As the 1895 baseball season began, the Fort Worth Panthers had never finished a Texas League season higher than fifth place. But that year the Panthers were part of a new league: the Texas-Southern League. And with a new year and a new league, hope sprang eternal in Pantherville.
The league played a two-half season: A winner of the first half would meet the winner of the second half in a playoff series to determine the league championship.
Predictably, the ongoing rivalry between the cities of Fort Worth and Dallas extended to the baseball diamond. Newspapers in each town sniped at the manager, players and fans of the other team. Each town relished each win over the other town and bemoaned each loss.
The Dallas Steers won the first half of the season. The Panthers finished the first half in fourth place.
Ah, but in the second half of the season, when the Panthers beat the Steers on Aug. 20, Fort Worth replaced Dallas at the top of the league standings.
And stayed there, winning the second half with a 60-45 record.
Panthers manager Bill Ward and Steers manager Ted Sullivan agreed to play a best-of-15 series to determine the overall 1895 champion. Each town would host seven games, with the fifteenth game to break a 7-7 tie if necessary.
But on Sept. 7, the day when the first game was to be played in Dallas, a storm prevented the Panthers from boarding their train to Dallas. Manager Ward even tried to charter a special train but to no avail. Sullivan, informed that the Panthers could not get to Dallas on time, had his team and an umpire — who was not one of the two umpires agreed upon by Ward and Sullivan to officiate the playoff series — take the field in Dallas. Sullivan told his pitcher to throw nine balls over the plate, and the umpire declared that Dallas had won the game 9-0!
In Fort Worth, Panther partisans howled “foul!”
Sure enough, Sullivan backed down, decided not to claim a win in the game-that-wasn’t.
The playoff series began Sept. 8.
On Sept. 20, Fort Worth won game 13 by a score of 8-1. The Panthers had won three games in a row to pull ahead in the series 7-6 with two to play.
Dallas still could tie the series 7-7 in game 14 and force a game 15 and win the championship. But Dallas manager Sullivan announced that he would not take his team to Fort Worth to play game 14, despite the agreement he and Ward had signed.
Sullivan argued that because his team had lost the advantage of playing the first game in Dallas on the Steers’ home field, game 14 should be played in Dallas. Ward declined. Game 14 was to be played at T&P Park in Fort Worth, he insisted. Sullivan declined. Ward stood his ground.
The Fort Worth Gazette called Sullivan a “crawfish” for backing out of his earlier agreement to play game 14 in Fort Worth. Moreover, the Gazette announced that because Sullivan had effectively ended the playoffs with Fort Worth leading 7-6, the Panthers had won the pennant — their first. League officials agreed that the Panthers were the winners.
And they had done it by beating nine Steers and one crawfish.
Mike Nichols blogs about Fort Worth history at www.hometownbyhandlebar.com.