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FALK, BIBB AUGUSTUS

FALK, BIBB AUGUSTUS (1899–1989). Bibb Augustus (Jockey) Falk, major league baseball player and longtime baseball coach at the University of Texas at Austin, was born in Austin on January 27, 1899. As a boy he sold peanuts and worked as a batboy at the local Texas League ballpark. He graduated from high school in 1916 and enrolled at the University of Texas in 1917. He played football well enough to earn All-Southwest Conference honors as a tackle in 1919 but became even better known as a baseball player under William J. (Uncle Billy) Dischqv. Falk was undefeated as a pitcher and batted over .400 in all three of his varsity seasons, thus leading the Longhorns to a 57–14–1 record overall (29–3 in Southwest Conference play) and three conference championships.

In the summer of 1920 Falk signed with the Chicago White Sox, who gave him a $3,500 contract. The Sox, defending American League champions, offered to send him to the minor leagues, where he would be assured of playing regularly, but he elected to stay with the "big club" instead. He saw no action until just before the end of the season, in September, when the Black Sox scandal was revealed and eight Chicago players were banished for throwing games. Falk replaced the great Joe Jackson in left field and gave a hint of his batting prowess to come, by batting .294 in two games.

During the 1920s Falk became one of the best hitters in the American League, though he lacked the home-run power of contemporaries like Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig. He also earned the nickname "Jockey" for the way he mercilessly "rode" opposing players. Falk became a regular in 1921 and batted .285 with eighty-two runs batted in; the next season he batted .298 with twelve home runs and seventy-nine runs batted in. After the 1922 season he accompanied a group of major league stars on a barnstorming tour of Japan, China, Korea, the Philippines, and Hawaii. In 1923 he batted .307, beginning a streak that saw him top the .300 mark in eight of his last nine major league seasons. In 1924 he finished third in the American League with a .352 batting average and after the season toured Europe with the White Sox and the New York Giants of the National League. Falk fell to a .301 mark in 1925, but drove in ninety-nine runs for the second year in a row; that season also marked the major league debut of his younger brother Chet, a pitcher who spent three mediocre seasons with the St. Louis Browns of the American League. Falk enjoyed his best statistical season in 1926, with a .345 batting average, eight home runs, and 108 runs batted in, and led American League outfielders in fielding percentage. He batted .327 in 1927, but in 1928 managed only a .290 average in ninety-eight games. Following that season the White Sox traded him to the Cleveland Indians for catcher Chick Autry. In 1929, his last year as a regular, Falk rebounded to bat .312 with a career-high thirteen home runs and ninety-three runs batted in. For the next two years he saw only part-time duty, but batted .325 and .304 and earned a reputation as the best pinch-hitter in the league.

In 1932 Falk served as player-manager for the Toledo Mud Hens of the American Association; as such he batted .321 as a part-timer. After the season he retired from active play. He spent the 1933 and 1934 seasons coaching for the Indians and for the Boston Red Sox, respectively, and in 1935 returned to Austin as a scout for the Red Sox.

In April 1940 he replaced Disch after the first conference game of the season, when a heart ailment forced Uncle Billy to step down as coach. Falk led the Longhorns to their twentieth conference championship in 1940 and to another pennant the following year; in 1942, however, Texas A&M University beat Texas in the last game of the season to win the Southwest Conference title.

Falk enlisted in the Army Air Corps in September 1942 and was stationed at Randolph Field in San Antonio, where he coached a service-league championship baseball team and served as trainer for the Randolph Ramblers football team, one of the best in the country. He returned to the University of Texas in 1946 and guided the Longhorns to three straight conference titles. In 1949 and 1950 Texas became the first college team to win back-to-back national championships.

Falk remained at Texas until 1967, compiling a 478–176 record (278–84 in the Southwest Conference). During his twenty-five years as coach the Longhorns won fifteen conference titles outright and tied for five more, and Falk's crusty demeanor and salty vocabulary became legendary. Once, when asked to assess the potential of a young player, Falk responded, "You can't make chicken salad out of chicken [bleep]." Several years later, after his retirement, Falk and his successor as Texas coach, Cliff Gustafson, were discussing the changes in the sport over the years. Gustafson asked Falk what he thought he would hit against modern pitching. Falk paused, then replied, "Oh, about .270 or .280." Gustafson, surprised by Falk's uncharacteristic modesty, asked, "There's that much difference?" "Hell, no," Falk answered. "But I'm seventy-five years old."

Falk was elected to the Longhorn Hall of Honor in 1962, the Helms Athletic Foundation College Hall of Fame in 1966, the College Baseball Hall of Fame in 1968, and the Texas Baseball Hall of Fame in 1988. In 1975 the University of Texas honored Falk and his former mentor by naming its new baseball stadium Disch-Falk Field. Falk was hospitalized with a heart ailment in May 1989 and died on June 8 of that year in Brackenridge Hospital, Austin.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: 

Daily Texan, August 13, 1948. Wilbur Evans and Bill Little, Texas Longhorn Baseball: Kings of the Diamond (Huntsville, Alabama: Strode, 1983). Bill Little, "The Bibb Falk Story," Texas Longhorns Stampede, March 1989. John Thorn and Pete Palmer, Total Baseball (New York: Warner, 1989). Vertical Files, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin.

Martin Donell Kohout

Citation

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.

Martin Donell Kohout, "FALK, BIBB AUGUSTUS," Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/ffa34), accessed September 18, 2014. Uploaded on June 12, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.