Western Carolinas League (1973-1978)
Stadium: College Park
The Pittsburgh Pirates had a single-A farm club in Charleston, South Carolina for six summers from 1973 to 1978. The ball club played at College Park at the corner of Grove Street and Rutledge Avenue. The team was a member of the old Western Carolinas League (1960-1979).
From 1973 to 1975 team was known as the Charleston Pirates, keeping to the convention of the era that minor league clubs adopt the same name and identity as their Major League parent. In 1976 and 1977 the club was known as the Charleston Patriots in reference to the nation’s bicentennial and wore red, white & blue. The Patriots continued to serve as a Pittsburgh Pirates farm team during this time and then reverted back to the Charleston Pirates identity for their final season in the summer of 1978.
Minor league baseball in general was in the doldrums during the 1970’s. The two single-A circuits in the Carolinas – the Western Carolinas League and the Carolina League – both dwindled to near extinction by the middle of the decade. By 1975, both loops were down to just four teams and the two leagues agreed to interlocking schedules to survive.
One front office notable of the era was Eva Smith who worked for the team in a variety of roles before earning a promotion to General Manager for the 1975 season. Smith was one of only four female General Managers in all of Minor League Baseball in 1975 and served in the role again in 1976. However, when a new team investor named Hammond “Ham” Hill wanted to take on the GM role for the 1977 season, Smith was demoted back to her previous position – office secretary.
A number of prominent players began their climb to the Major Leagues in Charleston during this period, including John Candelaria, Miguel Dilone, Dave Dravecky, Tony Pena, Pascual Perez, Willie Randolph, Eddie Whitson and Yogi Berra’s son, Dale Berra.
Ham Hill put the money-losing ball club up for sale and the Pirates pulled out of Charleston after the 1978 season. A local schoolteacher named Leon Gile inquired about buying the club and turning it into the first “teen-age owned and teen-age operated sports franchise in the world”. Gile’s scheme involved selling shares of the club to the public for $0.37 each, with the requirement that 50.1% of the shares be held by teenagers. Nothing ever came of the idea.
The city was without pro baseball in 1979.
After the 1979 season, the Western Carolinas League re-branded itself as the South Atlantic League. Sally League ball returned to Charleston in 1980 and has continued for 33 seasons since, although the team’s name and Major League affiliation has changed numerous times.
College Park was last used for professional baseball in 1996. Charleston’s new Joseph P. Riley, Jr. Park opened the following year.