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ON HISTORICAL GROUNDS

Bibb Falk: A Texas Original
By Jim Raup

Fans attend University of Texas home baseball games at Disch-Falk Field in Austin just across the interstate highway adjacent to the school's campus. Long-time followers of UT baseball recognize the two names as legendary coaches on the Forty Acres. William J. ("Uncle Billy") Disch coached the Longhorns to twenty-one Southwest Conference championships from 1911 through 1939, with a record of 465 wins and 115 losses as a college coach. Bibb Falk, his successor, continued UT's winning tradition by leading the school to twenty more SWC championships from 1940 through 1967 and back-to-back national championships in 1949–50. Falk accomplished much more in baseball than becoming a successful college coach, however, and even many loyal orangebloods do not know his impressive history in the game. He was also one of the most unforgettable personalities ever to appear on the Texas sports landscape.

Bibb Augustus Falk was born in Austin, Texas, on January 27, 1899, one of four brothers who loved baseball. An outstanding schoolboy athlete, he graduated from Stephen F. Austin High School in 1916 and intended to work rather than go to college. But fate intervened in the person of Billy Disch. Mr. Disch, as everyone referred to him, had seen Falk play in high school and offered him help in going to college if he would play baseball at UT. Thus began an association between Disch, Falk, and the University of Texas that continues to this day.

Falk was a star in two sports as a collegian. He was All-Southwest Conference as a tackle on the 1919 UT football team and achieved even greater success as a baseball player. He threw and batted from the left side and was undefeated as a pitcher during his three varsity seasons, 1918– 1920. A skilled outfielder, he batted over .400 each of those seasons, attracting the attention of professional baseball scouts. He signed with the Chicago White Sox in the summer of 1920, but declined the club's offer to send him to the minor leagues where he could play regularly, opting instead to remain with the big league club for the balance of that season. Despite the then-inexplicable loss to the Cincinnati Reds in the 1919 World Series, most people considered the White Sox to be the strongest team in baseball in 1920.

Although he went directly from the University of Texas campus to the Chisox dugout, Falk did not play until news of the Black Sox scandal became public that September. He replaced Shoeless Joe Jackson in left field after Jackson was suspended and later banned for life, and Falk made the most of his unexpected opportunity, hitting .294 for the last few games of the 1920 season. From 1921 through 1928, Falk was a regular in the White Sox outfield. After the 1928 season, he was traded to Cleveland, where he played through the 1931 season, his last as a major league player. (His brother Chet was also in the American League from 1925 through 1927, but his career consisted of three undistinguished seasons with the St. Louis Browns.)

Bibb Falk's most outstanding season during his twelve year career was in 1926 when he batted .345 for the White Sox, including 195 hits, 43 doubles, a .415 on-base percentage, and 108 runs batted in. He drove in ninety-nine runs in 1924 and again in 1925, hitting .352 and .301 those years, and his .352 batting average in 1924 was his career best. In 1929, he drove in ninety-three runs for Cleveland and batted .312 in only 125 games. His batting average was over .300 for eight of his twelve major league seasons, and he batted .290 or better three of the other four years.

As Falk's career wound down in 1930 and 1931, he became a part-time player, but he was the most productive pinch hitter in the league during that time. He batted .325 and .304, respectively, those final two seasons. After leaving the Indians following the 1931 season, Falk spent one year as player-manager for the Toledo Mud Hens of the American Association. In 1933 he returned to the American League as a coach for the Indians, and the following season served in the same capacity for Boston. In 1935, the Red Sox made him a scout

Falk's lifetime stats include a .314 batting average, 1,463 hits, and a .372 on-base percentage. A contact hitter, he struck out just 279 times in his big league career, and in 1925 he struck out only twenty-five times in 602 at bats. His .352 batting average in 1924 was third in the American League, and in 1926 his .992 fielding percentage led all American League outfielders. An above-average hitter during what many have called the "golden age" of Major League Baseball, Falk was also an outstanding fielder, finishing with a .967 career fielding percentage. In 1926, he made but three errors in 357 chances.

Following his playing days and brief stint as a big league coach, Falk returned to his off-season home in Austin, spending the next few years scouting for the Red Sox. In 1940, fate intervened once again in the person of Billy Disch, who fell ill during that baseball season. He asked Falk to do the on-field coaching of the Long-horns, and Bibb, tired of the vagabond life that scouting required, agreed to help his college coach and mentor. Over the next twenty-seven years (he spent the 1943–45 seasons in the Air Force) Falk's Texas teams won 478 games against just 176 defeats, including a 25–24 record in exhibition contests against major and minor league teams.


To read the rest of this story, click here to order a copy of the Summer 2003 issue.

—EFQ

 

JIM RAUP pitched for Bibb Falk at the University of Texas from 1965 through 1967 and has been a lawyer in Austin, Texas, for twenty-three years. In a nine-year career as a Texas high school baseball coach, his teams made three state tournament appearances, garnering one state championship and finishing third twice. Many of his former players went on to play at both the collegiate and professional level.

© 2003 Jim Raup

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