Baseball in Victoria strikes out in late 1950s

By BY JULIAN CAVAZOS - JCAVAZOS@VICAD.COM
Feb. 5, 2010 at 7 p.m.
Updated Feb. 4, 2010 at 8:05 p.m.

The Eagles, Victoria's Hispanic baseball team,  started in the 1920s. This photo, likely taken at Rio Vista, may be the earliest Eagles team photo. Portions of the picture were used to compile a photo mosaic of the 1927 team, so the photo dates to at least 1927. Frank Peña, who organized the team, is seated at the far right.

The Eagles, Victoria's Hispanic baseball team, started in the 1920s. This photo, likely taken at Rio Vista, may be the earliest Eagles team photo. Portions of the picture were used to compile a photo mosaic of the 1927 team, so the photo dates to at least 1927. Frank Peña, who organized the team, is seated at the far right.

The history of segregated baseball took a big hit in Victoria when the league announced blacks and whites would play on the same team.

By 1952, the Jim Crow segregation law began to fade in baseball.

This included Victoria, said Ed Byerly, a Victoria College professor, during this week's 2010 Stormont Lecture Series.

Byerly read from his paper, "Three Nines and a Diamond: The Ways and Means of Segregated Baseball in Victoria, Texas."

"And whereas much has been written in recent years concerning the role that baseball played in tearing down Jim Crow segregation in the South, in Victoria, Texas, it may have been Jim Crow that tore down baseball," Byerly said.

As early as the 1920s, three main baseball teams played in Victoria: the Rosebuds, the Eagles and the Monarchs.

The Rosebuds, which formed in 1910, were the Anglo-American team, the ones preferred by the city's chamber of commerce at the time, Byerly said.

Players on the Hispanic team, the Eagles, occasionally played with the Rosebuds. But the Monarchs, the black team, only did so informally.

"Baseball history in Victoria is thus more more than the one story of the Rosebuds," Byerly said. "It is a story of three baseball communities and their interrelations with one another."

When Riverside Stadium opened in 1947, the Rosebuds were designated as the primary users.

"The city's only scheduling provision was that the Rosebuds must allow the Eagles and Negro Monarchs to use the field when the Buds were on the road," he said.

To compensate, both minority teams surrendered 20 percent of all gate and concession revenue to the city.

Because the Monarchs got little opportunity to use Riverside Stadium, Charles Arthur Dudley and supporters formed the George Washington Carver Club. They raised enough money to build the Carver Center in the late 1940s, which included their own ballpark, playground and multipurpose building.

"With the completion of the Carver Center, White Victoria now had uncontested control of Riverside Stadium," Byerly said.

But by 1952, segregation began to be questioned. Jackie Robinson had already broken the color barrier in the major leagues in 1947. In 1952, Richard Burnett, owner of the Dallas Eagles, announced he was integrating the Texas League.

In 1956, the Class B Texas City Texans franchise, in affiliation with the Texas League, was relocated to Victoria, Byerly said.

The team was to be called the Eagles.

"Rosebud fans were thus stunned to learn their team would now be known as the Victoria Eagles," Byerly said. "The old Eagles now became known as the 'Mexican Eagles' in order to distinguish them from Victoria's professional Eagles."

Roy Williams, Robert Herron and Eddie Locke of the Victoria Eagles became the first black men to play on a de-segregated baseball team in Victoria, Byerly said.

Rosebud baseball returned to Victoria in 1958 because of integrated sports. Louisiana's law with banned interracial competitions forced the owner of the Shreveport Sports to sell the team. Local businessman Tom O'Connor bought the Sports and brought them to Victoria as the Rosebuds.

By the late 1950s and early 1960s, baseball fan attendance began to fall, despite the integration of teams.

Fan attendance per game dropped from an average of 1,179 in 1959, to 946 in 1960 and 570 in 1961.

Because of poor ticket sales, the team was relocated to Oklahoma, Byerly said.


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