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The Carolina League, 1936-1938

In the 1930's Depression-era in mill towns of the North Carolina Piedmont, a feisty professional baseball league was born. Ignoring the professional contract and reserve clause of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues (NAPBL), the Carolina League offered players control of their own careers. With better pay than a player could earn elsewhere and the guarantee of off season jobs in the textile mills (over 20% of nation was unemployed) that supported the teams, the league attracted a flock of talented players. Although done in by internal squabbling as well as opposition from organized baseball, it thrived for three unforgettable seasons, 1936-1938.

Thus, on May 18, 1936, Jake Wade, award-winning sports editor of the Charlotte Observer, wrote:

Today is opening day, you know. It's a new baseball picture for Charlotte and this section. Not organized professional baseball-but something which may prove just as entertaining and diverting. Certainly, it's a noble experiment, and most engaging.

Charlotte is in the Carolina League. The league abides by the rules and general plan of organized professional baseball. The ball they hit is standard and bears the league president's signature. The carefully chosen umpires are uniformed, draw regular salaries, work under strict supervision. The only difference is the players are not strictly chattels as in organized professional baseball. They can leave on a moment's notice and go to an organized professional league, but they cannot jump from one club to another in this circuit.

On June 16, 1936, a report appeared in The Concord Tribune that baseball players were openly jumping contracts with organized professional teams to play in the Carolina League - and that organized baseball, based in nearby Durham, was keeping track of them. The article was couched as a warning from Judge Bramham, president of the National Association of Professional Baseball.

Presence of players on the ineligible list of organized baseball on the rosters of clubs in the Carolina League, an independent organization, has brought forth a warning from President W.G. Bramham calling attention of all players and clubs in the National Association to conditions which exist in this outlaw league.

Judge Bramham said, "The Carolina League, composed of Concord, Kannapolis, Salisbury, Shelby, Hickory, Forest City, Charlotte, and Valdese, is harboring and playing players under contract or reserved with organized ball. All such players are placed on the ineligible list, and all players and clubs in organized ball are notified that the playing with or against ineligibles, or with or against clubs playing or harboring ineligible players, will bring about the ineligibility of any and all players who fail to observe this warning."

On December 7, 1936, after the Carolina League had completed its first season successfully, a news dispatch from the NAPBL's annual winter meetings in Montreal, Quebec, indicated that the league was the subject of much discussion, both formal and informal. The dispatch that appeared in The Concord Tribune quoted a minor league executive who described the Carolina league as a "haven for dissatisfied professional ball players."

After jumping a contract in organized baseball, pitcher Bud Shaney won 17 games in a row for the 1936 outlaw Charlotte Hornets. He used baseballs with phonograph needles embedded in the seams of baseballs. When asked to let the umpires examine a baseball he would throw it over the grandstand.

Edwin Collins "Alabama" Pitts received a pardon from Sing Sing Prison in New York in1935. Because he was a felon he was refused permission to play organized baseball. He signed with the 1936 outlaw Charlotte Hornets. After playing with Charlotte, Gastonia, and Valdese, Pitts died on June 7, 1941 in Valdese as a result of a stabbing he received in a dance hall fight.

Vince Barton hit 16 home runs in just 102 games for the Chicago Cubs in 1931 and 1932. A heavy drinker and womanizer, he ended up back in the minor leagues. He signed with the outlaw Kannapolis Towelers in 1936. His drinking and womanizing did not prevent him from hitting 5 home runs in one game for the 1938 outlaw Hickory Rebels.

Tracey Hitchner refused a cut in salary from Albany, N.Y. (International League) in 1936 and signed with the Hickory Rebels in the outlaw league. After being suspended for jumping a contract in organized ball, Hitchner changed his name to John Davis in 1937. He was suspended again. In 1938 he pitched under his original name, settled down in Hickory, married a local girl and became an executive in a local furniture manufacturer.

College players made good money in the Carolina League. They did not lose their amateur standing because they had not signed a contract with professional organized baseball.

After his junior year at Duke University, Eric Tipton, All American football and baseball star, played for the Kannapolis Towelers in 1938. He led the league in hitting with a .375 average. He signed with the Philadelphia Athletics in 1939 and played in the majors through 1945.

Richard Broadus Culler, a student athlete at High Point University, played for the Concord Weavers from 1936-1938. Later he played his way through the minors and had a major league career from 1943-1949 with the Chicago White Sox, Boston Braves, Chicago Cubs, and New York Giants.

Lawrence "Crash" Davis played for Gastonia in 1937 after his freshman year at Duke. He hit .267. After graduating he played for the Philadelphia Athletics from 1940-1942.

George Barley pitched at Duke while under contract to the New York Yankees - a college outlaw. He pitched for the Kannapolis Towelers in 1936. He played for Yankee farm teams after graduating from 1937-1941.

The Independent Carolina Baseball League

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