The No-Nonsense Legend from the Cleburne Railroaders: A spotlight on one of the stories in February’s release of Cleburne Baseball

by Scott Cain, mayor of Cleburne, TX and author of Cleburne Baseball

What do you call the greatest center fielder of all time? How about Spoke. Tris Speaker is without a doubt the greatest center fielder to ever play baseball. Almost a century after he hung up his spikes, he still owns several major league records. While his skills with a bat and glove are legendary, I think it was his character that made him a great man. And it is why those who knew him the best simply called him Spoke.
During Speaker’s early days in the big leagues he was given the nickname Spoke because of his matter of fact way of communicating. When Tris said something, it was always in a plain worded, matter of fact manner. He was a Texan through and through. If you tried to argue a point with him, you had already lost the debate. He was no nonsense; he was a straight shooter and he had little use for those whose word meant nothing.

One of the many great experiences I had writing Cleburne Baseball was getting to know Speaker’s great nephew, Jim Swan. One day Jim heard me talking on a North Texas radio about the return of professional baseball to Cleburne, so Jim came to see me and shared many of his family’s photos and memorabilia of his uncle Spoke. Included was a never seen before photo of Speaker’s first contract with the Cleburne Railroaders. Many of the family photos are included in Cleburne Baseball.

One of the early stories of Tris Speaker that stood outwas a debate he had with a teammate, Mickie Coyle. After another teammate was knocked out at the plate, Speaker volunteered to take his place. The problem was that Tris was a bit eager and Mickie took issue with it. Coyle, an Irishman known for his temper, made Speaker the subject of his anger and tried to convince the team to let Tris go. This went on for days.  Finally, Spoke had had enough--while sitting next to a window on a Pullman car, Speaker noticed Coyle walking next to the train.  When he arrived at Spoke’s window, nothing was said.  Speaker simply leaned out the window and cold-cocked Coyle. That was the end of the debate. Spoke had had the final say without uttering a single word.

In writing the book, I tried to capture the essence of the players, teams, fans and communities. Like Speaker, there were amazing stories of courage, love, and pain that went with early baseball and railroad towns. Some of the stories made me laugh, others made me cry. The seam that runs through the book are the amazing stories of the people that made Cleburne’s Baseball history and I hope you also get a chance to read and enjoy these incredible stories as much as I enjoyed writing them.