BY RENE TORRES
While the true story as to who invented baseball is still in question — Abner Doubleday’s name is still associated with the creation of the game in 1839.
Doubleday was stationed in the Valley with Zachary Taylor’s U.S. Army during the Mexican War — once in Port Isabel in 1846 and again at Brownsville’s Fort Brown in 1848.
It is not known whether Doubleday organized a game while stationed here — but we can always speculate that maybe he did? Abner was long gone when the game found a diamond in this city…
The first Brownsville amateur baseball team was formed in 1868 — this is when the real reporting of the game started in the Brownsville Ranchero.
It was on a Christmas Day when the inaugural game pitted the Rio Grande Club of this city against Club Union de Matamoros. It was advertised as the championship of the border.
The boys from the other side of the river put up 49 crooked numbers on the board with the city squad crossing the plate 32 times. As time progressed, both cities added more teams, but it was not until the turn of the century that baseball became the king of sports in this region.
The Brownsville Herald credited John D. Hill, who came to the city to get into the rice business, with giving the sport a push in 1903.
Hill’s son, Frank, was a college pitcher at Kentucky, and after watching an Army team take on local civilians, he decided that the family should organize a local team.
By 1904, when the St. Louis, Brownsville and Mexico Railway came into town, a city team was in place. The squad won all its games that year, including one over a strong team from Corpus Christi, and it declared itself the South Texas champion.
In 1910, Brownsville joined Corpus Christi, Beeville, Laredo, Victoria and Bay City in the professional Southwest Texas League.
Sam Bell was the first manager of the Brownsville Brownies, and local pharmacist W.G. Willman was named the secretary. One manager who went on to bigger things was also in the league — famed University of Texas coach Billy Disch managed the Beeville Squad.
The Brownies won their first game of the season, a 2-1 decision over Corpus Christi on Jacinto day in 1910. The team finished the year with a 68-47 record, good enough to win the second half and set up a playoff against Victoria.
The teams split their games in Brownsville, then divided the next two in Victoria. To accommodate large crowds — by some reports, between 8,000 and 9,000 fans, the series was moved to Corpus.
Brownsville took the next two games and the first league pennant. Among the players on the team was pitcher John Taff, an Austin native who appeared in seven games for the Philadelphia Athletics in 1913.
The Southwest Texas League lasted two seasons, but Brownsville went on to field teams in three more leagues — the Texas Valley (1938), Rio Grande Valley (1949-1950) and Gulf Coast (1951-1953).