Top 100 Teams
By Bill Weiss & Marshall Wright, Baseball Historians
The first team to break the century mark in wins in the Carolina League did so in style, featuring one of the great characters of the game as well as a player who later made his mark in the national arena. Both of these major accomplishments occurred after their playing days were over.
The city of Winston-Salem, located in west-central North Carolina, placed its first professional baseball team in the 1905 Class D Virginia-North Carolina League. On July 17, a team called the Twins replaced the Salisbury-Spencer franchise. During the final month of the campaign, the club went 10-14, finishing third of four teams.
Three years later, the Twins resurfaced in another Class D operation - the Carolina Association. In five years (1908-12), the team won one pennant, finishing a fine 72-37 in 1911. Following the 1912 campaign, the league changed its name to the North Carolina State League. Here, the Twins won another flag in 1913, followed by another the next year. On May 30, 1917, with Winston-Salem in fourth place with a 17-20 mark, the league disbanded.
In 1920, another version of the Twins began playing in the Piedmont League, a new Class D loop. Upgraded to Class C the next year and Class B in 1932, the circuit had a Winston-Salem presence through 1933. During this tenure, the Twins won regular season titles in 1925 and 1928. After a four-year gap, the Twins rejoined the league in 1937. This stay was not marked by success as the club finished last six years in a row before dropping out of the league after the 1942 campaign. Without the Twins, the Piedmont League was a success as one of a bare handful of leagues to play uninterrupted through World War II. Before the league terminated in 1955, it hosted one of the top 100 teams - the Norfolk Tars of 1952.
In the waning days of World War II, a new team from Winston-Salem joined a first-year league--the Class C Carolina League--as a farm team of the powerful St. Louis Cardinals. After a sixth place finish in their inaugural campaign, the Cardinals rose to second by 1947. After an additional runner-up finish in the newly reclassified Class B league in 1949, the team was poised to jump up another rung.
The 1950 Winston-Salem Cards crushed the opposition as they finished with a 106-47, .693 record, 19 lengths ahead of second place Danville. In the playoffs, the club edged Reidsville, three games to two, before dispatching Burlington, four games to one, to win the championship. Collectively, the Cards led the league in runs (782), doubles (267), home runs (148) and stolen bases (148).
Third baseman George Kissell was the Winston-Salem manager. Kissell was signed by the St. Louis Cardinals in 1940 and, except for three years in the service during World War II, has worked for the team ever since. He has been a player, manager, coach, scout and minor league instructor. He is currently Senior Field Coordinator for Player Development. Kissell had a ten-year .313 career batting average. He made his managerial debut in 1946 at Lawrence in the New England League. In addition to this 1950 team, he won the Western League championship at Omaha in 1951. For seven years, 1969-75, Kissell was a major league coach at St. Louis.
From the batters box, the team featured several solid performances, but nothing outstandingly spectacular. The best average posted by any regular came from the bat of outfielder Russ Rac (.287), who also popped a team-high 16 home runs while driving in 92 runs. He was assisted by first baseman Neal Hertweck (.273-14-94), a St. Louis native, who was the only Card batter to see action at the plate in the majors, going 0-for-6 for the 1952 Cardinals.
Another member of the starting nine saw plenty of action in the big leagues, but not as a hitter. Second baseman Earl Weaver (.276), after ending his playing career, became a manager, rising to become the skipper of the Baltimore Orioles in 1968. Here, Weaver enjoyed phenomenal success, winning five divisional titles in six years from 1969-74 and taking the World Series in 1970. He retired for the first time following the 1982 season before coming back to lead the Orioles from 1985-86. Weaver won a total of 2,541 games as a major league manager, which is among the best totals in history. In 1996, he was inducted into baseballís Hall of Fame.
The Cards pitching staff was led by two league leaders. Lee Peterson (21-10), after winning his first 11 decisions of the season, led the circuit in wins. Wilmer (Vinegar Bend) Mizell (17-7) struck out the most batters (227), fanning 17 Durham batters in a nine-inning game on July 24 and finished second in ERA (2.48) Other contributors included rubber-armed Bobby Tiefenauer (16-8), who threw in a league high 66 games while finishing third in ERA (2.51). Tiefenauer served as a reliever for six major league teams in 10 years. His best year was 1964, when he saved 13 for the Braves with a 3.21 ERA.
When Mizell reached the majors with St. Louis in 1952, sportswriters tried to make him into another Dizzy Dean. When they found out he grew up in the tiny Alabama town of Vinegar Bend, just across the state line from his birthplace of Leaksville, Miss., they gave him his nickname and it has stuck with him the rest of his life. On May 28, 1960, the Cardinals traded Mizell to Pittsburgh for Julian Javier and he went 13-5, 3.12 for the Pirates in helping lead them to the National League pennant. He was knocked out of the box in the first inning in his only World Series start against the Yankees in game three, but came back in game six to pitch two scoreless innings in relief. Mizell had a 90-88, 3.85 record in nine years in the majors, finishing with the expansion Mets in 1962. After he retired, he made his home in Winston-Salem and entered politics. He was a three-term Republican congressman from 1969-74. When he was defeated for re-election in 1974, he was appointed Assistant Secretary of Commerce by President Ford and later served as Assistant Secretary of Agriculture in the first Reagan administration. He died February 21, 1999. Mizell, Rac and Hertweck made the Carolina League All-Star team and Kissell was named Manager of the Year.
After 1950, in a remarkable display of stability, Winston-Salem has played 50 consecutive years in the Carolina League. During this time, the team has won nine titles, with the most recent coming in 1993. In 2001, they are playing their 57th straight season in the league, since 1998 as a farm team of the White Sox.
In becoming the first Carolina League team to cross the 100 win threshold, the 1950 Winston-Salem Cards also set a league mark for excellence. In the entire history of the league, no team has been able to top the Cardinalsí 106-win season.
|1950 Carolina League Standings|
|1950 Winston-Salem Cards batting statistics|
|Vinegar Bend Mizell||P||42||72||3||6||1||0||0||0||5||33||0||.083|
|1950 Winston-Salem Cards pitching statistics|
|Vinegar Bend Mizell||17||7||.708||42||11||2||207||167||81||227||2.48|
|Bob Mangum (Reidsville)||0||0||----||4||0||0||18|