A bush league of their own

Long before the Texas Rangers, major-league baseball was played in Dallas by a minor-league team called the Dallas Eagles

"Dick felt like he owed the black race. He said, 'I want to do something for the black race. They've helped me, and I want to bring one into our organization. He said, 'I want to get a good one, one who can compete.'"

On February 23, 1952, Burnett signed Ray Neil, a 26-year-old second baseman from the Indianapolis Clowns of the Negro American League. Neil was considered one of the best double-play makers in the Negro Leagues, and he was a great hitter as well, batting .346 in 1951. Neil was thrilled at the chance to be the man chosen to integrate the Texas League--yet he never suited up for the Dallas Eagles. Dutch Meyer, tripping over his memory, says he never heard of Ray Neil: "Was I managing then?" Meyer wonders, and the answer is yes.

Instead, the man who would break the Texas League's color barrier was a 26-year-old right-handed pitcher named Dave Hoskins, whom Dallas acquired from the Cleveland Indians; at the time, the Eagles were part of the Indians' farm organization, breaking in Cleveland's up-and-comers while carrying guys the big club had no room for.

"Cleveland wanted to put Hoskins somewhere, and Dick liked the idea of breaking the color barrier," Merle Heryford recalls. "Dick was a go-getter. He never backed off from anything. Some people didn't like him for that reason."

Hoskins pitched in the second game of the 1952 season for the Eagles and recorded his first win against the Tulsa Oilers. That year, he led the league with a 22-10 record and a .328 batting average, which made him the Eagles' top pinch-hitter. With a pitching staff that also included Joe Kotrany, Hal Erickson (the only other 20-game winner in the league that year), and future Cleveland Indian Ray Narleski, the Eagles finished first in the league, something a Dallas team had not accomplished since 1936.

"Dave could throw a curve ball through a knothole," Meyer recalls. "He had a great curve and great control."

But Hoskins did not have an easy time here; his role as the league's "racial guinea pig," as one writer then referred to him, was met with much the same hateful response that greeted Jackie Robinson in Brooklyn. His teammates liked him just fine: "He was such a nice man, you couldn't not love the guy," says Joe Macko, then the Eagles' first baseman. "And he was a hell of an athlete." But the fans taunted him wherever he went outside of Dallas; he was, at first, not allowed to play in Shreveport.

"They cursed him: 'Hey, you black bastard,'" Meyer recalls. "Here I am, coaching on third base, and they would yell, 'Why are you paying that bastard?' I will never forget someone asking me why I played a black guy in baseball, and I told him, 'Every time I look at him, I don't see a black guy. I see someone who won me the Texas League.'"

In 1953, Hoskins was called up to join the Indians, and he appeared in 26 games that year, starting seven, three of which were complete games; his record was 9-3, and his ERA was 3.99. The following summer, he was plagued by a sore right arm and pitched in only 14 games, posting a 0-1 record. The Indians, however, voted to give Hoskins a share of their World Series money (the Indians were swept by the Giants).

Hoskins tried to pitch for four more years, but his career ended in anonymity in 1958. After that, he returned to his home in Flint, Michigan, and lost touch with his old Dallas Eagles teammates. On April 2, 1970, long after Hoskins had been forgotten as one of baseball's black pioneers, long after his promising career dried up and blew away, he put a gun to his head and killed himself. Hoskins was 44.

Dick Getter holds in his massive hand a photo of the 1957 Texas League Champion Dallas Eagles. The former outfielder--who looks nearly as sturdy and intense as he did during his playing days--reels off the names of his teammates as though he just stepped off the field with them: "That's Joey Amalfitano, he's third-base coach for the Los Angeles Dodgers now...That's Tony Taylor, he played in the major leagues till the 1970s...Nick Testa, he used to be the bullpen coach for the Giants...Joe Kotrany, he died last week.

But Getter, who recalls the finest details of his yesterdays, does not live in the past: There are only two framed pictures of him in his Eagles uniform scattered around his home, which sits on a quiet stretch of green on the Brookhaven Golf Course; such are the rewards of the scrap-paper recycling business, which Getter entered after he retired from baseball in 1960. He swings a golf club now, and the closest he's been to a diamond in decades was when his two sons were drafted to play major-league ball--one by the Texas Rangers, the other by the Cincinnati Reds.

But his boys decided the baseball life was not for them, so they, too, called it quits. Their father says he was never, not for a second, disappointed that they didn't live out their old man's major-league dream. The Getter men, it seems, are nothing if not practical: Both sons went into the family business, running plants in Austin and in Dallas.

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