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

But it turned out that Dick Burnett was no George Schepps. Davis found Burnett to be a meddling, cranky owner who didn't understand the game as well as he thought he did. "He was an owner who did what the hell he wanted to do," Davis remembers. "He was tough at times. Like, he called me up one night in Tulsa and said, 'How did you make out?' I said, 'Pete Burnside got beat 1-0 in 11 innings,' and he said, 'Is that all you got to say?' What the hell else was there to say? It was irritating. You're swearing yourself for a 1-0 game, and he's all over you about it. He wasn't like Schepps. When I played for him, he was the best man I ever played for--the best in the West. He took care of the ballplayers, the manager, everybody."

Davis' 1955 Eagles finished first in the Texas League by half a game: Dallas had a 93-67 record, while San Antonio ended the season at 93-68--the difference in the standings was three percentage points. Davis was named Texas League Manager of the Year.

Dick Getter was an All-Star on that team, but he shared the diamond with a number of players who went on to become major leaguers. There was third baseman Ozzie Virgil, a Dominican who joined the Giants in 1956 for three games and then got bounced around four other major league teams until 1969. Bahamian shortstop Andre Rodgers also played on the 1955 Eagles; he was called up to the Giants in 1957 and stayed with them till 1960 before going to the Cubs and the Pirates.

Pitcher Pete Burnside was also on the Eagles' roster; he joined the Giants in 1955 and played in the big leagues until 1963, ending his career with the Washington Senators (the team that, in 1972, became the Texas Rangers). And there were many more, including American League catcher Ray Murray, who still lives in Fort Worth, and Bill White, who spent 13 years in the National League before becoming the major leagues' first black president in 1988, replacing Bart Giamatti as NL chief.

Getter never got the call to join the Giants, but he was happy enough to land in Dallas. He was tired of moving around from small town to small town; the minor-league life had begun to take its toll. "It's not like today," Getter says. "Today, these guys have options in their contracts. Like, they can say, 'Well, I don't want to go over there and play, because I don't like that town.' Well, in our day, if you didn't play, you didn't get paid. They'd tell you to go here or there, and what could you say? But it was a good team then. We were a close enough team. We didn't go to bed with one another, but we were close. We drank beer together, raised hell together."

The season was marred by the death of Dick Burnett, who died in June 1955 in a hotel in Shreveport, where the team was playing at the time. Red Davis was sitting on Burnett's bed when the owner died: As Davis recalls it now, from his home in Laurel, Mississippi, Burnett was waiting for the doctor to arrive at around one in the afternoon when the phone rang. Burnett sat up to answer when, all of the sudden, he fell back into his pillow, struck dead by a massive heart attack. On June 5, 1955, Burnett's family took control of the team.

The Eagles of 1955 didn't make it to the Dixie Series; they were defeated by Houston, four games to two, in the first round of the playoffs. That was also the year Eddie Knoblauch, a pro baseball player since 1938, was the Texas League batting champ, hitting .327. Knoblauch, who was never under contract to any major-league team and never played in the majors, retired that same year, when the ball still looked as big as a melon and the bat still weighed as much as a twig.

Joe Macko holds the dubious distinction of having left the Eagles just as Willie McCovey came to town and helped the team win the Texas League championship.

Like most minor-leaguers, Macko bounded around from town to town; he first played for the Eagles in 1951, but only for a month. He brought his big bat back here in 1952, the year Dutch Meyer's team came in first, then left again until 1956; from 1954 to '55, he was property of the Dodgers and spent time with their San Diego Triple-A farm club. But the Dodgers had no room for Macko, and they released him back to the Eagles. Macko was thrilled at the prospect of coming back to Dallas, especially to play for Red Davis--the kind of manager, Macko says now, who would "come by and have a beer with you and talk about the game. He was more loosey-goosey than Dutch Meyer."

When he arrived in Dallas in '56, Macko had been signed to replace Bill White, who left for the Giants. By then, Macko had resigned himself to the fact he was becoming a minor-league lifer, and he didn't necessarily mind that. Better to play pro ball in the minors than to get a real job.

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