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A Baseball Team By Any Other Name
Article first published in Vol. 14, 1996.
By Alfredo Corral
Going! Going! Gone! The El Paso Diablos Win! They are the Texas League Champs! Their third championship since 1978. The Diablos complete a spectacular 1994 season.
El Pasoans might have heard these exciting words recently, but this was not always the case for the El Paso baseball organization. Although the club has been successful in the past 15 years, it has had its share of hard knocks, especially in the '50s and '60s when it went through several changes. The club changed leagues often as well as front office personnel and even its name.
The history of baseball can be traced back several hundred years. As early as the 1600s, the English played a game called "rounders," similar to baseball. In the 1700s, rounders finally made it to the United States, but as the Americans started playing it, they also began changing the game and using their own rules. In 1839, Abner Doubleday came up with a game called baseball, and though it was very much like rounders, Doubleday claimed it as his and was credited with inventing it.
In 1845, a sportsman from New York City named Alexander Cartwright started organized baseball. Until this time, everyone played baseball as a hobby, choosing teams right before they played the game. Cartwright organized the first baseball team with players whose only purpose was to play baseball. The team was named the "Knickerbocker Base Ball Club of New York." It was the first of its kind and Cartwright wrote a set of rules, which, along with rules added in 1848 and 1854, had great influence in making baseball the game that is today.
It was not until 1869 that anyone received money for playing the game. The "Cincinnati Red Stockings" were the first professional players to receive a paycheck. Many teams followed and, in 1876, eight professional baseball teams made up the National League, the first major league. In 1901, the American League started and then joined forces with the National League to make up what we refer to today as the " major leagues ."
The game of baseball itself has not changed much since the early 1900s as it spread all over the United States. Professional teams belong to the top, or major leagues, and the minor leagues consist of Triple-A, Double-A and Single-A levels.
The major league teams are all in large cities, with most of the minor leagues in smaller cities and towns. El Paso in the 50's and 60's was not a very large city, but it was the home of a professional baseball club. During these two decades the team went through a number of changes.
El Paso has had a professional team since 1892, according to Bob Ingram, author of Baseball from Browns to Diablos . The team has been in three main leagues during that period. In 1913, the El Paso Mavericks were part of the Copper League, which included Silver City, Hurley and Santa Rita, New Mexico.
Though the Mavericks came in third that season behind Santa Rita and Silver City, they went on to win the post-season tournament, becoming the Southwestern champions of 1913. The team played in Rio Grande Park, the first El Paso home stadium, built in early 1900s and located across from the KDBC studios.
The second ball park was built in 1924 and was named Dudley Field, after El Paso Mayor R. M. "Dick" Dudley. Over the years many famous people played on Dudley Field, the most notable being Mickey Mantle in 1951. The New York Yankees came to El Paso to play against the El Paso team, beating the locals 16 to 10. Dudley Field would be home to the El Paso team for many decades.
Ingram writes that the organization changed leagues in 1930 and played in the Arizona League which included Phoenix, Tucson, and Douglas. El Paso was the only Texas team in the league, but the name was changed to the Arizona-Texas League. Though they had a rocky start, by the end of this season they missed winning the pennant by only half of a game, losing to the Bisbee Bees.
In 1950, the team was known as the El Paso Texans. Owner Jack Corbett sold the team in August to Dick Saunders and Tom Love, two young El Paso building contractors. Saunders and Love hired John Phelan to be the general manager of the team. Bob Ingram says that the team went on a 10-game winning streak after this front office change, putting it in the same league as the Juárez Indios.
"The games between Juárez and El Paso were always exciting," said Rogelio Corral, who was a young boy in 1950. He remembers his father taking him to the games between the Indios and the Texans, a rivalry which attracted thousands of fans. During this season the Texans won consolation honors at the end of the season and the Indios came in first place.
In 1954, Dick Azar bought the El Paso Texans. Azar was the El Paso Coors distributor and brought beer to the ball park for the first time. Beer was sold during the game and was given to the players in their dressing room free of charge after the games.
After losing money for two seasons, Azar sold the team to Pat McLaughlin in 1956. The team won the Southwestern League pennant that season, but only 51,386 fans came to see the Texans play all season, a losing proposition, according to Ingram. It cost money to stay in the league, and in 1957 McLaughlin lost the team because he did not have the money to pay the fees necessary to keep it in the Class B Southwestern League. In 1957, he sold it to Tom McHugh, S.E. Adams and Jimmy Hamilton. More money was lost, and the Southwest League dropped El Paso.
Professional baseball was not played in El Paso again until 1961 when a group of 40 people, known as the Sports Development Committee of the El Paso Chamber of Commerce, took it upon themselves to revive it. John Phelan was named Vice President and General Manger. Each of the 40 people put up to $500 to help finance the team.
Phelan and the committee managed to get the organization into a league and renamed the team the El Paso Sun Kings. They had a terrific season and, for the first time, the organization showed a profit rather than a loss. The team played well and came in third that season.
In 1962, the Sun Kings were invited to join the Class AA Texas League. The organization's rookie season was a huge success, as they won the Texas League championship. In 1963, the team hit 207 home runs, setting a new league record for most home runs in a season.
From 1961 to 1964, the El Paso Ball club had been affiliated with the San Francisco Giants. In 1965, El Paso became a farm team for the California Angels. The committee operated the team until 1966, when The California Angels, owned by Gene Autry, came to El Paso and took over the team. Autry bought the team in 1967 for $1. The committee had done their job by bringing professional baseball back to El Paso.
John Stanfill replaced John Phelan as general manager in 1967, and the team came in second to Albuquerque, which won the Texas League pennant that season.
The Angels decided to leave El Paso in 1970, and the city was left without a team for a year. In 1972, the Los Angeles Dodgers came to town, having chosen El Paso over Lubbock for their farm team. This association would last throughout the '70s.
Jim Paul became the owner in 1975. He changed the name of the team from Sun Kings to Diablos, and the Diablos became affiliated with the Milwaukee Brewers in 1981. That year Texaco installed a $70,000 electronic scoreboard and as Rick Parr, General Manager and Vice President of the El Paso Diablos, said in an interview, "Ever since 1981, there has been no turning back. The Milwaukee Brewers are still affiliated with the El Paso organization."
In 1989, the team moved into their new ball park, Cohen Stadium, named after Andy and Syd Cohen. The brothers started playing baseball in El Paso in 1922 at the Rio Grande Park and later both played baseball in the Major Leagues. Andy Cohen was a second baseman for the New York Giants, and Syd was a pitcher for several different teams in the American League. Syd Cohen was last pitcher to strike out Babe Ruth. After playing for the Majors, the brothers returned to El Paso to work for the El Paso organization.
Since 1981, the Diablos have won the Texas League Pennant twice, once in 1986 and again in 1994. The team has also come in a close second several other seasons. Despite the instability of the 1950s and 1960s, the El Paso ball club has established itself as a team to be reckoned with and has made professional baseball one of El Paso's premier forms of summer entertainment.
- "EP Baseball goes back to the 1890s" 1963 El Paso Times article