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

"Nowadays, if guys don't make it in three, four years, they're done," Macko says. "They don't stick around like we did. The biggest reason is money. Our hearts were in baseball. There's probably still that love in some of the guys out there today, but a lot love the game because the money's good. My first years, we got $150 a month and then $200 a month, and I played semi-pro basketball in the winter to play baseball in the summer."

Macko had a good year in 1956: He hit 36 home runs in 125 ball games, leading his team--which included future major-league pitchers Murray Wall and Freddie Rodriguez and third baseman Jim Davenport, who played with the Giants from '58 to '70--to the league finals against Houston, which beat Dallas four games to one.

Macko also holds a rather dubious Texas League record from 1956: During one game that season, he played his regular position at first base and did not record a single put-out; he didn't even get a chance or an assist--the ball avoided him all day long. Then, when he got to the plate, he went 0-for-4.

"I could have sat in the dugout and helped the team just as much," Macko recalls, laughing. "I was useless that day. And in the record book, they put 'Maco,' so when the record came out, my name wasn't spelled properly. That's what you call having a bad day."

Red Davis also left in '57, replaced by Francis "Salty" Parker, who played 11 games at shortstop for the Detroit Tigers in 1936 before becoming a manager. The Giants had big-league plans for the Eagles' 19-year-old first baseman Willie Lee "Stretch" McCovey, who could not only play defense, but was a tremendous left-handed power hitter, able to clear the Burnett Field scoreboard in left field despite the south wind that made it difficult to pull the ball. Those who played with him and watched him during his tenure with the Eagles insist they knew he was destined for major-league fame. Merle Heryford recalls that during one of the the New York Giants' annual exhibition trips through town, when former Giants manager Leo Durocher, then a TV commentator, and Willie Mays watched McCovey hit, and their jaws dropped.

After one year with the Eagles, McCovey went on to play in 1958 for the Phoenix team of the Pacific Coast League--managed by Red Davis--and landed with the Giants, who had then moved to San Francisco in 1959. McCovey played 22 seasons in the big leagues with three different teams, but when he retired in 1980, he was back with the Giants and No. 8 on the all-time home-run list with 521 dingers.

"McCovey was a good ball player," says his old Eagles teammate Getter. "I always thought he would make the big leagues, but with the humidity and temperature being what it was in Dallas, somebody once asked Willie if he was tired. And Salty Parker said, 'Willie gets tired breathing.' It was funny, because Willie was so loosey-goosey, you'd think guys could throw fastballs by him, but there was no way."

A few other players from that championship '57 team also made it to the bigs: Second baseman Tony Taylor ended up with the Chicago Cubs in 1958 and stayed in the majors until 1976 with a lifetime batting average of .261. Joey Amalfitano, who had been with the Giants from 1954 to '55, returned to the Giants in 1960 and stayed in the show until 1967. Now, he's coaching with the Los Angeles Dodgers, one of the few minor-league vets who stayed in the game.

Macko stayed in the game too, though not as a player. After Dallas, he spent time with the Fort Worth Cats and the Houston Buffs, where he ended his career in 1960; like Getter and so many others, playing in the minor-league circuit had worn him out. Macko approached the Chicago Cubs organization about managing one of their minor-league teams, and they agreed, but only if he signed an agreement that said he wouldn't allow himself to be drafted by another team as a player. He got his first managing job in 1961, and just one year later, the Houston Colt .45s and the New York Mets started up--in desperate need of players.

"I probably would have been drafted," Macko says now. "I don't know if I made a mistake. I probably would have been the old man of the ball club. I didn't regret it, though, because I enjoyed managing. I love baseball. Looking back, maybe I could have been drafted. When I come back the next time, maybe I will stay on the list."

Like Getter, Macko sent a son to the major leagues: Steve Macko played parts of the 1979 and '80 seasons for the Chicago Cubs at second base. He was injured while trying to complete a double play at Wrigley Field on August 5, 1980, and six weeks later, doctors discovered that some swelling they thought was caused by the injury was actually cancer. Steve died in November 1981, having fulfilled his father's dream of playing big-league baseball.

Old-timers like to say that had Dick Burnett not died in 1955, major-league baseball would have come to Dallas a whole lot sooner--and with a hell of a lot better team than the rickety Washington Senators. Burnett had apparently been in negotiations with at least one major-league franchise to move their operations here; all he needed was the money to buy the team and build a new ballpark, possibly somewhere near downtown. Likely, his old buddy, car dealer W.O. Bankston, would have helped him raise the scratch somehow, some way.

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