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Looking back at:

Legends and Giants

By Michael Barr
Michael Barr

All the talk about the Houston Astros in the World Series reminds me that baseball has been a part of life in Fredericksburg and Gillespie County since the beginning of the 20th century.

The Germans who settled the Texas Hill Country took to baseball. By the 1920's, small towns all over Gillespie and surrounding counties had adult baseball teams.

There were once 23 different adult baseball teams in Gillespie County alone.

Baseball was the perfect game for isolated rural communities in the Hill Country. Just about anyone could play. There was no expensive equipment required - only a bat, a ball and an open space. Maybe a crude leather glove if one could afford it.

In the early days there was no radio or television in the Hill Country. Baseball was the biggest show in town from April to September.

One of the most successful teams in the Hill Country League was the Fredericksburg Giants.

A surprising number of Giants went on to play professional baseball at one level or another. Felix Holmig played for the Galveston Sand Crabs in the Texas League. Carl Kott played in the Evangeline League, the Texas League and the Texas/Arizona League.

Andy Andrews, who coached at Fredericksburg High School and managed the Giants in the 1930s, was a catcher in the minors. He became a minor league umpire and then a scout for the Houston Astros, Milwaukee Brewers and Los Angeles Dodgers.

Max Molberg, manager of the Giants in the 1940s, played for Abbeville, Louisiana in the Evangeline League and for Gainesville, Texas in the Big State League.

The Klaerner family of Fredericksburg was famous for baseball. Brothers Hugo, Chester and Alphons all played pro ball. So did cousins Elias and Phillip.

Chester "Smokey" Klaerner turned down a contract with the Cincinnati Reds in 1932 to finish his degree at Rice. He threw 2 no-hitters as a pitcher in the Southwest Conference.

After college Chester played in the New York Giants organization. In 1935 he won 18 games for Tyler in the West Dixie League. He came home in 1937 to coach the Battlin' Billie football team.

Hugo Klaerner won 20 games for the Longview Cardinals in 1933 including a perfect game. The big right-hander won 24 games for Pine Bluff in the East Dixie League before being called up to the majors. In 1934 he appeared in 3 games with the White Sox; then spent 30 years as Gillespie County Sheriff.

TX baseball - Fredericksburg Giants
The Fredericksburg Giants
Hugo Klaerner is seated on the far right.
Click on image to enlarge
Photo from the Fredericksburg Standard-Radio Post archives. Date unknown

In the early days the Giants played at the old fairgrounds. There was no outfield fence. Unless you were really fast you had to hit one to the horse track to make it all the way to home plate.

Fans of the Fredericksburg Giants got to see legends play the game. Clyde Littlefield, renowned football and track coach of the University of Texas, played for the Giants in the early 20th Century.

One afternoon in the 1920s the San Antonio Public Service team came to Fredericksburg for a game with the Giants. The San Antonio pitcher was Van Bibber - a young army recruit stationed at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio. Van Bibber, a flame-throwing Arkansas right-hander was really Pvt. Jerome "Dizzy" Dean.

The Detroit Tigers once played an exhibition game against the San Antonio Bears at the old fairgrounds field. Detroit Hall of Famer Harry "Slug" Heilmann, thrilled the crowd when he hit one that landed in the middle of the racetrack.

Dizzy Dean's brother, Paul "Daffy" Dean, played there with a minor league team from Borger.

In the 1940s Coach Billy Disch could often be seen in the stands, scouting prospects for his Longhorn baseball team.

Hall of Famer Harmon Killebrew played at the old fair grounds field with a barnstorming group before he made it to the big leagues.

A prominent local business now occupies the site of the old fairgrounds field, where legends and Giants once played the great America game.

Something to think about when pushing your shopping cart across the crowded parking lot at the Fredericksburg HEB.

Michael Barr
"Hindsights" November 15, 2017 Column

"Grounds Once Served As City Athletic Field," Fredericksburg Standard, August 20, 1975.
"Hugo Klaerner Honored," The Harper Herald, October 29, 1976.
"Bexar Facts," The San Antonio Light, March 30, 1973.

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