By Keith Antigiovanni
Amid the triumphant and wild celebrations throughout the Dallas/Fort Worth (DFW) Metroplex after the Texas Rangers clinched its’ first World Series appearance by defeating the 200 million dollar team (New York Yankees) in the 2010 American League Championship series is the forgotten history of professional baseball in the DFW area.
Contrary to popular belief professional baseball did not begin when the Rangers moved to Arlington before the 1972 season but did begin back in the year 1888 with the formation of the Texas League. At that time both cities (Dallas and Fort Worth) were not even 40 years old and the Civil War had ended only 23 years earlier.
In 1888 Dallas and Fort Worth were established as charter franchises’ of the fledgling Texas League. It was an auspicious start for professional baseball in Texas as the league folded after one year only to reappear in 1895 and with the exception of 3 years during World War II (1943-1945) has been in continuous operation since.
Both clubs established themselves as top teams in the league as Dallas won 10 league championships (1888, 1900, 1903, 1917, 1918, 1926, 1929, 1941, 1946, 1953) while Fort Worth won 13 (1895, 1905, 1906, 1920, 1921, 1922, 1923, 1924, 1925, 1930, 1937, 1939, 1948). The two clubs had also achieved success outside of their league when the Texas League faced the Southern Association in the Dixie Series from 1920 to 1958. The Dixie Series was essentially the World Series of the south and pitted the champions from the Texas area (Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas) against the champions from the top teams in states such as Tennessee, Alabama and Georgia.
Dallas won 3 Dixie Series titles while Fort Worth won the most from either league with 8 and with its’ increasing popularity of professional baseball in Texas both Dallas and Fort Worth were able to get their own ballparks in an era long before the current stadium craze of the 21st century.
Burnett Field in Dallas was built in 1924 and Legrave Field in Fort Worth was built in 1926 in order to accommodate the growing number of baseball fans in the Metroplex. To the people of the DFW Metroplex these ballparks were their own Yankee Stadium, Ebbetts Field or Fenway Park . It is important to note that while the popularity of Major League Baseball was at its’ peak from 1900 to 1960 it was still a regional sport that stretched only from the northeast coast to St Louis in the west which left out every state, city and town west of the Mississippi River, south of the Ohio and Potomac rivers.
During that time the “minor league” clubs were as important to the fans in those areas as the fans in New York, Boston or Chicago felt about their teams at that time. Fans throughout Texas, the southeast, the west, west coast and the plains states felt an ownership or pride for their local club despite them having “minor league” status.
Baseball in these areas began to change in 1960 with the introduction of a third major baseball league, the Continental League. Because major league baseball was still mostly a regional sport despite the Dodgers’ move to the west coast the Continental League announced plans to place franchises in popular minor league markets such as Dallas/Fort Worth, Denver, Atlanta, Buffalo, Houston, Minneapolis and Toronto. Plans were also in the works to add a team in New York to replace the departed Brooklyn Dodgers. Baseball pioneer Branch Rickey was hired to be the president of the league to help lead them to respectability at time when baseball’s popularity was decreasing.
The late Branch Rickey was the man who broke the color barrier in baseball by signing Jackie Robinson to play for the Brooklyn Dodgers. Branch had also founded the current minor league system of affiliating major and minor teams in the early 1920s. His idea helped revolutionize the sport and created the great St. Louis Cardinals dynasties of the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s. So it was no surprise to MLB that it was only a matter of time before the Continental League established its niche.
The Continental League believed placing teams in growing post World War II markets starved for major league baseball would be the solution for the 1961 season. Unfortunately for the third league Major League Baseball decided to beat them to the punch by placing expansion franchises in open markets in 1961 and 1962. The idea for a third league passed and major league baseball began to evolve as a national sport.
Meanwhile in the Metroplex, the Dallas and Fort Worth franchises became a combined franchise in 1961 and split their home games between Burnett Field and Legrave Field until 1965 when the city of Arlington (midway between Dallas and Fort Worth) decided to build a 10,000 seat facility named Turnpike Stadium in hopes of attracting an existing major league club or a future expansion team. The DFW Spurs would play there thru the 1971 season until the you know who (Texas Rangers) moved to Arlington in 1972 thus ending “minor league” baseball in the area until 2005 but that’s another story for another day.