Southern League (1976-1988)
Born: 1976 – The Asheville Orioles relocate to Charlotte.
Re-Branded: 1988 (Charlotte Knights)
Stadium: Jim Crockett Sr. Memorial Park
The Charlotte Orioles were the long-time Class AA Southern League farm club of the Baltimore Orioles. Promoted locally as “The O’s”, the ball club was owned by famed Southern wrestling promoter Jim Crockett Jr.
The Crocketts ran the O’s in true mom & pop style. Charlotte’s ballpark, formerly known as Clark Griffith Park, was renamed Jim Crockett Sr. Memorial Park in 1976 in honor of the family patriarch, “Big Jim” Crockett, who passed away in 1973. While Jim Jr. and his brothers focused on the wrestling promotion inherited from their late father, sister Frances Crockett managed the O’s business operations as one of the rare female General Managers of the era. A retired wrestler named Klondike Bill handled the groundskeeping duties.
The O’s won Southern League championships in 1980 and 1984. 19-year old future Hall-of-Famer Cal Ripken Jr. played all 144 games (naturally) for the 1980 O’s championship team. The 1980 captured the hearts of Charlotte, setting a city attendance record of 198,528 fans for the 72-game home schedule. The Sporting News named Frances Crocker its Class AA Baseball Executive-of-the-Year. In 1981, the O’s broke the local attendance record once again, drawing 211,161.
According to the site ripkenintheminors.com, the Charlotte police department sponsored a set of O’s trading cards in 1980, which were distributed one or two cards at a time to youth in the Charlotte community. Today the orange-bordered Ca Ripken card from this set is generally thought to be most valuable minor league trading card in the world. In February 2014, a high grade Charlotte Orioles Police Ripken card sold at auction for $22,515.
The O’s fortunes took a turn for the worse on March 16th, 1985 when arsonists burned Crockett Park to the ground following a high school baseball game. The Crockett family quickly erected a makeshift 3,000-seat facility (also known as Crockett Park) to salvage the 1985 season.
In October 1987, the Crocketts sold the team to George Shinn, owner of the Charlotte Hornets NBA expansion franchise due to begin play in 1988. Shinn re-branded the team as the Charlotte Knights. The Knights upgraded to Class AAA status in 1993 and continue to play in Charlotte to this day.
==Charlotte Orioles Programs on Fun While It Lasted==
|| vs. Baltimore Orioles
“The Lady is a Gem of a G.M.“, Ronald Green, Sports Illustrated, April 26, 1982
Southern League Media Guides
Southern League Programs