Lively Tales About Dead Teams

Archive for the ‘Western Carolinas League’ tag

1963-1994 Spartanburg Phillies, Traders, Spinners & Suns

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Spartanburg PhilliesWestern Carolinas League (1963-1979)
South Atlantic League (1980-1994)

Born: 1963 – Western Carolinas League expansion franchise.
Died:
1995 – The Phillies relocate to Kannapolis, NC.

Stadium: Duncan Park

Team Colors:

Owners:

 

For more than three decades, Spartanburg, South Carolina was one of the first destinatons for young prospects in the Philadelphia Phillies organization.  The city’s glory days as a Phillies farm club came in the mid-1960’s.  The Spartanburg Phillies won back-to-back Western Carolinas League titles in 1966 and 1967.  The 1966 Spartanburg club, featuring a middle infield combo of Larry Bowa and Denny Doyle, had a 91-35 record and was ranked #78 in the Top 100 minor league teams of all-time as chosen by the National Association in 2001.

Off the field, the Spartanburg teams of the mid-60’s were packaged and sold by Pat Williams, a young protégé of maverick promoter Bill Veeck and also of the Carpenter family that owned the Philadelphia Phillies.  Williams ran constant promotions and local fans responded.  In 1966, Spartanburg re-wrote the single season Class A attendance record.  Williams – a young man in his mid-20’s during his time in Spartanburg – would go on to become one of the mostly highly respected chief executives in the NBA, as General Manager of the Philadelphia 76ers and the Orlando Magic in the 80’s, 90’s and 2000’s.

Spartanburg PhilliesThe Phils enjoyed another run of league dominance in the early 1970’s, winning Western Carolinas League crowns in 1972, 1973 and 1975.  But by the 1970’s, both Williams and the crowds were long gone.  Attendance at Duncan Park during the 1970’s was frequently under 500 fans per night, reflecting the broader existential crisis in minor league baseball around the country during that era.

As the 1980’s dawned, the Western Carolinas League re-branded itself as the South Atlantic League.  Spartanburg continued its long-time relationship with the Philadelphia Phillies, but starting in 1981 the team adopted a series of new names.  The ball club was known first as the Spartanburg Traders (1981-1982), then the Spartanburg Spinners (1983) and finally the Spartanburg Suns (1984-1985).  Meanwhile, in 1984, the Most Valuable Players of both the American League (Willie Hernandez) and the National League (Ryne Sandberg) were former members of the Spartanburg Phillies.

In 1986 the team took back the traditional Spartanburg Phillies name.  Two seasons later, the Spartanburg Phillies won the 1988 South Atlantic League crown, which would prove to be the city’s final minor league championship.

By the early 1990’s, Duncan Park was badly outdated and no longer met the minimum Class A standards set by the National Association of Professional Baseball Clubs. Spartanburg’s attendance consistenly ranked last in the South Atlantic League by this point.   While numerous small mid-Atlantic cities were willing to help finance new ballparks to lure minor league baseball, Spartanburg didn’t show the political will to upgrade Duncan Park.  Late era owner Brad Shover entertained numerous offers for the team in the 1990’s before finally closing a deal with NASCAR team owner Larry Hedrick in late 1993.  Hedrick operated the Phillies for one lame duck season in Spartanburg in 1994 before moving the team to a new ballpark in Kannapolis, North Carolina in 199

At the time of the move in 1995, the Philadelphia Phillies and the city of Spartanburg had the 5th longest relationship between a Major League ballclub and a minor league community.  The former Spartanburg franchise plays on today as the Kannapolis Intimidators.

 

==Links==

Western Carolina League Programs

South Atlantic League Media Guides

South Atlantic League Programs

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1973-1974 Gastonia Rangers

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Gastonia RangersWestern Carolinas League (1973-1974)

Born: Affiliation change from Gastonia Pirates.
Died:
1975 – The Rangers relocate to Anderson, SC.

Stadium: Sims Legion Park

Team Colors:

Owners:

 

The Gastonia (NC) Rangers were a Class A farm club of the Texas Rangers during the summers of 1973 and 1974. The team replaced the Gastonia Pirates entry (1963-1972) in the Western Carolinas League.

Gastonia won the 1974 Western Carolinas League championship by virtue of finishing in first place in both halves of the season, thus eliminating the need for postseason playoffs under the rules of the league.  Key future Major Leaguers to play in Gastonia during the Rangers early 70’s tenure included Mike Hargrove (1973) and Len Barker (1974).

Following the 1974 season, owner Fred Nichols moved the team to Anderson, South Carolina where it became the Anderson Rangers.  One factor in the move was the dim lighting at Gastonia’s Sims Legion Park, which failed to meet the minimum “foot candles” requirements (i.e. brightness) for Class A ballparks.

Following the Rangers’ departure in 1974, there was no pro baseball in Gastonia until the arrival of the Gastonia Cardinals in 1977.  In 1980, the Western Carolinas League changed its name to the South Atlantic League.  Gastonia hosted a series of South Atlantic League clubs throughout the 80’s and early 1990’s, including a later version of the Gastonia Rangers from 1987 until 1992.

 

==Links==

Western Carolina League Programs

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Written by andycrossley

December 14th, 2014 at 1:34 pm

1970 Sumter Indians

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Western Carolinas League (1970)

Born: December 1, 1969 – The Monroe (NC) Indians relocate to Sumter, SC.
Died: 1971 – Affiliate change to Sumter Astros.

Stadium: Riley Park

Team Colors:

Owner: Joe Buzas

 

The Sumter Indians were a South Carolina minor league baseball team that played for only one season in the summer of 1970.  Sumter was a new addition to the six-team Western Carolinas League, replacing a faltering Indians farm club that split the 1969 season between the small North Carolina cities of Statesville and Monroe.  The Indians were the first pro baseball team to call Sumter home since the Sumter Chicks of 1949-1950.

Notable players included 18-year old third baseman Buddy Bell and 21-year old pitcher Jim Kern.  Both became Major League All-Stars for the Cleveland Indians and later for the Texas Rangers.

Attendance was miserable with fewer than 300 spectators per game for the first two months of the 1970 season according to The Sumter Daily Item.  Following the 1970 season the Indians withdrew from Sumter and were replaced by the Houston Astros for the 1971 season.  The Astros also lasted just one season and Sumter went without pro baseball again from 1972 until 1985.

 

==Links==

Western Carolinas League Programs

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Written by andycrossley

April 7th, 2014 at 3:03 am

1968-1979 Greenwood Braves

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Western Carolinas League (1968-1979)

Born: 1968
Died: October 1979 – The Braves relocate to Anderson, South Carolina.

Stadium: Legion Stadium

Team Colors:

Owner:

 

The Greenwood (SC) Braves were a Class A farm club of the Atlanta Braves from 1968 to 1979 in the Western Carolinas League.  The Braves won the league championship six times in twelve season (1968, 1969, 1971, 1976, 1978 & 1979), although part of this success is due to the fact that the struggling Western Carolinas League occasionally played with as few as four active teams during the 1970’s.

A number of prominent future Major Leaguers came up through Anderson during the Braves era, starting with Dusty Baker, who arrived as a lightly regarded 19-year old and 26th round draft choice during the Braves’ first season in 1968.  Other notables included future National League MVP Dale Murphy (1975), future N.L. All-Stars Bruce Benedict and Glenn Hubbard (both 1976), pitcher Rick Mahler (1976), future Cy Young Award winner Steve Bedrosian (1978) and Brett Butler (1979).

One of the most intriguing Greenwood Braves stars was converted pitcher Big Earl Williams who tore up the Western Carolinas League as a 20-year old in 1969.  Williams hit .340 with 33 homers and 107 RBIs.  Two years later Williams was National League Rookie-of-the-Year with Atlanta, despite an odd attempt by the Braves to convert him to a catcher, a position that the former pitcher had barely ever played before.  In his first two seasons in the Majors, Williams bashed 61 home runs – only Johnny Bench was a more feared offensive threat among National League catchers.  But a 1973 trade to Baltimore marked the start of a downward spiral for Williams, who clashed publicly with Orioles manager Earl Weaver and quickly fell into disfavor with teammates and fans.  Although he never hit fewer than 10 home runs in seven Major League seasons, his bad reputation ran him out of the Majors by age 29.  On June 12, 1978, Williams took the highly unusual step of placing a classified ad in The New York Times seeking Major League employment, but there we no takers and him finished his career in anonymity in Mexico in 1979.

In March 1971, the Atlanta Braves came into Greenwood at the end of spring training for an exhibition game that attracted 4,527 fans to Legion Stadium.  But by the late 1970’s crowds dwindled to only 300 or so fans per game.  In October 1979, the Braves pulled out of Greenwood and moved the club to Anderson, South Carolina for the 1980 season.

 

==Links==

Western Carolina League Programs

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Written by andycrossley

November 28th, 2013 at 1:34 am

1973 Orangeburg Cardinals

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Western Carolinas League (1973)

Born: 1973
Died:1974 – Affiliation change to Orangeburg Dodgers.

Stadium: Mirmow Field

Team Colors:

Owner: Verner Ross

 

A cool-looking program from the obscure Orangeburg Cardinals of the old Western Carolinas League.  The Cardinals reside in our One-Year Wonders file, as the team lasted just a single summer in 1973.  The team’s name and the St. Louis Cardinals logo on the program cover would seem to identify the club as a low-level (single-A) farm club of St. Louis.  However, the typically reliable guys at baseball-reference.com identify the team as a co-op club. Rare today, co-op farm teams popped up occasionally back in the 1970’s and 1980’s.  Rather than have a single Major League parent club, multiple Major League clubs contributed players to the roster.  It was an arrangement of last resort and these loaner players were often held in low regard.  Co-op teams frequently finished near the bottom of the standings.  The 1973 Orangeburg Cardinals last place 50-72 record might lend some circumstantial support to baseball-reference.com’s identification of the team as a co-op operation.

Following the 1973 season, the Los Angeles Dodgers took over the Western Carolinas League farm club in Orangeburg.  The Orangeburg Dodgers also lasted just one season at Orangeburg’s Mirmow Field before pulling out at the end of 1974.  Pro baseball has never returned to the city.

The most notable figure involved with the team was field manager Jimmy Piersall.  Piersall was a talented outfielder in the Major Leagues from 1950-1967.  Although a two-time All-Star with the Boston Red Sox, his on-field abilities were overshadowed by his erratic behavior and public battle with mental illness.  Piersall was institutionalized in his early twenties during his time with the Boston Red Sox.  At the time, his troubles were attributed variously to a domineering father who pushed him to excel at baseball and to nervous exhaustion.  Today it is commonly understood that Piersall suffers from bi-polar disorder.  His story was turned into the autobiography Fear Strikes Out, later a movie with Anthony Perkins portraying Piersall.

Brian Merzbach over at BallparkReviews.com has some nice photos of Orangeburg’s Mirmow Field.  Brian points out that the field is rather nice (by 1970’s standards) and it’s somewhat surprising that pro ball had such a short stay there before rising stadium standards rendered the facility obsolete in the late 1980’s.

Back in the days of the Western Carolinas League (1960-1979), programs such as this represented a substantial portion of a team’s annual advertising revenue.  Today, the printed game program itself has become nearly obsolete.  But back in 1973, it was a simpler time and advertisers, such as this comically plainspoken Orangeburg chiropractor, just wanted get a simple message across…

 

==Links==

Western Carolinas League Programs

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Written by andycrossley

September 29th, 2012 at 3:13 pm