Friday, October 17, 2014

1902 Corsicana Oilers

"Lone Star Historian 2" is a blog about the travels and activities of the State Historian of Texas during his second year. Bill O'Neal was appointed to a two-year term by Gov. Rick Perry on August 22, 2012, at an impressive ceremony in the State Capitol. Bill is headquartered at Panola College ( in Carthage, where he has taught since 1970. For more than 20 years Bill conducted the state's first Traveling Texas History class, a three-hour credit course which featured a 2,100-mile itinerary. In 2000 he was awarded a Piper Professorship, and in 2012 he received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Wild West Historical Association. Bill has published over 40 books, almost half about Texas history subjects, and in 2007 he was named Best Living Non-Fiction Writer by True West Magazine. In 2013 he was awarded an honorary Doctor of Letters degree by his alma mater, Texas A&M University - Commerce. 

Wearing my replica cap of the 1902 Oilers
During a recent trip to Corsicana I drove to the site of the old Oil City Ballpark. There is only an open field now – the grandstands and fences were torn down in the late 1950s. But for more than half a century the little stadium hosted Corsicana’s professional teams (1902 through the late 1920s) and high school clubs (through the 1958 season). 

One of the nation’s oldest professional leagues – the Texas League – was organized in 1888. But baseball’s early minor leagues had a difficult time maintaining play, and the Texas League did not operate during the 1900 and 1901 seasons.
Standing L to R: Belmont Method, P: J.J. Clarke, C Bob White, P;
Big Mike O'Connor, 1B and mgr; George Markley, 3B;
Walter Morris, SS (later Texas League president.
Middle row: Frank Ripley, RF; Upton Blair, president;
Curley Maloney, P-CF. Bottom row: Alec Alexander, 2B-C;
Lucky Wright, P; Ike Pendleton, LF.

When the Texas League resumed play in 1902, businessman J. Doak Roberts, a native Corsicanan who had managed numerous semi-pro teams, organized a professional franchise for his home town. Backing came from the Oil City textile mill: Corsicana professional clubs would always be dubbed the Oilers, and baseball was played in the Oil City Park in the south end of town. Big Mike O’Connor, who had played and usually managed in the Texas League every season since its formation in 1888, was secured as player-manager. Between O’Connor’s practiced eye for talent and Robert’s budding gifts as a baseball executive, a memorable team was assembled. 
J.J. Clarke (8 HR)
Rosters were limited to eleven men. The bellwethers of the 1902 pitching staff were Bob White, Belmont Method, and Lucky Wright (who made such an impression that for years most Texas Leaguers named Wright were dubbed “Lucky”).The catcher was a nineteen-year-old Canadian, J.J. Clarke, whose professional career would span a quarter of a century, including nine major league seasons. The six-foot-five-inch O’Connor stationed himself at first; he had won the Texas league batting title in 1896 with a .401 average, and Big Mike still hit with authority. The second baseman was Alec Alexander, who occasionally spelled Clarke behind the plate. Walter Morris, a brilliant shortstop, was signed out of amateur ball; he enjoyed a long playing career, then spent the rest of his life as a manager and baseball executive. The third baseman was George Markley, a fine fielder who had broken into the Texas League in 1895. Ike Pendleton was in left field; he was a swift baserunner who filled in at second base when Alexander “donned the mask and pad.” The center fielder was James J. “Curley” Maloney, a Texas League fixture since 1889 who could also pitch and play third. Frank Ripley was in right most of the year.

In those days managers set a batting order and stuck with it. A man hit leadoff or fifth spot in the order just as he played center field or catcher. The Corsicana order throughout most of 1902 was Maloney, leadoff; Alexander; Ripley, Pendleton; Markley; O’Connor; Clarke; Morris; and the pitcher. It proved to be a sensational combination.

Opening day in 1902 was April 26. Corsicana ripped the league to shreds, from June 8 through July 5, reeling off 27 consecutive victories. Thirteen of these games were on the road, although the June 15 contest against Texarkana was supposed to be a home game. Corsicana ordinances prohibited Sunday baseball, and the game was transferred to Ennis. The fences at the Ennis field were short, but Corsicana and Texarkana agreed beforehand that any ball hit out of the park would be a home run. C.B. DeWitt, one of the Texarkana owners, took the mound, but the powerhouse Oilers scored six runs in the first inning and turned the game into a rout. The Oilers battered DeWitt for 53 hits, including 16 homeruns, and won, 51-3.

The 1902 Oilers are featured in the
1903 Guide.
There were many hitting standouts in this landmark game, but perfection was reached by catcher Clarke, who came to the plate eight times and hit eight roundtrippers. Clarke’s eight home runs in a single game set an all-time record for professional baseball. Big Mike O’Connor hit three home runs and went seven for eight. Two other Oilers besides Clarke went eight for eight, another was six for eight, and still another was six for seven. Every man hit safely, and the Oilers stranded just five base runners. Corsicana’s defense did not commit an error and clicked of four double plays. The 51 runs and 53 hits, Clarke’s eight home runs, eight runs scored, 16 RBIs – these and other marks all are records which still stand. During the 27-game winning streak (another all-time record which the New York Giants matched in 1916), Corsicana outscored its opponents 287-77, recorded six shutouts, and won five games by one run. The lineup and batting order went virtually unchanged during the streak, and Lucky Wright (10 victories, one shutout), Belmont Method (nine victories, three shutouts), and Bob White (eight victories, two shutouts) did all of the pitching. On Sunday, July 6, the Oilers were scheduled to host Waco, but because of Corsicana’s blue laws the game was moved to Waco. Lucky Wright was defeated 3-1 by Dad Ahorn, bringing the incredible streak to a close.

Corsicana’s record was a sizzling 58-9 by July 8. The league declared a split season to rejuvenate fan interest, but Corsicana continued to lead the field. Late in July, however, Walter Morris, Bob White, and George Markley clashed with management and bolted the club to play independent ball. Hunter Hill, an aggressive, hot-tempered infielder who was a deadly bunter, filled in well, but the Oilers were not as dominant after their original combination was broken up. The league voted to end play on August 1, a week ahead of schedule. Corsicana led with a 30-14 mark, and since the Oilers won both halves, no playoff was necessary. Their complete record was 88-23, for an unequaled .793 season winning percentage, and their first half .866 percentage also still strands unmatched by any professional club in a split season.

My centennial history of the Texas League
was the first of six minor league books.
The early Texas League was a Class D circuit, the lowest classification in professional baseball. Most of the members of Corsicana’s 1902 championship team moved up in pro ball, and the 1903 Oil City club had a losing season. But in 1904 Corsicana bounced back, winning another Texas League title behind batting champ Trapper Longley (.372). In 1905 Corsicana again was without their best players, and a few weeks into the season the last-place Oilers, unable to draw crowds like Dallas and Fort Worth, disbanded.

With two Texas League pennants and records that would never be surpassed to their credit, the Oilers reappeared in several professional loops. Corsicana was part of the short-lived North Texas League in 1906, then the Central Texas Trolley League in 1914 and 1915 and the Central Texas League in 1917. The Oilers joined the Texas-Oklahoma League in 1922, the Texas Association, 1923-1926, and the Lone Star League, 1927-1928. Old timers may remember the fading sign on the red brick building beyond the right field fence. The sign on an upper story window read: “Any player who hits a home run through this window wins $25.” The last team to play at the historic old ball park was the Corsicana High Tigers of 1958, coached by Jess Cummings (who had a brief stint with the Fort Worth Cats in 1938) to a second-place finish in the state playoffs.

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