By Melinda Narro
Fort Bend Museum Intern
As students traipse reluctantly back to school and summer’s scorching heat begins to ebb ever so slightly, the attention of many Texans shifts to that most beloved and ubiquitous of autumn institutions. No, not pumpkin spice lattes—American football!
Yes, this time of year inevitably finds a large percentage of the Lone Star State, and the country as a whole, glued to the gridiron. Texas enjoys a national reputation as home to truly hardcore football fanatics, a perception no doubt strengthened by films like Varsity Blues and Friday Night Lights. But did you know that our state has a rich history of baseball that stretches back to the 1860s? That’s right; as Bill McCurdy of the Texas Baseball Hall of Fame puts it, “there was an ancient time in which baseball was king,” and a Fort Bend County newspaper from the early 1900s reveals that enthusiasm was not so different from what we see in modern bleachers.
Published in the Texas Coaster on August 26th, 1904, an article headlined “Best Ball Ever Played” captures Richmond in the throes of baseball fever. It describes the exploits of the hometown Richmond Maroons in a four-day series battling opponents from around the state, including teams from Eagle Lake, Luling, San Antonio, Hempstead, and Houston—the same city that, on Texas Independence Day of 1868, squared off against Galveston at the San Jacinto Battlegrounds in the earliest documented baseball game in Texas. The author reports that, after a sobering 10-to-4 defeat by Eagle Lake on Monday, Richmond claimed “vengeance” with a win in Tuesday’s rematch. But the clear source of the story’s triumphant title, not to mention the author’s glee, comes on Wednesday: a down-to-the-wire “battle royale,” tied up 9-9 in the bottom of the 9th, culminating in a 10th-inning run that clinched victory for the Maroons. “It was the most exciting tip toe game ever played on this diamond,” wrote the author. “The ladies in the grandstand stood up on the seat and punched men in the eyes with their umbrellas. Excitement went wild, and the men, women, and children are too hoarse to converse.”
So the next time you scream yourself speechless over a sack or accidentally cold-cock your neighbor with a first down fist-pump, be proud: you’re carrying on a century-long legacy of Texans getting worked up over ball games.
1) Take a deep breath: …and appreciate the fact that you can! Women’s torsos had yet to escape the rib-crushing squeeze of corsets at this time. Even when the well-defined “wasp waist” fell out of favor after 1907, the new vogue for longer dresses with slim silhouettes caused corsets to increase in length, making sitting comfortably a challenge.
4) Curl up with a good book: With television still many decades distant and radio barely in its infancy, novels helped fill the leisure hours of Edwardian-era Americans. Lottie Moore, a prodigious reader, would have had plenty of great books to choose from—works published during this time period include Call of the Wild, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and multiple Sherlock Holmes mysteries by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
5) Get reacquainted with Jack and Rose: Pop in a DVD of Titanic to marvel at the posh accommodations enjoyed by wealthy passengers aboard ocean liners. While the Titanic sank to a watery grave in 1912, other technological innovations of the early 1900s revolutionized transportation for generations to come—namely, the Wright brothers’ airplane (1903) and Henry Ford’s Model T automobile (1908).
Interested in learning more? Progressive and Prosperous runs through December, so make a point to stop by and see the exhibit for yourself!
Funding has been provided to the Fort Bend History Association from Humanities Texas and the National Endowment for the Humanities as part of the 2020 Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act of 2020.
Fort Bend Museum Staff