William "Pa" Rourke was a fixture in the Omaha baseball community from the late 1890's to the 1920's. Born in Columbus Ohio, he came to Omaha to play at third base for the Omaha Western League entry in 1887, the first year that an Omaha franchise actually finished a season.
In the late 1800's he was struck in the eye on an inside pitch. His eyesight damaged, Pa turned to managing. After some failed attempts in Cedar Rapids and Bloomington Indiana he returned to Omaha.
In the winter of 1899, Pa and Buck Keith formed a partnership to enter Omaha in a newly formed minor league called the Western League. They refurbished the ball park at 15th and Vinton. The year was good to them as they turned a profit of $8,000 in 1900.
In 1901 Rourke bought out his partner. The team suffered through some lower placed finishes in the early years of the 1900's. In 1905, the team took off. Starting slowly, they went on a winning tear in late August. They won 18 of their last 20 games. On September 18th they played in front of 7,000 fans and won both ends of a double header against St. Joseph. It was Pa's first league championship.
This started a many year run of successful seasons for the Rourke's. They won the championship again in 1907, lost on the last day in 1908 and won it all again in 1916.
In 1911, Pa rebuilt the park on Vinton, rebuilding the grand stands and bleachers and expanding the capacity to over 9,000. As was common for the day he added an "auto yard" where patrons could watch the game while sitting in their automobile.
He married when he was 49 to Mary Ellen Kelley. He was known for his ability to spot talent and spent a lot of time scouring the lower minors and town teams for prospects. At that time there were no organized farm teams and each minor league team was a franchise unto itself. Pa made much of his profit from selling the contracts of his best players to major league teams.
There were a lot of good player who passed through Pa's place on their way to the majors. Mordecai "Three Fingers" Brown, started with Pa's team and went on to the Hall of Fame. Jack Pfeister also went to the Cubs. Ernie Krueger and Dell Howard were sold to the Brooklyn. Tommy Hughes went to Washington. James "Pepper" Austin, Pat Ragan and Fred Haney all were one of Pa's boys.
World War I saw many of the minor league franchises fold. The fight or work order put many of the best players in uniform and baseball took a back seat. He made it through the worst of the war but at the end of the 1920 season he called it quits. He sold the team to Texan J. Fagin "Barney" Burch. The price depends on the source. A 1936 Omaha World Herald story indicated that the franchise was sold for $75,000 while a 1979 article stated that he made $100,000 from the sale of the franchise.
He lived in semi-retirement in his house on Underwood in Omaha for a few years. In 1927 he was hired by the Cincinnati Reds as a scout and spent time looking for talent for the Reds franchise. He died in early 1932, in Florida, preparing for spring training.
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