In the spring of 1861, the men of Texas made two very important decisions: first, they voted to secede from the United States of America and join the Confederacy; second, they held the first meeting of the “Base Ball Club” in downtown Houston, which was documented in the Houston Weekly Telegraph. As Mike Vance and Bob Dorrill note, “The timing here probably speaks less to the priority that Houstonians may have been giving to ‘base ball’ and more to their gross underestimation of how secession was going to impact manpower and leisure time activity for years to come.”
In other words, the ball players in Texas didn’t seem to be too worried about the potential consequences of leaving the Union—after all, secession was nothing compared to existing as the Republic of Texas for ten years. Regardless of whether it was a blasé attitude toward the impending Civil War or an ardent love for baseball that spurred the meeting in April of 1861, the meeting stands as the first printed record of baseball in Houston.
That meeting, though historically important because of its documentation in the local newspaper, does not truly represent the beginning of baseball in Houston. The sport had arrived years before from the North, a result of the strong trade connection between Houston, Galveston and New York City. Cotton from all over the southern United States was coming first to Houston by rail, then down and out of the Galveston Port to be transported all over the United States. The position of Houston and Galveston as main arteries for trade and travel allowed for the influx of foreign people and new ideas. Baseball arrived, and Houstonians have never looked back.
Houston baseball has traveled a long road since the first club meeting in 1861, a road that included transitions from local leagues to the minors, and finally, to the majors, and struggles with not only winning and losing, but also broader human issues like class and race. An examination of the history of baseball is also inevitably a study of the history of Houston and the development of its role in the United States. Social, economic, and political changes are reflected in the evolution of the sport over time. No one knows this better than the men and women in the Houston chapter of the Society For American Baseball Research.
The society was founded in 1971 in Cooperstown, New York, home to the National Baseball Hall of Fame, and has chapters in every region. “SABR members have a variety of interests, and this is reflected in the diversity of its research committees. There are more than two dozen groups devoted to the study of a specific area related to the game—from Baseball and the Arts to Statistical Analysis to the Deadball Era to Women in Baseball. In addition, many SABR members meet formally and informally in regional chapters throughout the year. […] These meetings often include panel discussions with former major league players and research presentations by members.”
In addition, SABR holds an annual convention, which, this year, is in Houston. The convention offers speakers, panels, research presentations, a tour of Minute Maid Park, as well as trips to a Sugar Land Skeeters game and an Astros game. It is an assembly of the most experienced and knowledgable in baseball history, sure to be a home run of an event. And whether or not you make it to this year’s SABR 44 Convention, be sure to check out Houston Baseball: The Early Years 1861-1961.
Bright Sky Press.
Where Texas Meets Books Baseball.