Top 100 Teams
By Bill Weiss & Marshall Wright, Baseball Historians
|1921 Ft. Worth team|
In the first half of the 1920s, the Fort Worth Texas League franchise fielded an impressive string of champions. The 1921 version fit right in with all the others, featuring a top pitching performance from one the league’s top hurlers.
The city of Fort Worth, paired with Dallas in north central Texas, joined baseball’s pro ranks as a charter member of the Texas League. Formed in 1888, the circuit contained, in addition to Fort Worth’s Panthers, clubs from Dallas, Austin, Galveston, Houston and San Antonio. Stumbling badly, the league lost San Antonio in May followed by the Panthers (21-27) in July. In an interesting wrinkle, the Texas League added a Southern League franchise from New Orleans for the last month of the season. The Pelicans went a respectable 18-9, following their own league’s demise on July 4.
According to the Texas League Record Book, the Fort Worth club took the name Panthers from the nickname “Panther City” that was adopted by the city in the mid-1870s. A newspaper reporter from Dallas traveled to its rival in 1873 to see how it was doing. The economy was depressed in Fort Worth at the time and the reporter wrote, “Things are so dull in Fort Worth that a panther was found asleep on Main St.” This description so irritated the people that the newspaper turned it into a badge of honor. Amon Carter, publisher of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, proudly proclaimed on the paper’s masthead, Fort Worth - Where the West Begins.” The Dallas Morning News countered with the phrase “Dallas - Where Civilization Ends.”
In 1889, the Panthers played a full season but finished last, although only eight games out of first. The next year, Fort Worth again was last when the league disbanded on June 10, ending the first Texas League. Throughout the 1890s, the Texas League had a sporadic existence, operating in 1892, 1895-97 and 1899. Fort Worth’s entry had some success, winning a second half pennant in 1895 and a first half flag the following season.
In 1902, the Texas League was revived for good. The Panthers won a pair of flags in the first decade (1905-06), but then hit a dry spell until 1919. Here, the team won the second half pennant, setting the stage for one of the greatest dynasties in minor league baseball.
The 1920 Panthers won the pennant with a splendid 108-40, .730 record. The Texas League was still a Class B circuit, but Fort Worth president J. Walter Morris and business manager Paul La Grave challenged Little Rock, champions of the Class A Southern Association, to a post-season series. The challenge was accepted and the Panthers won, 4 games to 2, with one tie. At the National Association convention in Kansas City, that triumph helped the Texas League achieve its long-sought goal of advancement to Class A status.
The 1921 edition of the Panthers started off with a bang, winning the first half of the pennant with a 56-25. 691 mark, ten games ahead of second place Houston. The second half saw more of the same, with the Panthers romping home with a 51-26, .662 record, 5-½ games in front of Houston. Overall, the team won 107 games, one fewer than the 1920 champs in an expanded schedule. The Panthers led the league in batting (.286), runs (825), hits (1,541) and home runs (84). Following the season, the team bested Memphis in the second Dixie Series, now an officially sanctioned post-season event, 4 games to 2.
The 1921 Panthers were managed by the legendary Jake Atz, then in the seventh season of a record 21 years as a Texas League manager. It was the sixth of 16 consecutive years at the Fort Worth helm and the second of a record six straight league titles. The Panthers frequently were referred to as “Atz’s Cats.”
The team was led at the plate by first baseman Clarence (Big Boy) Kraft, a 34-year-old 6’, 190-pound right-handed hitter who had joined the Panthers in 1918. Kraft hit .352-31-141, leading the league in batting, runs (132) and hits (212) and setting what were then league records for hits and total bases (376). He was second in home runs and RBI. Kraft was the Panthers’ leading power hitter for the first five of the six consecutive championship teams.
The second best hitter on the team was second baseman Edward (Dutch) Hoffman (.311), a 27-year-old native of San Antonio who was in his ninth professional season. His only major league experience was nine games at Cleveland in 1915. He joined the Panthers in mid-1919 from Waco and stayed with the team through 1923. His contract was purchased by the Red Sox following the 1920 season, but he was returned to Fort Worth before the start of the 1921 campaign. Hoffman played for 20 years, batting .281 with 2,497 hits and 191 home runs in 2,483 games. He closed out his career managing Tallahassee in the Georgia-Florida League from 1935-37, winning pennants in his first two years.
At third base, Frank Haley batted only .256-2-66, but set a Texas League record for third baseman that still stands. He had 427 assists in 155 games while leading in fielding with a .954 percentage. Haley played for the first four of the six championship clubs. The shortstop was 24-year-old Texas A&M graduate Emory Elmo (Topper) Rigney. In his only season with the Panthers he hit .292-10-81, leading league shortstops in fielding (.946) and assists (547). He went up to Detroit the next year and batted .300 in 155 games. He was sold to the Red Sox in 1925 after an argument with Tigers manager Ty Cobb, and was traded to Washington in 1927. Rigney hit .288 in his six-year major league career and twice led American League shortstops in fielding, in 1924 and 1926. In 1926 he set an American League record by handling 24 chances without an error in a double-header.
Fort Worth’s top hitting outfielder was 33-year-old Cecil Coombs (.293-10-45), who led the league in sacrifice hits (51) and was third in walks (93). Coombs played for 20 years, 2-½ with the Panthers, ending in 1925. He returned to Fort Worth in 1937-38 as the team’s business manager. John (Ziggy) Sears (.281-9-75) played left field for Fort Worth for ten years, 1918-27, before becoming an umpire. He worked in the Texas League from 1929-34, then moved up to the National League where he was an arbiter for 11 years. Behind the plate was rotund Henry (Possum) Moore (.298-8-57), another of the five players with the Panthers throughout their six-year championship reign.
Four Fort Worth pitchers accounted for 96 of the team’s 107 victories, led by stocky left-hander Joe Pate (30-9, 2.70), the first Texas League pitcher in the modern era to win 30 games in a season. He led the league in games pitched (52), starting 41, of which he completed 28, and finishing 11 in relief. He was second in the league in innings pitched (333). Pate, a native of the Rio Grande Valley town of Alice, began his pro career in the nearby city of Corpus Christi and pitched for 22 years. He first pitched in the Texas League in 1912 for Dallas and was with Fort Worth briefly in 1914 (5 games, 2-1). He joined Fort Worth again in 1918 after serving as a second lieutenant in the field artillery in World War I and was with the Panthers in all of their six straight title seasons. In 1920 he led the league in wins (26-8) and ERA (1.71). During Fort Worth’s six-year string of championships, Pate had a 153-63, .708 record, averaging 25+ wins per season. He led the league in wins three times, winning 30 again in 1924 to become the only pitcher in Texas League history to win 30 games twice. He pitched 1,919 innings, an average of 320 a year. Pate holds the Texas League records for most years pitched (14), highest career percentage (195-93, .677), most years winning 20 or more games (6) and most years leading the league in innings pitched (4). The Boston Red Sox had purchased Pate in the fall of 1918, but returned him to the Panthers. He was drafted by the Athletics in October, 1919, but again returned to Fort Worth the following spring. In the fall of 1925, Philadelphia again drafted Pate and in 1926, the 34-year-old rookie was the Athletics’ star reliever. In 47 games, all in relief, he was a perfect 9-0, 2.71, third in the American League in ERA among pitchers in more than 100 innings. However, in 1927 he fell off to 0-3, 5.17 in 32 games and was back in Fort Worth before the end of the season, remaining with the Panthers until late in 1928 when was acquired by Minneapolis. Pate’s playing career ended in 1932 with a total of 257 wins in 3,302 innings with a 2.90 ERA. He turned to umpiring in 1933 and worked in the Texas League for seven years, 1933-39. He retired as an umpire after the 1941 season.
The other 20-game winners were Paul Wachtel (23-12, 2.97), Bad Eye Bill Whittaker (23-16, 2.43) and the team’s other lefty, 21-year-old Gus Johns (20-9, 2.61). Whittaker and Johns were second and third in the league in ERA and Johns led in shutouts (6).
In legendary fashion, the Panthers went on to win the next four flags before finally losing out in 1926. The team changed its nickname to Cats in 1933 and remained in the Texas League through the 1958 season. Through this period pennants were sparse as the club won only four more flags (1930, 1937, 1939 and 1948). In 1959, the team joined the American Association for a season, doing the same in the Pacific Coast League in 1963. After a final fling in the Texas League in 1964, the city left baseball. Beginning in 1972, the region has been represented by the American League’s Texas Rangers.
The 1921 Fort Worth Panthers were part of one of the greatest dynasties in pro baseball. Helping them was Joe Pate, one of the finest pitchers in the minors, contributing 30 wins to one of the great teams to play the game.
|1921 Texas League Standings|
|1921 Ft. Worth Panthers batting statistics|
|Big Boy Kraft||1B||154||602||132||212||141||47||12||31||66||89||18||.352|
|Bad Eye Bill Whittaker||P||50||103||7||23||8||6||0||0||6||41||0||.223|
|1921 Ft. Worth Panthers pitching statistics|
|Bad Eye Bill Whittaker||23||16||.590||49||22||5||311||286||86||132||2.43|