Minor League history: East Texas League

Through the decades there have been six editions of the East Texas League. The first edition was founded in 1916 and lasted only a part of the 1916 season. The second run lasted from 1923 through 1926. The 1931 edition was very short lived as it lasted only one week. The fourth edition lasted five seasons (1936-1940). After WW II the fifth run lasted only for the 1946 season. Three years later the final edition saw the light and lasted for the 1949 and 1950 seasons. All editions but the last three were rated class D. The last three editions received a class C rating. The National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues rated the leagues based on population of the participating cities.

Cities represented:

Bryan, TX: Bryan Bombers 1949, moved from Lone Star League 1947-1948; Bryan Sports 1950
Crockett, TX: Crockett …. 1916
Gladewater, TX: Gladewater Bears 1949-1950, moved from Lone Star League 1948
Greenville, TX: Greenville Staplers 1923; Greenville Hunters 1924-1926; Greenville Majors 1946, moved to Big State League 1947-1950
Henderson, TX: Henderson Oilers 1931,1946, 1949-1950, moved to and back from Lone Star League 1947-1948
Jacksonville, TX: Jacksonville Tomato Pickers 1931; Jacksonville Jax 1946, moved to Lone Star League 1947
Kilgore, TX: Kilgore Gushers 1931; Kilgore Drillers 1949-1950, moved from Lone Star League 1947-1948
Longview, TX: Longview Cannibals 1923-1926, moved to Lone Star League 1927; Longview Cannibals 1931; Longview Texans 1949-1950, moved from Lone Star League 1947-1948
Lufkin, TX: Lufkin Lumbermen 1931; Lufkin Foresters 1946, moved to Lone Star League 1947-1948
Marshall, TX: Marshall Indians 1923-1926; aka Marshall Snappers in beginning of 1926; Marshall Browns 1949-1950
Mount Pleasant, TX: Mount Pleasant Cats 1923-1925
Nacogdoches, TX: Nacogdoches Cogs 1916
Palestine, TX: Palestine Athletics 1916
Paris, TX: Paris Grays 1923; Paris North Stars 1924; Paris Bearcats 1925-1926; Paris Red Peppers 1946, moved to Big State League 1947; Paris Panthers 1949-1950
Rusk, TX: Rusk Governors 1916
Sherman, TX: Sherman Twins 1946
Sulphur Springs, TX: Sulphur Springs Lions 1923; Sulphur Springs Saints 1924; Sulphur Springs Spartans 1925
Texarkana, TX: Texarkana Twins 1924-1926, moved to Lone Star League 1927-1929; Texarkana Bears 1946, moved to Big State League 1947-1953
Tyler, TX: Tyler Trojans 1924-1926, moved to Lone Star League 1927-1929; Tyler Trojans 1931; Tyler Trojans 1946, moved to Lone Star League 1947; Tyler Trojans 1949-1950

The very first version of the East Texas League started in 1916. It still was the deadball era, the time of small ball: bunts, singles, base stealing and hit-and-run.
The first season of the East Texas League did not make it to the end as it folded on July 19. The league started as a five team league but got company from Jacksonville. The Tomato Pickers joined the league on June 29 but their existence was short lived as they folded on July 13. Two days later Crockett disbanded. That was too much for the league to overcome as it folded on July 19. The small number of teams was not enough to draw the interest of the fans for a long season.

In 1923 the second edition of the East Texas League was formed by six cities, though none of the previous league participated. The inaugural teams of that edition were the Paris Grays, the Greenville Staplers, the Marshall Indians, the Mount Pleasant Cats, the Sulphur Springs Lions and the Longview Cannibals. Based on the population of the small towns in the league it received a class D rating from the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues. In that first season, the league had a 129-game schedule but each team lost about ten games because of rainouts.
In the next season two teams were added to the circuit: the Tyler Trojans, who promptly won the championship, and the Texarkana Twins.

The 1924 Texarkana Twins

In 1925 the same teams played another competition but in 1926 the league shrunk to six teams. The Sulphur Springs Spartans and the Mount Pleasant Cats did not return.
Baseball became very popular around the country as Babe Ruth carried the game to new heights with his homerun hitting ways. The popularity of the game led to high attendance figures in the East Texas League. Where the attendance of the most teams is not known, the Mount Pleasant Cats (13,029 in 1923 and 17,003 in 1924) and the Tyler Trojans (63,000 in 1924) stood out attendance wise, which was a lot for those days.

Champions 1923 -1926:

1923 Paris Grays
1924 Tyler Trojans
1925 Paris Bearcats
1926 Longview Cannibals

After the 1926 season the league became dormant until 1931 as four teams started but didn’t make it until the second week as the Tyler Trojans disbanded on June 5 and the rest of the league followed swiftly on June 7. While minor league baseball was hit by the Great Depression, the booming oil business in East Texas spurred a few baseball enthusiasts to revive the East Texas League. But next to the four participating clubs Henderson, Tyler,
Kilgore and Longview, no other clubs were able to join.

The 1926 ETL champions, the Longview Cannibals

This lack of clubs doomed the league. The four team league was not interesting enough to draw enough fans as it meant that each team faced the same team every other week or every two weeks. In the long run this would be boring, so the fans stayed away which led to the downfall of the league in 1931.

 

During a meeting in Shreveport in October 1935, the East Dixie League and the West Dixie League adopted new/old names. The East Dixie League returned to the name Cotton States League and the West Dixie League adopted the name East Texas League for the next season. The Gladewater Bears. Henderson Oilers, Jacksonville Jax, Kilgore Drillers, Longview Cannibals, Marshall Tigers, Palestine Pals, and Tyler Trojans would form the next edition of the East Texas League. That edition was very stable, only in the final year (1940) two teams (Palestine and Jacksonville) disbanded on June 5. The rest of the league played on until the end of the season.

Carl McNabb, 1937 and 1938 ETL MVP

The 1937 season marked a couple of spectacular pitching performances. The Tyler Trojans’ southpaw Rufus Meadows, led the league in winning percentage (.806) with a 25-6 record which included six shutouts. Walter Schafer of the Henderson Oilers went 23-14 and set an all-time league record with 274 strikeouts. Tex Nugent of the Marshall Tigers had a 21-11 record. The Jacksonville Jax’ Red Lynn pitched doubleheaders, hurled fifty-six games and posted an all-time record of 340 innings in a 140-game season. His had a  32-13 record, and he became the league’s only thirty-game winner.
The numbers as stated above were remarkable as the ballparks in the East Texas League during the 1930s and 1940s were spacious and led to high batting averages and ditto ERAs.


Champions 1936 – 1940:

The 1936 Gladewater Bears, East Texas League champions

1936 Gladewater Bears
1937 Jacksonville Jax
1938 Tyler Trojans
1939 Kilgore Boomers
1940 Tyler Trojans

In 1946 the league returned with an astounding 140 game schedule. The Sherman Twins signed the 43-year old pitcher Monty Stratton. Stratton was a pre-war star with the White Sox, who shot himself in the leg in during a hunting trip after the 1938 season. His right leg was amputated above the knee but he refused to call it quits. In a exhibition game in Houston in 1942 he put up some nice numbers. Nice enough for the Sherman-Denison Twins. He still mastered a major league curve. In a gentlemen’s agreement between the league’s clubs it was agreed not to bunt on him. Stratton completed twenty of twenty-seven starts and posted a very respectable 18-8 record.

1946 scorecard of the Sherman-Denison Twins (Monty Stratton is mentioned as one of the pitchers)

Elton Davis of the Henderson Oilers led his team to the league’s championship in 1946. He finished all of his thirty-one starts (a remarkable performance) and also had fourteen relief appearances. He posted a 26-6 record and a 2.31 ERA.
The Paris Red Peppers were managed by team president Homer Peel. Peel was an MLB veteran, who had played with the the Cardinals, the Phillies and the Giants, with whom he won the 1933 World Series and set the all time record of life time batting average in the Texas League with .325.  Peel still played at an age of 43 and hit .322 for the season. You can wonder what the level of the league was if a 43-year old player still could have a BA of .322 and still could play first base and outfield, but on the other hand, his is famed as one of the premier minor league players ever. Henderson won the championship by beating Texarkana 4-2 in the championship series.
Somehow the league called it quits after that remarkable season and would be dormant again for the coming two seasons.

But in 1949 the league would return for two more seasons when the Lone Star League changed its name into East Texas League. Gladewater and Marshall would be the last two champions of the league before it folded for good.
The league would finish the 1949 season without any notable problems, but two teams (Paris Panthers and Bryan Sports) disbanded on July 20, 1950.
The attendance of the league started to drop dramatically in 1950, just like many other leagues. Next to Major League Baseball that was broadcasted on TV, there was a big boom in youth baseball. Parents went to see their kids play and watched an MLB game at night in an airconditioned room rather than going to watch a Minor League game in the Texas heat. After the 1950 season observers noticed that there were too many leagues and too many clubs in Texas. A restructuring of minor league baseball in Texas was necessary. Eventually the directors of the East Texas League met in Longview to discuss the future of the ETL. After trying to get enough teams to start the 1951 season, only one city was prepared to add a team to the league. After mulling on the possibility to run a four team league, the league decided to call it quits and folded. Despite hope of restarting the East Texas League, it never happened as the circumstances for minor league baseball were very bad in the 1950s and 1960s and the East Texas League became nothing but a distant memory.

DrillerPark3.jpg
Driller Park in Kilgore, fomer home of the Kilgore Drillers. One of the few East Texas League ballparks that is still in use. The park opened in 1947.  (photo: pumpjacksbaseball.com)
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