Field Of Memories: A History Of White Field And The Slater Sluggers Textile Baseball Team - Part 3
At the conclusion of part 2 we ended with the 1954 season. In March of that year Slater Mill officials announced the mill would no longer field baseball teams. The shocking announcement came just a few months after White Field was officially dedicated. Within a time span of only a day or two Slater officials changed their minds and the operations of the baseball team were turned over to the Slater Sluggers Booster Club. The club had high hopes and promised to back the team and keep baseball in the community. That lasted only until the middle of the 1954 season when the team suspended operations due to lack of support from the community and the team could no longer afford to pay umpires and keep the lights on at White Field. Snow Kirby, athletic director and Slater team manager felt positive that the baseball team would return in 1955. He kept his word.
Baseball returned to Slater in 1955. Slater moved from the Greenville Textile League to the more powerful Western Carolina Textile League. Slater would struggle with inexperienced players but those guys never gave up. When the chips were down you could always count on Slater to keep trying. The season opened at White Field as Slater hosted Victor Mill. Both teams gave fans more than their money's worth of excitement and staged a 33 hit war (Victor had 19 hits and Slater had 14). But Victor sneaked away with the 11-9 victory. Also on that same day, over in Piedmont, Clem Stone of Piedmont suffered a broken leg while attempting to score from third base on a wild pitch. Berkley Mill's catcher threw the ball to third so hard that it hit Stone in the leg resulting in the fracture. Baseball in those days was rough, the game was rough, the players were tough and sometimes things got dangerous.
Slater was competitive in 1955 but they lost many one and two run games due to inexperienced players in some positions such as the May 20th game against the undefeated Dunean Dynamos. Dunean barely escaped Slater but won 5-4. It was another high hit game with both teams combining for 18 hits (Dunean 11 Slater 7). But the team got better as the season progressed and on June 29th the youthful Sluggers played the role of spoilers as they tripped second place Dunean 7-6. Slater scored three runs in the bottom of the 9th to take the shocking victory. That game came right after a June 13 showdown against the Piedmont Rangers. That one was a 19 hit game with Slater getting 12 hits and Piedmont 7. Paul Hazle returned to Slater and was back in the lineup at catcher. Piedmont barely got out of Slater alive with a 4-3 victory. But the even bigger news that night came from Monaghan as Dunean and Monaghan thundered out a total of 44 hits in a 20-17 Dunean win. Dunean's Don “Tex” Ritter had seven hits alone and was 7 for 7 at the plate. Hardy Holt had a grandslam homer. Ritter also scored 6 runs in that game. It could be safe to say 1955 was not the year of the pitchers in the Western Carolina Textile League.
1955 marked the first in many years of strickly amateur talent in the Western Carolina – not by choice but by league rules. League president “Temp” Temperton said, “We should keep our teams homegrown and continue to weed out ex-professionals. I was pleased with the way Snow Kirby of Slater took a bunch of youngsters and really brought them along fine toward the end of the season. Slater kept getting whipped by better teams but they never quit trying and they started winning some games late in the season. It takes that kind of spirit to keep the game of baseball alive.”
The youth movement at Slater in 1955 included Oierce Martin and Dennis Garrett along with Joe Smith. All three of the boys played on the Slater-Marietta High School baseball team as well as the Slater Sluggers mill team at the same time in the same season. League rules stated employee players would not be allowed to play with any team outside the league; teams were allowed to use up to two outsiders per team (or those not employed in the mill they represented). High school youngsters were allowed on the teams as long as they had parents that were associated with the mills they represented on the baseball field.
Berkley NC won the Western Carolina pennant in 1955 and Dunean finished three games behind in second. Slater finished a disappointing eighth place 16 games behind Berkley. Slater was relying on young talens of outfielders Jimmy Taylor, Dennis Garrett, Bubba Payne and Curtis Pierce. They played by the rules but managed only 7 wins. Youth from area colleges and high schools would be relied on heavily at Slater under the “homegrown” league rule which many people fell brought on the eventual death of textile baseball but it sure made things interesting.
1956 – Western Carolina Textile League games would be played on Tuesday and Friday nights in 1956. Fred Cox became president of the league which continued strict use of only bona fide employees players or high school or American Legion players whose parents get their support from the mill they represent. The president of the league said, “semi pro baseball is in crisis and it is up to the Western Carolina to keep it alive in the area.” He urged managers and teams to make the game more interesting from spectators' standpoint, speed up the action, give more pep and hustle in coming on and off the field. All parks were required to be kept clean and fans must be made to feel welcome and more youngsters must be encouraged in trying out for team positions.
THE 32-0 NO HITTER ---- Some of the biggest news of the 1956 season happened right here in our area on June 2, 1956. Left handed pitcher Harold Morris pitched American Spinning to a 32-0 no hit victory over Renfrew. Imagine that! A 32-0 no hitter! Morris was a former North Greenville Junior College star and struck out 23 men in that game. Morris even led American Spinning's hitting honors that day with a two run homer and 3 singles. Players at Slater must have been impressed by this game and they were probably thankful that American Spinning was not in the Western Carolina League.
Slater's 1956 team was made up of a mixture of veterans and youth. The veterans included Hoss James, Paul Hazle, Buddy Stephenson, Bubba Payne, Maxie Waldrop, Bliss McCall, Snow Kirby, Jack McGill, and Larry Moon while the youth movement was represented by Joe Smith, Curtis Drummond, David Payne, Dickie Stephenson, Ken Hester, Jack Nelson, Pete Gravely, Jimmy Craig and Jimmy Gay.
By late June of the '56 season, the old reliables of Slater were leading the team's batting stats. Hoss James had the highest batting average of .380 with 50 at bats 7 runs and 19 hits. Pitching warhorse Bliss McCall had the second highest batting average on the team with .350 while Maxie Waldrop was hitting .318, Paul Hazle .308 and Jack McGill .274. Late in the season Slater picked up some pitching support when the team obtained Jimmy Gay of Taylors. Gray was the younger half of the locally famous Gay brothers. Jimmy had done wonders over at Taylors High School. His brother was also a pitcher and had been a four year star at Furman University.
Slater finished in seventh place in the eight team WCL in '56. But they finished with a bang. League leader Dunean came to White Field on July 31st needing only a victory to clinch the pennant. They won the game but they had to fight for it as Slater stood strong. The game was a pitching duel between Dunean's Earl Gray and Slater's Jimmy Gay. The game was closer than the final 4-0 score indicated because 3 of Dunean's 4 runs were unearned. Gay gave up only three hits that night but Gray was too strong for the Sluggers. Paul Hazle hit a triple for Slater and Bubby Payne hit a single representing Slater's hit total.
As the 1957 season neared, Slater learned they would be gaining strength at shortstop and in the batter's box as Jake Lyerly, a star at Joanna Mill's J.P. Stevens plant was transferred to work at the Slater plant. Lyerly was born in Statesville NC in 1927 and lettered in football, basketball and baseball at Rockwell High School in Rockwell, N.C. He was a graduate of Catawba College where he lettered two seasons in football. He was voted MVP in the Carolina League with the Joanna Hornets in 1956. Prior to Joanna Lyerly played for Watts Mill in Laurens in 1948, 1949 and 1950. Then he went to Dunean in 1951 and 52 before joining Joanna. He added punch to Slater's offense and was one of the team's leading hitters for several seasons.
1957 also brought a departure of a few players from Slater. Pitcher Bruce Fowler jumped teams and went to Poe Mill. Buddy Stephenson and Dennis Garrett as well as Jack McGill also left the team. Pitching wizzard Bliss McCall announced 1957 would be his final year in baseball due to an early 1956 shoulder injury sustained by sliding. It would be another rebuilding year for manager Snow Kirby.
By June 1, 1957 Slater was sporting an unusual 0-9 record even though Jake Lyerly was hitting the ball well. Snow Kirby ventured to North Carolina and landed two players in Kanapolis, catcher George Suggs and pitcher Bobby Wagner after they had both returned home from trying out with major league teams. Slater also landed the services of Newberry College star pitcher John O'Cain. O'Cain finished the Slater season with a personal record of 7-4 and had 129 strike outs. He was the only winning pitcher on the Slater pitching staff.
O'Cain graduated Newberry College in the spring of 1957 where he had a 4-0 record that season and a college career record of 10-7. He came from Orangeburg, SC and in high school he earned a 28-4 record Overall he was a very superstitous ball player, he believed it to be bad luck to let the first batter he faced each inning on base, he never shaved before a game and never washed his uniform when he was in a winning streak. O'Cain was about to be drafted to the military after college and decided to join Slater until Uncle Sam called him to duty.
On July 19, 1957 O'Cain pitched a no hitter at White Field and led Slater to a 7-0 victory over Greer. He whiffed 11 Greer batters that night. The no hitter earned O'Cain an engraved medal from the Western Carolina League during the annual post season awards banquet.
Slater also had an impressive hitter in 1957. Third baseman John Dietz, a graduate of Greenville High School, was awarded the Western Carolina League's Rookie Of The Year Award after finishing the season with an amazing .379 batting average. It was the first time the league had given that award to anybody. Dietz received an engraved wristwatch at the post season banquet. John came from a baseball family. His brother was “Dickie” Dietz who played major league baseball with the San Francisco Giants, the LA Dodgers and the Atlanta Braves.
1958 – The Season Of “Kirby's Kids”
After finishing in the lower division of the Western Carolina League in 1957, Slater improved in 1958 with another edition of youth and experience. The first half of the season was a struggle but in the second half, Slater put on a show.
Late in the season Kirby obtained the services of Easley pitcher Doug Turner, a sharp lefty. He came to Slater during the last week of the regular season and went 3-0 in one week. Turner was a strike out artist, he recorded an amazing 35 strike outs in those three games and had 111 for the season at Ariel Mill and Slater. The Sluggers won 7 games in a row, three of those were turned in by Turner.
The Sluggers, in the last few weeks of the regular season, were known around the WCL as “Kirby's Kids.” They won 8 of the last 11 regular season games and took fourth place by three and a half games over their nearest rival, Greer-Victor. They might have made a run for the pennant if Doug Turner had joined the team earlier in the year.
When post season play started, Kirby made an unusual prediction when he told everybody around that he wanted the Piedmont Rangers. Piedmont won the WCL pennant and was expected to take the playoff title as well. But Kirby told Piedmont manager Earl Wooten during the post regular season awards supper, “We are going to take out the Rangers in the playoffs.”
Kirby made good on that prediction. In the best of three series Kirby started himself on the mound against Piedmont and pitched the Slater Sluggers to an 11 inning win in the first game. In the second game, David Sprouse pitched Slater to the win that knocked Piedmont out of the playoffs. The win pitted Slater against Dunean in the playoff finals. Dunean and Slater split the first two games of the three game series.
The Greenville News described the championship game this way:
“The Slater bench was not crowded. Snow Kirby was a solitary figure Thursday night. The Slater manager was all alone in the Sluggers' dugout. Slater has nine players – and player-manager Snow Kirby. Yet this week they are in the Western Carolina Textile League finals after last year's dismal finish. Without a doubt the numbers shy Slater team is the most improved team of the 1958 season – and Kirby has done a fine managerial job. 'Look at Snow,' said league president Temp Temperton while the game was in progress, 'He's the entire bench.'”
“Before “Uncle Bob Griffith” had taken all the tickets at the gate Dunean jumped to a four run lead in the top of the first. Catcher June Raines found a pitch to his liking and planted the ball over the left field fence to score two Dunean runners ahead of him. Raines wasn't fooled by a change-up pitch in the third and again homered the ball out of the park. Dunean led 5-2 but Kirby knew he had to stay with pitcher Jack Fowler.”
“Dunean manager Bob Stowe, on the other hand, went to his bench when Slater Sluggers like Charles “Rabbit Rister, Buddy Stephenson, Jake Lyerly and Gene Harbeson began living up to the team's name by slugging Slater to a 7-5 lead. Stowe brought out Jimmy Kirby to relieve Mel Rumsey on the mound and then put Jerry Penland at second and himself in rightfield.”
“The Slater bench stayed intact. Snow Kirby rode out the game and saw his Sluggers go down, 8-7.”
Slater was awarded the Come Back Team Of The Year Award for 1958.
HIGH SCHOOL 1958 NOTE -
On April 30, 1958 rivals Travelers Rest and Slater-Marietta met at White Field in high school baseball. Travelers Rest trounced Slater-Marietta 33-12 that day. Travelers Rest's 33 runs in a single game, at that time, became a state record. More fuel was added to keep the Travelers Rest – Slater Marietta rivalry alive.
1959 – Another good Slater year.
In 1959 the Western Carolina Textile League was down to five teams. Taylors' Mickey Strickland landed in Slater and was cutting his semi-pro baseball teeth along with returnees Charles “Rabbit” Rister and Jimmy Watson and they were making remarkable showings. Strickland, who formerly played some at Victor Mill was having his greatest season at the plate by mid August and hitting .416 seemed to be headed toward the WCL batting title. Rister, a second year man at Slater, was hitting .234 with 16 RBIs and third sacker Wilson was hitting .251. Slater rookie infielder Lee Burns was hitting .304 and playing first base. Pitching duties had been continued by Jack Fowler, David Sprouse, Doug Turner, Harold Wilson, Snow Kirby and Dale Perry.
Early in the season Slater fans were treated to one of those once in a lifetime baseball hits, an inside the park grandslam homerun! How rare is that? Well, I've covered baseball from 1978 to present and I've never seen one!
Slater hadn't won a game that season until May 15, 1959. Pitcher Doug Turner pitched Slater to their first WCL win that night, 8-0 over Earl Wooten and his Piedmont Rangers. It was played at Slater's White Field and Piedmont entered with a confident undefeated record. Slater's Mickey Strickland hit a grandslam inside the park homerun in the third inning off of Earl Wooten. Turner struck out 15 Rangers in the game and gave up only 4 hits but walked 6. He was in a jam in the 9th inning when Piedmont loaded the bases with one out. Turner worked his way out of trouble by striking out the next two batters. Strickland's inside the park grandslam was a line drive shot to right centerfield in the third inning and handed the Sluggers a 5-0 lead. And the Slater lineup that night included Jimmy Watson (3B), Jack Wilson (2B), Jake Lyerly (SS), Mickey Strickland (CF), Charles “Rabbit” Riser (Catcher), Billy Garrett (RF), Buddy Stephenson (1B) and Doug Turner (P).
Slater also came up with power hitting and pitching on June 24, 1959 with an 11-5 win over the Apalache Apaches in Greer. Reliever Dale Perry gave up 9 scattered hits after surviving a rough first inning and Slater swatted three homeruns for the 11-5 win. Perry took over on the mound with Apaches on every base in the first inning and one out showing on the scoreboard. He was charged with two of Apalache's runs and both hits in the inning but from then on he pitched scoreless baseball. Mickey Strickland, Lee Burns and Billy Garrett accounted for 6 of Slater's runs with homeruns. Strickland, who also drove in a run on a triple and rapped out a single in three trips to the plate, hit his homer with one on in the 8th inning. Garrett's homer was a solo shot while Burns' homer was a three run blast.
Slater scored a major mid-August win over Dunean (15-2) which Snow Kirby said felt almost as good as winning the pennant. Several umpires in the league also said the young Slater team was be best looking outfit in the league in the last few weeks of the '59 season. They were also saying Slater's David Sprouse was the best pitching prospect in the league.
Slater hadn't been able to beat Berkley NC in five tries but took a 7-0 lead on Friday, August 14, 1959 only to fall 13-12 as Berkley rallied for three runs in the 9th with two outs on the board. Slater's Doug Turner, who was returning from two weeks of military reserve encampment and a honeymoon trip, suffered the loss. Everyone hoped he would be in shape by the playoffs.
On the next night Dunean got even with Slater with a 20-3 whipping. Buddy Stephenson had an inside the park homerun in that one while Jake Lyerly went 2 for 5 including a double.
That loss was followed by a 9-4 Slater win over Piedmont. Turner was the winning pitcher even though Dunean had tagged him for 11 hits. Jimmy Watson, Jake Lyerly, Larry Abbott and Lee Burns led Slater's attack with 2 hits each. The win put Slater in fourth place in the WCL.
On the next night Slater rolled over Apalache 17-1. David Sprouse came close to getting a no hitter through 8 innings. Apalache spoiled it with two hits in the top of the 9th. Strickland had two doubles, Charles Reister had a double and a single while Sprouse hit a bases loaded double and a triple. The loss dumped Apalache to 0-23 on the season. On that same night Berkely downed Dunean 7-2 for the WCL pennant.
Slater in the final week of the season was a pretty hot team. Strickland ended the regular season with a .392 batting average and Slater had the highest team batting average in the league at .287. Jake Lyerly was the leading regular season hitter for Slater with an average of .404 with 23 games, 95 at bats, 24 runs, 38 hits, 19 RBI, 9 doubles, 1 triple and 8 homeruns.
Berkley and Slater squared off in post season play. Berkley won the first game 7-2. Slater won the second game 7-6 after rallying for three 9th inning runs for the win. Lee Burns unloaded a 325 foot homerun over the right field fence with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning to give the win to Slater. Burns' homer came after Lyerly walked and Strickland singles wit two outs. Sprouse was the winning pitcher.
On August 28th the two teams went at it again. Berkley ended up winning 5-3 in Balfour NC. Berkley manager Tipp Massey hit a homer with two men on in the bottom of the 8th to take the win. Lyerly had a double and Fowler and Rister had three hits each for Slater. Slater's 1959 season ended that night.
As for Mickey Strickland, 1959 would be his only season with Slater. On January 31, 1961 he signed with the Los Angeles Dodgers. This made him the second former Slater slugger to sign a professional contract with the first being Bobby Hazle in the 1950's but unlike Hazle, Strickland never made it to the majors. Strickland was attending USC when he signed in 1961 but dropped out so that he could be eligible to be signed by a professional team. He said, at that time, he planned to return to USC in September. He played on the Greer American Legion team in 1957 that went to the Little World Series and hit .366 (3rd highest in American Legion) and led the Legion in stolen bases. He played at North Greenville Junior College in 1958 and 1959 hitting .343 in 1958 and .363 in 1959. In 1958 he played for Greer-Victor in the Western Carolina League where he hit .323 and stole 23 bases. In 1959 he played for Slater in the WCL and hit .394 and stole 31 bases. In 1960 he left Slater and went to Apalache where he hit .353 and had 15 stolen bases. He didn't get to play at USC due to a hand injury received while sliding. The Dodgers wanted to groom Strickland to become a shortstop even though he was an outfielder during most of his textile baseball career. In 1963 he was still in the Dodgers organization and played for Salisbury in the class A Western Carolinas League and in that same year he was selected to the Western Carolinas League all-star team. In all, Strickland had a four season minor league career which ended, for reasons unknown, in 1964 with Grand Falls. His minor league career stats were: Batting Average .300, 71 stolen bases, 34 homeruns.
1960 – Clemson's Ty Cline Becomes A Slater Slugger And Is Immediately Signed By Major League Cleveland Indians
1960, in my mind, stands out as the year of Ty Cline as a Slater Slugger even though his baseball career with the team was very short.
In 1960 Slater had the tough job of filling the outfield shoes of Mickey Strickland. But Snow Kirby soon found an outstanding player to fill the slot by way of Clemson University. Ty Cline was the big man with the baseball bat on Bill Wilhelm's Tiger team and the Tigers' head skipper had said Cline was the best college player he had ever seen, and at the time (1960) Cline was only a sophomore.
After the 1960 Clemson baseball season was over, Ty Cline joined the Slater Sluggers baseball team. At that time professional baseball scouts were climbing all over each other watching Monaghan Mill's Dickie Dietz. It just so happened that Cline's first game with Slater, on May 20th was against Monaghan at Monaghan. Cline unleashed a hitting performance that made Cleveland Indian scout Jimmy Gruzdis and his farm team director Walter Arthur “Hoot” Evers forget all about Dietz. Ty Cline's bases loaded triple featured Slater's 16-5 romp over Monaghan. Overall Cline had driven in four runs, hit a triple and a double that night for Slater. One week later on May 27th, Cline led Slater with a homer and a single in a 7-2 Slater loss to Apalache. After two games with the Sluggers, he was the talk of the Western Carolina Textile League.
After watching Cline play, Gruzdis and Evers offered Cline a $40,000 bonus to sign with the Cleveland Indians. It took them several days for them to convince Cline's mother because she wanted him to continue playing textile baseball and continue his education at Clemson. We aren't sure who won that discussion but on May 31, 1960 Cline signed the pro contract, he was 20 years old at the time.
The Cleveland scouts admired Cline's gifts of running speed, defensive skills and his solid level swing of the bat which Evers thought could be developed into a power stroke. They likened him to the speed of Ty Cobb and his fielding skills to those of Mickey Mantle. Cline went on to play for seven major league teams (Cleveland 1960-82), Milwaukee Braves (1963-65), Chicago Cubs (1966), Atlanta Braves (1966-67), San Francisco Giants (1967-68), Montreal Expos (1969-70) and Cincinnati Red (1970-71). After the 1971 season Cline retired from baseball and opened a Baskin-Robbins ice cream franchise in Charleston. Today at age 80, he resides in Charleston.
Back at Slater, with Cline out of the lineup the Sluggers still had 8 promising young newcomers which included Dean Price (2B), Demzil Lynch (Pitcher), Maurice Atkins (OF), Boyce Lee (Pitcher), Bobby Kirby (Utility, and son of manager Snow Kirby), Don Abbott (OF), Joe Parker (Pitcher), and Ray LaCarter (a former Greenville Spinner pitcher from the 1950's).
Price was from Inman and had played at North Greenville Junior College. Lynch was a NGJC lefty and an Atlanta native; Atkins had past experience at Poe Mill. They joined returnees Charles “Rabbit” Rister (former Newberry College star now in his third year at Slater), Jake Lyerly, Jimmy Wilson, Lee Burns, Larry Abbott (of Furman University), David Sprouse, Bill Barnett, Joe Parker, Bubba Payne, Jack Wilson, Jack Fowler, Boyce Lee and Hoss James.
Dunean won the WCL pennant in 1960 and Monaghan's pitcher, A.L. Curtis (a former member of the Boston Red Sox organization) was the league MVP. Dunean's Donnie Sargent was the Rookie of the Year while Bob Stowe won the league batting title (.410 batting average for 1960). Jimmy Roller was the Pitcher of the Year from Dunean. Slater did not receive any awards for the 1960 season.
The 1961 season saw the WCL with Slater, Dunean, Berkeley NC, Monaghan and Piedmont. Apalache suspended baseball for the season and never returned to textile baseball. A 25 game season would be played beginning on May 2nd and ending on August 1st. George Blackwell, age 49, the Babe Ruth of textile baseball, announced he would be playing for Slater in the 1961 season. Slater gained hitting power and lost it at the same time. With the arrival of Blackwell they gained offensive power but Jake Lyerly announced he was leaving baseball due to his work schedule at Slater Mill, so the Sluggers lost some offensive punch.
Slater had six new faces for the '61 season. Pitching would be a weak spot but Kirby had high hopes with his only returning starter, Bill Barbary, formerly with Taylors, plus Ed Brinkley, formerly of Enka NC. David Sprouse was at Clemson but was expected to be back at hometown Slater when the Tigers season ended. Also returning would be Charles Rister.
Gary Roper returns from military service. Maurice Atkins would join Blackwell in the outfield. Atkins hit .262 in 1960. Lee Burns would also be returning. The infield would include Ed Brinkley, Max Herndon, Cleon Reece, Marion Suddeth. Pitchers would include Jim Lewis and Kirby said he might put himself in the game from time to time.
Clinton Mill joined the Western Carolina Textile League in 1961 and made a huge impact. Clinton battled Dunean and Berkeley all season for first place. Slater traveled to Clinton in the season opener and the Sluggers were handed their lunch by way of a 12-3 whipping by their hosts. Slater committed 10 errors in the game and Clinton took full advantage of those mistakes.
Slater's opening day roster went this way: Charles “Rabbit” Rister (catcher), Ed Brinkley (1st base), Mat Herndon (2nd base), Marvin Suddeth (3rd base), Cleon Reece (short stop), Maurice Atkins (outfield), Gary Roper (outfield), George Blackwell (outfield), and Bill Barbary (pitcher). The top hitter for Slater in the opener was Cleon Reece who hit a solo homerun.
Slater did not win a game until May 19th when they downed Piedmont 11-2. Bill Barbary held Piedmont to only six hits and added to his own cause with a solo homerun. George Blackwell added a double.
In their next outing on May 24th Slater showed improvement but lost 6-4 to Dunean. Snow Kirby added Dean Price, a fine hitting third sacker, and Ronnie Coker to the team after the opening night loss to Clinton. Price hit two homers in the loss to Dunean while Maurice Atkins also hit two round trippers. Snow Kirby was the losing pitcher. After this game, Kirby added veteran AA minor leaguer Murray Hall to the Slugger's pitching staff. At this point in the season the league standings were led by Berkeley (5-1), Clinton was in 2nd (4-1) while Dunean and Piedmont were tied for third with 2-3 records. Slater was in fifth with a 1-3 mark while Monaghan rode in last place with a 1-4 showing.
On May 26 Slater finally won their second game of the season after several rained out games. The win was a 9-6 victory over Dunean. Big George Blackwell broke out of a season long slump to drive in three runs. Blackwell drove in Maurice Atkins and Ronnie Coker with a single in Slater's third inning uprising and drove in his third run on a sacrifice fly in the 8th. Bill Barbary was the winning pitcher for Slater after relieving starter Snow Kirby.
Murray Hall was the June 3rd losing pitcher for Slater in a 16-6 loss. Dean Price drove in 3 of Slater's six runs in the ninth inning with a homerun. George Blackwell went 2 for 2.
On June 8th Slater visited Clinton and the Sluggers started with a bang. Maurice Atkins hit the first pitch of the game out of the ball park over the wall in deep centerfield. Clinton went up 3-1 in the third but Slater tied it at 3-3 after 7 innings when Barbary singled in the tying run. Clinton went up again 4-3 in the 8th. Slater tried to come back but stranded two base runners in the 9th for the 4-3 loss. Charles Rister hit two doubles for Slater in the game while George Blackwell was 0 for 4. Barbary was also the losing pitcher.
The two teams met again the very next night on June 9th and the game developed into an old fashioned slugfest. Dean Price went 2 for 4 with a double. Blackwell and Atkins both hit homeruns but Slater lost 13-10.
By this point in the season Murray Hall left Slater and was hired in Greer to become the mill's athletic director.
On June 16th Slater defeated Monaghan 9-7. Sammy Page took the win on the mound for Slater in what was his first start with the Sluggers. Lee Burns, Mat Herndon and Ronnie Coker hit triples for the Sluggers.
With the addition of Sammy Page to the pitching staff and the return of Lee Burns, Slater showed great improvement and battled hard in the second half of the season to make the playoffs.
On July 15th Slater stunned the WCL by downing Berkeley for the first time in two seasons and the 5-4 win was delivered by big George Blackwell. Blackwell stepped up at the plate with two outs on the scoreboard in the bottom of the 9th inning and the bases loaded with Slater Sluggers. Blackwell smacked a double to deep centerfield to score 3 runs and deliver the win. What an exciting night that had to be at White Field. Slater fans went home with big ol' smiles on their faces. Sammy Page was the winning pitcher for Slater.
After a July 20th set back loss of 8-1 to Piedmont, Slater paid tribute to their former legendary pitcher Bliss McCall on July 29th by way of Bliss McCall Night at White Field. McCall had been ill for two years and an overflow crowd attended the game to pay tribute. The fans showered McCall with gifts and donations were contributed to him because he had not been able to work in quite some time. The Sluggers were in top form that night as they defeated Piedmont 5-4 to tighten their hold on fourth place in the WCL. George Blackwell blasted a triple and a double for Slater while Rabbit Rister had two singles and scored 2 runs. Lee Burns also hit a double and a single. Sammy Page was the winning pitcher for Slater and improved his record to 5-1 on the season.
On August 16th the Slater Sluggers opened the post season playoffs against regular season pennant winner Dunean. George Blackwell was once again the hero of the 7-6 Slater victory. In the 9th inning Blackwell launched a ball that was hit so hard that it was completely lost somewhere in the outfield for an inside the park homerun to give Slater what would become the final victory ever won by Slater in textile baseball. Blackwell had also hit a triple earlier in the game.
In game two of the playoff series, former Slater Slugger Doug Turner, pitched against his old Slater teammates. Dunean took the win 11-4. It was Turner's 9th win of the year without a loss.
The third game of the series saw Slater fall 18-4 despite Lee Burns' triple and Sammy Page's pitching. Dunean would advance to play Berkeley in the tournament championship series but lost 8-7 and 4-1 in the final series.
After the loss to Dunean, the Slater Sluggers turned in their bats and balls and anticipated a run for the pennant in 1962. But they never got the chance. The Western Carolina League folded in 1962 and textile baseball died in Greenville County, South Carolina.
Bliss McCall, age 53, died on February 4, 1969 at a Greenville Hospital. Snow Kirby died November 23, 2001 at the age of 82. Kirby served Slater for 20 years as personnel manager and recreation director. He was inducted into the Southern Textile Basketball Textile League Hall Of Fame but has never reached the Textile Baseball Hall Of Fame. Long time Slater Slugger Paul Hazle died July 3, 2009 also at the age of 82 in St. George, SC and had retired as an executive with J.P. Stevens Co. Inc.
White Field continued to be used by Slater-Marietta High School for baseball and football until 1973 when the school closed and merged with Travelers Rest High. The field was used by youth teams for many years but is not being used in recent years. But if you visit the site and listen long enough to gentle breezes rustling in neighboring pines you just might hear infield chatter of baseball players from a long ago era, the roar of the home team fans, the sounds of wooden bats making contact with horsehide baseballs and a few memories from old men who wonder whatever happened to textile baseball.
EXTRA INFORMATION NOTES -
Jog back to the 1939 Slater Slugger season. Slater contended for the national semi-pro baseball championship in 1939 after winning the '39 Piedmont Textile League pennant and the South Carolina Semi-Pro Baseball Championship!
The National Semi-Pro Championship Tournament was played annually in Witchita, Kansas and was comprised of 32 teams from across this great nation of ours. All of those teams played for fame, travel and a jackpot of $15,000. Finish in first place in the tournament and your team would earn $5,000 and a trip to Puerto Rico to play in the “Outer America Tournament” in September! The 32 team field was determined by state and regional championship tournaments and the national tournament games were played over a two week period and was a double elimination event. Over 100,000 spectators came to Kansas to see the fifty game spectacle.
Slater became the #1 team in South Carolina after the Ninety Six team was disqualified for player eligibility issues. So, Slater received the state championship trophy and the right to represent South Carolina in the national tournament. Slater left Greenville County on August 12, 1939 for Kansas. Slater's roster for the big event included (some first names are not available) Riley, Hornsby, Taylor, Tom Boggs, Wiggins, Steadings, Brannon, Dudley Tollison, Tucker, Price, Rampey, Sizemore, Dudley, King and Albrey Ledford. Traveling with the team included plant manager W.B. Gilmore, Miss Mary Ledford, D.H. Hamilton and a man named Hickman.
Slater's first game came on August 13th against the Trenton, New Jersey Prison Guards. Slater lost that one 7-3 and fell to the elimination round. Four days later Slater was defeated by the team from Silverton, Oregon by a score of 11-2 and was eliminated from the national tournament.
NOTE FROM 1956 – We know Slater had a team that was called the Slater Black Sluggers. Regretfully, we could not locate very much information from Greenville newspaper archives about African American textile baseball teams. Keep in mind it was the Jim Crow era and for reasons unknown southern newspapers just didn't report very much about those teams except for a few blurbs here and there. We did discover a small paragraph, written on October 8, 1956 which indicated Slater had an African American baseball team that was called the Slater Black Bears. That paragraph read: “Two Bears Hit .350 --- Hermand (Butch) Butler, catcher – outfielder and June Jones, pitcher – outfielder, sparked the Slater Negro Bears during the 1956 season with .350 batting averages, according to manager Cruell.”
NOTE FROM 1961 – On January 31, 1961 former Slater Slugger Mickey Strickland signed with the L.A Dodgers organization. Strickland was attending the University of South Carolina at the time but dropped out so that he could be eligible to be signed to a professional contract. Strickland played on the Greer American Legion 1957 team that went to the Little World Series and hit .366 (third highest in American Legion) and led the Legion in stolen bases. He played at North Greenville Junior College in 1958-59 hitting .343 in 1958 and .363 in 1959. In 1958 he also played for the Greer-Victor textile team in the Western Carolina League and hit .323 and stole 23 bases. In 1959 Strickland played for Slater in the WCL and hit .394 and stole 31 bases. In 1960 he left Slater for Apalache and hit .353 and had 15 stolen bases. Strickland did not get to play for the University of South Carolina due to a hand injury received while base sliding. The Dodgers wanted Strickland to be groomed to play shortstop even though he was a centerfielder through previous years. Strickland had a four year career with the Dodgers organization and his four season minor league career stats reveal a career .300 batting average with 71 stolen bases and 34 homeruns.