Vintage Baseball: The Wanderers
Houston's 1904 South Texas League team endured one of the most absurd seasons in the history of local sports. At right, in the suit and gangster hat, is league president and little person Bliss Gorham. Bud Adams-like team owner/manager Claude Rielly is seated in the second row. Can you imagine how hot and smelly those uniforms would have been in August?
The most colorful and certainly most obscure of Houston's baseball eras would come to an end in 1905, when competition would move to West End Park, which stood on the site of today's Allen Center in southwestern downtown. From that point onward, more or less, the team would be known as the Houston Buffs and would play in a stable Texas League. There would come the long affiliation as a minor league affiliate of the St. Louis Cardinals, and then, finally in 1962, the birth of the Colt .45s.
But the old era went out in grand fly-by-night fashion. Today's Little League teams are run with more precision and rigor than the Houston Lambs of the South Texas League of 1904.
The Lambs seemed headed to slaughter before the season even started, as they had been informed that the site of the old baseball field was to be redeveloped and that they would be evicted in June. The Lambs played well up until that point, but when the old park closed, they moved across town to the grounds of a horse track somewhere off Harrisburg Boulevard. Since that impromptu diamond was beyond the reach of the city's streetcars, fans had to ride the rest of the way in horse-drawn carts.
That proved a little much even for the hardy souls of pre-air-conditioned Houston. "Nobody is showing up and they're losing money because they are paying rent to the racetrack," Vance says. "The manager was also apparently the team owner, a guy named Claude Rielly, and he started whinin', bitchin' and complainin' in the paper about how much money the team was losing. He would alternate between 'Hey, it's really easy to get there, it's not as bad as it sounds,' and 'Hey, if you bastards don't start comin' out, we're movin' the team.' So it was sort of a Bud Adams approach."
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After a few short weeks of empty cartfuls of fans, Rielly announced that the team would forgo the remainder of its home schedule and play out the rest of the season on the road. South Texas League brass (league president Bliss Gorham, a dapper midget) was not pleased with that idea and ordered the Lambs to play out their home games. Rielly argued but complied at least to some degree, and fans continued not coming.
Meanwhile, the newspapers had taken to referring to the Lambs as "the Wanderers" and "the Travelers." Finally, in the official year-end standings, the team had lost its Houston designation. "The standings would say 'Galveston, Beaumont, 'Rielly's Club,' then San Antonio," Vance says.
Disinterest in baseball that season was not confined to Houston. Vance says that the league owners kept moving the end of the season closer and closer to the beginning of September. On August 30, it was announced that the season would be ending on September 2, shaving four more days off the truncated slate.
And then there came one final absurdity. Cellar-dwelling San Antonio was supposed to end the nightmare season in Galveston, but Vance says laid-back Island logic prevailed. "Instead of bothering to play that game, the owner of the Galveston team just had everybody come over to his beach house for a barbecue," he says. "For real. That was in the paper."
Likely because it was the cheapest championship series that could be arranged, third-place Houston and first-place Galveston played for the postseason league title. All of the games were played in Galveston. After three tie games in a row, Galveston won the next few, and then Rielly forfeited the deciding game. Apparently "quitters never win" was not yet a hardball truism.
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