Past Treasure of the Month – April 2006
Legend has it that Abner Doubleday created the sport of American baseball in Cooperstown, New York in 1839. During the Civil War, Doubleday served as a major general in the Union Army, and he commanded the troops stationed in Galveston at that time. According to Galveston lore, the state’s first baseball game was played on the island in 1865. Participants in the game were not Galvestonians, however. They were Union soldiers stationed just north of where the Ursuline Convent once stood (near 26th Street and Avenue N). The locals who observed the game became interested in the sport. Soon, baseball — and gambling on baseball — became favorite pastimes for the citizens of Galveston.
The first inter-city match took place in 1867, when the Houston Stonewalls defeated the Galveston R.E. Lees, 35-2. While amateur baseball teams, such as the Flyaways and the Pastimes, played against one another from the 1860s through the 1880s, professional baseball did not come to Galveston until the establishment of the Texas League in 1888. Initially, there were six Texas cities that belonged to the state’s pay-for-play baseball league: San Antonio, Austin, Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston, and Galveston.
Players in the Texas League were often imported from other states and were paid as much as $250 per month. The lack of local players and the inflated salaries outraged many baseball fans in Texas, and attendance at the 25-cent games was often poor. Galveston’s professional team — alternately called the Galvestons, the Giants, or the Sandcrabs — fell into financial trouble when team managers were unable to pay the players their full salaries. Star players were sold off to other teams in order to make up for the deficiency in funds. Money troubles plagued the league for a number of years, but Galveston continued to have a team that was financially supported by the city’s wealthy elite. In 1899, the Galveston Sandcrabs won the state Championship, reviving local enthusiasm for the sport.
From 1902 through the early 1920s, ownership of the Galveston club changed hands regularly. In 1924, the franchise, players, and territorial rights were sold to the Waco, Texas franchise for $21,100. Galveston stayed out of the Texas League for the next five years. The sport returned to Galveston in 1931 when Shearn Moody bought out the Waco club and brought the team back to the island. The Galveston Buccaneers won the Texas State Championship in 1934. Moody died in 1936, and the subsequent owner sold the team to Shreveport, Louisiana in 1939. Galveston has not had a professional baseball team since.
1. Silver-plated baseball and wooden bat, ca. 1885. The baseball and bat were awarded to Frank D. Mitchell, captain of Galveston’s amateur Flyaway team upon a victory over its archrival, the Pastime club.
2. Baseball autographed by the Galveston Buccaneers team, ca. 1933. In 1934, the Buccaneers won the Texas League Championship for the first time since 1899.
3. Team photo of the Galveston Buccaneers, 1933.