From 1889 to 1964, the Fort Worth Panthers--unofficially nicknamed and always known as the Cats--represented the essence of baseball in America. In their early seasons they reflected the outraged pride of the South and West in a bitter rivalry with the northeastern baseball powers, a regional disaffection whose roots stretched back to the Civil War. (The first official baseball game in Texas was played just after the war; the competing Texas teams were nicknamed the Stonewall Jacksons and the R. E. Lees). The Cats franchise was finally dissolved when major league baseball completed its national expansion by placing a team in nearby Arlington. In between, the Cats set professional sports records that have never been equaled, including winning the Texas League title six years in a row and establishing themselves as perhaps the most famous minor league team in baseball history. From vintage Panthers such as power-hitting first baseman Clarence "Big Boy" Kraft and colorful Hall-of-Fame manager Rogers Hornsby to more modern Cats heroes such as Duke Snider, Carl Erskine, and Maury Wills, Fort Worth and the baseball-obsessed Southwest formed a high profile partnership that even survived a season when the spectator stands burned one day and the playing field was flooded a week later. Cats fans wouldn't be denied; they sat around the field on folding chairs, and no games were postponed.
Partially oral history, When Panthers Roared includes interviews with baseball greats Hank Aaron, Wally Moon, Dick Williams, Maury Wills, and co-author Bobby Bragan. Williams and Wills were Cats mainstays; Bragan managed the team during its great post-WW II years when baseball guru Branch Rickey made Fort Worth part of the Brooklyn Dodger farm system and stocked it with his finest young athletes.
But during the Cats heyday, there were just sixteen major league teams who played out of ten U.S. cities. When Panthers Roared captures the excitement and pride the minor-league Cats brought to Texas and the Southwest. It was a time when, Bobby Bragan insists, "any man lucky enough to be a Fort Worth Cat was as proud of that as he would have been to play for the New York Yankees."
When Panthers Roared is lavishly illustrated through the cooperation of Mark Presswood, whose sports collection features Cats memorabilia. Additional short interviews feature the late Joe DiMaggio, Vincent Devaney, and Leo Durocher.
Jeff Guinn is the book review editor of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and the author of several books including Sometimes a Fantasy and The Autobiography of Santa Claus. Bobby Bragan is the former major league manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates, the Cleveland Indians, and the Atlanta Braves, but he is best known for his years managing the Fort Worth Cats. Both live in Fort Worth, Texas.