The Texas Rangers celebrate their 2015 home opener April 10. The ballclub’s history goes back to 1972, when the Washington Senators and manager Ted Williams moved to Arlington. But another branch of the club’s family tree makes a direct line to Oak Cliff.
Professional baseball rooted in our neighborhood in the early 20th century, and minor league games were played here for almost 50 years.
At the center of it all was Burnett Field. The baseball stadium, which was renamed several times over the decades, went up in its second location at the corner of Jefferson and Colorado in 1925. It had replaced Gardner Park, which was built in 1915 and burned swiftly to the ground in ’24, just after 6,500 spectators had filed out of the park on a Sunday afternoon. The players, from the Dallas Steers and the Beaumont Exporters of the Texas League, had to run out of the clubhouse half dressed. The Steers played their next home game two blocks away at Riverside Park, home of the Dallas Black Giants of the Texas Colored League in the days of segregated baseball.
The Steers opened their 1925 spring training at Riverside Park, while their new stadium was still under construction. By the time Branch Rickey, who would later become the commissioner of Major League Baseball, brought the St. Louis Cardinals for an exhibition game against the Steers on April 9, the stadium was ready.
The Steers finished the 1925 season in second place thanks in large part to the leadership of player/manager Snipe Conley, a legendary Dallas baseball player. Conley had been one of the best all-time pitchers in Dallas history. He won 17 games in a row for an earlier incarnation of the Steers, the Dallas Submarines, in 1917. He also batted .309 that year.
Conley, a spitball pitcher, made it onto the rosters of a couple of major-league teams. But the bulk of his long career was spent in Dallas. By 1926, he had played nine seasons here as a player or player/manager.
In 1941, when Conley was 49 years old, he returned to the Burnett Field mound. During a game against the San Antonio Missions on June 26, 1941, he allowed one run and five hits in eight innings. The Missions came back to earn five runs in the ninth, but the Dallas team, by then called the Rebels, won 11-6. Conley pitched at least three more games for the Rebels that season. He was inducted into the Texas Sports Hall of Fame in 1973, and he died in 1978. He is buried in Wheatland Cemetery, near DeSoto.
Ownership of the Dallas club changed hands several times in the ’40s and ’50s, and attendance began to dwindle. The team was renamed the Dallas Rangers in 1959, and they later left the Texas League for the Pacific Coast League. The last pro baseball game at Burnett Field was played in 1964. The team moved to Vancouver, B.C. in 1965. But the following year, the Texas League revived the club as the Dallas Fort Worth Rangers. They played at Turnpike Stadium, which later would be come Arlington Stadium. By the time the Senators moved to Arlington in 1972, this already was a baseball town, and Oak Cliff had been its cradle.