Friday, May 19, 2017

America’s Game on the Texas Plain

By Cameron Mitchell

As America’s favorite pastime, millions welcome baseball into their homes every season. Over the years, Thurber showed a love for the sport equal to modern-day spectators. Hershel Gibson, a former Thurber resident, once said that a woman’s hose would be sewn together to make a ball if a rubber one couldn't be found in the dry goods store for a nickel. The town boasted talented players through the generations and many experienced professional success.

      Thurber Tiger team photo. Ca. 1908-1910. Cooney Collection, W. K. Gordon Center.

Although many players earned a name for themselves, one stood out above the rest: Joe McKinnon. Thurber was excited to hear McKinnon was recruited onto the minor league Fort Worth Cats baseball team, but instead, he decided to remain working as a coal miner. Although deciding not to pursue a career in baseball, McKinnon didn't give up the sport and continued to play recreationally where his roots lay in Thurber.

When looking for experienced players in the 1920s, Thurber found one in Roswell ‘Little Hig’ Higginbotham. Before playing during the summers for Thurber, he played second base for the St Louis Cardinals. While a talented fielder, he became known for his speed as a base runner. When looking at the statistics, you could guarantee his name would be at the top for stealing bases every single year. In 1922, he held a batting average of .315 and reached 165 bases from 96 games.

Johnny Lucadello's baseball card during his time as an infielder for the St. Louis Browns. W. K. Gordon Center research files.

When it comes to big names in the area, the two Lucadello brothers - Johnny and Tony - made Thurber particularly proud of their achievements after the family left for opportunities in Chicago, Illinois. Johnny’s professional career led him to a second base position for the New York Yankees and St Louis Browns. Tony also found success in baseball, albeit as a scout rather than a player. During his time with the Philadelphia Phillies and Chicago Cubs, Tony Lucadello was responsible for securing some of the biggest names in the game, including Hall of Famers Mike Schmidt and Ferguson Jenkins. Together, the Lucadello brothers spent several decades involved in the game and certainly left behind a legacy.

Thurber’s baseball stars would not be complete without mentioning Tony Venzon who worked as an umpire in Major League Baseball between 1957 and 1971. Not only was he an umpire, but he was also a successful one, leading the line in the World Series in 1963, 1965, and 1970. With many All-Star events under his belt, Venzon certainly made his own mark on Thurber’s baseball history.


From small beginnings to professional heights, these men provided a sense of pride for Thurberites!