Field Of Memories: A History Of White Field And The Slater Sluggers Textile Baseball Team - Part 2
The 1948 Slater Slugger Baseball Team. Pictured left to right bottom row: Perry Rampey (pitcher and manager); Hoss James,
Aubrey Ledford, Marion Dudley, R. Cashion. Middle Row: left to right, J.B. Wilson, Bill Cashion, Bud McMakin, (first name unknown) Belcher, George Frady. Top Row: left to right, Bliss McCall, (first name unknown) Lybrand, Paul Turner, “Spec” Padgett, and Harold Taylor.
At the end of part one of our story we told you a little about Bliss McCall. McCall was officially referred to as Joseph McCall in the pages of his minor league record book but to everyone in South Carolina's baseball world he was known as Bliss McCall. Both of those names were correct. His full name was Joseph Bliss McCall and he was one of the most feared pitchers in textile baseball.
McCall came to Slater in 1940. By that time he had already pitched Joanna Mill, Ninety Six, Whitmire, Woodside, Woodruff, Easley, Ariel, and Pelzer. When he arrived at Slater he was already a living legend. He was tough. He never gave up many hits and usually accomplished what he set out to do – win baseball games.
On April 13, 1940 Slater was involved in another humdinger of a game against their old rivals, Union Bleachery. The game was played in Slater. When the dust had settled Slater won 11-10. The two teams hit a combined total of 29 hits and scored a combined total of 21 runs. Perry Rampey started the game on the mound for Slater and was relieved by Bliss McCall. McCall got the win.
Another big 1940 Slater win came on May 4th when Slater hosted Southern Worsted. McCall pitched for the win and Aubrey Ledford was the man with the big stick. On that day Ledford smacked out a total of three doubles. Harold Taylor contributed a solo homerun. Slater went on to finish third in the Piedmont Textile League in 1940 with a 10-5 season record.
In 1941 Easley, Slater and Brandon waged warfare for the league pennant. Slater and Easley finished in a tie for the first half season pennant but Easley managed to win the special playoff game. The Slater boys said, “that's ok, we'll get 'em in the second half of the season.” During the second half of the season Slater made a run for first place and overtook Brandon to win the second half pennant. This meant Slater and Easley would have to play a championship series for the 1941 crown. There was a fierce rivalry between Slater and Easley. Both teams were nicknamed “Sluggers”. Easley knew Bliss McCall very well because he had played for them in the past. It would come down to a battle between experience and youth.
The playoff series would go four games. In the fourth and deciding game on September 13th, Slater's McCall went up against Easley's 19 year old pitcher, Harold Dunn. Dunn had already signed a professional contract with the Brooklyn Dodgers. McCall pitched Slater to the 4-3 victory and the championship. He hurled a four hitter that night and struck out 13 Easley batters. Dunn put up a good showing but lost it when Slater scored two runs in the eighth inning. Slater racked up 10 hits on Dunn's pitching and he managed to strike out only three men. Slater proved to be the real Sluggers and captured the 1941 championship and a record crowd at White Field watched.
At the end of the 1941 season Slater put away their bats. Those bats would not be touched again until 1946. Most mills suspended baseball in 1942, 1943, 1944 and 1945 due to World War II. But in 1946 baseball was alive and well in the mill villages of South Carolina. 1946 was not so great for Slater as the Sluggers finished fifth in the Piedmont Textile League. 1947 was a better year as the Sluggers finished second in the league. In 1948, Slater moved to the Greenville Textile League and clinched first place and the championship with a 27-11 season. The 27 victories marked the highest single season win total for any Slater team from 1929 to 1948.
Bliss McCall, after his baseball career, once said he never had pitched a no hitter. But he came very close on May 24th 1947. On that day McCall threw magic at the Renfrew Rifles. He struck out 13 men that day and had a no hitter going until the final 9th inning. The Renfrew third baseman nipped a single in the 9th and that ended McCall's no hit bid. McCall won the game on the mound and added to his own cause by hitting triple and two singles in the 6-0 shutout win. The game was played in only one hour and thirty-five minutes.
In 1948 Slater played two games a week during the regular season. Slater Mill had replaced White Field's arc lighting system with a brighter flood light system and dressing rooms and showers were added. Perry Rampey was named manager of the baseball team. Rampey was known as a good judge of baseball talent and was a smart tactitian with the savvy to get things done.
“Rampey taught me almost everything I knew about baseball,” local businessman Lawrence Ledford recently recalled. “He had a crooked finger which had been broken years earlier and it healed crooked. He could make that baseball dance when he pitched.”
Rampey stayed in Slater after his baseball years and resided at 112 Webster Street in the Slater village until his death at the age of 82 on September 18, 1993.
Bliss McCall pitched his best game of the 1948 season on August 30th when Poinsett Mill came to Slater. The game would decide the 1948 championship and Slater's fans came off of the hill and packed the grandstands to witness the battle. McCall worked his blazing fastball and curve to perfection that night. He struck out 15 Poinsett batters and gave up only 3 hits. Slater won the battle and the pennant 5-0. Aubrey Ledford led Slater with two hits while J.B. Wilson also had a triple and a double. Singles were hit by Wilson, Harold Taylor and George Frady.
The first inning was like a shelling as Wilson, Taylor and Frady hit singles for a 1-0 Slater lead. It stayed that way until the fourth frame when Hoss James opened the inning with a walk. Lybrand hit a sacrifice fly sending James to second. McCall then singled to score James and scored off of Wilson's towering triple for a 3-0 lead.
Slater's catcher that day was George Frady. Frady had starred in the high school all star baseball game earlier that year in Charlotte and was attending Erskine College by the fall of 1948.
The 1948 team included: Aubrey Ledford (leftfield), Marion Dudley (2nd base), “Spec” Padget (leftfield and pitcher), Harold “Fat” Taylor (1st base), Bill Cashion (Catcher), McMakin (Rightfield), J.B. Wilson, Hoss James (2nd base), Belcher (shortstop), Bliss McCall (pitcher), Perry Rampey (pitcher) and Paul Turner (3rd base).
Slater's 1948 championship would be the Slugger's fifth league championship since the formation of the team in 1929.
1948 also marked the year that Harold Taylor hit for the cycle in a game played on May 22nd against Simpsonville's “Little Yankees”. On that day Bliss McCall pitched the 7-0 shutout, 1 hit win and struck out 13 batters. Taylor hit a single, a double and a triple in four trips to the plate. Harold Taylor, many years after his baseball career, went on to form the Taylor Family gospel singing group and was music director at several churches such as Forestville, Tabernacle Baptist and Choice Hills. He also formed and owned Taylor Made Signs Company in Greenville and resided on Old White Horse Road until his death.
1948 also marked the arrival of “Spec” Padget to the Slater Sluggers. Padget was a star at Erskine College before coming to Slater.
Other 1948 notes: Hoss James remained a Slater Mill employee until his retirement. After his retirement he served the Travelers Rest area as a state constable. Perry Rampey and Bliss McCall were eventually inducted into the Greenville Textile Baseball Hall Of Fame.
In 1949 Snow Kirby was named athletic director at Slater. He was also chosen team manager for the Sluggers and Kirby named veteran pitcher Bliss McCall as his assistant manager. The team waged a tight battle with Poinsett Mill and Judson's Redcoats all season. By August 4th Judson had moved to first place while Slater held second, ½ game behind. On August 6th the Slater Community Association gave the Sluggers a BBQ which was held to show community support as the season winded down and the top four teams in the league were about to start the post season playoffs. On August 30th the Sluggers battled Judson to a 2-2 deadlock in the third game of the playoff series. Bub McMakin broke the tie with an inside the park homerun lifting Slater to the 3-2 victory in the tenth inning. The win gave Slater a 2 games to 1 lead over Judson in the playoff.
After disposing of Judson, the Sluggers battled Victor Mill of Greer for the playoff series championship. But it was George Blackwell, textile baseball's version of Babe Ruth, played the hero role for Victor. Blackwell was known as a power hitter and played baseball for many teams in the upstate through his long career. But, when Victor arrived at White Field, George Blackwell was listed as Victor's starting pitcher. Slater answered with their own living legend, Bliss McCall. It would be Blackwell's night to shine as he baffled Slater batters. Blackwell struck out 11 Slater men as Victor took the win, 7-3 and the playoff championship trophy back to Greer. Blackwell returned to Southern Bleachery where he actually lived even though he worked for Victor.
Slater's Ed “Snow” Kirby (left) and Bliss McCall (right) in a 1950 photo prior to the start of the 1950 season.
In March of 1950 Slater's Sluggers were ready to go back at 'em – with a few changes, after the 1949 second place finish in the Greenville Textile League with a 21-17 record. Snow Kirby, still the athletic director announced Bliss McCall would be the player-manager of the Sluggers for the '50 season. Kirby was born in Simpsonville and played professional minor league baseball with the Chattanooga Lookouts, the Atlanta Crackers and the Oakland Oaks of the legendary Pacific Coast League. He was with Oakland when World War II broke out and his baseball career was put on hold which he entered the military. When his tour of military duty was completed, rather than return to Oakland, Kirby decided to return home to South Carolina where he would have job security and a home by playing textile baseball. He went to Southern Bleachery and became a local star there at second base and shortstop. From there he came to Slater and stayed here for the remainder of his life. While at Slater he became a well respected player-manager and also became one of the better pitchers in the upstate.
McCall, by 1951, was in his 13th season of baseball, including seasons with Binghampton NY and Norfolk, Virginia after signing with the New York Yankees' organization. He also decided to return to South Carolina to play textile baseball even though he helped Norfolk win the Piedmont League pennant in minor league baseball.
McCall, one of the most feared pitchers in textile baseball and often referred to as the king of semi-pro baseball, had been somewhat handicapped by an illness in the early part of the 1949 season. He said his 1950 pitching staff would include himself along with former Easley teammate Perry Rampey, Mac Fraser and youngster Buck Buchanan. McCall said Buchanan had plenty of speed.
The 1950 team included Bud Stephens, a former Monaghan Mill product for many years, would be playing third base. Kirby would return at shortstop but would not be pitching. Hoss James, a long time veteran and former Newberry College star, would be at 2nd base while Harold Taylor would return to 1st base. Bill Cashion and Max Waldrop were listed as catchers. J.B. Wilson, Harry Landreth, Bud McMakin and Marion Dudley would fill the outfield.
By July, 1950 Slater was in the thick of the pennant race in second place 2 ½ games behind league leading Liberty's Lions. In late July, Slater kept pace with the league leaders by blasting Judson's Redcoats 13-7. Slater smacked the Redcoats with 15 hits that night. Mac Fraser started the game for Slater and was relieved by Perry Rampey. Hoss James and Rampey hit doubles in the game for Slater while Harold Taylor shook things up with a huge triple.
Slater finished second in the league in 1950.
Some folks might have had short term memories in 1950 as another Emerson Cashion Night was held in Slater, only two years after the first Emerson Cashion Night was held in 1948. All three of Emerson Cashion's sons played for Slater, Bill, Bobby and Joe in 1950.
In 1951 Bliss McCall was back in top form and started the season with an 8-0 record. Slater finished second in the Greenville Textile League again in 1951. Poe Mill won the 1951 league title for the regular season as well as the post season playoff series. Snow Kirby replaced McCall as manager this season and Hoss James was chosen assistant manager.
In 1951 the field at Slater was improved. The grass infield was redone. A batting cage was installed and improvements were made to the concession stand.
Slater fielded a “B” team in 1951 in the Dixie Textile League. On May 22nd, Johnny Badger pitched a no hitter in a 12-0 Slater Dixie League game. Badger was a former Taylors High School baseball star.
1951 season note – Scoop Latimer wrote, “Textile baseball in the Greenville County area is faster than ever this year. (In those days “faster” meant top notched). Nearly every team has players who went high in the professional game but quit to make careers in the textile industry and play baseball on the side. Also, these clubs have a sprinkling of youths eyed by professional scouts and regarded as good prospects. Textile baseball is actually professional as far as pay and class are concerned. And its pro baseball of the class B and class A variety. The athletes, unless they are 'outsiders' are on mill payrolls for the jobs they do and it is attractive pay and good hours too. And their income is further enhanced by revenue they get from baseball games.”
The Hazle brothers, Paul and Bobby, joined Slater in 1952. Paul came on board as a catcher while Bobby, a left fielder Cincinnati Reds Bonus Baby who was leading the Texas League in hitting in 1951 before entering military service, joined Slater later in the 1952 season. Snow Kirby, after three straight second place finishes in the league, assembled what would become probably the best Slater team possible for 1952 which also included a Cincinnati $40,000 bonus pitcher, Gerald Blackburn, who was with the Columbia Reds before joining the military. Bobby Hazle and Blackburn were stationed at Fort Jackson in 1952. Kirby was determined to win the 1952 pennant and bring the championship trophy back to Slater.
Kirby, almost forever a shortstop, blossomed into the best pitcher in the Greenville Textile League in 1952. Kirby was undefeated in his first 15 pitching appearances in 1952. He almost made it to 16-0 until the ninth inning of an August 13th game at Poe Mill. On that day Kirby had a 2-0 shutout win in his pocket with 2 outs recorded. Poe spoiled the day by way of a 9th inning 2 out rally and stole the victory 3-2 giving Kirby a 15-1 record.
Also on that day Bobby Hazle played his first game in a Slater uniform. He went 1 for 3 at the plate and that one hit was a homerun! So, to all of you youngsters who never heard of Bobby Hazle, he became the first and only former Slater Slugger to go on to Major League Baseball. Five years after his four game season with Slater, Hazle was the hero of the Milwaukee Braves' National League pennant run in 1957. He is also the only Slater Slugger to play in the World Series, the 1957 World Series where the Braves defeated the seemingly unbeatable New York Yankees.
All three of the Hazle brothers from Woodruff, SC played textile baseball in 1952. Catcher, Paul Hazle came to Slater in 1951 and stayed here for several seasons. Bobby, who was a Bonus selection for the Cincinnati Reds, was in the military in 1952 and came to Slater to help his brother's team win the Greenville Textile pennant. Joe Hazle, that same season, was a star pitcher for Victor Mill over in Greer and had played with the Washington Senators earlier that spring.
Slater and Simpsonville's Little Yankees battled through the year and finished in a dead tie for first place when the 1952 season closed. A special best of three game series was scheduled between Slater and Simpsonville to determine the 1952 championship. Simpsonville won the first game 3-2. Slater won the second game 3-2 on August 23rd. The two teams staged a knock down drag out battle for the title in game three which was played on a neutral field at Dunean Mill on August 25th. Slater won the game 9-8 in 11 innings!!!!! Simpsonville manager was so upset over the outcome that he filed a protest claiming Slater had used an ineligible player.
The game was tied twice. Slater scored 3 runs in the second inning when Bobby Hazel walked, Bill Barnett singled, Knobby Knoebel hit a sacrifice fly to deep centerfield, Paul Hazel singled and Bobby Cashion singled. The game was tied again at 3-3 in the seventh. Slater scored 4 runs in the eleventh for a 7-3 lead but Simpsonville came right back to tied it again at 7-7 in the bottom of the eleventh. Slater scored two more runs in the 12th and Bliss McCall held Simpsonville scoreless in the bottom of the inning for the victory. McCall was the winning pitcher.
The protest was based on Simpsonville's idea that Slater Shortstop Howard Bagwell went on two payrolls on the day of the final game. Rule 16 of the league rules stated a player is eligible for a game at the time it is scheduled and is also eligible at the time of the game. In other words, the league ruled in Slater's favor and the protest was overturned. Bagwell had just been hired as athletic director of Slater-Marieta High School.
To boost Slater's chances of winning the 1952 championship, Kirby acquired the services of Gerald Blackburn. Blackburn was a $40,000 bonus signee with the Cincinnati Reds and had been with the Columbia Reds when military service interrupted his baseball plans, for a while. Duing his stay at Fort Jackson, Blackburn came to Slater with Bobby Hazle. Blackburn was THE top pitching prospect a few years earlier when he recorded several 20+ strike out games through high school as well as several no hitters. Blackburn arrived in Slater in the final week of the regular 1952 season and pitched the Sluggers to two key victories in the pennant race's final stretch. One of those was a 10-2 romp over Southern Bleachery on August 14th. Blackburn struck out 15 Southern Bleachery bewildered batters, walked only three and gave up only two hits!
Thomas Perry in his book on South Carolina Textile Baseball incorrectly claimed Slater finished third in the Greenville Textile League in 1952. I think we have proven him wrong! It is our opinion that the 1952 Slater Slugger team was the greatest ever assembled in Slater.
HIGH SCHOOL NOTE - THE YEAR OF THE FIGHT - 1952 was also a big year for baseball at Slater-Marietta High School as the season added fuel to the already hot rivalry with the Travelers Rest High School Devildogs. Travelers Rest and Slater-Marietta were in the District 10 athletic conference that season and TR had finished in first place, ½ game ahead of Slater-Marietta. The conference was divided in to two divisions, a north division and a south division. TR won the north division and was scheduled to enter a playoff series against south division winner Fountain Inn. On the morning of the first game of that series, Slater-Marietta filed a protest against Travelers Rest claiming TR had used an ineligible player. The league quickly met and disqualified Travelers Rest from post season play and Slater-Marietta replaced TR in the playoff series against Fountain Inn. But it didn't end there. After the game started between Slater-Marietta and Fountain Inn, the Travelers Rest boys showed up at the game and a knock down, drag out, fence buster of a fight developed between the Travelers Rest boys and the Slater-Marietta team on the baseball field.
Some folks say revenge is sweet. Others say Slater-Marietta got beaten twice that day, once by the Travelers Rest boys and the other by the Fountain Inn team. On the next day warrants were filed for the arrest of ten TR boys who had participated in the fight. They were charged with Assault and Battery and the Magistrate in Marietta said all of the complaints were from Slater-Marietta boys that had Cleveland addresses. When the cases went to trial, all of the TR boys pled guilty and they were charged $50 each (pretty big money in 1952). Slater-Marietta went on to lose the playoff series and baseball was suspended for the 1953 season at the school.
Back to the Slater Sluggers and Textile Baseball - Pictured below, the 1952 Slater Sluggers, champions of the Greenville Textile League. Not pictured, Bobby Hazel and Gerald Blackburn.
The 1953 season saw Slater in another battle against Simpsonville. Simpsonville and Slater finished first and second in the Greenville Textile League. The two teams squared off again in a best of three post season playoff. Again, Slater won the first game 3-2 and Simpsonville won the second, 3-2. The third game ended in a 5-5 deadlock in Simpsonville and was called due to darkness after 10 innings. This required a fourth game to be played and Simpsonville won it 4-2. A fifth game was played one week later and Simpsonville took the win 9-1.
An important event took place during the 1953 season. Slater's home field was officially dedicated to Mr. Jesse A. White on May 28, 1953. Sportswriter Frank Ballenger wrote, "The gala celebration dedicating Slater's modern baseball park as J.A. White Field and the warm memories floating in the crisp, clear skies this May night before an overflow crowd will go down in history as one of the many blue ribbon events of this thriving industrial community. Slater dedicated its spacious baseball diamond in honor of Jesse A. White, the big figure responsible for keeping baseball alive in Slater during the late 1930s when things were at a low point.
White was superintendent of the Slater plant from 1932 to 1948 and at the time of the dedication was vice president of J.P. Stevens & Co. Inc.
Several members of the Slater Boy Scout troop unveiled the "White Field" scoreboard. During the ensuing game the Slater Sluggers made good use of the scoreboard that night as star Slater pitcher, Roy Whitaker struck out 15 Utica Mill Mohawks in an 11-2 victory.
Slater's big lefty pitcher, Roy Whitaker sported a 13-2 record in 1953 and walked away with most of the Greenville Textile League awards that season. He was the league's top pitcher, stuck out the most men, struck out the most men in a single game, pitched the longest game and pitched the best game - a one hitter. Whitaker's best pitched game was a one hitter against Simpsonville on April 24, 1953 as Ed Davis' fluke single with one out in the 9th ruined Whitaker's no hit bid. The longest game was on August 1, 1953 when Slater and Simpsonville went 17 innings with 153 official batsmen and only 15 outfield flies were recorded. Whitaker struck out 165 batters in 16 games, averaging better than ten a game. Whitaker also recorded the most strikeouts in a single game on July 11, 1953 when he fanned 21 against Pelzer.
Slater's Darrell Medlock had a great season with Slater in 1953. He was Slater's big man with the big bat that year as he won the league batting title with an average of .387 for the season. But when 1954 rolled around Whitaker left Slater and went back to the SALLY League were he pitched for the Asheville Tourists. Medlock went back to Liberty. Things changed in a hurry at Slater in 1954.
Almost overnight Slater Mill officials pulled the rug out from under the feet of the Slater Sluggers and their fans by announcing in March of 1954 that Slater would not be fielding a baseball team any more. Imagine the shock this put on the team and the community. Here was Slater, always contending for championships with a first class baseball field that had, only months earlier, been dedicated to the vice president of J.P. Stevens. Rival teams around the upstate started licking their chops as they immediately started recruiting Slater players away from Slater Mill. Slater officials said the mill would not sponsor a baseball team of any kind.
Two days later on March 18th, 1954 the Slater players and fans formed a team of their own and the team would be totally made up of Slater employees and youngsters from Slater-Marietta High School. A booster club was formed and would control the team. Slater mill agreed to allow the use of White Field but the team would have to pay its own expenses as well as electricity of the field lights after the first game of the season. The booster club sold season tickets and businesses also agreed to support the team from Marietta and Travelers Rest. It all seemed to be a grand thing and everyone was eager for the new season to get underway. Former professional player, Walt McJunkin was chosen to manage the Sluggers in 1953.
It would only last until July.
On July 14, 1954 Snow Kirby, Slater's Athletic Director, announced the Slater Slugger baseball team had folded and suspended play for the remainder of the 1954 season. Kirby stated the lack of experienced players, the loss of players, led to several one run losses and fans had stopped coming to the games. So, revenues were so low that the team could not afford to pay umpires and keep the lights on any more. It was just too expensive for the remaining players to keep paying out of their own pockets. The mill had quit the team and the fan support vanished. Walt McJunkin was injured in a game and left the team. Long time catcher Paul Hazle left with McJunkin. Buddy Stevenson left the team and joined arch rival Simpsonville. But, Kirby was optimistic that baseball would be back in Slater for the 1955 season.
Did it work? Did Slater Slugger baseball return? Find out in Part 3 of our story - coming soon.