How to Save Baseball

1906 Cactus.BaseballIt’s mid-June, and Longhorn baseball fans are jubilant over the team’s record 36th appearance in the College World Series. They have good reasons to be happy. Over the last 108 seasons, the team has had but five coaches: Billy Disch, Bibb Falk, Cliff Gustafson, Augie Garrido, and second-year coach David Pierce (Blair Cherry stepped in for Bibb Falk for part of World War II and coached the team from 1943 – 1945), who have collectively compiled six national championships and more than 70 conference titles, a unique and remarkable achievement in college baseball.

For the veteran fans who fill the stadium seats each spring, the team’s history, coaches, and names of players who went on to the major leagues are all familiar. But almost no one remembers the senior UT student whose quick – and perhaps desperate – actions saved the baseball program from being cancelled outright. The achievements of UT baseball might never have happened, or at least would have been delayed, if it hadn’t been for Maurice Wolf.

1906 Cactus.1905 Baseball Team

In early January, 1906, the prospects of a baseball season were dim. The University’s Athletic Council, chaired by math professor (and future UT president) Harry Benedict, had officially adopted a policy of “no cash, no schedule.” While football had been marginally profitable, other sports were usually in the red, and baseball was the worst offender. A $1200 deficit plagued the ledger. In the past, faculty and alumni members of the council often donated out of their own pockets to keep the athletic ship afloat, but Benedict was determined not to let serving on the council “run the risk of personal ruin.” The deficit had to be erased before Sewell Myer, the student manager of the baseball team, was allowed to set-up a schedule.

Baseball wasn’t all that popular with the general faculty, either. Too many players had run afoul of academic eligibility rules. Only a few years before, on an out-of-state road trip, an ineligible player boarded the train and suited up for play with his costs covered by his teammates, despite being expressly prohibited from doing so by the University president. If the $1200 could not be raised or guaranteed, both the Athletic Council and the faculty were ready to discontinue baseball.

1906 Cactus.Maurice WolfThe students didn’t want to lose the team, and searched for for a quick solution. After some delicate diplomacy and uneasy agreements, $900 was promised from library deposits. The final $300 was pledged by 30 students who signed an agreement to pay $10 each by May 1st if needed. Among them was Maurice Wolf (pictured), who was told that the bond was simply a formality, the team finances would be fine, and the money wouldn’t actually have to be paid.

The Athletic Council accepted the solution, and Sewell Myer set out to arrange a schedule, but because of the late start, there were fewer opponents available. The team managed an eight-game, out-of-town trip to Texas A&M, Louisiana State, and the University of Mississippi, and the UT hosted Kansas, Baylor, Saint Edward’s, Southwestern, and the Austin League Team. But as with previous years, some of the best players collided with faculty regulations and had to be benched. Rain cancelled one of the games against Kansas and another with Baylor, which hurt the all-important gate receipts. Texas swept a home series with Texas A&M to finish with a 10-9 record and claim a winning season, but it also ended with a $500 deficit. The $10 pledges due on May 1st would have to be filled.

As might be expected, the students weren’t prepared to pay. At the time, $10 was a sizable sum. It would more than cover a month’s rent and meals at B. Hall, the men’s dorm on the campus. If Maurice and the others were unable to find the money, not only would their reputations suffer, but an exasperated faculty was more than ready to shelve baseball.

To rescue the program, Maurice convinced his fellow students to host an ambitious fundraiser in the form of a circus performance. Dubbed the “Varsity Circus,” the entire campus helped with organization and preparations, and within a few weeks all was ready. Late on the warm afternoon of Friday, May 25, a circus parade proceeded down Congress Avenue, much to the delight of thousands of spectators. The participants included the University Band, posing as a “celebrated musical company from Italy,” automobiles decked out in University colors with campus coeds as “Duchesses of Marseilles,” a troupe of clowns, acrobats, wild elephants, camels, lions, and bears (UT students in homemade costumes), “Ben Hur and Ben Hill” riding Roman chariots, and other eclectic acts.

1906 Varsity Carnival Parade

Above: The Varsity Circus parade strolled down Congress Avenue. The University Band, dressed in white jackets and colorful buttons, posed as a musical group from Italy. Behind them, UT co-eds, dressed as “Duchesses from Marseilles” and carrying parasols, rode in a decorated automobile. Ahead of the band in the horse-drawn cart rode Maurice Wolf, who concocted the idea as an athletics fundraiser. Click on the image for a larger view.

With the parade finished, the public made its way to the campus and Clark Field, the University’s first athletic field, where the O’Donnell Building and the Gates-Dell Computer Science Complex stand today. There they found a “promenade of curiosities,” where for one thin dime a person might get a glimpse at the bearded lady, the human frog, “Ana Conda Baby,” the wild man (who some discovered was actually baseball umpire Speilberger in disguise), a living mummy from Egypt, and other wonders. Refreshments could also be had at modest prices.

The circus proper began at 8 p.m., as more than 1,200 onlookers stood, sat on the ground, or packed the single, inadequate set of stands. The acrobats were in top form, the wild animals knew their routines, the chariot races across the field were exciting, and the clowns kept everyone in stitches. After the acts, the University Band and Glee Club gave a performance, and everyone reluctantly left for home sometime around midnight.

The hero of the day was Maurice Wolf, who had devised, engineered, and produced the spectacle, and the results were gratifying. The Varsity Circus raised enough funds to retire the athletic debt, provide a $150 contribution to the band, and another $100 to the glee club. The University of Texas baseball team would continue for another year, and the Varsity Circus became a biennial tradition well into the 1920s.

Commencement 1912: No Style for a Texas Sundial

Above: A century ago, Spring Commencement was held on a June morning, on the northwest side of the old Main Building and protected from the early summer sun.

The University’s annual Spring Commencement draws tens of thousands to the Forty Acres. It’s a two-day extravaganza of school, college, and departmental ceremonies all over campus, culminating in a University-wide spectacle Saturday evening in front of the Tower. The deans brag about their schools and colleges, the University President congratulates both graduates and parents on their achievements, and fireworks are launched from the Tower to the delight of everyone.

Though not as grand in scale, the graduation schedule of 1912 was just as packed, and extended over four days in mid-June, starting with a Saturday all-University dance that began early, at 7:30 a.m, to take advantage of the relatively cool temperatures in the morning. A baccalaureate service was held Sunday, followed by Class Day ceremonies Monday morning, which featured the passing of gavels and other symbols of leadership on to next year’s senior class. The alumni association held their annual meeting and luncheon immediately afterward, and divided their ranks into three groups: the “Ancients” were those who had graduated among the University’s first 10 classes, 1884 – 1893; “Mediaevals” finished their degrees between 1894 and 1903; and “Old Timers” designated the rest. Each group had a special ribbon to wear for the week.

The alumni luncheon finished in time for attendees to stroll over to old Clark Field to watch the first-ever baseball game between the current Longhorn team and the alumni. UT grad Will Hogg, son of former Texas governor Jim Hogg (and for whom the Will C. Hogg Building is named), served as celebrity umpire. Coach Billy Disch arranged to borrow “baseball suits” from the local Austin Senators team so the alumni would have a uniform to wear. It didn’t help. Despite the stand-outs on the alumni roster, the Longhorns won the day.

But the day wasn’t yet finished. At 7:30 that evening, a crowd gathered on the campus for the popular student-alumni parade through downtown. Many in the group carried torches or vari-colored Chinese lanterns, and the parade included two brass bands and several floats. “After a thousand torch lights of red and green,” reported the Austin Daily Statesman, “the student body and the old time grads who are visiting, frisked around the campus and back again.” The procession ended on the northwest side of the old Main Building in front of a temporary wooden platform. There, graduating seniors put on vaudville acts, other students offered skits, and held yell leader Teddy Reese lead the group in some UT cheers and songs before the party ended late in the evening.

The official commencement ceremony, Tuesday morning at 10 a.m., was conducted at the same spot as the previous night’s gathering, in the shade behind Old Main. An elegant Final Ball that night at the Driskill Hotel concluded the week’s events.

Sprinkled in between the cracks of a hectic schedule were plenty of receptions and other parties, and the formal dedication of a gift to the University from the Academic Class of 1912: a sundial (photo at left). With a marble pillar and a brass plate, it was placed about 100 feet south of the Woman’s Building – the first co-ed residence hall – so that it would have been seen along today’s West Mall.

Unfortunately, the sundial’s style, usually a triangular piece that casts a shadow on to the plate, wasn’t made for Austin’s latitude. “The time of day could not be determined to the nearest hour,” moaned Harry Benedict, then Dean of the Academic Department, “and the time of night could not be determined at all.” This made the sundial’s inscription, “Ye Know Not The Hour,” both redundant and superfluous.

Even worse, within a year, the style was broken off and taken outright, an act that reduced the inscription to being downright hilarious, and prompted accusations from College Station that “Texas has no style.” Despite the heartfelt intentions from the Class of 1912, the poor sundial was quietly removed, and has long since been lost.