The Field Of Memories: A History Of White Field And The Slater Sluggers Textile Baseball Team
“Give a boy a bat and a ball and a place to play and you'll have a good citizen.”
Joe McCarthy, Hall of Fame Baseball Player
From 1929 to 1960 White Field was the home of the Slater Sluggers textile baseball team. During and after those historic seasons the field was home to the Slater-Marietta High School baseball and football teams until 1972. And for many years after the high school closed, White Field hosted youth league baseball. Today it is idle, with the exception of a few pickup games played by neighborhood children who probably don't realize they are using one of the last textile league baseball parks remaining in Greenville County, South Carolina.
Built in 1929 by Slater Mill for textile baseball on a piece of property known locally as “Pot Cleveland's Brick Yard,” the field became known as one of the finest textile baseball parks in the Carolinas, complete with arc lighting for night games a grass infield that was described as being like silk and a roofed grandstand. By the end of the season many teams in upstate South Carolina wanted to come and play here.
“Slater's new baseball park is proving to attractive to several other teams outside of the Piedmont Textile League,” the September 6, 1929 edition of The Greenville News proclaimed. “Simpsonville of the Dixie Textile League, wants to play there and a large crowd is expected. Bill Lynch of the Slater team says interest has been caused by the $10,000 park (huge money in 1929 dollars) at Slater. We will welcome the Simpsonville team and Slater should give those boys a good game.”
On May 18th of this year the baseball park's 90th birthday came and went. Nobody was there to celebrate and remember the site's rich baseball history. It is pretty bad to reach 90 and have nobody show up out of respect. Graffiti is smeared on a bathroom door and exterior concession walls sport peeling walls. Greenville County owns the field now and rumors in the community state the county is considering selling the property. Kids in organized baseball teams can't play here because the county has not maintained the historic site.
“The county isn't going to sell White Field,” Greenville County Councilman Joe Dill said last week. “And a crew is going to go up there and see what needs to be done.” Dill said he would let us know when he finds out what needs to be done to bring baseball back to White Field. We are still waiting for those details. White Field is one of only three historic textile baseball parks still standing in Greenville County. The others are Bray Park at Woodside, and a completely renovated park in Simpsonville.
But it wasn't always this way. Let's turn back the hands of time and learn local history.
White Field was the site of several expressions of the Slater spirit and genuine love. Long time area sports writer Carter “Scoop” Latimer said, “A little town with a big heart, that's Slater, the enterprising, picturesque hamlet that nestles in the rolling slopes of the Blue Ridge in upper Greenville County. Any worthy project or noble cause always receives the whole hearted support of the people.”
Some of those expressions of love and spirit were visible on such events as Emerson Cashion Night in 1948, Slater Hall Dedication Game in 1934, and were followed by Booster Club night, Bliss McCall night, and the 1948 championship game night. The grandstand held 1,000 people but there were countless times that the crowds exceeded the seating capacity.
The team and ball field were built a few months before the Great Depression which began in 1929. The baseball program here faced many challenges through the years. After surviving the Depression, the program was sometimes challenged by league changes, hard finances, fan shortages and in the final years – player shortages. But they always came through and the community always came through with loving support of the team. Allen Suttle, manager of the Slater Community Association said during the 1948 Emerson Cashion Night game, “I have never known a community that goes all out and wants to do more for people in need than the residents of Slater.” Read on and we'll get to more of those examples of Slater spirit.
On May 18, 1929 Slater's textile baseball team played its very first home game at Slater Field. Jim Bailey pitched Slater to a 6-0 shutout victory over visiting Poinsett Mill before a huge opening day crowd. Leading hitter for Slater that day was a 19 year old kid named Ty Cobb who brought the crowd to their feet with running catches afield numerous times and well placed hits.
Ty had already played for two other mills in Greenville and earlier in the year he made headlines acoss the nation's newspaper sports pages when he announced he was going to try out with the professional Greenville Spinners team. The famous Ty Cobb, in Detroit, had also made hints that he might drop out of major league baseball in 1929. So, you can imagine how sports editors jumped around when a 19 year old Ty Cobb of Slater, SC had announced his plans of playing for Greenville. The local Ty Cobb's father, J.H “Dee” Cobb, was a former baseball player and loved the game so much that he named his oldest son, Tyrus Raymond Cobb after his hero with the Detroit Tigers. Slater's Ty Cobb played on the Slater team for several years and lived the remainder of his life in the Slater mill village at 26 Whitney Street until his death in 1959 at the age of 48.
The game was Slater's first home game and 1929 was Slater's first season of play. The team finished second in the Piedmont Textile B League. Pitcher Jim Bailey was named by the league as Slater's Most Valuable Player and was awarded a silver baseball from the league. It would be an award that Bailey won several times through the 1930's and backed up that honor with many one and two hit pitched games. He was Slater's first superstar and prior to playing for Slater he had been a star baseball and football player in college.
In 1930 Slater moved from the Piedmont Textile B League to the Piedmont Textile A League which was even more competitive. Slater battled the best in the league that season and a pennant battle developed between Slater, Woodside, Union Bleachery and Monaghan. During the month of May Slater chalked up wins over Judson (16-0), and a key victory over Woodside (a 6-0 six hitter pitched by Jim Bailey). On that same day of the victory over Woodside, the Union Bleachery squad led by their undefeated and crafty lefthanded pitcher Ernest “Lefty” Marchbanks fell for the first time of the season to Mills Mill. The race for first place tightened that day. On August 31st Slater took control of second place with a 9-6 victory over Monaghan with pitcher Jim Bailey going the distance. So, Slater played two seasons and had recorded two second place finishes in the Piedmont Textile League.
1931 would be an even bigger year for Slater baseball. The mill formed a second team. The original team continued in the Piedmont Textile League while Slater's second team played in the Greenville County Textile League. The veteran team waged another pennant battle in the Piedmont League with Union Bleachery. On July 26, 1931 Slater and Union Bleachery waged an all out slugfest. Slater won the game 12-10 and secured the Piedmont Textile League championship. Again, Jim Bailey pitched the entire game and was the winning pitcher. Meanwhile in the Greenville Textile League the younger Slater team took its lumps and finished out of the championship picture in that league. The 1931 team would be the first of several Slater Slugger championship teams.
Members of the Slater Slugger 1931 Piedmont Textile League championship team were: Ansel McMakin (catcher), D.W. Wilson (center field), Billy Taylor (mascot), Jim (J.M) Bailey (pitcher), J.A Lybrand Jr (left field), Charles Henson (utility), E.B. Osteen (second base), C.C. Vaughn (right field), Broadus Abbott (first base), C.B Vaughn (short stop) and W.H. Taylor. Abbott, C.C. Vaughn, and Jim Bailey were selected to the Piedmont Textile League All Star Team. Note: A.B. (Ansel) McMakin played on the baseball team here for 10 or 11 years and lived the remainder of his life in the Slater mill village. He was a mechanic in the mill for many years and his son, Ed McMakin became a highly respected fire chief of the Slater-Marietta Fire Department.
1932 brought another impressive display of baseball talent in Slater. The Piedmont League was reorganized and consisted of Monaghan, Judson, Mills Mill, Dunean, Union Bleachery, American Spinning and Woodside. The league would play a 21 game season with games being played on Saturdays. Before the season started Woodside left the league to play elsewhere and was replaced with Renfrew. This created a natural geographical rivalry between Renfrew and Slater but the old rivalry continued with Union Bleachery. The second Slater team returned to the Greenville Textile League.
Renfrew won the Piedmont League championship in 1932 but that didn't take anything away from the Slater – Union Bleachery battle that developed on July 30th. The two teams slugged each other for a combined total of 30 hits in the game. Slater had 18 hits while Union Bleachery had 12. The battle went on for 15 innings! Finally in the bottom of the 15th, at Slater Field, A single sent J.A. Lybrand home to score the winning run and a 6-5 Slater victory. Slater finished sixth in the league with the second Slater team finishing fourth in the Greenville Textile League. From this season onward Slater fielded only one team each season.
It should be noted here that the Slater baseball field was known only as Slater Field from 1929 to 1953. In 1953 Slater Field became White Field and was dedicated to Jesse A. White, the superintendent of Slater mill from 1937-1948. Mr. White had made tremendous efforts to keep baseball alive in Slater during the late 1930's when times were troubled. More on that special dedication ceremony later.
In 1933 future Slater Slugger Emerson Cashion was playing with the minor league Greenville Spinners. Something rare happened there during the month of August. Shoeless Joe Jackson, the former textile leaguer and banished Chicago Black Sox player managed to sneak something over on Judge Kennisaw Mountain Landis. Joe was living in Savannah at the time and came home to Greenville for a month long visit. He signed on with the Spinners and played eight games. Cashion was the Spinner catcher during those games. Cashion eventually came to Slater's Sluggers and played for twelve years. After arthris ended his playing career, Cashion stayed involved with the Slater team and worked the ticket booth for many years. In 1948, the Slater Sluggers held “Emerson Cashion Night”. The community showed up at the game in record numbers and gave him many household items. A collection of cash was also taken and $500 was given to Cashion in honor of his many years of service to the ball team and Slater Mill.
In 1933 a guy named Bill Croxton, a star pitcher/outfielder for Clemson, came to Slater's team as a new pitcher. Slater played in the Piedmont Textile League again. Jim Bailey remained on the mound and pitching duties that season were split with Croxton. The league played a split season with the winners of the first half season facing the second half winners in a playoff for the league championship. Renfrew secured the second half pennant with a narrow 3-2 win over Slater on August 19th. It should be noted that homeruns were hard to get at Slater Field. Nobody had hit a homerun out of that ball park in the entire 1931, 1932 and 1933 seasons. Slater finished third in the league with a 9-7 record.
1934 saw Slater move from the Piedmont Textile League over to the Western Carolina League. The biggest crowd of the season showed up at the Slater ball park on April 28, 1934 for the dedication of the Slater community building. The dedication included a baseball game between Slater and Pelzer. Actually they say it was a record crowd that showed up that night. Slater's new pitcher Bill Brigham was in fine form as he pitched the Sluggers to a 7-1 romp over the Pelzer boys. Less than a month later Brigham pitched Slater to a big victory over Liberty, 10-2. Brigham was not only the winning pitcher but he also aided his own cause by hitting the first homerun out of the park in three seasons! Slater finished sixth in the Western Carolina League.
After a fourth place finish in 1935 in the Western Carolina, Slater improved in 1936 and secured the Western Carolina Textile League championship with a 19-3 record. That wouldn't be the last Slater championship as the Sluggers won it again in 1936 and 1937. The 1937 championship was in the Piedmont Textile League. In 1938 Slater finished second in the Piedmont League and 6th in 1939.
A big thing happened in 1935 that not many folks know about these days. In 1935 Slater-Marietta High School had a girls baseball team and they used Slater Field. Well, the 1935 Slater Marietta High School girls baseball team no only went undefeated but also captured the Greenville County High School League championship! Members of the team were: Dot Rogers (1st base), Lillian Mayfield (center field), Margaret Southerlin (2nd base), Ruth Callahan (short stop), Dean Mayfield (catcher), Gelynda Hill (shortstop), Helen Mayfield (3rd base), Clara Talley (right field), Ann Pierce (pitcher), Mildred Sanders (right field), Virginia Taylor (2nd base), Vivian Maynor (center field), and the team was coached by Mr. H.P. Mayfield.
The Dean of South Carolina sportswriters, Carter Scoop Latimer, wrote, “If major league baseball allowed women to play on their teams, pro scouts would have burned the roadways and railways getting to Slater-Marietta High School.” The girls teams used regulation bats, regulation balls, gloves and played the game under original baseball rules. They defeated Mauldin 18-17, Paris 15-4, Travelers Rest 8-4, Welcome 18-9, Berea 9-0, and Westville 28-20.
“Age is a question of mind over matter. If you don't mind, it doesn't matter.”
- Satchel Paige, baseball Hall Of Famer
Age never mattered for the likes of Slater's Bliss McCall, Perry Rampey and Snow Kirby. In 1939 and 1940 two well known, highly popular and talented pitchers named Bliss McCall and Perry Rampey joined the Slater Sluggers. Both were veteran pitchers with great records. Rampey was the older brother of former minor league pitcher Paul Rampey and the two had set the fields afire over in Easley during their high school careers years earlier. In fact in 1935 Perry had hurled a no hitter at the age of 21 for Ariel Mill in a game against rival Alice Manufacturing in the Pickens County Textile League. That feat also had major league scouts watching him for much wanted game victories. Paul Rampey followed Perry to Slater and stay for a season or two but Perry came here and stayed as pitcher and sometimes manager of the team. McCall, Paul Rampey and Perry Rampey are now members of the Greenville Textile Sports Hall Of Fame.
McCall had become a legend in textile baseball and had pitched countless one, two and three hit games with other textile teams. He was signed by the New York Yankees organization and helped Norfolk, Virginia win a league pennant. He had also pitched at Binghampton, NY but wanted to return home to South Carolina to play textile league baseball. And pitch is what he did! He was considered one of the best in the business and he played with Slater many years. He had a textile league career, which ended in 1959, for over 20 years. Scoop Latimer once said, “Bliss McCall soaks his pitching arm in the fountain of youth.” He was like the energizer bunny, he kept going and going.
Bliss gave his all to Slater from the pitcher's mound. He was Slater's go to man in times of “have to have wins.” Along with Ed “Snow” Kirby and “Hoss” James the three probably did more to keep textile baseball alive here as anyone.
And this, my dear readers, brings an end to part one of our installments on the history of Slater's White Field and the Slater Sluggers. There's more to come next week!
Photo Below: The 1935 Slater-Marieta High School girls baseball team.