Fannin County, Texas

Harry Cox Tells Story Of Baseball In This Section

Paris News, May 31, 1936

A wonderful article in the Paris News of May 31, 1938 provides a detailed history of early baseball in the Northeast Texas region.  Parts relating to Bonham are transcribed below.  Read the full article here.

By HARRY COX News Staff Writer
      This writer, or ex-writer, has  been asked to write a history of baseball as played in this section of Texas and to do this I am going to be compelled to use a lot of "I‘s'' and also trust a lot to memory. In so doing there may possibly be some slight variations as to dates, but in the main the history will be practically as outlined. 

      The first baseball "I” can recall was played at Bonham and the date of this game is so far back in the dim and distant past that I would be safe in saying it was  something like 45 years ago — maybe longer — the contesting  clubs being Bonham and Wolfe City, the latter outfit journeying to Bonham, some 45 miles away, by wagons and buggies, which was the chief and about the only mode of travel between communities at that day and time. 

Giant Battery
      The Bonham team, I remember very distinctly, had a giant battery consisting of Barnes and Saunders, Saunders being the catcher and Barnes doing the hurling. There were no such things as gloves in those days, excepting skin-tight, thin affairs for the outfielders and infieldsrs, while the catcher or back-stop, was equipped with a small buckskin glove with the fingers cut off and which was slightly padded.
      The catcher also had a mack, but he didn’t use it very much.  A high wooden backstop served to stop all balls until the batter had as many as two strikes on him, then the catcher moved up behind the plate to do his stuff. And until there were three strikes a base runner was not permitted to attempt to steal. Saunders was a veritable giant in physique, towering possibly 6 feet 4 inches in altitude, and weighing in the neighborhood of 245 pounds. His battery mate, Barnes, was also a six-footer, and would weigh around 225.
      That battery was famous over this section at the time, Barnes being especially well known for his terrific speed. "I" would like to see one. Of the modern-day I catchers crouched behind that old pan with “Rusty” cutting loose that high hard one. It was stated and generally believed that Barnes could throw a ball through a two inch boxing plank. But Joe Saunders not only caught that terrific speed but never, as I recall suffered a finger injury.

      That was not the first team to play in Bonham, however, the club mentioned being antedated by old BonhamSliders, a team that flourished along about the time the old Paris Quicksteps came into being, on which club, I am told, Chas. Broad, and other prominent citizens, played at some time or other, with the same equipment as note above.

First Curve Ball
      The first curved ball to be pitched in this section came into being during the life of the Bonham Sliders, a man from St. Louis being given the sum of $100 to teach Jim Dale, Slider hurler, how to fool the batsmen with a sweeping curve ball. Dale is now, and has been for years, a prominent stockman in West Texas and before giving up the game he taught the art of curve ball pitching to Barnes who was a terror even without the curve.

        . . . . .
       One of the most exciting of the early day games was played between Bonham and Ladonia, the contest taking place in in the north part of the city, known - then and now - as Locksboro.  Henry Fabian. who was later to manage the Dallas profressional club, and now ground keeper for the New York Giants, was the Ladonia pitcher, while Barnes started for the Bonham club, but later had if be derrirked, due in part to some fisticuffs that broke out at intervals during the game. The contest was played through which a wagon road led and every so often would have to be stopped to allow a team of mules drawing a wagon or buggy to get out of the way. At one time during this game there were six separate fights going at once, with honors being about even between locals and visitors. If memory serves correctly, Bonham finally won the game due to a home run by the late Edgar  (Bubber) Lyle. who died recently at Detroit. Red River County.  That ball, with no fence to hinder its course, rolled from home plate into Pig Branch, at least a quarter  of a mile away.
Bonham-Paris Rivals
      The next games worthy of mention in an amateur way started in the early nineties between Paris and Bonham.   A crowd of kids, of which the writer was one, came to Paris and cleaned up on the Paris club, winning two and losing one. Paris fans did not relish this and strengthened their club on a visit to Bonham and handed that club the same sort of shellacking.

      That started the ball to rolling and before the series was over there was scarcely a local man on either club, both outfits being manned in the main by professional players.  On the Paris club, as I recall, were Julius Ward, Jim Fernandez, Austin Pollard and others whom I cannot recall.  On the Bonham club were Barnes, Cliff Jones and Merrik Davis, how a ranch owner and oil man with headquarters at Albany, Shakelford county.

      The series was bitterly fought, special trains being run over the Texas and Pacific railroad between the two cities.  On one occasion the Paris club came to Bonham accompanied by a brass band and several hundred rooters, all bedecked with badges on which were printed "Poor Bonham."  The badges or the band was a Jonah that day, as the visitors were shut out by a score of 8 to 0.  Brownie Chamberlain, one time big leaguer, was the lad to apply the calcimine brush to Paris that day and for his efforts the sum of $100 was made up after the seventh inning and presented to the Bonham hurler.  And that was a lotta money in those days.

. . . . . .

Imported Hurlers

      On another occasion, prior to an invasion of Paris, the Bonham club send to San Antonio and imported a battery from the Texas league.  The two players were guaranteed 450 each and expenses, and all they did to earn the money was to allow Paris to score some seventeen runs before some local talent could get in there and get the side out.

      That the fans took their baseball seriously was reflected in this series.  It was a dull game that was not enlivened by at last one fight.  In on of the games played in Paris, the Bonham club had the two Spencer boys, Wirt and Dit, on the club.  Wirt, a pitcher, was playing outfield on this particular day, with Dit at short.  On the Paris club was an ex-big leaguer who had been fired off the Bonham club for allegedly throwing games, or attempting to do so.

      This player had reached first and attempted to steal second.  The throw had him beaten at least ten feet, but he came into the bag Spencer was guarding with spikes high.  Spencer neatly sidestepped the spikes and let the runner slide over the bag.  When he arose Dit busted him square between the eyes with the ball and the player went out like a light.  Then the big doings started.  Fans swarmed all over the field and for a time it looked as if there were going to be a general riot with Spencer as the central figure.  Cooler heads prevailed, however, and the Bonham player was driven to town by some Bonham ladies.  He spent the nigh in his hotel room, however, later playing with Paris and becoming a big favorite.