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
The East Texas Pitching Phenom Tradition - A Great Way to Throw Out Your Arm in a Spectacular Fashion.
Most players in baseball that spend parts of 5 seasons at major league level are typically forgotten about by all but a the die hard fans 35 years after their last game. This is especially true for a pitchers that manage only 18 wins with 33 losses during that time. But that W-L line has turned David Clyde into a baseball myth, the boogie man tale for teams that rush the development of their prospects. A warning of what happens when a cash-strapped owner rushes the future of the franchise in order to pay bills now. Whenever David Clyde is mentioned, no one ever faults the 18 year old sensation, legends like Hall of Fame manager Whitey Herzog will get misty-eyed as he talks about what went wrong and how that changed him as a manager, and teammates from that time still get angry how so much potential can spark 5 decades worth of "What ifs" and "I wonder whats."
David Clyde was never the goat, and the one chance he was needed to be a hero, he became a legend. Only 20 days after he was wearing the uniform of Houston's Westchester High School, Clyde was on the mound for the Texas Rangers in what was the first sold out crowd of the teams existence. That June evening in 1973, there was no teenager that had a better command and a more solid place in the adult sporting world. He pitched 5 innings, giving up 1 hit and striking out 8 Minnesota Twin batters and getting the win over the great Jim Kaat. His career started going downhill as soon as he left the mound that day. Everyone that was around him during those years places all blame on owner Bob Short for rushing his development which in turn taught him bad habits, never giving him the chance to turn into a good professional MLB pitcher, not just the raw talent he was when he entered the league. Even to this day when people feel that a pitching prospect is being rushed, there are cries are "Don't turn him into the next the next David Clyde."
Jon Peters of Brenham High School never even got the chance. In May of 1989, Sports Illustrated made him the first prep baseball player to appear on the magazine's cover. Bryce Harper joined him 20 years later in this exclusive club. Peters experienced the problem that plagued many great high school arms, bad mechanics and overuse by the school's manager in an attempt to win as much as they can when they have a top talent there, not worrying how that will affect their career and life once they graduate. So after going 54 - 1 with 53 straight victories for Brenham, Peters went undrafted by the pros. Arm procedures followed and his college career amounted to a 1 - 1 record for the local Blinn Junior College.
The 90's began when the Texas High School Class 5A State Championship Tournament with a tournament pool that contained Andy Petite, Todd Van Poppel, & Todd Ritchie on 3 of the 4 teams. And while Van Poppel and Ritchie did not have the pro careers that many people expected for them, they each lasted in professional baseball into there early 30's with some respectable seasons by both but Petite had a career worthy of the Hall of Fame, if the voters can get past his steroid use admission. The 90's ended with an another high school phenom, the hard-throwing Kerry Wood of Grand Prairie High School. Drafted 4th by the Chicago Cubs in 1995, Wood was taking the mound at Wrigley Field by 1998. On May 5th, while still just 20, Wood gave one of the top pitching performances of all time as he struck out 20 Houston Astros to tie the single game record held by Roger Clemens. He would finish that year as Rookie of the Year but would not have another full season as a starting pitcher again until 2001, and even missing the entire 1999 season. When healthy, Wood's was an ace with winning ways that struck out an impressive 266 batters to lead the league in 2003. But he was plagued by arm troubles, troubles he attributes to overuse by his manager in high school. He managed to last through May of 2012, becoming a relief pitcher in 2007. And even with an All Star appearance as both a starter and reliever, that early flash of brilliance and success makes one wonder, what could Kerry Wood have become. Could he have been the next Roger Clemens or Nolan Ryan, the fellow Lone Star fireballers he was most compared, or did the the Grand Prairie HS baseball team really need those extra wins in 1994 and 1995 to justify the problems that Wood (and the Cubs Nation) had to endure.
The hard-throwing Clay Buchholz is a current addition to the hard-throwing but plagued with injuries Texas phenom tradition. He had early problems while at McNeese State University, where he broke into a local middle school to steal 29 laptop computers. This got him dismissed from the baseball team and the school and he transferred to the small Angelina Community College, a small East Texas school where he put up numbers good enough for the Red Sox to draft Buchholz with the 42nd pick. When healthy, he shows consistent top of the rotation stuff, going 12 - 1 for the World Series champion Boston Red Sox in 2013. Indicative to his career though, is that he was also out for injuries from June 18 to September 10. This duality with success and being injury prone has been with Buchholz since the start of his career. On September 1, 2007, in only his second start, Buchholz pitched a no-hitter. This was followed by after 2 more starts, getting shut down for the rest of the season by the team's doctors, keeping him off the roster during the teams winning World Series run.