Tom Kayser was the president of the Texas League for 25 years. The San Antonio Missions were members of the Texas League during that time. He has authored books on the Texas League and baseball’s Texas history. He is revered for his success as the president and his love of the game. Listen to him share his stories and thoughts on the game that defined his life.
Justin Hill: Hello and Bienvenidos, San Antonio. Welcome to The Alamo Hour discussing the people, places and passion that make our city. My name is Justin Hill, a local attorney, a proud San Antonian, and keeper of chickens and bees. On The Alamo Hour, you’ll get to hear from the people that make San Antonio great and unique and the best kept secret in Texas. We’re glad that you’re here. All right, welcome to episode 10 of The Alamo Hour. Today’s guest is Tom Kayser. Tom is a baseball man. He was the president of the Texas League for 25 years. It’s one of three double-A minor leagues. That’s a yes, I got a head nod.
Tom Kayser: Sorry.
Justin: He wrote Baseball in The Lone Star State, the Texas Leagues greatest hits. He wrote The Texas League Almanac. In 2016, he was inducted into the Texas League Hall of Fame. We’ve asked him on here today to talk about Texas, Texas baseball, the Missions. The Missions were part of the Texas League and I think, Tom’s got a lot to add on. Anybody who’s interested in baseball, anybody who’s followed the city’s quest to get a baseball team and sort of the considerations there. Tom, thank you for being here.
Tom: I’m happy to do it.
Justin: I always start these with kind of a top 10 list. Get to know a little bit more about you, get to know sort of your connection to our city. You do live in San Antonio, right?
Justin: How long have you lived here and sort of what part of town have you lived in?
Tom: Bought a house inside of 1604, in the East of 281 back in October of ’93 and I still live in that house.
Justin: Is that right?
Justin: A lot’s changed there.
Tom: Yes. There wasn’t anything on the other side of 1604. As a matter of fact, Gold Canyon wasn’t even there back then. You could go across 281 on a bridge, on the Henderson Pass, it used to cross over there and can’t do that anymore, but too many people.
Justin: You’ve been here a long time.
Tom: I have.
Justin: Straight the whole time, ’93 on.
Justin: We’re in COVID shutdown. This is kind of a strange question, but I think it works. Any favorite place to eat right now? We’re doing a bunch of takeout. We’re trying to support our old favorites, but is there any spot you’re going to or are you shut down?
Tom: I’m a pretty good cook, HEB basically. I buy my supplies, but we’re coming out of the soup season. I’m just finishing a barley mushroom soup which is fabulous. Having had my office in my house, it’s really what I tended to do is eat at home a lot. I wish I could come up with a top.
Justin: I need to learn.
Tom: Pericos on Saturday morning on 1604 because we’ve had a group, go on a breakfast on Saturday for tacos forever.
Justin: That’s great.
Tom: It’s down to a very slimmed-down group of four.
Justin: Right now?
Tom: No. We really miss it too, boy.
Justin: We’ll be there again soon. I had Commissioner [unintelligible 00:03:13] here and I said, we’ll get back to normal soon and he was not very encouraging to my optimism. I’m hoping he’s wrong because I think we all need to. You’ve lived here long enough and you have been involved in baseball on the side of town that I really haven’t spent much time where the Missions play in that part of town. Are there any things in San Antonio that you think are hidden gems, is what I call them? You’ve got somebody coming into town and you go, ”Yes, but this isn’t in the guidebook, you really need to go see this or do this thing.”
Tom: I tend to take people to the Pearl for sure, but there are so many things that are on the top 10 that it’s like, if you don’t do those things, you really haven’t seen San Antonio.
Justin: That’s right.
Tom: Walking around downtown to going to the cathedral. I don’t think enough people go to the cathedral downtown.
Justin: The Missions to me like the other missions. Those are beautiful.
Tom: Absolutely. I have done that where I put people on a car and we’ll just do mission, drive from mission to mission. Things that are Hill country kind of stuff that you take people up and I drive up to 81.
Justin: Day trips.
Tom: I go see place like comfort or certainly, Blanco and see the courthouse there.
Justin: Blanco has gotten a lot better. It’s now become kind of shi-shi. It’s not spread Hertzberg but it’s a lot more attractive to go visit.
Tom: As far as San Antonio, again, when you’ve got people coming in for a short period of time, it’s tough for little jam.
Justin: That’s right.
Tom: Now you go to the [unintelligible 00:04:50], you walk around the riverwalk. I think that when you take them to The Alamo and their first response is, ”I didn’t realize it was so small.”
Justin: That’s right.
Tom: Back then it was lots more stuff here. It’s sort of been whittled down over here.
Justin: It’s not the grand size of it. It’s the import of what happened. What are you doing with your time? You’re retired?
Tom: I am.
Justin: What do you do? You cook, obviously. What else do you do to stay busy?
Tom: Right now, it’s a challenge. Lots of more reading, my garden is in good a shape as it’s ever been. It’s almost daily go out and prune and pluck, and get the dead stuff out of there.
Justin: What are you reading?
Tom: Oh boy, I’m an eclectic reader. I love history. I just got done with a Walter Mosley book. He’s one of the great writers, one of the great wordsmiths. People don’t know Walter Mosley.
Justin: I don’t know him.
Tom: He’s just magical.
Justin: Nonfiction, fiction?
Tom: It’s fiction. Easy Rawlins was his detective, Devil in a Blue Dress. He did a whole series of that. He writes from the black perspective and his protagonists and genres are almost entirely African American, but he’s use of the language is spectacular.
Justin: It’s a lost art.
Tom: My guilty pleasure is a British Naval Swashbucklers and I just heard a guy read one of a series by an author named Michael Aye, A-Y-E. Smart and Stable Genius. I just read that and I think my hair is starting going to curl.
Justin: We’ll leave that there because this could go in many directions.
Tom: Now I’m reading Longitude.
Justin: What’s that one?
Tom: That’s the discovery of- see where the chronometer is that would help mariners establish exactly where they’re located. The story of how, who it was and how it happened. I’m just starting that.
Justin: It seems very dense.
Tom: No, it’s very thin, but it’s recommended. I’ve read– Somebody recommended it and said, it’s a great read.
Justin: We got more questions for your episode than anybody so far, which I didn’t realize. People that are baseball fans. I have a fair-weather group, the people that are into it.
One of the questions I’ve incorporated into this is, who are the highest-profile players that came through the Texas League while you were there? They specifically said, not the ones coming through injury or out of retirement.
Tom: Very first year, Mike Piazza was here in San Antonio.
Justin: I didn’t know that.
Tom: He was only in the Texas League for something like 30 some days because he just tore it up. I never saw him play in the Texas League. Back in 1992, my offices were still in Illinois. I ran the Texas League from Rockford, Illinois for two seasons until I sold my condo and eventually buy my house here. Mike Trout, I can remember, what a nice young kid.
Justin: Mike Trout came through the Texas League?
Tom: He was at Arkansas for an entire season. I can remember Adrian Bell Trey was 18-year-old [unintelligible 00:08:34] coming up through the Dodgers System. Dodgers have a tendency or did then to over-promote, not over-promote in terms of what league they were going to go to, but build somebody up as a trade value kind of thing. It’s like I’ve heard this before.
He stepped into the box for his first double-A at [unintelligible 00:09:02]. He didn’t even see a pitch and my eyes are bulging because of the way he approached the plate and got ready for that first at [unintelligible 00:09:11]. He looked like a 10-year veteran. He was like 18. Oh, golly, there’s so many. Bobby Abreu came through this league, Berkman, Korea.
Justin: Full seasons for a lot of these guys.
Tom: There were so many Houston guys or St. Louis. J.D Drew came through here and the list is almost endless. Those are guys that come to mind immediately.
Justin: Was Mike Trout just knocking the skin [crosstalk]?
Tom: He was like a Mickey Mantle.
Justin: He’s a freak.
Tom: You couldn’t hit a ball over his head. He just looked so good. I don’t think he was 20. He was 19, 20 years old when he came through the Texas League.
Justin: I watch videos of him playing in high school.
Tom: Yes. You see these guys, it’s like how did he last until late first round? Which I think he was 24, 28 somewhere–
Justin: I didn’t know that.
Tom: Yes. It’s because he was from New Jersey and who comes out of New Jersey and they have a short season in terms of the period of when high schools can play where you’re not dodging snowstorms in April and just good scouting. Every year it seemed like there was somebody. Felix Hernandez, King Felix who came through here later traded or he was with Seattle. He was a great starting pitcher for so long.
Justin: Trout signed the biggest contract in history and he came through so it’s hard to talk that.
Tom: Yes. He was here almost the entire season, if not the entire season.
Justin: Did he come through and play in San Antonio at any point?
Tom: Absolutely. He did it only twice because of the way the Texas League schedule you’d have seen maybe five games and each half, but he was here.
Justin: Wow. Being able to see him at a double-A would be a cool thing to say you’ve seen and he did.
Tom: It was, It was cool.
Justin: You’re a historian. You’re obviously a fan of sport. Do you have a team that you follow? Like your go-to Cowboys fan or whatever it is?
Tom: Yes, Pirates.
Justin: All right.
Tom: I wasn’t a Pirate fan. I was a Dodger fan growing up, then a Cub fan later because my first game I ever saw was in the Coliseum in LA and then we moved back to Chicago and that was the Ernie Banks, Ron Santo bunch, and that was fun to be able to just hop on a train and go to Wrigley Field. When I went to school, I was in a small school in downtown Pittsburgh and, boy, did I take a ribbing because the pirates own the Cubs. The Willie Stargell bunch. Then it was ironic then I went from owning a minor league baseball team to going to Pittsburgh as the assistant minor league director. I still bleed black and gold. It’s a long-suffering.
Justin: It’s great to say you got to work for him too. Who gets to do that?
Tom: Yes, exactly.
Justin: Are the balls juiced?
Tom: I think they must have had something going on because I just read an article– You had all these home runs last season and then in the playoffs, it seemed like the long balls took a drop. Just recently, it was discovered that they used some baseballs from 2018 in the playoffs.
Justin: Is that right?
Justin: I didn’t know that.
Tom: That explains the difference in productivity, apparently. People were saying, “There it is. The homeboy–” Nobody said, ”[unintelligible 00:13:30] during the season. What’s going on?” It’s like, “Where did you find?” It’s not like the Texas League where they call Tom up and say, ”Tom, do you have any spare baseballs?” I always had about 10 or 20 dozen in my garage because the companies– Rawlings would send each league 10 dozen balls at the start of the season for special events. I just kept them there for emergencies. There were times when it’s like a shipment didn’t arrive and we need balls and it’s like, “I’ll get them.” I will tend to suffice often, it’d be beautiful.
Justin: All of you have been using the same balls in the Texas League this past season as major leagues?
Tom: It’s a different quality. I can’t tell you what the difference is, whether it’s the yarn, whether the way it’s sewn or, whatever it is. The major league ball had a different quality now. Beginning I think in 19, triple-A and double-A were using the same ball as Major League Baseball, but it wasn’t happening when I was president.
Justin: Did you ever look or do you know whether their home-run numbers went up like major leagues?
Tom: I don’t. Once I retired, I wasn’t following it quite so strictly. I would see things. Having said that, Tulsa during the playoffs, set an all-time Texas League record by hitting nine home-runs in a playoff game. One might surmise that- [laughs]
Justin: That something was going on.
Tom: Yes, exactly.
Justin: What’s the biggest changes you’ve seen to the city since you moved here in ’93?
Tom: Well, certainly population density when I moved here was below 800,000. Now we’re almost two million if not over to two million. Where I live is 23.4 miles from Wolff Stadium and it used to take me maybe 20 minutes. [laughs]
Justin: [unintelligible 00:15:32]
Tom: Yes. Toward the end, it was like there were days when it could be 45. 281 was all hung up or whatever.
Justin: When you were the president was Wolff Stadium where your office was or was it at your house?
Tom: No, no, I had my office in my house. Which was good practice we’re going through now.
Justin: Did you convince the league to let you move– What brought you to San Antonio?
Tom: They gave me the option to choose any city in the territory justified. I could have moved to Dallas if I could have justified it. I wanted to be in a city where there was a team. Why wouldn’t you want to be somewhere where you could easily go to a ballgame when they’re home? I looked at Little Rock, I looked at Tulsa, I looked to San Antonio and then I was like, “There really isn’t a choice.” If I were married, I might have gone to Tulsa and had kids but I didn’t.
Arkansas, Little Rock was a surprising possibility. My very best friend lived there. He was the operator of the Arkansas Travelers, the legendary Bill Valentine. I told somebody if I moved a Little Rock, I will weigh 300 pounds within two years because we’ll go out eating and drinking after every doggone ballgame, and he’s an epicure and a wine guy. I wouldn’t be sitting here. I’d be dead.
Justin: We’ve got to know our limitations.
Tom: San Antonio was it, and it was a great choice.
Justin: You loved it?
Justin: Let’s just get started. I had no real understanding as to what the Texas League was, the history of it. If somebody said, “What’s the Texas League?” What do you tell them?
Tom: One of the longest, most– Maybe the second most storied minor league in the entire system behind the international league, which I think came into being in the late 1870s. The Texas League was first formed in 1888. While it wasn’t continuous until the early part of the 20th century. It was a big deal in Texas from the very beginning. It had its ups and downs and seasons when it started and didn’t complete. Great players have been playing in the Texas League since the very beginning. I was looking at a year to remind myself, Tris Speaker, one of the greatest ballplayers in the early part of the 20th century, won a batting title at Houston in 1907, hall of famer, right up to guys like Ron Santo, Willie McCovey, Joe Morgan, all played in the Texas League.
Justin: Roberto Alomar.
Tom: Yes. Brooks Robinson. It is in both legend and fact. It’s a well-known league for developing players and the legend comes in with, of course, everybody knows the term Texas leaguer.
Justin: That was one of the questions I had been told to ask you. What is the origin and what is a Texas leaguer?
Tom: I’ll give you what I think it is and I’ll give you what is probably the neatest answer. What I think it is, is back in those days in the early part of baseball, it was not uncommon for players to go from any level to the big leagues. Back then, the Texas League was in A-Level, it might even have been a B classification. Because there were no farm systems, you had scouts for every major league team or networks of people that they would talk to and they would– It’s like see this hill guy down in Fort Worth, if you need somebody, he deserves a shot.
What I think happened is you’d get somebody going up to the big leagues and he shoot a flare just over second base out of the reach of the infielder and that was derisively called a Texas League hit. The dying quail, the flare, and that probably has the best provenance too. It makes sense. Now the one that I liked the best was the story of a couple of Cowboys were at a Fort Worth ballgame and one says to the other, “I bet you can’t shoot that ball out of the air.” And the other old boys said, “I’ll bet you I can,” and here comes a fly ball and Cowboy shoots the ball right out of the air. Ball drops dead as a doorknob behind second base and that was a Texas League. I think that that’s rather unlikely but who knows, it might’ve happened.
Justin: The person who asked me said that they had heard that it was because the lines used to be so long in Texas League games and the fence was so far back that the outfielders played further back, but he said,” I don’t even know where I heard that. I just heard that once.”
Tom: Probably that is true but I think it’s much more to do with, we kit just out of the reach of the infielders.
Justin: Okay. The Texas League, when I looked it up and I was trying to do some research, there’s zero chance I’ll be able to get through even a small amount, but it looks like almost every team of any population in Texas at some point had a team. Now it’s all double-A teams and it seems to be much more, I’m not going to say corporate, but it looks like back in the olden days or the older days, it was a local Texas League and everybody had teams, is that true?
Tom: Yes. It even amazed me when I was writing those teams down because it’s like, “I’ll never remember them all.” It’s hard to imagine today that a place like Temple or Greenville or Cleburne or Corsicana or Paris, Texacano, Sherman, all of these teams were regularly appearing from 1888 until about 1910.
Again, it really isn’t a whole lot different than today. It’s like follow the money. These were big cotton towns or oil towns or railheads, where people were passing through or there was money banking, whatever. That’s what happened back then. A banker’s son would be enamored with baseball and he’d convince his father to buy the team in [unintelligible 00:22:42] and take it to Greenville or wherever.
Those kinds of things happened, or they were failing, the team wasn’t doing well. They were not drawing any people and they up stakes and move to the next town over and get some fresh cash. Those things were not uncommon even into the early ’60s when baseball was in a trough where you had Rio Grande Valley or Victoria moving and going to somewhere in Oklahoma and then Rio Grande Valley two weeks later going into Victoria.
Justin: And they were the Rosebuds and there was a different Victoria team too.
Tom: Yes, exactly, the Giants. Again, when you knew your history, it’s like, oh yes, okay. I understand that. Back in the early part, there was lots of moving around because of the instability of the sport and getting things established. After the war, mid-’50s, things were not very prosperous and people were just looking to go somewhere and stay three or four years and then move on to greener pastures.
Justin: Well, you also got to think in the 1910s, no one was sitting at home watching TV. I don’t even know if people were really listening to radio then so there had to be–
Tom: No, the first broadcast didn’t come in until the end of the 1920s and the end of the 1910s and not popularly until into the ’20s. You did have movies but they were silent. You had no air conditioning. You had no television, you had no radio. [crosstalk]
Justin: You’re bored and dying for entertainment.
Tom: Yes, exactly.
Justin: Well, I loved it. I saw your Express News article and you were holding a Jersey of the Wichita Falls Spudders and I grew up between Wichita Falls and Burkburnett in the country but that sent me down a rabbit hole reading about the Spudders. I grew up there and never heard of them my whole life. It’s just this fascinating history. If you go on the Wikipedia page, there’s got to be a list of 80 teams that have been in the Texas League at some point. It’s just nuts.
Tom: Well, and the interesting thing is it’s the Texas League, but even in the very first season, it wasn’t an all Texas League. New Orleans started the season in 1888. It didn’t finish it. The last time it was an all Texas loop was 1932 when the Shreveport ballpark burned down. On May 20th, they relocated to Tyler. From May 20th until the end of the year, it was eight teams in the Texas League and then two teams move to Oklahoma the next year and we’ve never had more than six cents and sometimes as few as three.
Justin: What’s the number of teams in the league and how has that ranged over time?
Tom: It’s mostly been eight, never been more than eight. Then there was a period of years when it was six and that was in the early ’60s. During that period of time, the Texas League teamed up with the Mexican League and had an interlocking schedule for a few years. You’d go on a bus trip that would take you through six cities over 12 days, if you can imagine that. We’ve had an interlocking all-star game and an interlocking championship series. Texas League pretty much dominated the Mexican League in that period.
Justin: The Texas League’s teams, have they always been affiliated with some major league team?
Tom: No. Like the rest of the minor leagues, that was an invention that really was not common until– It didn’t begin until about the late ’20s and the Branch Rickey, began buying teams to get players. Signing players and signing them to levels because at that time, the Cardinals were cash poor and they couldn’t compete with the Yankees of the world or the high-dollar folks to buy talent. It wasn’t a common thing until the ’30s, but even some Texas League teams didn’t have affiliations into the ’40s. On the other hand, San Antonio is an unusual situation, they were owned by the St Louis Browns from 1933 until two years after they moved to Baltimore. They didn’t have an affiliation. It was an owned club.
Justin: Was that uncommon?
Tom: Yes and no. It was uncommon. It was not common on the Texas League but it just happened that way here, great stability but a lousy product. They didn’t win much in that period. St Louis Browns were not known as one of the better teams in baseball.
Justin: How long did they own the Missions?
Tom: ’33 until, well, it was after, it had to have been ’56 or ’57 because Brooke Robinson played here for two years. That takes them into the mid-’50s anyway. They became a privately-owned club but then they were owned for a period of time by the Houston Astros, ’64. I think ’63 and ’64 or actually the cold ’45s. That’s how San Antonio lost its baseball team in ’60.
After the ’64 season, Hofheinz opened up the Astrodome and didn’t want competition. He moved the team to Amarillo and they had a pretty good steel and concrete ballpark on the Southside Mission stadium, which laid empty. When the Texas League was trying to get back into San Antonio, Hofheinz refused to lend it to them and actually tore it down, which was just a sin because it only opened in ’48. That led to the field being built out of pieces from other ballparks-
Justin: Was that right?
Tom: -campus of St. Mary’s.
Justin: I didn’t know that.
Tom: Oh yes, they had a lighting system from Victorian seats from the old Houston bus stadium in Houston. The group of Houston or San Antonians got together to put that all together, what became [unintelligible 00:29:29] field. Really interesting history when you look at [crosstalk].
Justin: They had gone to Amarillo and then you all–
Tom: Again, this was a period of baseball. It was in a real economic trough, so musical cheers were being played. I would have to look, I’m not sure where it came from but it might’ve been, I just don’t know.
Justin: How long were we without a team?
Tom: ’65 through ’67, three seasons.
Justin: Okay, not long.
Tom: No, not very long.
Justin: There’s another question we get because you’re going to mention this how, became there was a St. Louis Browns’ affiliate or then it was a Milwaukee Brewers’ affiliate. The Missions just here changed affiliations multiple times in like 30 years I looked. How does that happen and why does it happen so regularly?
Tom: Sometimes it’s a major league decision. The Dodgers had been here for 20 some years and then decided that they wanted to go somewhere else. I’m sorry. No, it was a Missions’ decision. They changed ownership at LA and the people running the Dodgers, it wasn’t the same and so the San Antonio club decided they were going to look and that’s when Seattle came in.
Justin: Did Seattle have to get out of a different double-A team to get them?
Tom: Sure, yes.
Tom: Again, when you have an affiliation or a franchise, you’re guaranteed as an affiliate, because there’s one of 30. There’s only 30 or there’s only the number of teams at the major league level as there are double-A. Before expansion, 26? Then quickly up to 30 and we had to find four places and double-A and four places and triple-A and loads and a ball but anyway. If you make the decision that you want to switch, you know that there are going to be people out there that might want to talk to you. The Texas League is a desirable place to be because it’s the farthest west.
Tom: There’s all sorts of people west of the Mississippi that would like to be out of the Eastern League or out of the Southern League and more contiguous to where they operate.
Justin: There’s no double-A leagues more West than Texas League?
Justin: Seems like a relic.
Tom: It’s somewhat of a sore point and so clubs have a lot of control and it’s like, I can remember, St. Louis got crosswise to my friend, Bill Valentine, and he decided they were going to put them out and bring the Angels in and the general manager of the St. Louis Cardinals at that time was like, “Well, we need a new ballpark and Little Rock.” Well, I got my new ballpark a new haven.
Which at that time was probably one of the worst places to have to go.
Justin: Still not that great.
Tom: They were in a ballpark that Lou Gehrig play in.
Justin: Oh, geez.
Tom: The 19-teens.
Justin: The affiliate has a say as well as the major league too?
Tom: In the old days when I started, they were year to year contracts and you never knew. Now it’s you sign a two-year or four-year agreement so somebody has a little bit of stability.
Tom: Some people, it’s like, “Well, I want to keep this club around,” and they’ll push for a four-year agreement. Others will say, “No, I want to have feet to the fire all the time.” So that my major league affiliate doesn’t get complacent.
Justin: Then they’re just whole roster and everybody rotates whenever their affiliation changes.
Tom: Yes, absolutely everything.
Justin: It’s so wild to me.
Tom: Trainers, managers, coaches, players, the whole thing. It’s been that way forever. When I was in the Eastern League to start off with, the year before I went to my first club, they were the Texas Rangers. Then Milwaukee came in and I had Milwaukee for five years and then they left and went to El Paso and I got the California Angels.
Tom: It just depends. It depends on relationships and then you have some clubs that have been with the same team forever and they like the city that they’re in. They like the ballpark. They like everything about where they are. That may have described the Dodgers’ situation here until something changes.
Justin: The Missions were part of the Texas League the whole time you were there, but now they’re a triple-A team, right?
Tom: Yes, Pacific Coast League.
Justin: Who replaced that slot in the Texas League?
Tom: Ironically, Amarillo.
Justin: Okay. Did they not have a team before? Did they move up [crosstalk]?
Tom: No, they had been out of affiliated baseball since the ’80s.
Tom: Justifiably so, the ballpark that they had played in back when they were in the Texas League Potter County stadium was across the street from the stockyards and the slaughterhouses. I talked to players that had played in the league back then I said, “Yes.” If the wind shifted the wrong way during a ballgame, you practically wanted to vomit where you stood. It was awful. It was awful. The ballpark was built in ’48 and it was just not well kept.
It was a mono-economy, basically, a lot of agriculture kind of thing. Five years prior to the Missions leaving, I had been having conversations with Amarillo because I had read that they were trying to build a ballpark downtown and I wanted to advise them on how not to make mistakes so that if something came available, they would be looked at. I said, “Do not take this as we’re looking at Amarillo, we’re not, but I’m trying to advise you, be ready.”
Justin: Position yourself.
Tom: You never know. I didn’t think we were going to have an opportunity in a decade, never envisioned Missions all of a sudden, going to triple-A. They built a downtown ballpark that’s just fabulous and [inaudible 00:36:21] extraordinarily well. One of the real shames of this pandemic is that they had practically sold all their tickets for the 2020 season. They had no tickets left for the all-star game which they were going to host, which is out. Again, that the Missions went there from San Antonio to Amarillo and 65 and then San Antonio to Amarillo and 19. It’s just–
Tom: Sort of a cemetery too.
Justin: How did the Missions move up? Is that a league decision? Or is the owner of the Missions or any owner always trying to move up?
Tom: No, it’s not always but Dave Elmore, who is the owner of the missions had a club in Colorado Springs for a long time and the Pacific Coast League and Major League Baseball really wanted to be out of Colorado Springs for a number of reasons, mostly weather. Weather altitude, the ballpark wasn’t to the level that they liked, which is ironic.
It’s a lot better than Mission Stadium but it is in Colorado Springs, and travel in and out of there wasn’t as easy, they were always having a bus up to Denver to fly out. Well, it’s easy when you own a triple-A club and a double-A club. You say okay, “I’m going to move my triple-A club to San Antonio.” Fortunately, we had a place for them to look at and go to with a new stadium. It often doesn’t work that way.
Justin: He owned the Colorado Springs team that was triple-A and we were double-A and he just switched them?
Justin: You get league approval?
Tom: Well, he needed multiple. He needed Pacific Coast League approval, Texas League approval, Minor League Baseball approval, Major League Baseball approval, everybody had a little piece of it. I think the only person that was not real happy because we were losing the historic franchise in the league, and also the pivot.
When you’ve got clubs in Corpus Christi and Midland and then the next club up is Frisco and then you’ve got the North division. When you lose that hub, there’s going to be some clubs that are going to have a whole lot of travel around, going up from Corpus to Amarillo as regularly as Corpus would have to. I told somebody it’s like, “Man, I’m glad it’s not going to be my problem.”
Justin: Did the affiliations remain the same with the Missions?
Tom: Yes, San Antonio– No, San Antonio inherited the affiliation that Colorado Springs brought with them. Then San Diego, who had been the affiliate here, went up to Amarillo.
Justin: One of the things I read about you personally is that you oversaw a really successful expansion in attendance through the Texas League as well as new stadiums were built for I think all the teams while you were there.
Tom: Pretty much.
Justin: What do you attribute to it, because I remember the first time I went to the Round Rock game when they would have still been a double-A team, it was a festival, it was a spectacle. You felt like you were not watching baseball. It was family-friendly. What do you attribute the big rise in attendance to be during your time and under your watch?
Tom: I think it was luck a lot, some of it. When you have a Nolan Ryan fall into your lap and a management team led by Jay Miller, who had successes in other places– They built the first really modern stadium, 360 access, berms all the way around. We had people that were doing things promotionally that were entertaining but they brought it all together. It really started, I’d say, early ’80s. It was the financial expansion in the United States. There was lots of money being made by a lot of people in the stock market business.
There’s only X number of major league clubs that you can have a chance to buy. There were people that love sports and it’s like, “Where can I get involved?” Just an example, I bought the team that I owned in the eastern league on April 1 of 1984 for $35,000 and $1500 worth of debt. It was not very long after that, that a club sold for $1,000,000. After I sold, by the way, I didn’t benefit from that. I wish I’d held on for a little longer. I wanted to get to the big leagues.
Things were going exponentially all that time. Today, you’ve got Minor League clubs that are worth from 5 million to 40 million, just depending on the market. Probably, we have clubs you can’t put a value on. I don’t know how you would put a value on a Round Rock [crosstalk] or a Sacramento or a Dayton, which has sold every ticket that they’ve ever printed, and it’s at the A-level, because it’s a community thing. We were talking about Lowell, Massachusetts before we started, which is short-season clubs, same kind of thing, where they had like 800 consecutive sellouts or some ridiculous thing.
Justin: Most of the revenues are ticket-driven at those levels, right?
Tom: Well, yes and no. You’ve got a wide range. You’ve got tickets. You’ve got advertising. You’ve got souvenirs. You’ve got concessions, which is big.
Justin: No real media, though?
Tom: Well, you’re starting to get some internet revenue now. It’s certainly not as big as at the Major League level, but there is that out there of Minor League Baseball partnered with Major League Baseball to form baseball interactive media. I think we were the first Double-A League to stream all of our games.
Justin: On video?
Tom: Yes. I think that you could probably watch every long season game now on streaming live. There’s revenue associated with that. I know that there are some old-time owners that it’s like, “We had no idea.” They had no idea what the potential. It’s moved forward from there, from Round Rock to all the other ballparks, and what they’re doing and what they do with the ballparks when ballgames are not being played. They’ve got huge events up in Tulsa between Oklahoma and Oklahoma State. University of Arkansas plays games at the ballpark in North Little Rock. San Antonio’s had spring classics featuring Notre Dame. It’s not a mom-and-pop business anymore.
Justin: I didn’t realize how big of a deal it was. Because I got so many questions, we’re just going to start getting through some of these. How bad did the steroids scandal bleed over into Double-A ball?
Tom: Probably not much.
Justin: No, nothing you noticed?
Tom: No. I’m sure there’d be the odd guy that looked like Arnold Schwarzenegger and it’s like, “Woof.”
Justin: [laughs] Something must be going on. You talked about, well, I saw the teaser for your Almanac, and there was a reference to Dizzy, who pitched. I didn’t understand what it really meant. It almost sounded like a back-to-back no-hitter and a doubleheader or something. What was it?
Tom: No. Gosh. I don’t know what that even. Dizzy Dean played in San Antonio. He was based at Fort Sam Houston. He used to sneak out and pitch professionally, not quite a wall, but close to it. We’ve never had a guy–
Justin: I should have written down what I said because I didn’t really– It says he pitched in one and both ends of a doubleheader.
Tom: That wasn’t uncommon back then.
Justin: What does that mean?
Tom: That means he started and won both games with a doubleheader.
Justin: That brings me to the question. Obviously, you’re not allowed to throw that many pitches now, right?
Justin: What are some of the other changes you’ve seen in your baseball career that’s meant to extend the longevity of players? Which ones do you think are good decisions, and which one do you think maybe weren’t the best decisions?
Tom: The one thing that irks me more than anything is, basically, from the time I started until a few years ago, if you started here, and you pretty much finished here. If you were a better than fair player, you’d spend an entire year at the same level. Now what they’re doing because, let’s say, you get drafted, and you sign, and your season starts in late June, and you play that short season till August. What they’ll do is they’ll start you somewhere and then advance you at the mid-season. People are never spending an entire year. The better players are never spending an entire year at one level. They spend half of ’18 at A and Double-A.
They’ll spend half of ’19 at Double-A and Triple-A. They’re getting a full season in one level, but it’s split between two calendar years. From a historic standpoint, what that does, it’s like, well, we’re never going to have anybody that’s going to strike out 200 batters in a season anymore because they’re just not here long enough or it’s going to be accidental because Joe Putz, who’s never getting out of Double-A and all of a sudden he’s lighting it up. You’re never going to have a 40 home run hitter. You’re very rare to have a 30 home run hitter or 100 RBIs. Baseball is a very fun statistically-talked-about game.
I can remember seeing a guy hit his 40th home run, last guy to hit 40 home runs in the Texas League. It was a guy from Wichita in ’90s. That kind of stuff is fun or you want to see a guy approach a record. Those kind of things don’t happen. I don’t know whether they’re handling pitchers with kid gloves or not. That’s way beyond my pay grade. It does seem to mee that– The old rule of thumb is, the more you throw, the more you strengthen your arm. Other people are saying, “You only have so many pitches and you only have so many high-pressure pitches.”
The pitcher, the first pitch to the batter isn’t the same as three and two pitch with the bases loaded in the eighth, well, if you’re getting to the eighth. [chuckles] High-leverage stuff. You see guys throwing 120 to 160 innings. 160 would be really high. Well, I can remember good grief. A kid named Bill Mooneyham, Wild Bill, a high-level pitcher for the A’s. He threw, I have no idea. He had to have thrown off over 180 pitches because he struck out 17 and walks 14 and a 9, and an incomplete game shutout.
In two separate innings, he walked the bases loaded and struck out the side. Well, if you do throw three batters, three pitches, two strikeouts, and four pitches to the walks, 4 times 14 and 3 times 17, right there, that’s a lot of pitches.
Justin: How long ago was that?
Tom: That would have been 1981. When I was with Pittsburgh, we fired a manager for allowing one of our prospects to throw 160 pitches. That would have been [crosstalk]
Justin: You fired him?
Tom: Yes. That would have been the mid-’80s. He was just under orders. Then there was a pitcher named Chuck Hartenstein who pitched in the Texas league. Pitched the first 18 innings of a 24 inning game, a when the manager came to get him, he was absolutely ticked off. He said, “I don’t know. I throw 180 pitches.” I think by that point, he said, “But I didn’t throw hard enough to hurt my arm. I had some pitches left in me.”
Justin: [chuckles] He should know.
Tom: That would have been
’68 or so or mid-sixties.
Justin: That segues me to another question that I got was, what are some of the most unbelievable Texas league feats you– You hear people say the hardest playing baseball is, I don’t know, is it an unassisted triple play or a perfect game?
Tom: Yes, right.
Justin: What are some of the hardest plays or biggest achievements you’ve seen in Texas league?
Tom: Oh Lord, that I’ve seen? I’ll tell you this, the saddest story is the one I didn’t see, but ’98 I had seen the first 9 of a 10 game home stand here in San Antonio. I didn’t see the 10th game because I was going to Little Rock in advance of the all-star game to just get situated. I’m at dinner with the general manager or the president of the ball club and the general manager comes by, he said, “You won’t believe this, but Tyrone Horn has just hit for this head for home runs in San Antonio.” I said, “Pete, come on, you don’t hit four home runs in a homestand at Wolff stadium,” because Wolff stadium was known as the hardest place to hit a home run.
Tom: Because when the sunset, the wind would generally come in from a blow from right-center and knock everything down. You’re pretty much having to pull things either way but if you hit straight away, you knock it down. Well, by golly, he did. He hit not only that, he hit us home run cycle. He had a not an order, but he had a solo home run a two-run home run, a three-run home, running around slam in the same game. Nobody had ever been able to tell me or anybody else that it had ever been done in professional baseball before. Being a historian that I am, it’s like you’ve got to be kidding me.
Justin: As you sit here today, did you ever figure out if it’s ever been done before?
Tom: No, I talked to historians from various levels that were writing books on minor league baseball and it’s, no. The stories that I would tell, it’s like we had a guy that hit eight home runs in a game and that was early century, a 51 to four-game.
Justin: How do you even get aided bats?
Tom: Well, 51 his teams hit 24 home runs and scored 51 runs.
Justin: The team had eight run. I thought you’re going to say a person had a-
Tom: No, a guy named J Justin Clark, J J Clark Catcher hit eight home runs in the game and he came up something as many. He might’ve come up as many as 10 times in the game.
Tom: That’s a long story. Anyway, we also had a guy that hit three home runs in an inning and that was an 18 run inning. He led off and close the hitting with home runs and hit a home run in the middle. Matter of fact, almost hit for the home run cycle and one inning because all of his three home runs were with solo or different men on base. We also had a guy hit two home runs and one at-bat. How do you do that?
Justin: I don’t know.
Tom: Joe Pignatano playing for the Fort Worth club, ’50s, came up and hit a home run. As soon as he touched home plate, opposing manager came out and said I batted out of order. Maury Wills was supposed to bat. They called Wills out, put Pignatano back to the plate and the second pitch he saw, he hit another home run. I told somebody if I was the manager of the other team, you would never be able to find that pitcher again because Pignatano could barely hit the ball out of his own hands.
Justin: Do both count?
Tom: No, but it’s still a great story.
Justin: I’m going to keep working through this, but one thing I had written down that I want to know is what do you think San Antonio’s biggest hurdle’s going to be in getting a major league team to come here? I read where the biggest city without a major league baseball team. There’s been a whole lot of discussion just in time, I’ve been here about getting one.
Tom: That’s a hard question to answer, but I think population density is. If you look at other markets that are–Oh, Pittsburgh’s only got 400,000 people. Well, yes, Pittsburgh’s footprint is really small. If you put the footprint of that San Antonio’s market has over Western Pennsylvania, they’ve got multiple millions of people. That’s the same with almost every market there is and major league baseball. It’s not just the population of the city itself.
Justin: It’s a Metro area.
Tom: It is. You’ve got to have a lot of people to support a major league team. You see those areas that don’t are the ones that have been historically struggling. The Tampa Bay market, the Oakland market where maybe they’re not the dominant team in that market as Oakland is not compared to San, the Giants, and the Tampa Bay market had to explain why it wouldn’t.
I think it’s older and a lot of people are not–They’re fans of teams from the East where they were born and raised and not necessarily teams loyal to the race. We’re a tourist city, we’re a military city. We’re becoming a little more of a manufacturing city, but not to the–There isn’t the large corporate support that other, you can go into Houston and you know that they’re going to get–
Justin: Totally different.
Tom: Dallas, Fort Worth, other markets, Chicago, huge corporate. Here in San Antonio, we don’t have it to the level.
Justin: Is our ability to support the Spurs at the way we do, does that not give us any indication of how we could or could not support a pro baseball team?
Tom: Well, you start throwing competitors into the mix at the major league level. Now, are you slicing the support that the spurs have in half and now that they start struggling.
Justin: Is it binary like that, people support one or the other?
Tom: Companies really do have only so many dollars to spend.
Justin: We’re talking more from the corporate side. Sure, yes.
Tom: Right, and even fans, how many times are you going to go to a major league game if you’re already going to a Spurs game? Are you going to cut that in half? Again, everybody, the pie is so large.
Justin: I went to an Astros, I got really lucky. I got to go game seven of the world series this year but the Astros game I went to before that, there was nobody there. I thought, how do the economics of this work? It must be because television and some of those things that are just feeding such a different revenue streaming.
Tom: When you’ve got clubs that have billion-dollar cable packages, the 20 years, just monstrous amounts of —
Justin: The media contracts are crazy for sports.
Tom: The money that comes nationally and the hidden stuff for me at major league level is the amount of money that the major league baseball is generating on interactive media is huge.
Justin: I didn’t know that.
Tom: Oh, yes. It really has been a game-changer for major league sports, certainly major league baseball.
Justin: Based on your experience working with the Texas league and just your knowledge of baseball, has the economics for baseball been getting better? Maybe because I live in San Antonio, it seems like the NBA is just skyrocketing in terms of sport, like the sport that is getting the most growth in such a short amount of time? That’s how it feels. Is baseball going through an expansion or are they stagnating?
Tom: I would say right now it was on an upward scale a few years ago. I think right now you’re seeing a plateau, but if you look at minor league sports, you certainly see there’s been a tremendous growth. When I came into the Texas league, if you drew 300,000 people, you were high cotton and there were a couple of years toward the end when every team in the Texas League was the floor was 300,000 on same number of games.
Justin: Over the season you mean.
Tom: Yes, same number of games but again, it’s the evolution of the business being better operators, better promoters. It’s the facilities. Certainly, when you get a new facility, you see a big bump and then the better operators then try and keep that bump which is hard.
Justin: Round Rock had all those activities for kids and everything. It was a full-service family event.
Tom: Well, and they’re one of the paragons. They started out drawing 600,000 people and I don’t think they’ve ever since 2000 drawn fewer than 600,000. If they have, it’s the high-five nineties and that’s very rare. Sacramento, they’re very few clubs that can do that. Generally, what you see is a three-year bump and then you start to see a decline and then a plateau.
Justin: Which is also strange. Sacramento does have a pro sports team. I get it with the round rock Austin area. That’s the only game in town really.
Tom: Right but, again, it’s all about density. You’re not having to draw as many people. Let’s say they average 8,000 a game time or 10,000 a game, if the Sacramento Kings were drawing 10,000 a game they wouldn’t be in the NBA. Their ticket prices are five times or more what minor league baseball can charge. The growth has been there. It’s a wonderful thing.
Justin: I think it’s great. The Round Rock thing blew my mind when I went because I expected it to be a dumpy stadium and a bad product. It was all the bells and whistles.
Justin: Here are some of the questions other people asked me. Somebody said, “What are some of the best talent you saw come through the Texas League while you were there specific to– Like Roger Clemens went through the round rock whenever he was coming out of retirement. Is that probably the highest-profile player you saw deep into the Texas League?
Tom: Randy Johnson pitched at El Paso and they were hanging from the rafters. It was just a–
Justin: Was that an injury rehab [crosstalk]?
Tom: Yes, exactly. When he came down, of course, before I was Texas League president, Fernando Valenzuela was in three or four different Texas League ballparks. In Little Rock, they were putting people on the field and roping off.
Justin: [laughs] Just to see them.
Tom: There were so many people. Fernando started here and he really became popular here in San Antonio. Then he was a star in the Dodgers and he hurt his arm and the Angels signed him. Just wild. So many tickets sold. It was just unbelievable to the point that the Angels’ affiliate at that time was Midland and they were going to call him up. The Midland people screamed like stuck Hawks. He’s like, “Wait a minute, you’ve just made tons of doe for people in Jackson and Little Rock and wherever it’s candy make a start at home.” “Okay, fine.”
Justin: One game, at least.
Tom: Yes, one start at home and they filled the ballpark.
Justin: All right. What about the best you saw come through the Texas League and never made an injury or bad personal decisions? I’m sure you saw some crazy talent come through.
Tom: You tend not to remember those. It’s like they just vanish because maybe they went to Triple-A and were never heard from again. They’re guys that have had some great statistical years but you knew that they weren’t the best prospect. They just were having an ungodly year for whatever reason and then come back to earth and it’s like yes, that’s not a surprise.
Justin: Then on the flip side of that, I was asked, “Who came through the Texas League that you thought never really made that big of a splash but then went on to be a monster in the majors that was surprising?”
Tom: Not so much a monster but the catcher that Ross?
Justin: At the Giants?
Tom: No, with Boston, Chicago Cubs. It’s like Mercy. He didn’t even play that much.
Justin: Was he in the Texas League?
Justin: With who?
Tom: San Antonio I think. There’s all sorts of people but that’s one that’s– Boy, he came out of nowhere. Generally they’re catchers because if you can receive and throw, you can hit 118 and you’re going to get some time at the big league level because if you’re smart and work with pitchers and that kind of thing, the hitting is-
Justin: You’ve written two books. Give me a quick rundown on what they are and what they’re about.
Tom: Baseball in the Lone Star State was about 18 stories from the 1800s up to current day. Just chapters on individual people, great stories, unusual stories. One that had to be changed at the last minute was really pretty interesting. It was a story about the– The thrust of the story was the unknown, Lefty Hamilton a mystery. Lefty Hamilton, until we wrote the book was noted as having thrown the first no-hitter in the Texas League.
The winter before the book was put to bed, I did one of my crazy projects. I looked at every box score in the Texas League from 1889 until 1960-something when they stopped printing, in 1970-something, when I stopped printing every box score in the daily paper out of town, everything. It was actually the last– I was looking at 1889 at the library up at UT. My eyes were like this, crossed. I was just tired, I was ready to get this done and all of a sudden, I’m looking at a box score and it’s like, “This is odd. It shouldn’t be a no-hitter here.” I went to three different newspapers to confirm that it was a pitcher that had thrown a no-hitter in 1889.
I rushed home and I called David King who was the coauthor and actually did the writing. I said, “David, we got a problem.” He said, “What, what?” I said, “Lefty Hamilton just became more obscure.” He said, “Why? What happened?” They said, “We’re going to have to change it.” “That’s a good story.” I said, “Yes but I just found a no-hitter from 1889.”
Justin: What was the significance?
Tom: There was really nothing that you could find about lefty Hamilton. That was the beauty of the story. He threw the first no-hitter supposedly in the Texas League history. Now you find another no-hitter and Lefty Hamilton just becomes another guy.
Justin: Got you. [laughs]
Tom: We underwove that in the whole story. Lefty Hamilton was still the star but even more obscure now that we know.
Justin: Was there any real source of Texas League history before y’all started working on it or was it just mixed matched?
Tom: There was a guy named Bill Ruggles who worked for the League from 1920 until 1964 so he was a historian statistician. He wrote three books on– First one was all the players that ever played in the Texas League just listed alphabetically. Then another one was now adding in team histories and rosters and that kind of stuff. The League had always put out some kind of history book that was updated periodically. I had these tools but some of them, it’s like a guy named Wood threw a no-hitter in 1940 but we don’t know the date and we don’t know his first name. Those kinds of things intrigued me.
Then you’d find other things that you weren’t looking for. I wasn’t looking for that no-hitter, didn’t know it existed but probably the most fun. I was down in Victoria and going through the paper, I’m looking for an 18 inning– I wanted a box score from an 18 inning and end game. Once I’d get the story I’d note it, I’d write it down on the margin and then put it aside and I’d read it later but every now and again, you’d see a number that was out of place. I’m sure in your business you see documents and it’s like, “Wait a minute, go back there. What’s that?”
I noticed a number that didn’t belong where I saw it and it was 18. The pitcher that came into the game in the 10th inning and pitched the final nine innings struck out 18 and lost. In the story, it said, “Hard luck Danny Rivas struck out 18 again and lost.” It’s like, “Whoop, what’s this? Go back, go back, go back.” Six weeks earlier he’d started a game through all 10 innings, struck out 18 and lost that one. There’s another one when I went to historians I said, “Have you ever heard of a pitcher striking out 18 batters in a game, once as a starter and once in a relief and losing both?” “Never heard of it.”
Again, the underlying story of that is Danny Rivas was a better-regarded pitcher than Juan Marichal in the Dominican Republic. He was a monster in the winter leagues. Here he was–
Justin: Being a monster but wasn’t.
Tom: Yes. He went to the big leagues with the Giants briefly. Those are the wonderful things. The stuff that aren’t in the books that you find and love that history aspect.
Justin: Yes, it’s a haystack a little bit. You really got to get into it. Okay, so we’re about out of time. I want to end this on Dr. Lash, he’s been a guest on the show. He’s the one that introduced me to you, which I appreciate very much. Tell me about you and David Lash, possibly in almost owning the team that he was possibly going to be on because he brought that up and we’re going to end on that story.
Tom: Well, it started, I’m sitting in the San Antonio airport minding my own business, and I’m next to somebody, going on the same flight we got talking, “What do you do?” “I’m a professor at Trinity.” I said, “Oh, what’s your discipline?” He said, “What are you? Are you a professor?” I said, “No, what would you give you that idea?” Well, nobody asked me what my discipline is only people in the game know that. I said, “How would you know to ask that.” I said “I don’t know. What do you do?” I said, “Well, I’m far this part of the world from where you are. I’m president of the Texas League.”
“Really, he said I got somebody you might want to meet, a member of my department.” Well, he’s David, so we go to lunch, we start comparing notes. He was the professional pitcher briefly. He said, where were you? I said I own the Brewers Double-A club briefly. He said, no kidding. He said I was supposed to be drafted by the Brewers. He said it was just an accident that the Dodgers saw me and drafted me or else I might have played for you. It’s like–
Justin: What a small world.
Tom: It sure is.
Justin: Yes. Well, thank you very much for coming on here. I knew nothing about the Texas League. I know a whole lot more now. Just getting ready for this. I’m going to pick up one of your books because I think it’s just a fascinating slice of Texas Connor really, which is something I really like. Thank you for joining us today. This will be up and I’ll give you the link and so you can send it out and we’re going to get a picture of your baseball card, right?
Tom: That or me in front of a sphynx or I don’t know what?
Justin: Any of those will work, yes. Okay, that does it for this episode of the Alamo Hour. Thank you again, Mr. Kayser, for being here. We appreciate it and giving us some of your knowledge. Your two books are?
Justin: Baseball in the Lone Star State: The Texas league’s Greatest Hits and The Texas baseball league Almanac.
Justin: Okay, and both of them you can get on Amazon because I saw them recently.
Tom: Co-author David King who really did the heavy lifting. I did the research and the editing but.
Justin: Well, I appreciated the prices because Dr. Lash’s books are like $90 and yours are normal price.
Tom: That’s the difference between a book that’s read for fun and a textbook.
Justin: That’s right. All right, so my guest wish list continues. I’m still hoping one day I get coach Pop to come on here. Jackie Earle Haley. In the next episode, we’re going to have Michael Watts coming in at the 10 year anniversary of BP talking about his work on the BP case and how the fed’s pursued him and led to him being indicted and tried on 50 felonies, which he beat in representing himself. It’s going to be a fun, interesting conversation. He’s actually the reason I live in San Antonio. Thank you all for joining us and we’ll see you next episode.
Thanks for joining us on this episode of the Alamo Hour. You are what makes this city so great. We hope you join us next week. In the meantime, subscribe to our podcast. Check us out on Facebook @facebook.com/Alamohour or our website, alamohour.com. Until next time, Viva, San Antonio.
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