Probably the angriest I have ever seen a group of adults was at my nephew’s baseball games when they were around eight to twelve years old. I mean I sat there and watched grown adults, both men and women, parents and grandparents, yell, curse, scream, and holler with their eyes bulging and fists shaking over a supposedly unfair calls on the field.
It all goes back to our childhood when we first started playing games and were taught to play fair. Nothing makes us madder than to feel like were being cheated. Looking at the faces of some of those furious “fans” I could easily imagine them as children years before screaming, “Darn you! Mommy said we were supposed to play fair”
This natural indignation over a perceived wrong usually brought great stress to the kids and sometimes ruined both their play and their enjoyment of the game. I once watched a young kid go up who had never batted before. The coach told him just to focus on watching the ball leave the pitchers hand and only swing when he saw one he thought he could hit. Unfortunately, his father ran up to the fence when he came to bat and yelled really helpful things like “Hit it” and “Swing hard.” at every pitch. The boy struck out at a pitch over his head. When he came back to the dugout I could hear the coach telling him, “Don’t listen to your Dad. Listen to me.”
Perhaps the roughest group of baseball fans North Carolina has ever seen was in the Independent Carolina Baseball League. A new book called “Outlaw Ballplayers: Interviews and Profiles from the Independent Carolina Baseball League” details how ballgames sometimes had to be canceled to keep fans from rioting and fighting. The book is written by R.G. (Hank) Utley and Tim Peeler with Aaron Peeler as a follow up to “The Independent Carolina Baseball League: Baseball Outlaws” by Utley and Scott Verner.
The authors describe how fans were referred to as “wolves” by players and their wives. Winnie Taylor was the wife of Virgil “Coddle Creek” Taylor an “Outlaw League” pitcher. “The fights would usually start between the players or between the players and the umpires, and before you knew it, the fans were all over the field. The players would gather together with their bats to protect each other and even the umpires, and then the fans would fight among themselves.”
Ulmont Baker was a third baseman with the Carolina Weavers and was “big enough to eat hay.” He described how one night in a game against Kannapolis the fans thought the ump made a bad call and a couple of hundred of them came running out on the field. “We actually had to sit on top of the umpire with our bats to keep the fans off him. I was scared to death I was going to have to hit one of our fans with a bat. The police finally took the ump out of the ballpark. He was so scared he could hardly walk.”
Vince Barton was a legendary power hitter in the Independent Carolina League and a former Major League player. He played for both Kannapolis and Hickory. One memorable evening while playing for the Hickory Rebels against his former team, he told Kannapolis General Manager William Henry Whitney, “Mr. Henry, the wolves up here are on me pretty good, and I hate to do this to you folks because you were real good to me in Kannapolis, and there’s no hard feelings, but I’ve got to help beat you tonight.” He then went out and hit five home runs in the game.
The Independent Carolina Baseball League was termed an “outlaw” league by the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues, the official organization of minor league baseball. Organized professional baseball set out to destroy the rival Carolina Baseball League which was not sanctioned by Major League Baseball and even went as far as to blacklist players who participated in the league. There is evidence that at least some of the fights and trouble that followed the Independent Carolina league games was instigated by the NAPB in order to destroy the league.
In “Outlaw Ballplayers” we get to meet and hear the stories of some of the leagues more notable players like Edwin Collins “Alabama Pitts” who went from being an armed robber serving an eight to sixteen year sentence in Sing Sing to playing professional minor league ball for teams like the Charlotte Hornets and the Valdese Textiles. His quest to play pro baseball drew national attention as the whole country debated weather a former convict should be allowed to play.
Others we get to meet include Glenn “Razz” Miller an outfielder and Lutheran clergyman, Norman Woodnut Small, a pitcher turned hitter, who lived out his life in Mooresville playing pro baseball for twenty years, and Lawrence Columbus “Crash” Davis whose colorful name was later used in the movie “Bull Durham”.
Joel Reese, Local History Librarian
Iredell County Public Library
This article appeared in the Statesville Record and Landmark as “Parents and fans can get brutal during baseball games” on July 11, 2007