Minor League Baseball · Minor League Baseball History

Minor League history: Evangeline League

The Evangeline League was a league that was mainly based in Louisiana, but the league also fielded some teams from Texas and Mississippi. The name of the league can be traced back to a poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow in which he wrote about the Arcadian heroine Evangeline. 
The league saw light in 1934 when it operated as a class D league. The league would be in operation until 1943 as it ceased activities due to WWII. In 1946 the league started again, also as a class D league. But eventually in 1949 the league would be awarded the class C status. The 1957 season would be the last of the league. In this period many minor leagues had a hard time to stay afloat because of the deteriorating numbers of fans that visited the ballparks. 

Cities represented:
Abbeville, LA
: Abbeville A’s 1935-1939; Abbeville Athletics 1946-1950; Abbeville Athletics 1952
Alexandria, LA: Alexandria Aces 1934-1942, 1946-1957
Baton Rouge, LA: Baton Rouge Red Sticks 1946-1955; Baton Rouge Rebels 1956-1957
Crowley, LA: Crowley Millers 1951-1957, moved from Gulf Coast League 1950
Hammond, LA: Hammond Berries 1946-1951
Houma, LA: Houma Buccaneers 1940; Houma Indians 1946-1952
Jeanerette, LA: Jeanerette Blues 1934-1939
Lafayette, LA: Lafayette White Sox 1934-1942; Lafayette Bulls 1948-1953; Lafayette Oilers 1954-1957Lake Charles, LA: Lake Charles Explorers 1934; Lake Charles Skippers 1935-1942; Lake Charles Lakers 1954-1955, moved from Gulf Coast League 1950-1953; Lake Charles Giants 1956-1957
Monroe, LA: Monroe Sports 1956
Natchez, MS: Natchez Pilgrims 1940-1941; Natchez Giants 1942, 1946-1947
New Iberia, LA: New Iberia Cardinals 1934-1942, 1946-1947; New Iberia Pelicans 1948; New Iberia Cardinals 1949; New Iberia Rebels 1950; New Iberia Pelicans 1951-1952; New Iberia Cardinals 1953; New Iberia Pelicans 1954-1955; New Iberia Indians 1956
Opelousas, LA: Opelousas Indians 1934-1941
Port Arthur, TX: Port Arthur Tarpons 1940-1942; Port Arthur Sea Hawks 1954, moved from Gulf Coast League 1950-1953, moved to Big State League 1955
Rayne, LA: Rayne Red Sox 1934; Rayne Rice Birds 1935-1941
Texas City, TX: Texas City Pilots 1954
Thibodaux, LA: Thibodaux Giants 1946-1953; Thibodaux Pilots 1954; Thibodaux Senators 1956-1957

The league was nicknamed the Hot Sauce league because from the beginning things were very feisty. Not only on the field but also in the stands. Betting was a big problem in this league. From day one there was betting in the stands. This betting led to a game
fixing scandal in 1946 when several players of the championship winning Houma Indians and one of the Abbeville Athletics were caught fixing games. Even though the team was the strongest team of the 1946 Evangeline League and could have swept all the opponents in the play offs, the players decided to lose a couple of games by fielding their worst pitcher. They betted on those games with the gamblers in the stands. The management of the Indians would get their money as the Indians won the championship, but by fixing the games the players would get a few hundred dollars extra. The scandal made national news which led to a tainted image of the league. To investigate the scandal, the commissioner of minor league, William Bramham baseball visitied games. What he saw there was terrible. According to Bramham the gambling was a disease. They even bet on whether the next pitch was a ball or a strike.

The 1946 Houma Indians

In the town of Opelousas they had slot machines with the names of the local team’s players on it. If one of those slot machines paid out, a part of the money was given to the player whose name was on the slot machine.

According to Dr. J. Paul Leslie, history professor at the Nicholls State University, the pre WWII Evangeline league was probably the best in all of the class D circuit. Many players that once called the Evangeline League home, made it to the Majors. For Example Hal Newhouser who played for the Alexandria Aces in 1939 and was named AL MVP in 1944 and 1945 when he was with the Detroit Tigers. Also Les Muller played for the Aces and ended up with the Tigers and together with Newhouser he won the World Series in 1945.

Evangeline League Champions:

1934: Jeanerette Blues
1935: Alexandria Aces
1936: Opelousas Indians
1937: Opelousas Indians
1938: Lake Charles Skippers
1939: Lafayette White Sox
1940: Alexandria Aces
1941: New Iberia Cardinals
1942: League did not finish the season

1946: Houma Indians
1947: Hammond Berries
1948: play offs canceled due to bad weather
1949: Hammond Berries
1950: Baton Rouge Red Sticks
1951:  Hammond Berries
1952: Crowly Millers
1953: Thibodaux Giants
1954: New Iberia Pelicans
1955: Lafayette Oilers
1956: cancelled due to lac of interest
1957: Alexandria Aces

As written above, the lack of fans passing the turnstiles was the deathblow for the Evangeline League. But a racial and social occasion led to the downfall of the league.
The Evangeline League refused to integrate. When the Chicago Cubs sent a couple of African American Players to their Evangeline League farm team, the move created such a stir that the league imposed a racial injunction. This lead to a lot of reprimands, especially from the African American press. The Afro American community refused to attend games of the Evangeline League from that moment on. Due to the lack of fans, the Lafayette Oilers and the Baton Rouge Rebels folded on June 20 1957. The rest of the league made it to the end of the season but because no play offs were played, the Alexandria Aces, who finished on top of the standings, were declared champions.

In 1951 Andy Strong, outfielder of the Crowly Millers, made the newspapers. Not because of his play but because he was killed when he was struck by lightning. As baseball caps have those metal tabs or buttons on top, all players removed those buttons and no one finished the season with a button on his cap. Strong was playing in his first professional season of baseball and into the second week of his career. His tragical death left such an impression on the team that it lost twelve consecutive games before a coach took the players to a place called Hester’s Supper Club and said that ‘any man who doesn’t get drunk tonight will be fined $100.” Every one got drunk and the team got out of the slump.
His tragic death made the city of Crowly name the local stadium, where the Millers once played, after Andy Miller.

MIller Stadium in Crowly LA (photo: courtesy of digitialballparks.com)

The Evangeline League has been immortalized by the novel “Dirty Rice” written by Gerald Duff.

 

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