Stadium bears name of Roswell Rockets legend Joe Bauman

Baseball stadium bears the name of legendary Roswell Rockets slugger Joe Bauman

At right, Joe Bauman, first baseman of the Roswell Rockets, Class B Longhorn League, jogs home after hitting his 69th homerun in a game with Midland, Texas, in Roswell on Sept. 3, 1954. Co-owner and third baseman Studdy Greer grabs for his hand in congratulations and Roswell pitcher Ray Faust gets set for a handshake. Teammate Duane White grins in the background. (Associated Press)

Editor’s note: The Journal continues “What’s in a Name?,” a once a month column in which writer Elaine Briseño will give a short history of how places in New Mexico got their names.

Many nonresidents traveling along the roads in Roswell are either headed somewhere else or there to soak up the alien lore born from an alleged alien landing in 1947.

But there was something else flying through the air of the small southern New Mexico town in the mid-century that is remembered to this day – baseballs.

The flying balls were mostly courtesy of the 6-foot-5 and 225 pound left-handed first baseman Joe Willis Bauman, who played for the Roswell Rockets from 1954 to 1956. The minor league heavy hitter slugged his way to 72 home runs in 1954, setting a single-season record that wasn’t broken until 2001 by Barry Bonds.

He became the star attraction and just before his death in 2005, the city renamed the old Fair Park to Joe Bauman Stadium.

The stadium named for him sits next to the Chaves County Fairgrounds and U.S. 285. The city bought the land in 1939 and today it is home to the Roswell Invaders baseball team, which was named the 2022 Pecos League champions.

According to the stadium website: “Roswell was a small town, and Bauman was the biggest local attraction since the 1947 crash and suspected alien landing. After each home run, fans would push dollar bills through the fence, and the game would have to be stopped for a few minutes to collect all the money.”

Players were allowed to pocket the “screen money,” and according to a 2015 New Mexico Magazine story written by former Journal writer Toby Smith. During his winning home-run season, Bauman “went home many nights with several hundred dollars in cash.”

Bauman told Albuquerque Journal sports reporter Bart Ripp in the spring of 1979, that as he approached 70 home runs in 1954, which nobody had done in a single season, the pressure began to mount.

“There were four or five photographers shooting every time I went to the plate,” he said in the April 1, 1979, story. “There were guys there from Life and Sports Illustrated, plus the local boys. They’d be snapping while I was hitting. It’s bound to affect you and it did me.”

The photo printed with his Associated Press obituary was taken in Sept. 1954 in Artesia. Bauman is accepting “fence money” from fans during a game. (Newsday (Nassau Edition), 25 Sep 2005, Sun · Page 68)

On Sept. 5, he hit home runs 70, 71 and 72 soaring past the previous record of 69. According to news stories at the time, after he hit number 70 in the first inning, umpires permitted the play to stop for 10 minutes to allow for the “thundering ovation” and flashbulbs.

Meanwhile, Bauman reflected on his home run record in 2001 during an interview about Bonds record-breaking home run season: “I never thought it’s last this long, to be honest. I was watching on TV when Barry Bonds hit that last one. It didn’t bother me or anything. I just thought ‘There goes my record.'”

Bauman’s professional debut came right after he graduated from high school in 1941, when he signed with the Newport Dodgers. It was not yet obvious he would be setting records. He only hit three home runs his first season. His baseball career was interrupted by World War II when he served in the U.S. Navy from 1943 to 1945.

Upon his return, Bauman played for the Amarillo Gold Sox and would transfer to several other teams, racking up dozens of home runs each year, but it was during his time in Roswell he would have the best season of his life.

In 1954, he won the triple crown – in addition to his prolific number of home runs, he had the best batting average and RBIs in the league.

Roswell would be the final stop in his professional career. Bauman retired from baseball in 1956 at the age 34. He ran a service station in Roswell and later began working for a beer distributor until retiring for good in 1984. In addition to the field, there is an award that honors the former professional player. The Joe Bauman Home Run Award is bestowed every year on the Minor League Baseball player who hits the most regular season home runs.

Bauman was 83 in 2005, when he took a tumble and broke his pelvis during the Aug. 11 ceremony to rename the field in his honor. He was hospitalized and died from pneumonia Sept. 20.

Joe Bauman is shown at his home in Roswell on Monday, Oct. 9, 1995. A first baseman who spent his entire baseball career in the minor leagues, Bauman hit 72 home runs in 1954, a single-season professional record. (Mike Pettit/Associated Press)

Bauman was born on April 16, 1922, in Welch, Oklahoma, and grew up in Oklahoma City in a strict home that included spankings and doses of castor oil, according to a Society for American Baseball Research article by Bob Rives. In addition to dispensing discipline, Bauman’s dad taught him to play ball. Bauman was a natural right-hander, but his dad coached him to hit and field as a lefty.

During his career, Bauman would play for the American Association, the Eastern League, and the Southwestern League, but he would never become a household name or reach the major leagues. But he almost did.

According to his obituary, which was by the Associated Press, while with the Boston Braves organization in 1948, he was one step from the majors. “Next spring, instead of pursuing a job in the majors, Bauman decided to play semi-pro baseball in Elk City, Oklahoma, where he ran a service station along Route 66,” the article said.

He left Oklahoma to play for the Artesia Drillers from 1952 to 1953. He told Journal reporter Ripp that he had grown to like this part of the country with its western skies and tumbleweed-racing rabbits. According to his obituary, he was offered $1,000 per month and given a $1,000 signing bonus to make the move to Roswell. He agreed and, as they say, the rest was history; a history that greets anyone visiting the three-acre ballpark along East Poe Road in Roswell.

“When the Rockets were home, Bauman pumped gas during the day, then pumped home runs out of Park Field at night,” Ripp wrote.


Curious about how a town, street or building got its name? Email staff writer Elaine Briseño at ebriseno@abqjournal.com or 505-823-3965 as she continues the monthly journey in “What’s in a Name?”

 

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