Tour of a lifetime: George Ligon’s team made its mark

By Jerry Briggs
An in-depth report, for The JB Replay

About 35 years have passed since a World War II-era baseball ambassador named George Ligon, Jr., died and was laid to rest in Southern California. A headstone at the man’s Brawley, Calif., gravesite marks his service to the nation as a U.S. Army veteran of the war’s Pacific theater.

George Ligon, Jr., started a touring baseball team out of Hondo in the 1930s. It played in the United States, Canada and Mexico for 15 years through the early 1950s. Ligon kept the team going even after he returned from military service in World War II. Photo copy, from the archives of the Brawley (Calif.) News.

Another memorial dedicated to him also can be found in South Texas, about 40 miles west of San Antonio, in an out-of-the-way, rural cemetery where visitors can hear the wind “rattle” the seed packs in the thick brush.

In the small town of Hondo, Ligon served honorably in the world of sports. He was the founder and proprietor of “Ligon’s Baseball Club,” a black touring squad that traveled by bus to play games in 20 U.S. states and in three countries over a 15-year period through the early 1950s.

Appropriately, a marker at the Cottonwood Cemetery in rural Medina County is adorned with the team’s red, white and blue logo. A white ball, inside a red star, on a blue background. Clearly, the man loved his team, and he also loved his country, despite all of its flaws in the Jim Crow era.

“This is really the story of America,” said Laurence Ligon, a Maryland resident and the son of the man who ran the ball club. “It’s really our story. It’s not just one (racial) group. It doesn’t belong in one (category). It’s really everybody’s story.

“Because, for my father, one of the things that I can say, for all the slings and arrows that got thrown at him, he didn’t have (the capacity) to hate people. Or attack people. Or be angry with people.”

It’s a timeless lesson that is relevant today, even though George Ligon, Jr., was born in Texas in 1910 at a distinct disadvantage in society.

Regardless, the son of an Austin-area farmer soon started to make a name for himself, first as a baseball pitcher in Uvalde and then as a Hondo-based player/businessman whose enterprise gave others an opportunity to showcase their skills.

“At first,” George Ligon, Jr., said in a 1982 newspaper interview, “my brother (Rufus) and I played for a white fellow who owned a black team, and we played against white teams quite often.”

But, not always, because inter-racial games were controversial at the time. He told reporter Peter Odens of the Brawley (Calif.) News that the black teams in the area just couldn’t make it in a league of their own.

Owners of the white teams owned the ballparks, Ligon told Odens, and those owners charged the black teams 45 percent of “the total take” to play on their fields.

“It was a good league while it lasted,” Ligon told the newspaper. “Anyway, I started my own team in about 1937 and made it a traveling team. Had it for 15 years.”

Laurence Ligon said in a telephone interview that his father managed the team and drove the bus on trips that started in Hondo, led into the Midwest and then veered into the Rocky Mountains and Canada.

Later, the All-Stars traveled down the West Coast – and into Mexico.

“My dad told me some of the craziest stories,” Laurence Ligon said in a telephone interview. “Like, the brakes on the bus fell out. (Then) they … over-heated. And they ran the bus into a hay bale. And the farmer came out, and they had to help him re-bale the hay.

”I mean, all kinds of stuff like that. They were just (out there) running around on the plains.”

Because of all the time that has elapsed since this epic baseball venture began, a lack of first-hand information keeps anyone from knowing exactly how the team got its start.

For instance, what was the nature of the bus and the travel? When did Ligon buy the bus? It’s possible he purchased it in the 1930s because, during the Great Depression, many commercial bus companies were going out of business in the economic downturn.

Which leads to the possibility that Ligon could have negotiated a bargain buy at that time. If he didn’t, then it’s also plausible that maybe he just had to wait until after he returned from fighting in the Pacific theater of the war.

Maybe he finally made enough money in the Army to save up for the purchase. If that’s the case, then it was a high price to pay, because Laurence Ligon said he believes his father was wounded while fighting in Buna, on the island of New Guinea.

A team picture of Ligon’s Baseball Club. Photo, courtesy Laurence Ligon

The battle of Buna-Gola, according to historians, was a bloody, three-month jungle fight that started in November of 1942 and ended with an Allied forces victory in January of 1943. Many of the soldiers who survived came home with malaria.

“I don’t know if he volunteered or if he was drafted (into the Army),” Ligon said. “But he went to train at Fort Huachuca (Arizona). Then he went and fought against the Japanese and was wounded, somewhere in the islands around Guadalcanal. I think it was on Buna.

“So, he was discharged, came back, and, from like 1947 to ‘50 or ‘51, they were still traveling (with the baseball team).”

Apparently, Ligon wasn’t the only member of the All-Stars with a hard-scrabble background. A search of archives in the Hondo Anvil-Herald turned up information pointing to how Ligon assembled his team in the late 1940s with prospects who had known each other for years.

Several apparently first attended the town’s segregated school for blacks. When the Anvil-Herald in 1998 ran a story on a Ligon family reunion, it also published what was labeled as a 1939-40 class picture of the Hondo Colored School.

Included in the picture were students identified as Cleveland “Babe” Grant, Sterling Jasper Fuller and Roy “Banky” White. In a separate issue of the newspaper published to commemorate local World War II veterans, Fuller’s name was on the list of those who served.

The names of Grant, Fuller and White, in turn, were listed on baseball websites that chronicled the Ligon All-Stars’ games in Canada in the late 1940s and early 1950s. Meaning that, the players on those long bus rides out of Hondo, to Canada, and back again all shared a unique bond.

Some of them likely were neighbors as kids. Maybe a few of them walked to grade school together. At least one (Fuller) served in the military and all of them, to a man, loved to play the game – no matter what. They’d travel for hours on end knowing that, in some places in America, they just weren’t welcome.

“You have to know where they don’t want you (to play), and then … don’t play there,” recalled George Ligon, Jr., in the 1982 edition of the Brawley News.

Laurence Ligon, 60, a California native who lives in Maryland and works in computers, said he didn’t know much about the All Stars until a reporter showed up at the family’s home to interview his father in the early 1980s.

“I had heard some of those stories, but (with) the guy asking some pretty good questions, they sat there and talked for a good five hours,“ Ligon said. “And I started hearing a lot more about it.”

On and on went the conversation.

“I was blown away,” Laurence Ligon said, recalling the day his father laid it all out for the visiting reporter. “I just didn’t know that my dad had done all that.”

Ligon said he sometimes jokes about his “gypsy” heritage with friends and family.

“I tell guys, ‘That’s where I get this gypsy blood of mine,’ “ he said. “I love getting in the car and traveling. My dad drove the bus. He managed the team. He drove that bus from Hondo all the way up to Saskatchewan.

“Then they’d come over and play in California and go down into Mexico and play, and then head back to Hondo.”

In 1947, Jackie Robinson made headlines around the nation and changed the game when he broke the color barrier in the major leagues with the Brooklyn Dodgers. Around the same time, the Ligon All-Stars were putting in almost 200,000 miles on their bus over one four-year stretch.

Ligon’s Baseball Club would hit the road in a bus for trips that would carry them thousands of miles. Photo, courtesy Laurence Ligon

All the while, playing in front of some white fans who perhaps had never seen a black athlete on a baseball diamond. Cutting up. Having fun. Sometimes playing with a catcher who would tease the crowd by sitting behind home plate in a rocking chair.

“I have heard about that one, yes,” Laurence Ligon said with a laugh.

One day, Ligon said he hopes to return to Hondo to have some work done on the exterior of the old cemetery. He said he wants to preserve the peaceful setting, in a rural area a few miles north of Interstate 90, with head stones dating back to the Civil War.

“It’s a really nice (place),” he said. “I don’t know what (kind of) plants they have (on the grounds, but) I remember they’re like a bush, and at the very top (of the plant) it’s kind of heavy. They’ve got like a seed pack on the top, and when the wind blows, these seed packs kind of rattle.

“It just makes this really calming sort of noise. I go out there and I just want to sit down and just kind of take it all in. It’s really beautiful.”

Making the right decision ‘wasn’t necessarily easy’ for the Red Sox

Former San Antonio Missions manager Ron Roenicke has had his hands full in his first season as manager of the Boston Red Sox.

To this point, the Red Sox haven’t quite figured it out on the field, struggling to a 10-21 record. For a franchise that traditionally has been one of baseball’s best over the past two decades, times are tough.

Nevertheless, Roenicke might have enjoyed one of his finest hours in his job Thursday afternoon in Buffalo.

The game between the Red Sox and the Toronto Blue Jays had been called off, postponed as one of 10 in the majors scrapped in the last 44 hours since a wave of protest in professional sports commenced.

The protest has centered on the nation’s latest crisis on race relations, the tragic shooting of an African-American citizen by a police officer in Wisconsin.

“You know, this is a really important time in our country, and what are we going to do?” Roenicke asked. “These (athletes) have a platform to discuss some things that are serious issues … (things) that we need to straighten out.”

Roenicke, a California native, has roots in San Antonio.

He played for the San Antonio Dodgers as a minor league outfielder in 1978 and 1979. He also managed here in the 1990s, leading the 1997 San Antonio Missions to the Texas League title.

His leadership showed up again Thursday in handling a sticky situation that evolved after Red Sox center fielder Jackie Bradley, Jr., the team’s only black player, told management that he planned to sit out the Thursday night finale of a three-game series against the Blue Jays.

After Bradley made his intentions clear, the Red Sox engaged in discussions that led to a 4 p.m. team meeting at Sahlen Field, according to a published report at

“It was not an easy decision for a lot of us,” outfielder Kevin Pillar told the website. “We do stand with Jackie and we want to be in support of him, but a lot of us understand that us playing is an escape for a lot of people and the realities going on in the world. It is an opportunity for a lot of people to get away from the news and all the evil and bad that’s going on and be a distraction. This is what we do. It’s our responsibilities as athletes to come to the field and play.

“Ultimately, we came to a decision as a group that it is one game,” Pillar added. “It is a game but the power and impact that we have standing with those guys and their decision hopefully speaks volumes. We all believe we made the right decision even though it wasn’t necessarily an easy one.”

Speaking at the meeting were Bradley and Red Sox coach Tom Goodwin, a former Missions player. Bradley told the players why he planned to sit out and also said he would be OK with everyone if they wanted to play.

Goodwin, who is black, discussed “reasons why it might be prudent” for the Red Sox to play the game as scheduled, according to The Red Sox ultimately decided as a group to support Bradley and not play.

“A lot has been placed on him and that’s important to all of us,” Roenicke told “It’s important to these players, realizing that Jackie is our lone Black player on the team and they want to support him in any way they can. Just supporting in what we did today is telling him, ‘Jack, we’re hearing what you’re saying, we’re hearing what the rest of the guys are saying, we want to make a difference and we want to support you in any way we can.’ ”

In a video produced by the Red Sox, Roenicke encouraged baseball fans to have meaningful conversations about race. At home. At work. He said talks about sensitive issues are important.

“We understand how important baseball is,” Roenicke said. We’re playing through a pandemic. We know it’s all important. But we know the issues in life are more important …

“If you’re a kid and you turn on the TV tonight … and you ask your parents, ‘Why aren’t the Red Sox on?” I hope the parents have a serious discussion with their kid.

“We need to discuss these things more. We need to listen more. That’s the only way we’re going to change,” Roenicke said. “There needs to be a change in this great country that we live in.”

Baylor beats Texas, 74-73, in double OT for fourth straight win

Forward Terry Maston scored 26 points Monday night as the Baylor Bears beat the Texas Longhorns, 74-73, in double overtime.

In a hotly-contested Big 12 Conference game played at Austin, Texas guard Kerwin Roach II scored on a layup with 21 seconds left, lifting the Longhorns into a 73-72 lead.

But Baylor answered on the other end, with guard Manu Lecomte driving and missing a layup that 7-foot center Jo Lual-Acuil, Jr., followed with a dunk for the game-winning points.

With the win, the Bears improved to 16-10 and 6-7 in the Big 12 to keep their NCAA tournament hopes alive.

The Longhorns, alternately, fell to 15-11 and 5-8 after a performance regarded as damaging to their NCAA chances.

Baylor built an eight-point lead with four minutes left in regulation and couldn’t hold it.

With 12 seconds left, Matt Coleman knocked down two free throws to cap a UT rally and tie the game, 56-56.

Baylor, on the last possession, passed it to forward Nuni Omot, who missed a wide-open, off-balance three.

Lual-Acuil’s follow shot from close range bounced off the rim at the buzzer, sending the game into overtime.

In the first OT, Maston produced two quick baskets and hit two free throws in the opening minutes.

A jumper by Lecomte gave the Bears a 64-60 lead with 45 seconds left.

But once again, Texas didn’t flinch.

The Longhorns rallied to tie on two free throws each by Coleman and Roach.

When Lecomte missed a long three-pointer with two seconds left, the game moved into the second OT tied, 64-64.


Baylor forward Terry Maston said the Bears are “just clicking right now on offense and defense.”

“Our zone has been really tough and Manu (Lecomte) is really leading us,” Maston said in comments posted on the UT website. “He’s hitting big shots and Jo (Lual-Acuil Jr.) is getting big rebounds. Me, Nuni (Omot) and Mark (Vital), I mean everybody, is just really playing well.”

As Texas players held a post-game meeting in the dressing room, Longhorns coach Shaka Smart described the mood as angry.

“They’re really, really upset and some of those guys are really angry, because it was a game that they really put their egos aside and really came together in terms of attacking and hanging in there together,” Smart said. “But obviously, we came up one stop short or one basket short depending on how you’re looking at it. The guys are really upset.”

Texas notes

The Longhorns have lost three straight and four of their last five. Four of their losses in conference have come by three points or less.

Texas freshman center Mo Bamba produced 16 points, 16 rebounds and four blocks. He hit 7 of 17 from the field.

Dylan Osetkowski, Coleman and Roach all scored 15 for the Longhorns, who shot poorly as a team at 36.1 percent.

Baylor notes

Baylor’s Terry Maston, a senior from Desoto, is the nephew of former Texas Tech star Tony Battie.

Bears guard Jake Lindsey is the son of Dennis Lindsey, the general manager of the Utah Jazz. Dennis Lindsey worked as assistant general manager of the Spurs from 2007-12.

Lecomte finished with 16 points and 7 assists. He struggled shooting the ball, hitting only 5 of 15.

Lual-Acuil had a double-double with 14 points and 11 boards.

Baylor swept two games from Texas this season, both in grind-it-out fashion. The Bears won 69-60 in Waco on Jan. 6.


UTSA will host ‘Hoop Dreams’ duo tonight at the Bird Cage

Brothers Will Gates, Jr. (left) and Jalon Gates play for the Houston Baptist Huskies. Courtesy: Houston Baptist athletics

The sons of former Chicago basketball playground legend William Gates, a subject of the critically-acclaimed documentary “Hoop Dreams,” will play in San Antonio tonight.

Senior William Gates, Jr. and his brother, sophomore Jalon Gates, are members of the Houston Baptist University Huskies.

The Huskies (3-6) and the UTSA Roadrunners (5-5) will play tonight at 7 on the UTSA campus, at the Convocation Center.

It’s a homecoming of sorts for the Gates brothers, who both played in high school locally at Clemens.

Gates, Jr., a transfer from Furman, starts for the Huskies and averages 8.7 points on 56.5 percent shooting from the field.

Jalon Gates comes off the bench and averages 9.7 points. Gates leads HBU with 40 percent shooting from three-point distance.

The Gates brothers, both of them guards, will have their hands full with the Roadrunners.

UTSA freshman guard Jhivvan Jackson leads the team in scoring (17.6) and is coming off a 31-point game at Oklahoma.

Jackson and fellow freshman guard Keaton Wallace (14.4) have combined to hit 52 of UTSA’s 104 three-pointers.