Born: August 26, 1962 – The Savannah White Sox relocate to Lynchburg, VA
Affiliation Change: Postseason 1969 (Lynchburg Twins)
Stadium: City Stadium
- 1962-1965: Bill Ackerman & Tom Fleming
- 1966-1969: Lynchburg Baseball Corporation (Calvin Falwell, et al.)
Southern League Champions: 1964
In 1962, a Charleston, South Carolina attorney named Bill Ackerman moved his Charleston White Sox minor league baseball team 110 miles south to Grayson Stadium in Savannah, Georgia. The ballpark, opened in 1925, featured a shaded grandstand behind home plate that offered relief from the broiling Georgia sun and the occasional rain delay. Down the left field line there was a stand of battered, uncovered bleachers exposed to the elements. This was the colored seating section in Jim Crow Savannah.
Early in the 1962 season, the local chapter of the NAACP organized a picket of Grayson Stadium over the segregated facilities for fans, ballplayers and player wives. The leader of the boycott was W.W. Law, a local mail carrier and state President of the NAACP in Georgia. White Sox officials fanned the flames by asking the local postmaster to fire Law from his job.
The civil rights battle spilled over into the team’s clubhouse and front office. 1962 Savannah White Sox had two African-American players: second baseman Don Buford and first baseman Grover “Deacon” Jones. During a South Atlantic League game in June 1962, Jones looked up from the field and saw his wife Virginia and Buford’s wife Alicia sitting in the whites-only section behind home plate. Savannah GM Tom Fleming implored the wives to move, but the women refused to leave.
Racial segregation in Savannah was hardly the exception in the South Atlantic League. The other league franchises in 1962 were in Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia. But the tumult in Savannah was such that team owner Bill Ackerman was actively looking to move the team by early July. Ackerman floated the possibility of returning to Charleston. But ultimately Ackerman left Savannah and departed for Lynchburg, Virginia with just eight games remaining in the 1962 regular season.
The ball club that alighted so unexpectedly in Lynchburg in August 1962 was far and away the best team in the Sally League. 28-year old Deacon Jones, the White Sox’ oldest regular player, tore up the circuit, hitting .319 with 26 homers and 101 RBIs. The team’s best pitcher was 21-year old Dave DeBusschere (10-1, 2.49 ERA). DeBusschere would spend parts of two seasons with the Chicago White Sox in 1962 and 1963. But he founder greater fame in the NBA, as an 8-time All-Star during as 12-year career with the Pistons and Knicks from 1962-1974. He was elected to the Pro Basketball Hall-of-Fame in 1983.
With a 92-47 record, the 1962 Savannah/Lynchburg White Sox won the Sally League regular season with ease. But they were upset by the 3rd place Macon Peaches in the playoffs.
Lynchburg hardball fans would get their championship two summers later. By 1964, the White Sox were firmly entrenched in Lynchburg. The South Atlantic League had re-branded itself as the Southern League at the start of the Freedom Summer. The LynSox trailed the Birmingham Barons, fielding that city’s first racially integrated team in 1964, for virtually the entire summer. But a seven-game Lynchburg win streak at the end of the season brought the clubs nearly even.
A season-ending three-game series between the two clubs would decide the pennant. Lynchburg was a hard slugging team. Dick Kenworthy (29 HRs, 97 RBI, .312 avg.) and Danny Murphy (24, 91, .286) provided the bulk of the power. At 30 years old, Deacon Jones was knocking around in the minors, batting .299 with 11 homers and 62 RBI. Even Lynchburg’s pitching ace, a converted outfielder named Manly “Shot” Johnston, could mash. Johnston led the Southern League in wins (20-7, 2.46 ERA) and added 7 homers and a .292 average to boot.
Manly Johnston took the rubber for the first game of the series, an 8-1 Lynchburg rout. The victory teed up the LynSox to clinch the Southern League pennant with a win on September 8, 1964. A crowd of 2,941 turned out at City Stadium. It was over early. Lynchburg scored 9 runs and sent 13 batters to the plate during the 2nd inning. Deacon Jones homered twice in the 2nd inning alone as Lynchburg won 10-3 to clinch the pennant.
Following the 1965 season, owner Bill Ackerman moved his Class AA Southern League franchise to Evansville, Indiana. The Class A Carolina League quickly filled the void, putting a franchise into City Stadium in 1966. The new club would be community-owned by the Lynchburg Baseball Corporation, headed by Calvin Falwell. The White Sox remained as parent club, meaning the Lynchburg White Sox name endured for four more summers through 1969. The team became the Lynchburg Twins in 1970 following a change in Major League parent clubs.
Lynchburg has enjoyed pro baseball for 53 consecutive summers and counting since the Savannah White Sox moved to town in 1962.
“The summer the White Sox came to Lynchburg“, Ben Cates, The Lynchburg News and Advance, September 13, 2014