BY RUSSELL HUFFMAN
Did you know Jesse “T-Bone” Winters is more than likely Stephenville’s first professional athlete?
Born December 22, 1893, Winters was the oldest of the five children raised by John and Frances Winters and as boy showed early athletic promise and could throw a baseball so hard you could hear the seams whistle.
Winters had a take it or leave it attitude toward baseball, and while he was very good at the sport, it didn’t rule his life. He also liked a good steak and that’s would lead to the nickname “T-Bone.”
While on a baseball road trip while playing for Tarleton Winters ordered a “T-Bone” steak and the meat he was served didn’t contain a bone. Winters raised such a scene about how his T-Bone steak was lacking a bone his teammates hung the nickname on him that would last his lifetime.
The indifference he had toward baseball may have been what led to just a five-year career in the major leagues (he spent four years in the minors), but Winters had plans for life when the Denison Railroaders baseball team of the Western Association came calling.
When the team’s league was disbanded Winters went on with his life plans and applied for medical school only to receive an offer to pitch for the Giants. He was released to the Kansas City Blues under an optional agreement prior to the beginning of the 1918 season.
Winters went 3-2 with a 2.42 ERA in 13 games. The biggest attraction being that Winters pitched 67 innings and allowed nine earned runs. Hall of Fame manager John McGraw liked Winters so much he called him “the finest pitching prospect” he has seen since Christy Mathewson.
Following the 1918 season Winters was drafted into the U.S. Army and served as a lieutenant in a San Antonio training camp. The war would end with Winters not having to see combat although his unit had received deployment orders just before the war’s end.
Fresh out of the military Winters learned he was still a part of the Giants’ pitching plans and on May 3, 1919, he made his major league debut as a reliever striking out two batters and earning the win.
With manager McCraw “banking heavily” on the young reliever Winters appeared in 16 games and saving three which ranked second in the National League that year.
While McGraw was banking on Winters, he was also hoping to turn him into a starting pitcher, and the results were not good. In his second start, Winters allowed ten hits and issued four walks which led to nine earned runs and a loss.
Being forced into a role, he was uncomfortable with led to some labeling Winters as high-strung after he got into several fistfights with his teammates.
The next year Winters went back to the role of reliever and appeared in 21 games going 0-0 over 46.1 innings and finishing 13 games.
Going 0-0 was a major league record that would stand for five years as Winters didn’t win or lose a game despite 21 appearances.
It was a dubious record and led to him being released to the minors and then recalled by the Giants before his release to Toronto where he enjoyed his best year in the majors.
In 1921 Winters pitched 21 games for the Maple Leafs over 161 innings, a 11-8 record and ERA of 2.91. It appeared he might be even better the next season as opened with an ERA of 2.25 in his first 16 innings of work.
The wear and tear of being a starting pitcher were beginning to show, and the low ERA swelled as Winter’s started to suffer arm problems.
Winters would go on to toil in the major leagues for a few seasons and by 1925 Winters had decided it was time to hang up his cleats.
Winters decided to go into business for himself when he left baseball and established the D&W Tire Company in Abilene. Always involved and giving back to his community Winters went on to be elected Mayor of Abilene and served in that position from 1957-59.
Winters was elected into Tarleton State University’s Hall of Fame in 1980. If you’ve ever been driving in Abilene and noticed the “Winters Freeway” it’s not the highway to Winter’s Texas – It’s the “Jesse Winters Highway.”
Winters passed away in 1986 at the ripe old age of 92 and is interred at Elmwood Memorial Park in Abilene.