Top 100 Teams
By Bill Weiss & Marshall Wright, Baseball Historians
|1925 Ft. Worth Panthers|
Entering the 1925 season, the Fort Worth Panthers were riding an impressive streak. Winners of the last five pennants in a row, the Panthers had put together a skein at that time nearly unmatched in the annals of professional baseball. Not yet ready for the good times to end, the Panthers were about to add a seventh flag to the string. Helping them on their way, as usual, was a stable of fine hurlers, led by one of the minor league’s handful of 300-game winners.
After winning a smattering of pennants in the first 20 years of the Texas League, the Fort Worth club rose to power in the years following World War I. In 1919, the team captured the second half pennant, making it the only Panther team from 1919-1924 to settle for half a loaf. In a five-year span beginning in 1920, the team averaged 108 wins a season, breezing to both halves of the pennant in each case. Because Fort Worth so dominated the Texas League in the early 1920s, team presidents voted to split the season (during the course of the campaign) in hopes of derailing the Panthers during the second half. Only in 1923 did the league play a non-split season.
In 1925, the Panthers again were running away with the pennant race and the league directors decided to split the season with the first half ending July 3. The Cats had a 54-22, .711 record, finishing the half nine games ahead of Houston. The directors neglected to make any provision for a tie at the end of the second half. At first, that didn’t seem to matter as Fort Worth was well ahead of second place Wichita Falls in mid-August with Dallas third. However, the Steers put on a late spurt and when the second half concluded, Dallas was in a dead heat for first with Fort Worth. A meeting was hastily called at which it was decided to play a second half “leadership series” in which the first team to win three games would be declared the winner of the half. If Dallas won the series, there would be a best-of-five game playoff for the league championship. Fort Worth decided things quickly, taking three straight from Dallas, 5-0 at home, 10-3 at Dallas and 7-3 at home. Paul Wachtel won two of the three, pitching a two-hitter in the opener and beating the Steers with only one day’s rest in the finale in which he shut out Dallas the last seven innings. With Dallas out of the way, the Cats beat the Atlanta Crackers (Southern Association), 4 games to 2, in the Dixie Series.
The Cats were only sixth in the league in batting (.292), but they averaged 6-˝ runs a game and led in walks (782), 215 more than the next best club. Six Panthers scored more than 100 runs. In addition, Fort Worth led in fielding (.972) and had four of the league’s top ten pitchers in ERA.
The 1925 Panthers were the last of manager Jake Atz’s Texas League record six consecutive championship teams. Fort Worth won five of six Dixie Series during this period, losing only to Mobile in 1922. Atz and Larry Gilbert (New Orleans-Nashville) were the only managers to win five Dixie Series titles. Atz remained at the helm of the Panthers, frequently called Atz’s Cats, through the first half of the 1929 season, a record 16 seasons with one club. He managed in the minors a total of 27 years, retiring at the end of the 1941 season when he was 72 years old.
Atz had a bit of rebuilding to do in 1925. At the end of the 1924 season, Fort Worth’s home run hero, 37-year-old first baseman Clarence (Big Boy) Kraft, retired, leaving big shoes to fill. The Spalding Baseball Guide said that “Atz, never discouraged and indomitable in resource, succeeded in getting Ed Konetchy to go to Texas and play first base, and Konetchy was back in the form he had displayed in the major leagues.” “Big Ed” was 39, even older than Kraft, and had been playing for 20 years when he joined the Cats. His distinguished big league career lasted 15 years, starting when the Cardinals brought him up from his hometown La Crosse (Wisconsin State) team in June, 1907. He batted .281 in the majors with 2,150 hits in 2,085 games for St. Louis, the Pittsburgh Pirates, Pittsburgh Feds, Boston Braves, Brooklyn and Philadelphia Phillies. Even in his last season, 1921, he hit .299 in 127 games. Konetchy, 6’2 ˝ “ tall, weighing 195, played in the deadball era and was a line drive hitter. A great fielder, he led National League first basemen in fielding seven times and had a career .990 average. After playing for Toledo (American Association) in 1922, Big Ed was playing manager at Omaha (Western) in 1923 and Petersburg (Virginia) in 1924. Konetchy proved a worthy successor to Kraft. In 1925 he batted .345, playing in all of Fort Worth’s 155 games, and led the Texas League in homers (41) and RBI (166). He also hit 41 doubles and 4 triples, giving him a league-leading 385 total bases and a .624 slugging percentage. He also led the league’s first basemen in fielding (.996), putouts (1,470) and assists (92). He hit .325-21-104 for the Cats in 1926, then retired after playing in 11 games in 1927. He came back to manage Brownsville (Texas Valley) in 1938 and La Crosse in 1940-42, ending his baseball career where it began.
From the 1924 infield, only the very popular veteran second baseman Eddie Palmer returned to his regular position. Palmer, who had played briefly for the Athletics in 1917, batted .295-13-103. He had played five years with Dallas before joining the Cats in 1924. Palmer later umpired for eight years in the Texas League. Aging Art Phelan, the regular 1924 third baseman, was relegated to a utility role and was replaced by Billy Mullen, who had impressed Atz as a member of the 1922 Mobile team that beat the Cats in the Dixie Series. Mullen hit .312 and led the league in runs (147) and times hit by a pitch (22, only five fewer than the league record). The next year, Mullen was a key member of another Top 100 team, the 1926 Toronto Maple Leafs. Fort Worth’s outstanding 1924 shortstop, Jackie Tavener , had been sold to Detroit. Atz brought up Wayne Windle from Hamilton (Michigan-Ontario). He hit only .262-3-55, but was outstanding in the field. Windle, who never reached the majors, played in the Texas League for seven years. With Waco in 1928, Windle set the Texas League record for most double plays by a shortstop in one season, 138, which still stands.
Two-thirds of the 1924 outfield returned, Ziggy Sears (.321-23-116) and Stump Edington (.295-19-128). The 34-year-old Edington, a stocky left-handed hitter, led the league in walks (140). That stood as the Texas League record for a 154-game season for 25 years. Jacinto (Jack) Calvo, the 31-year-old left-handed Cuban leadoff batter who led the league in doubles (52) in 1924, suffered an arm injury and didn’t play until late August, getting into only 17 games with 24 AB. His replacement was Cecil (Stormy) Davis, acquired from Okmulgee (Western Association), another Top 100 team. In 1924, Davis had hit .364-51-162, scoring a league-high 187 runs. In 1925, he batted .274-29-99 and led the Texas League in times at bat (669).
Fort Worth’s leading pitcher was 37-year-old right-hander Paul Wachtel (23-7, 3.87) who topped the Texas League in wins for the third time in six years. Wachtel had been acquired by the Panthers from Brooklyn in 1918. His only major league experience was two games with the Dodgers at the end of of the 1917 season, going 0-0, 10.50, after a 19-11 season at Muskegon (Central). Wachtel was a spitball pitcher and as he was not on a major league roster in 1920 when that pitch was outlawed, he was never able to return to the big leagues. He pitched for the Panthers for 11 years, then was with Houston in 1929 and Dallas and Waco in 1930, ending his pro career at the age of 42. His minor league record was 317-221, 3.16 and he ranks 13th on the all-time victories list. Wachtel holds the Texas League career records for most wins (231), most complete games (242), most shutouts (32) and most innings pitched (3,177). He pitched two no-hit, no-run games, against Dallas May 17, 1918 and against Shreveport July 10, 1924.
The Cats also boasted the Texas League leader in ERA, Gus (Lefty) Johns who had a 20-8, 3.24 record and also was tops in strikeouts (211). Johns came out of the semi-pro ranks in St. Louis at the age of 20 in 1920 and pitched a few games for Wichita Falls before joining Fort Worth. From 1921-25 he had a 91-39, .700 record with three 20-win seasons. He led the league in ERA (2.38) and won-lost percentage (21-5, .808) in 1922. His stellar 1925 season earned Johns a promotion to Detroit where he went 6-4, 5.34 in 1926, his only full season in the majors. He pitched one inning for the Tigers in 1927, then returned to Fort Worth. Johns pitched for Hollywood from 1929 through the middle of 1932, then came back to the Cats where he finished his pro career in 1934.
Veteran lefty Joe Pate (20-12, 3.78), a Texas League legend profiled in the resume of the 1921 Cats, was Fort Worth’s third 20-game winner of the 1925 season. Just missing the charmed circle was 5’8”, 150-pound southpaw Jim Walkup (19-7, 3.31), probably the best control pitcher in Texas League history. In six seasons in the league, he walked only 276 batters in 1,534 innings, an average of 1.6 per nine innings. Like Davis, Walkup came to Fort Worth from Okmulgee late in 1924. Except for a brief period in 1927, he remained with the Panthers until 1930. In 1926 he led the league in wins (22-11) and ERA (2.38). In 1927 he had his only major league experience, two innings in as many games with Detroit (0-0, 4.50). Walkup then pitched for three years for Birmingham (Southern Association), helping pitch the Barons to the 1931 Dixie Series title over Houston, another Top 100 team. He played one more season, 1934, in the Texas League with Tulsa and Galveston, retiring at the age of 39.
In 1926, Fort Worth dropped to third in a very close race with Dallas and San Antonio. The Cats finished fourth in 1927 and third in 1928. 1929 was a year of great change for Fort Worth baseball. The year saw the end of the triumvirate that had guided the team to glory since 1916, W.K. Stripling as president, Paul La Grave as business manager and Atz on the field. La Grave died in January and Panther park was renamed La Grave Field in his memory. After coming in fourth in the first half, Atz was replaced on July 3. The Cats won the championship and the Dixie Series in 1930 under ex-major league catcher Frank (Pancho) Snyder. That was to be their last title until after World War II.
The Brooklyn Dodgers bought the Fort Worth franchise in August, 1945 and provided the city with nine consecutive first division teams. The Cats won the championship in 1948-49 and finished first in the regular season while losing the playoff in 1946. Brooklyn ownership ended after the 1956 season. In a deal that helped pave the way for the Dodgers to move west, they traded the Fort Worth franchise to the Chicago Cubs for the Los Angeles Angels of the Pacific Coast League. Fort Worth stayed in the Texas League for two more years, finishing first by ten games over Houston in 1958, but losing the first round of the playoffs. In 1959, Fort Worth and Dallas transferred to the Class AAA American Association. The next year, the Dallas and Fort Worth franchises consolidated to become the Dallas-Fort Worth Rangers, playing their games in Dallas. The American Association went out of business after the 1962 season and Dallas-Fort Worth joined the Pacific Coast League. In 1964 Fort Worth fielded a team for the last time under its own name, playing in the Texas League at La Grave Field as a Cubs affiliate. In 1965, Turnpike Stadium, located in Arlington, between Fort Worth and Dallas, opened and the Dallas-Fort Worth Spurs of the Texas League played there until the American League Texas Rangers arrived in 1972.
Led by a veteran pitching staff, which had remained substantially intact for several years, the ’25 Panthers capped one of the minor league’s most impressive streaks in style. Only one other team (the International League Orioles, who were ironically winning titles during the same exact years) in the annals of minor league ball could boast of a similar championship skein.
|1925 Texas League Standings|
|FT. WORTH||103||48||.682||-||WICHITA FALLS||81||68||.544||21.0|
|1925 Ft. Worth Panthers batting statistics|
|Jay Kirke (Beau.-Shr)||1B||131||531||77||171||82||41||4||15||17||23||5||.322|
|Gus Foreman (Beaumont)||P||77||132||33||37||28||7||2||5||24||24||0||.280|
|Lou North (Dallas)||P||46||85||8||15||7||1||0||3||2||23||0||.176|
|1925 Ft. Worth Panthers pitching statistics|
|Lou North (Dallas)||13||8||.619||39||15||0||212||218||92||111||5.04|
|Gus Foreman (Beaumont)||9||14||.391||48||10||1||206||250||77||107||5.85|
|Harlan Peters (Shreveport)||3||3||.500||21||4||1||86||101||32||15||5.48|