Past Treasure of the Month – June 2013

Galveston Buccaneers

September 1934 – After a long hot summer, a raucous mob of three thousand baseball fans assembles in front of the Union Station (now known as the Shearn Moody Plaza and home to the Galveston Railroad Museum). The jubilant crowd was there to welcome home their heroes — the Galveston Buccaneers — who had just won the Texas League pennant. Their 9-2 victory over the San Antonio Missions capped an unlikely run for a team of mostly unknown youngsters and castaway veterans.

Jim Kelley bat

It is not difficult to imagine James “Jim” Kelley, a boy about six or seven years old, at that station cheering on the likes of Billy Webb, Wally Moses and Orville Jorgens. Earlier that season he went to a team event, perhaps a practice or scrimmage, at his school and got most of the squad to sign his Louisville Slugger. From there young Jim resisted the urge to use the bat and kept it in good condition.

This incredibly rare piece of Galveston sporting history was acquired by the Rosenberg Library in 2012 and features 18 signatures including: Major League greats Wally Moses (who in 1937 was one of the first baseball players to grace a Wheaties cereal box), renowned fielding pitcher Harry Gumbert (who was on the 1942 St. Louis Cardinals squad that won the World Series), all-star Beau Bell and other major leaguers. Made of white ash, the wooden bat was produced by the Louisville Slugger company in Louisville, Kentucky and has James Kelley’s name “Jim Kelly” branded on it. The autographed bat was on display as the June Treasure of the Month.

Galveston Buccaneers team photoPhotograph of the triumphant 1934 Galveston Buccaneers
(image courtesy of the Galveston and Texas History Center)

Derrill Pratt1931 photograph of Manager
Derrill “the Professor” Pratt.
Note the uniform’s skull
and crossbones logo.

The first Galveston baseball franchise (called the Galvestons, the Giants and the Sandcrabs at various times) was founded in 1888 when the Texas League was formed. Like most teams during the early years of professional baseball, the Galveston squad faced many challenges. The first was finding talented players who often had to come from out of state and commanded high salaries. Selling tickets was also problematic given the high prices of players. As a result, sales were sporadic and the team changed hands often. In 1924 they moved to Waco, but in 1931 Shearn Moody purchased the team and moved them back to the island.

Wally Moses WheatiesWally Moses 1937 Wheaties box
After playing for the 1934
Galveston Buccaneers, Wally Moses won
three World Series in the Major
Leagues, and was a two time all-star.

Under Moody’s ownership the franchise flourished. He started fresh by creating an edgy new logo with a Jolly Rogers style skull on the left breast of the team jersey, coupled with bombastic orange and black checkered caps and orange and white striped socks. The uniforms made quite an impression on a Beaumont reporter who ridiculed, “Evidently the Buccaneer moguls picked ‘em in the dark, or else got ‘em with soap coupons.” After three years the skull was replaced by a more modest ‘G’ inside of a circle. Moody, along with booster clubs like the Knotholers, helped build a large fan base of youngsters by giving free admission to boys under the age of fifteen. He also formed a stock company called the Galveston Baseball Association and raised over $100,000 for a stadium that the Galveston Daily News called “one of the finest in the south, even though [it was] constructed in record time.” Moody also brought in a young manager named Billy Webb from Chicago, gave him a great deal of control over the roster and actively pursued quality players with generous contracts and shrewd trades.

Moody Ball Stadium1931 Galveston Daily News photograph of the newly built Moody Stadium.

1934 was the first time a team from Galveston had won a pennant since 1899. With the Texas League title under their belt, the Bucs set their eyes on the New Orleans Pelicans and the coveted Dixie Series Title. However, the Pelicans proved to be more than the Bucs could handle. They won the series in six games with a 5-4 victory at their stadium in New Orleans on October 2, 1934. This loss ended the Bucs’ season, but 1934 still proved to be a high water mark for professional baseball in Galveston. The next year, Webb left and the Bucs never won another pennant. Shearn Moody died in 1936, and the subsequent owner moved the team to Shreveport, Louisiana.