, draw­ing more than 54,000 spec­ta­tors to a gim­micky game he’d packed with old-time greats like Ty Cobb and Dizzy Dean.

No sane man would’ve done that, only a lover of the game.

Texas base­ball is a story of myth­i­cally ridicu­lous ex­tremes, as when the Cor­si­cana Oil Ci­tys beat the liv­ing day­lights out of the Texarkana Cas­ket­mak­ers 51-3 in the worst drub­bing in pro­fes­sional base­ball his­tory.

Texarkana’s pitcher was a young man named Jerome, en­ti­tled son of the team’s owner, Charles Dewitt, who in­sisted his boy take the mound. Cha­grined, but an obe­di­ent em­ployee, the team man­ager, Cy Mulkey, kept the poor kid in the en­tire game, even af­ter things quickly got out of hand. Cor­si­cana’s Justin Clarke hit eight home runs.

“His daddy said he’s go­ing to pitch,” Mulkey said, watch­ing the car­nage sto­ically, “and he’s sure pitch­ing, ain’t he?”

Again, no san­ity there, just stub­born love for the pure demo­cratic mer­i­toc­racy of the game.

Base­ball in our state is a story of proud firsts, too, like the story of Dave Hoskins, who signed with the Dal­las Ea­gles in 1952. He was the first African-Amer­i­can to play in the Texas League. White pitch­ers used to throw at his head, yet he stayed in the game. Be­cause he knew it was about more than just base­ball.

Then there’s Bessie Lar­gent from McKin­ney, the first fe­male ma­jor league scout. A poet and a quiet sort of per­son, she had an eye for tal­ent and was (along with her hus­band, Roy) a scout for the Chicago White Sox for decades.

She was an un­likely base­ball ge­nius, this lit­er­ary, con­ser­va­tive woman. But again, base­ball’s like that, wel­com­ing all who sim­ply love the game.

Now this is his­tory ev­ery lover of base­ball should know, but others, too. Be­cause the game’s a para­ble, a re­flec­tion and an on­go­ing les­son about our­selves. I be­lieve the beau­ties of the game re­flect the beau­ties of heaven, but its his­tory tells the story of us.

A pas­time born out of con­flict and sus­tained by a re­lent­less and even cap­i­tal­ist spirit, it’s a game that has helped us learn what it means to be Amer­i­cans. Al­low­ing us, lit­er­ally, to play out our con­flicts upon an oddly shaped but even field, base­ball has helped us find what we couldn’t have so eas­ily other­wise. And that’s the strength of our di­ver­sity and dif­fer­ence, and that we’re bet­ter when we play to­gether.

Walt Whitman said it was “our game — the Amer­i­can game.” And for 150 years, this game has shaped us, too, Texas and its peo­ple.

Which is why we should keep watch­ing, play­ing and teach­ing this game that is so much part of our his­tory. It’s why we should all love base­ball, whether we like it or not. Be­cause there’s some­thing healing about it, some­thing that stirs up in us the best of our­selves.

Joshua J. Whit­field is pas­toral ad­min­is­tra­tor for St. Rita Catholic Com­mu­nity in Dal­las and a fre­quent columnist for The Dal­las Morn­ing News. Email: jwhit­field@stri­ta­parish.net

Cor­si­cana Daily Sun

The 1902 Cor­si­cana Oil Ci­tys de­feated Texarkana, 51-3, in the worst beat­ing in pro­fes­sional base­ball his­tory. Justin Clarke (back row, sec­ond from left) hit eight home runs in that game.

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