Tag Archives: Waco Tigers

“Father of Sunday Ball”

22 Jan

After becoming president of the Waco Tigers in the Texas League, Henry Fabian allowed himself to be arrested in order to challenge a law that was costing Texas League owners money: The blue law that didn’t allow them to play games on Sunday.

The state statute forbade “Sunday amusements” that charged admission.  Texas League teams had lost money in each previous incarnation of the league and the inability to schedule games on Sunday was a contributing factor.

Whether challenging the law was part of Fabian’s plan from the beginning is unknown, but by June his Tigers had played three Sunday home games, and three times Fabian was arrested for violating the statute, posting $60 bond on each occasion.

After being found guilty at the local level Fabian challenged the statute in Texas’ Court of Criminal appeals, arguing that the law was passed before baseball became a professional sport and did not apply to the game.  The court ruled in Fabian’s favor, and while local ordinances still prevented Sunday games in Dallas, Sunday baseball became the norm in the Texas League. In his obituary, 35 years later, The Dallas Morning News’ headline called Fabian “Father of Sunday Ball.”

Fabian sold the Waco club to local businessmen in 1906 and took a job with a sporting goods company, but it was his interest in ballpark design and grounds keeping that would become his vocation.

Fabian participated in the layout and design of several local ballparks in Texas from 1888-1910, and was credited with creating the first “ Turtle-back diamond” at Oak Cliff Park, the Dallas Hams’ home field in 1888.  The pitched design and elevated pitcher’s mound allowed for quick drainage.

By 1910 Fabian had designed diamonds in Dallas, Waco, Galveston, New Orleans and Atlanta, when he was hired as head groundskeeper for the Saint Louis Browns.  He stayed with the Browns for three seasons until his old friend John McGraw hired him to be the groundskeeper for the New York Giants

By 1915 The Sporting Life said:

“Visiting ballplayers declare that the diamond Henry Fabian has built up at the Polo Grounds is the best in the country.”

Fabian was considered the premier groundskeeper in baseball for the next 25 years and in 1939 he was put in charge of the Works Progress Administration’s (WPA) project to prepare Doubleday Field in Cooperstown for baseball’s centennial celebration.

Doubleday Field renovation, 1939

Doubleday Field renovation, 1939

Fabian died the following year on February 25, six years to the day after the death of his friend John McGraw.

Henry Fabian

21 Jan

Like John Bradley and George Kittle, Henry Fabian was a member of the 1888 Dallas Hams, champions of the Texas League and the Texas Southern League.  Unlike those two, when someone fired a shot at him he missed.

Fabian was born in New Orleans, in 1864 or 1866, depending on the source.  He began his career in 1886, catching and playing first base for both of his hometown teams in the four-team Gulf League: the Robert E. Lee’s and the team that became the New Orleans Pelicans.

Fabian had his fingers broken by a foul tip before the beginning of the season.  A 1913 article by former Major Leaguer turned sportswriter Sam Crane told the story:

“It was such a serious injury that there was no possibility of his playing again that season and rather than release him his manager (Thomas Brennan) asked him to become groundskeeper at the same salary he was getting as a player.”

That experience would stay with him.

By November of 1887 he had recovered enough to play in games against the Chicago White Stockings and Saint Louis Browns when their post-season barnstorming tour stopped in New Orleans.

In 1888 Fabian came to Texas as a member of the Galveston Giants, but was with Dallas by June. While statistics are spotty for his career, and non-existent for 1888, The Dallas Morning News said of him:

“Though not a brilliant player, Henry has always been a hardworking courageous one.”

Fabian continued playing until 1903, spending his entire career in Texas and Louisiana with the exception of 1891 when he played for the Cedar Rapids Canaries in the Illinois-Iowa League where he played with John McGraw, who became one of his closest friends.

Fabian was the subject of two strange stories.  In a July 1892 a headline in The Dallas Morning News said:

“Henry Fabian Shot At.  A Case in Which a Base Ball Man Dodged a Bullet.”

The story said a local carpenter named Parker had fired a shot at Fabian.  Fabian told a reporter for the paper that “an article appeared in The Kansas City Sun about which he wanted an explanation from Parker.”  The article said “Mr. Fabian’s description of the article The News is not privileged to report at this stage of the proceedings.”

There was never another reference in any Dallas paper to the incident or about what the Kansas City story might have been.

Henry Fabian, circa 1930

Henry Fabian, circa 1930

In 1904 an Associated Press article appeared in several newspapers under the headline “Joy Restores Her Sight:”

“Sight has been miraculously restored to the stone-blind eyes of an aged mother by the voice of her son who returned unheralded after an absence of 18 years.  The woman is Mrs. Sophie Fabian of New Orleans and the son is Henry.”

The rest of the story did not completely live up to the headline or lede; Mrs. Fabian was told her sight might come back and the story conceded “the recovery was not complete,” but nonetheless, the paper’s treated it as some kind of miracle

Fabian returned to baseball in 1905 as part owner and president of the Waco Tigers in the Texas League, and while there he was the catalyst for changing a Texas law that helped make Texas League baseball profitable.

That, and Fabian’s other claims to fame, tomorrow.

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