Top 100 Teams
West Texas - New Mexico League
By Bill Weiss & Marshall Wright, Baseball Historians
In the empty reaches of New Mexico and Texas, baseball flourished in the 1940s and 1950s. Playing in the hot, dry air of the Southwest, aided by strong winds and high altitude conditions, teams and players hit the ball and scored runs at an astonishing rate. Among the leagues in this region punishing the ball the most was the West Texas – New Mexico League. This league’s strongest entry – helped by a hard hitting shortstop - played in 1947 in the west Texas town of Lubbock.
In 1922, a team from Lubbock entered the world of Organized Baseball. Playing in the Class D West Texas League, the Hubbers, (named for the fact that Lubbock was known as the “Hub City” of the South Plains) finished third, eight games behind the Amarillo Gassers. The next year, in 1923, when the league was renamed the Panhandle-Pecos Valley League, the team finished the season in second, once more behind Amarillo. However, the Hubbers defeated the Gassers five games to four in the ensuing playoffs. After a five year hiatus, the Hubbers rejoined a revived West Texas League for one season, finishing fifth out of six teams in 1928. Following the season, Lubbock dropped out of Organized Baseball for ten years.
Following the War, the West Texas – New Mexico League was revived in 1946 as a Class C circuit. The Lubbock Hubbers, now a farm team of the Detroit Tigers, finished the season in fourth with a 71-70 mark, although they knocked off the Abilene Blue Sox (one of the top 100 great teams) in the first round of the playoffs. However, this modest regular season total gave little evidence of the club’s success to come.
The Hubbers roared out of the gate in 1947 and never looked back. They finished the season with 99 wins, 14 more than the Amarillo. In a high scoring league which averaged 1,000 runs per team, Lubbock scored an incredible 1,247 markers in only 140 games – an average of 8.9 per game. The team also batted a collective .315, while six starters garnered at least 100 runs each. The Hubbers’ batters, and the rest of the league for that matter, also benefited from the circuit’s use of the Goldsmith brand baseball, long considered a “rabbit ball”. Following the season, Lubbock bested Lamesa , four games to none (including a 23-3 whalloping in the final game) in the first round of the playoffs and Amarillo, four games to two for the league title. The Hubbers capped the season by beating East Texas League pennant winner Kilgore, four games to one for the Texas Class C championship. In the five games they outscored the Drillers 48-21. Twenty-game winner Len Heinz won both the first and fifth games, giving up just two runs in 18 innings. Heinz, a 27-year old Chicagoan, pitched for Lubbock all or part of each of his four years in pro ball.
Lubbock’s rookie manager in 1947 was 29-year-old second baseman Carl (Jackie) Sullivan, a native of McKinney, Texas, who had come to Lubbock from Dallas as a player in mid-1946. He had played one game for Detroit in 1944. He remained as manager through the 1950 season.
Individually, Lubbock’s two-year rise of 29 wins was due largely to the efforts of the star of the team – 22-year-old shortstop Bill Serena, who had one of the most spectacular seasons in baseball history. He hit .374 with an .832 slugging percentage and a .514 on-base percentage. Serena led all of baseball with 57 homers and lead the league in RBI (190) and runs (183). In post-season play he hit 13 more home runs in 15 games for a grand total of 70 in 152 games. There is no record of his playoff RBI, but his combined total must have gone well over 200. Physically, Serena did not fit the image of a slugger. He was 5’9” tall and weighed 180.
Serena, from Alameda, California, was the son of a carpenter who had come to the U.S. from Italy and who didn’t see how a grown man could earn a living playing a boys’ game. During Serena’s stay in the WTNM, it was customary for Texas fans to give money to a local player after he had hit a homer – it was called “fence money.” Throughout the 1947 season, Serena stuffed all the one, five and ten dollar bills into a pillowcase. When he returned home in September, he emptied the pillowcase onto the dining room table and showed his father all the money. No more was said about playing baseball. Serena reached the majors late in 1949 and played the next five years with the Chicago Cubs He was off to a great start in 1951, hitting .333. On May 6 he fractured his left wrist sliding into second in the first inning, but stayed in the game getting two more hits with two runs and an RBI. That was his last game of the year. He recovered to post his best year in 1952 when he hit .274-15-61 in 122 games. After his playing days, Serena was a major league scout for 32 years with Cleveland, Atlanta and Florida, spending 25 years with the Braves. He died in 1996.
The Hubbers had eight .300 hitters in 1947. The best of the group included Sullivan who batted .355-20-120 in 125 games and first baseman Virgil Richardson hit .337-29-113 in 99 games. On the mound, Heinz had a 20-6 record and Paul Hinrichs (18-5) led the league in ERA (3.34). Sullivan, Serena and Hinrichs all made the WTNM All-Star team and Serena was the league’s MVP.
In addition to Serena two other members of this Lubbock franchise went on to the majors. Bill MacDonald pitched for Pittsburgh in 1950 (8-10,4.29) and briefly in 1953 after two years in the service. Hinrichs pitched in four games for the 1951 Red Sox.
A year later, seven of the 1947 Lubbock players made the news. On October 27, 1948, Commissioner Happy Chandler declared ten Detroit organization players free agents on the grounds they had been “covered up” and their contracts mishandled following the cancellation of the Tigers working agreement with Dallas (Texas League) in December, 1947. The Lubbock players set free were Serena, MacDonald, Hinrichs, P Gerry Ahrens, C Mike Dooley, C-OF Clem Cola and OF-Zeke Wilemon.
Following their record breaking season, the Lubbock Hubbers played in the West Texas – New Mexico league until the loop’s demise in 1955, never finishing higher than fourth. In 1956, the Hubbers played half a season in the Class B Big State League, before dropping out of Organized Ball for good. Twenty years later, the city entered a franchise in the independent Texas – Louisiana League. Playing as the Crickets, the team beat Amarillo and Alexandria in the playoffs to win the 1995 championship. After the 1996 season, the club dropped out of the circuit.
In the heyday of the West Texas – New Mexico League, teams like the Lubbock Hubbers of 1947, playing in high altitude venues and windy locales, helped by sluggers like Bill Serena, scored runs like none before or since. It is in this vein wherein Lubbock’s legacy lies. Their total of 1,247 runs scored in 1947 is among the best professional totals of all time.
|1947 West Texas - New Mexico League Standings|
|1947 Lubbock Hubbers batting statistics|
|1947 Lubbock Hubbers pitching statistics|