This year marks the 75th Anniversary of Lou Gehrig being forced to retire from baseball do to his battle with the neurological disorder ALS. This would be noteworthy if it happened to any baseball player but Gehrig was no ordinary baseball player. The (at-the-time) consecutive game holder, slugger, and quiet leader of 2 New York Yankee dynasties and a quiet, class act that many still consider the greatest first baseman to ever play the game.
Lou Gehrig passed away on June 2, 1941 and less than 2 years later MGM released The Pride of the Yankees directed by Sam Wood and starring Gary Cooper as Gehrig. This is one of the true classics of the baseball movie canon and featured cameos by such noted Yankees as Hall of Famers Babe Ruth and Bill Dickey. The final scene, the classic "Luckiest Man on Earth" speech, is a tearjerker that shows the acting abilities of Gary Cooper while also showing the emotional pull of connecting to your heroes and their lives.
Many baseball organizations and leagues are doing various events this summer to honor Gehrig and contribute to ALS charities, including Major League Baseball. An event that is happening locally, that is if Austin is your local area, that is interesting is that the Round Rock Express will be wearing special occasion pinstripe jerseys with Gehrig's name stitched on back that will be auctioned off during the game to benefit MJ's Army, an Austin based ALS charity. I plan on attending and am not a jersey collector at all but ope to leave the Dell Diamond that night with a pinstriped jersey. More info can be found here.
Below you will find the clip containing Cooper's speech from The Pride of the Yankees.
What's in a Name is an ongoing feature where I document the stories behind some of the more unique team nicknames in baseball's history.
Oil town Beaumont, Texas first had it's foray into the world of professional baseball in 1903 with a team named the Blues. Through the years it was also called the Millionaires (when winning) and the Orphans, in a losing season that saw them move to Austin during the middle of the season. In 1912 they had advanced to the level where they could join the Texas League using the name Oilers and somewhere between 1918 - 1920 the moniker Exporters took hold and besides a brief flirtation with the name Roughnecks in the early 50's, Exporters is the name the team is associated with.
During the 1920's the team had a rough time in the Texas League but with the dynasty the Fort Worth Cats had under the leadership of Jake Atz, most teams did. Their fortunes changed in 1929 when the team formed an arrangement to act as a farm team of the Detroit Tigers and talent level improved, including future Hall of Fame & MVP caliber players like Hank Greenberg, Dizzy Trout, and Schoolboy Rowe spending parts of their formative baseball years in Texas Golden Triangle. The 1932 team featured Greenberg and won the Texas League championship before losing the Dixie Series against Southern Association champion Chattanooga Lookouts. In 1938 a talent loaded team once again won the Texas League championship and lost the Dixie Series, this time to the Atlanta Crackers.
In the ensuing decades the fortunes of the Exporters and their support in the local community waned and by 1955 the team was demoted down from the Texas League and by 1957 professional baseball had left Beaumont not to return until 1983 when Ted Moor, Jr bought the Amarillo Gold Sox and moved them to Southeast Texas, rechristened them the Beaumont Golden Gators. That initial team featured future All Star John Kruk and won the Texas League pennant. The 1986 team featured problems when best player Joey Cora was stabbed while in San Antonio and a hurricane damaged the teams stadium. In 1987 the team was sold and moved to Wichita, Kansas.
Among the important events to happen in Beaumont was that in 1928, future Hall of Fame pitcher Carl Hubbell found his groove - and by groove I mean he developed his infamous screwball. After up-and-down success over several seasons in the majors with the Detroit Tigers, Hubell's contract was sold to the Exporters prior to the 1928 season. That was when Beaumont manager Claude Robertson worked with and encouraged Hubbell to develop the screwball as a weapon that eventually helped him win 253 games as one of the top pitchers of the 1930's with the New York Giants.
Also, following a storm that left the field in sloppy conditions, the Brooklyn Dodgers beat the Exporters on March 30, 1949 while on a barnstorming trip. The Dodgers starter was Ralph Branca, Duke Snider stole home, and thousands gathered to watch Jackie Robinson and the rest of the Dodgers beat the hometown team 14 - 2. During the rest of the trip the Dodgers played in San Antonio, Fort Worth, Dallas, and Oklahoma City. That Brooklyn team proceeded to win the National League Pennant that year before losing to the Yankees in the World Series.
The Texas League: A Century of Baseball by Bill O'Neal
Brooklyn Beat Beaumont in '49 by Dan Wallach at www.beaumontenterprise.com
Carl Hubbell: SABR Bioproject by Fred Stein at http://sabr.org/bioproj/person/fd05403f
Beamount Exporters at www.wikipedia.com
I began my research on baseball history by stumbling across fleeting mentions of the Austin Black Senators negro team while reading about Central Texas players like hall-of-famers Willie Wells, Hilton Smith, and Smokey Joe Williams. This piqued my curiosity and then I starting trying to find all I could on the actual Austin Black Senators, and well, there isn't much out there at all. Some sources have them starting to play in the 1900's, others the 1920's. It is known that the originally played on Dobbs Field close to Tom Miller Dam and ended their existence playing on Downs Field which is still in use most spring and summer nights on E 12th Street. There are few, if any, players or people affiliated with the team alive to recollect on it. Besides a few interviews with players like Willie Wells, Hilton Smith, and a spattering of mentions in Central Texas newspapers over the decades (or more accurately, past century), the well of information on the Austin Black Senators is unfortunately shallow.
One of the more known things about the team is their 1933 barnstorming trip to Mexico, due to future Kansas City Monarchs ace Hilton Smith speaking of it in many interviews and this being viewed as one of the first time an American blackball team made a successful foray into Mexico for barnstorming purposes. Through the Austin History Center and their archives, there is one mention of this trip in the August 28, 1933 edition of the Austin American newspaper. Finding out the details behind this brief paragraph is currently my biggest mystery to be solved in the research projects I am working on:
Negro Ball Captain Dies - Sam Irvin, captain of the Austin Black Senators baseball team, dropped dead in Monterrey, Mexico, Saturday, according to a telegram received by L. D. Lyons from his son, Joe Lyons, business mannager of the Senators here Sunday.
Any information on this incident or the people involved would be appreciated and I will keep you posted on what, if anything, I can find on what happened to Sam Irvin in Monterrey during the summer of 1933.