(Pacolet Mills Baseball Team in 1927)

The Bases Are Loaded – With Memories

Television killed it.  It was an institution in the little textile towns around Spartanburg - towns such as Lockhart, Union, Drayton, Woodruff and Pacolet.  It flourished for forty years before "Kookla, Fran and Ollie", "Howdy Doody" and Dagmar put an end to it.  It was the special brand of baseball as played in the Piedmont mill towns of upper South Carolina.

Almost every mill village had a baseball park around which the recreational activity of the town rotated.  In this day and age, watching major league baseball on T.V. can be about as exciting as watching General Motors play U. S. Steel.  But it wasn't always so.  Textile league baseball was for real.  It was played by tough and talented men who meant business.

The teams were made up of men employed full time at the mills.  They did their practicing and playing in the afternoons and on Saturdays.  In the late 40's the ball parks were fitted with lights and most games were played at night.

For the most part, these men were unsung and unknown ball players except in the other towns in the league.  A few, very talented men made it into the major leagues from these teams.  Men such as Ernie White, who played for Pacolet, before he had a successful career in the majors.  However, the caliber of baseball played by these teams was far from amateurish.  There were many men playing on these teams who, given the right breaks, were good enough to play on any major league team.

The entire town would turn out for the games and the spirit was strictly partisan.  Certain rivalries, such as Pacolet vs Lockhart or Pacolet vs Drayton, steamed up emotions to a height that couldn't be matched this side of the old big Thursday contest between Carolina and Clemson.  Fist fights were not unknown between opposing players or spectators or both.  But, by and large, it was clean, and hard fought baseball.  It was played with a flourish and determination that was a joy to behold.

To a ten year old boy growing up in Pacolet these teams produced real flesh and blood heroes who actually walked the land.  Today, kids find their heroes on T.V. and never have the realization of actually seeing them.

But in Pacolet, in the 40's, there wasn't just one hero in real life.  There were at least nine of them and they all played on the Pacolet Trojans Baseball Team.  Heroes, in the true sense, probably should be individuals whose actions can be examples for the young.  I didn't think of it that way at all at the time, but in looking back, I feel that the actions of the ball players meet that qualifications.  I am sure that the ball players in all the little towns had the same general effect on the kids of their town.  They weren't trying to set examples and. teach the young.  They were just trying to play the very best baseball they knew how.  However, in the process they taught some awfully valuable lessons about life to young boys just beginning the long road to manhood.  They probably would have been puzzled if told their playing was a flesh and blood example of the traits of character development being taught in schools and the scouts.  For example:

"Do your Best" - This was evident in the tremendous effort put into playing by the entire team.  They hit, fielded and ran the bases with a wild, reckless abandon, in today's slang they played "flat out",

 "Do your Duty" - It would be very hard to pick a better example of this than one long remembered play by "Tee" Fleming at third base.  A batter hit a line drive tearing down the third base line.  A baseball hit like this travels about 150 mph.  "Tee" had time for only reflex action.  He stuck out his bare right hand and caught the ball.  The sound of horsehide on bare skin sounded like a shotgun blast - but it helped save the game.

"Come Back in the Face of Adversity" - Catcher, James "Pee Wee" Lambert, had a tipped baseball strike him squarely in the throat.  It came in above the breastplate and under the mask.  He fell as if hit with a bat.  He was out cold for at least fifteen minutes.  After clearing his head, he insisted on going back in and finishing the game.

"Be Modest Upon Receiving Praise and Adulation" - No better illustration of this could have been made than the behavior of "Red" Ellison upon receiving the praise of his team mates and. spectators after hitting one of his frequent and towering home runs.  Shortstop Jim Motts showed that a small man could be a giant of a ba1l player. The list could go on and on.  Similar exploits could be told about Olin Hodge, Smoky Mathis, Sam Hogan, Lynwood McMakin and many others.   

The baseball team also provided legends from the past.  At one time, the Pacolet Mills YMCA had a huge glass trophy case just for the town’s baseball mementoes.  No trip to the movie to see Bob Steele or Ken Maynard was complete without stopping by to look at the yellowed baseballs, the silver trophies and. the photographs.  In retrospect, the photographs made the most impression.  There was picture after picture showing Pacolet’s team from the past.  It was a pictorial record of the evolution of baseball uniforms.  But more than this, they showed stern faced, proud men who had succeeded.  Some faces I knew only from legendary reputation of their skill as base players.  However, three of them, I knew personally.  They were my uncles Monroe and Lee "Bo" Teaster and Jesse “Toby” Campbell.

The baseball games had the heroes of the home team and the "villains" of the opposing team.  These "villains" were the skillful, well known players who could change the course of a ball game in a single instant and  leave the home team on the  short end of the, score.  These were men such as Tommy Jett of Drayton, "Goo" Lybrand of Union and the "Super Villain" Bill Broome of Lockhart. Bill Broome's mighty bat has sent many teams home in the sorrow of defeat.

Most of the textile league activity occurred before the time Jackie Robinson broke the color line in baseball.  Many of the mills had both white and colored teams.  The teams might have been segregated but the spectators weren't.  There were black and white fans at both team’s games.  The colored teams were every bit as skillful as the white teams and produced many outstanding players.  "Big Dave" Bailey was a feared man with a bat and gave many an infielder visions of decapitation.  Richard" Licky" McBeth was a fabulous first baseman with a completely distinctive method of touching the base with quick footwork.

For the most part, the games have stopped now.  The ball park fences have fallen and the grandstands have collapsed.  It’s a shame, many things are lost to many people.  The game of baseball itself is the less for it.  This was base ball as it should be seen and experienced.  It was blood and guts excitement, unadulterated joy and heartbreak tragedy.  Few moments in sports could have had the impact on the spectators that the last of the 9th inning tied game situation with 2 outs - 2 strikes and 3 balls could have in a game between Pacolet and Lockhart.

The towns, themselves, have lost.  The teams gave the towns an identity and pride and sense of community that few other things can do.

However, probably the biggest losers are the little boys.  They will never know the thrill of watching someone you know personally hit a 400 foot homerun with the bases loaded and win the game.  The remote heroes of Hollywood and television can never fill the role.  The passing of local baseball may be change but it sure "ain't" progress.

(Article that was printed in the hometown paper “The Cowpens/Pacolet Tribune” on June 11, 1975.)

   

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This web site has been started as a public service to share the story of Pacolet. The web master and person to contact about putting information on the web site is me, Gerald Teaster.  Contact me at:
gteaster@pacoletmemories.com or by telephone at (843) 873-8117.  My regular mail adress is:
1311 Jahnz Ave.
Summerville, SC 29485

See more information about my Pacolet connection at Gerald Teaster.