Dick Burnett: The Oilman Who Revolutionized East Texas Minor League Baseball

Dick Burnett was a successful oil tycoon who entered the business in the midst of the East Texas Oil Boom of the 1930s. However, he is most remembered for how he took a failing minor league baseball team from Louisiana and turned it into the most successful minor league franchise in Dallas during the 1940s and 1950s.

Sign of Gladewater, TX
Figure 1 – Sign of Gladewater, TX

Richard Wesley Burnett was born on January 13th, 1898 in McLennan County in Central Texas. When he was two years old, his family relocated to Gladewater, Texas, where he stayed for the remainder of his life. When World War I began, Burnett joined the Navy and, shortly after his return, married wife Dale Jeter. For most of the 1920s, Burnett had odd-jobs, including running a hardware store, but none garnered long-term success. However, his luck changed in 1932, when the East Texas Oil Boom flowed into Gladewater.

Burnett was a visionary – he had gotten into the oil business before the boom was in full swing, and had been buying and trading oil leases for a few years prior to his own success in the oil field. One day in 1932, Burnett struck oil and became wealthy. Following his success in East Texas, in 1944 Burnett struck oil and gas in the Wesson field in Ouichita County, Arkansas, multiplying his wealth further.

            In the midst of his oil success, Burnett pursued a lifelong passion – baseball. In 1935, Burnett purchased the struggling Class C minor league team from Shreveport, Louisiana and moved it to his hometown of Gladewater, Texas. Promptly renamed the Gladewater Bears, the team won the Texas League pennant in 1936. Between 1935 and 1948, Burnett had a hand in multiple minor league teams, including teams from Texarkana and Shreveport. In 1948, Burnett turned his focus to Dallas when he purchased the Dallas Rebels for $500,000, changing the face of minor league baseball in Texas forever.

            Once Burnett purchased the Dallas Rebels, he immediately enacted change to make his franchise reflect the passion he showed for the game. He renamed the team the Dallas Eagles, purchased Oak Cliff Park, the home field of the Rebels, and renamed it Burnett Field in his own honor. Determined to win the Texas League pennant, a feat the team had not achieved since the 1936 season, Burnett worked to ensure the title for the team until its win in 1952.  Not only did Burnett set himself apart with his talent for victory, it was also common for him to fling typewriters out of the press box after frustrating losses, making him even more memorable. Burnett was also the first franchise owner that hired an organist to play in the stadium. Her name was “Miss Inez” Tedley, who played between innings and each time the Eagles scored.

Burnett signing Hoskins to the Dallas Eagles
Figure 2 – Burnett signing Hoskins to the Dallas Eagles

In addition, Burnett continued to improve the franchise in other ways. One such innovation was signing Dave Hoskins to the Eagles in 1952, the first African American baseball player in the entire Texas League. The Eagles also hosted showcase games under Burnett’s ownership, including one in 1950 where Hall-of-Famers Ty Cobb, Tris Speaker, Charlie Gehringer, Mickey Cochrane, and many more, played against the Eagles. Dallas’ team had future Hall-of-Famers Dizzy Dean, Travis Jackson, and Frank “Home Run” Baker on the roster, making for a game that drew a crowd of 53,378 – a minor league attendance record that still stands to this day. Many other teams followed suit to improve their respective franchises after seeing the success of Burnett’s Eagles.

            Until his death in 1956, oil tycoon Dick Burnett took a passion of baseball and turned it into a successful franchise that revolutionized minor league baseball in Texas. When the Dallas Eagles emerged in 1948 under Burnett’s ownership, baseball fans took notice – and the rest is history.