Since the creation of the Charlotte Hornets in 1901, professional baseball has long established its place in the rich history of the Queen City. From this inaugural season to the turn of the twenty-first century, Charlotte baseball teams have produced 15 championships, 31 post-season berths and one Las Vegas Triple-A World Series appearance.
Known as the Hornets until 1973, Charlotte captured 11 championships, including North Carolina League titles in 1902 and 1916 and a South Atlantic League crown in 1923.
In 1975, Charlotte constructed Calvin Griffith Park on Magnolia Avenue for $70,000. Later renamed Crockett Park, Charlotte teams played at the facility until an arson's fire destroyed it in 1985.
In 1946, Charlotte joined the Tri-State (B) League and proceeded to win four championships (1946, '47, '52, and '53) over eight seasons.
The Hornets returned to the South Atlantic League in 1954 and won the league title in 1957. A year earlier, in 1956, Harmon Killebrew hit .325 with 15 home runs and 63 RBI's for Charlotte.
In 1964, Charlotte ended its affiliation with the Washington Senators and joined the Southern League to become the Double-A affiliate of the Minnesota Twins. As a Twins affiliate until 1973, such stars as Tony Oliva, Minnie Mendoza, Graig Nettles, Bill Zepp, and Rick Dempsey roamed the field at Crockett Park.
Mendoza spent ten seasons in Charlotte from 1960-72, while Oliva, the 1964 American League Rookie of the Year, was selected as a Hornets All-Star in 1962.
Baseball left the Queen City in 1973 until Frances Crockett created the Charlotte O's in 1976. The O's played in the Southern League and served as the Double-A affiliate of the Baltimore Orioles until 1988.
Charlotte won the Southern League title in 1980 behind Cal Ripken Jr.'s 25 home runs and 80 RBI's. The 1984 O's also claimed the league crown, as they were managed by future Boston Red Sox manager Grady Little and future Cleveland Indians GM John Hart.
Ripken, Eddie Murray, Curt Schilling, Steve Finley, Pete Harnisch and Leo Gomez all starred for Charlotte during its 13-year affiliation with the Orioles.
In 1985, tragedy struck the O's. A St. Patrick's Day weekend fire tore through the wooden structure of Crockett Park, effectively destroying the stadium. An investigation revealed that the cause of the fire was arson.
The team was forced to play in a temporary facility until George Shinn purchased the O's in 1987. Under the guidance of Shinn, the Charlotte franchise underwent many changes.
In 1989, Shinn changed the team's nickname to the Knights through a "Name the Team" contest and also switched affiliations from Baltimore to the Chicago Cubs. A year later, Shinn moved the club to Knights Stadium, a 10,002-seat state-of-the-art facility located in Fort Mill, South Carolina.
The move to the new facility proved successful, as the Knights led all Double-A teams in attendance in 1991 and 1992 with totals of 313,791 and 338,047 respectively.
As the Cubs Double-A affiliate, Knights fans saw many players that would later advance to the major leagues. Such stars as Shawn Boskie, Jim Bullinger, Frank Castillo, Derrick May, Kevin Roberson, Heathcliff Slocumb, Dave Stevens, Steve Trachsel, and Rick Wilkins all played at Knights Stadium.
On December 27, 1991, Minor League Baseball awarded new Triple-A expansion franchises to the cities of Charlotte and Ottawa. The Knights joined the International League in 1993 and left the Cubs to become the top farm club of the Cleveland Indians.
In its inaugural Triple-A season, the Knights claimed the 1993 International League's Governors' Cup Championship. A franchise-record 412,029 fans came out to see future big-league stars Jim Thome, Manny Ramirez, Mark Lewis, Albie Lopez and Chad Ogea and future Indians manager Charlie Manuel. Thome belted 25 home runs and recorded 102 RBI's for the 1993 Knights.
In 1995, after two successful years with Indians organization, Charlotte signed a four-year player development contract with the Florida Marlins. The Knights won just a combined 121 games in their first two seasons with the Marlins but bounced back in 1997 to finish as league runners-up with current Toronto Blue Jays manager Carlos Tosca at the helm.
That same year, the success of the minor league system in Charlotte was evidenced by the 1997 World Series, as the Marlins and Indians squared off in the Fall Classic. 1996-97 Knights alum Livan Hernandez led Florida to a thrilling victory over Thome, Ramirez and the Indians.
In the winter following the 1997 campaign, Don Beaver and Knights Baseball, LLC, purchased the team from Shinn. Beaver, who owns two other minor league clubs (the Hickory Crawdads of the South Atlantic League and the New Orleans Zephyrs of the Pacific Coast League), is a lifelong baseball fan and seeks to someday bring a major league franchise to the Carolinas.
A year and a half later, as the 1999 season began, the Knights once again switched affiliations, signing a player development contract with the Chicago White Sox. In its first year with the White Sox, the Knights won the IL Governors' Cup Championship and advanced to the second-ever Triple-A World Series in Las Vegas.
In the past few
years, numerous Sox prospects have honed their skills at Knights Stadium
before being called up to Chicago. 2000 IL Pitcher of the Year Jon Garland
is now a staple in the White Sox rotation, while position players such
as Willie Harris, Joe Crede and Aaron Rowand have proved their worth
with the big league club. Who's the next hot prospect to make his home
in Charlotte? Stay tuned...the Knights are history in the making.