The 1958 Texas League Champion Corpus Christi Giants
Many South Texans are aware of the fact the 2006 Corpus Christi Hooks were not the first team from the Sparkling City to win a Texas League title. That achievement belongs to the 1958 Corpus Christi Giants.
But in the ensuing 50 years memories and names have faded. For younger generations the story of that eventful season is ancient history.
In 2008, the Hooks honor the accomplishments of the 1958 Giants during a four-game series against the Frisco RoughRiders July 10-13. What follows here is a condensed account of that season, with details of the championship series against Austin and the controversial Dixie Series against Birmingham.
The Texas League Arrives A variety of independent and affiliated professional baseball teams came and went through Corpus Christi prior to 1958. Teams known as the Pelicans, the Seahawks, the Spudders, the Aces and the Clippers competed in leagues called the Southwest Texas, the Gulf Coast, the Texas Valley, the Rio Grande Valley and the Big State.
The franchise that moved to Corpus Christi in time for the 1958 Texas League season had operated in Oklahoma City since 1932, with the exception of a three-year period during World War II. The club's arrival in South Texas coincided with a change in affiliation from the Boston Red Sox to the San Francisco Giants. The major league team was also on the move, having left New York after the 1957 season for the more moderate climate and untapped riches of Northern California.
The Double-A Corpus Christi Giants played at Giants Field, previously referred to as Clippers Field and Schepps Palms. Giants Field was the setting for the season opener on Friday, April 18 when the Giants hosted the San Antonio Missions.
The Season Begins According to the first sentence of Jim McKone's article in the April 19 issue of the Corpus Christi Caller, "Patience paid off handsomely last night for 3,772 baseball fans at Giants Field." The Giants rallied from a first-inning 5-0 deficit to beat the Missions 12-6, thanks in large part to the relief pitching of Frank Funk, who allowed just one run on two hits over the final 8.1 innings. Funk, who later in his career pitched for the Cleveland Indians, was summoned in the first inning for starter Al Papai, a knuckleballer victimized by a disastrous start (three hits, two Giants errors and a passed ball).
The first game included 11 errors, seven by the Missions, five RBI's for Giants center fielder Jim Miller and a home run for Corpus Christi left fielder Eric Rodin, who had seen major league service with the New York Giants.
The 1958 regular season gave Giants fans some extreme and special moments. On May 31, 26-year-old right-hander Charley Fowler tossed the only no-hitter in the circuit, blanking the Senators 1-0 in the nightcap of a double-header in Austin. Giants manager and starting catcher Ray Murray was quoted as saying Fowler's effort was "the greatest pitched game I've ever caught."
Another twin bill against Austin, this one on July 13 at home, saw the Giants bounce back from a 5-0 loss in the first game. They demolished the Senators 26-3, setting the league season high for most runs in one game. Right fielder Mike Lutz clobbered two home runs and drove in five, while Rodin, a right-handed batter, decided to hit lefty in his final three at-bats and "banged out" two doubles and a triple.
The Giants managed to weather an extreme on September 4, when Tulsa right fielder Harry Fisher blasted three home runs and knocked in four in Corpus Christi's 7-4 win. Lutz sewed up the league's HR crown by slugging his 39th of the season in the victory, while Rodin mashed his 26th and Murray his 19th. The result brought the Giants to within one game of clinching a playoff berth with only three left to play.
The Playoffs vs. Houston The Giants concluded the regular season with a record of 77-75, good enough for third place in the eight-team loop, a half-game ahead of fourth-place Austin, the final playoff qualifier. Corpus Christi was matched up against the second-place Houston Buffs, who finished a game-and-a-half ahead of the Giants, but a full 10 games behind the first-place and heavily-favored Forth Worth Cats.
Murray's crew lost the opening game of the best-of-seven series 13-9 at Busch Stadium in Houston despite the fact Giants center fielder Dick Means hit for the cycle. The Corpus Christi nine rebounded to win game two in Houston, 3-1, behind starting pitcher Eddie Fisher, who tossed a complete-game six-hitter and provided three hits, including a solo home run.
The clubs moved to Corpus Christi for the next three games, and with Fisher's effort turning momentum to the Giants' side, the home team swept the next three to take the series four games to one. Fisher, a knuckleballer who would go on in his career to pitch for the Los Angeles Angels and Chicago White Sox, hurled his second complete-game victory of the series and again produced three hits in a 10-3 rout of the Buffs in the fifth and deciding game.
Lutz, who went 2-for-4 with two RBI's, was struck on the left hand by a pitch in the fifth inning but remained in the game in right field. It was later determined he had suffered a broken hand and would miss the upcoming series with Austin and, if the Giants made it that far, the Dixie Series against the winner in the Southern Association.
Championship Series vs. Austin The Senators may have finished 12 games behind the Fort Worth Cats in the regular season, but they swept Lou Klein's club in four games to set up the championship series against the Giants.
The best-of-seven affair began September 17 at Giants Field with the home team prevailing 7-5. Murray's three-run clout in the first got the Giants off to a good start. The Senators rallied the next evening in a drizzling rain to beat the Giants 7-3.
The scene shifted to Disch Field in Austin for the next three games Friday through Sunday, September 19-21. Continued rain forced postponements, however, on Friday and Saturday, bringing about a hasty day-night doubleheader on Sunday to make up for lost time. As they did during the regular season, the teams split the double dip, with Austin's Jerry Nelson tossing a two-hit shutout to give the Senators a 1-0 victory in the afternoon game. Fisher's complete-game effort and three RBI's helped the Giants rebound in the nightcap, 7-2.
Monday, September 22, Austin gained control of the series with an 8-4 triumph. The Senators were buoyed by a seven-run outburst in the bottom of the fourth. Winston Brown, who pitched for the Corpus Christi Clippers in 1955, served up seven strong innings to get the win, while Fowler suffered just his second loss in seven decisions on the year against Austin.
Back in Corpus Christi for a must-win Game 6, the Giants gave their fans a thrill ride. Rodin, who played both first base and left field, went 4-for-5 with two home runs and seven RBI's to give the Giants a seemingly comfortable 8-3 lead going into the ninth inning. But the Senators sent 11 men to the plate in the top of the ninth and scored five runs to knot the score at 8-8.
With the sacks full and one out in the bottom of the 10th, Giants catcher Al Stieglitz hit a ground ball to Austin second baseman Bob Jacobs, whose throw home was high and pulled catcher Wayne Cummings off the plate, allowing Giants second baseman Jim Rice to score his fifth run of the game for a 9-8 Corpus Christi victory. The Senators argued Cummings' foot was on the plate ahead of Rice, adding controversy to an already stirring finish.
The seventh and deciding game of the TLCS, played on Wednesday, September 24, offered up even more tension and drama. Trailing 4-1 in the home eighth, the Giants took advantage of Nelson's brief bout with control. The winner of Game 3 was sailing along until he issued a pair of walks to begin the eighth. A dropped fly ball in the outfield brought home the first run, making it 4-2 with two on and nobody out.
Nelson was lifted in favor of Dale Hendrickson, who struck out Stieglitz. That brought up Belasco "Bo" Bossard, who had become the Giants regular third baseman in the post-season after Jay Van Noy left the club to return to his off-season job as a coach at Brigham University ("Brigham U." as it was described in the Caller).
Austin player/manager Peanuts Lowrey countered by bringing in Brown out of the pen to face Bossard, who on this evening was playing in right for the Giants. Brown, the winning pitcher in Game 2 and Game 5, threw just one fateful pitch, and Bossard knocked it clean out of the park for a 5-4 Corpus Christi lead, much to the delight of the 3,779 gathered at Giants Field. Fisher worked 8.2 innings to get the win, his fifth victory of the post-season.
Baseball vs. Birmingham - The Dixie Series Beginning in 1920, with the exception of 1943-45, the winner of the Texas League met the winner of the Southern Association in a minor league classic known as the Dixie Series. In 1958, Birmingham defeated Mobile to win the Southern title, and had to wait for the winner in the protracted Texas League series.
During this time a great deal of controversy had arisen over whether or not the 36th edition of the Dixie Series would even take place. The city of Birmingham, Alabama, was one of only two cities in the Southern Association at the time (New Orleans being the other) with an ordinance prohibiting sporting events including both white and black athletes. Since the teams in Corpus Christi and Austin had black players on their rosters, George Trautman, president of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues, pleaded with Birmingham Mayor J.W. Morgan to repeal or suspend the four-year-old ordinance so the series could be played.
Morgan did not yield to Trautman's request, news that met steadfast resistance in Austin. The Senators, a farm team of the Milwaukee Braves, had four black players, including Brown. The Senators and the Braves were emphatic that if any of their players were forbidden to play in the series, the Austin club would simply not participate, effectively canceling the event.
Giants owner Jimmie Humphries wanted his team to play in the series, and wanted all his players to be involved, including the three African-Americans - Bossard, Jim Miller and infielder Cal Dorsey. During the Texas League series, Humphries petitioned Trautman to allow the Giants substitutes for the banned black players for the games to be played in Birmingham. Trautman, however, eloquently refused this request, concluding in a letter sent to all National Association clubs on September 24:
"Regrettable though this (canceling the Dixie Series) is, it must be preferred over the far greater loss that would come from a surrender by professional baseball of the principle that no man shall be barred from participation in a game solely because of his race, color or creed."
The Giants, therefore, could not substitute for their black players, but were granted substitutes for two injured players - Miller, ironically, who suffered a pulled back muscle in the Austin series, and Lutz.
Had Austin held on to win Game 7 in the Texas League Championship Series, the Dixie Series of 1958 would have never taken place. In an even greater fit of irony, the pivotal moment that swung the TLCS in Corpus Christi's favor involved two black players - Brown, the Austin hurler, and Bossard, the home run-hitting hero.
The clubs split the first two games in Birmingham, then returned to Corpus Christi. Bossard started Games 3 and 4 at Giants Field, but went just 1-for-5 at the plate in the two games, which were split again, leaving the series at two games apiece. Downpours over the next four days pushed Game 5 all the way to October 5 and back to Birmingham, where it was decided to play a day game and a night game.
The Barons won both games that day at Rickwood Field by scores of 8-3 and 2-0 to bring about an end to the 1958 season and the controversial Dixie Series. The series was revived only once, in 1967, when Birmingham defeated Albuquerque in six games.
Rodin, Lutz and Murray were voted to the end-of-season Texas League All-Star Team in 1958. Rodin led the circuit with his .320 batting average, while Lutz topped the league in home runs (39) and RBI's (111).
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