Top 100 Teams
Coastal Plains League
By Bill Weiss & Marshall Wright, Baseball Historians
Many of the teams in the top 100 list hail from big cities, playing in top tier leagues like the Pacific Coast League, American Association or International League. Such was not the case for team #82 which played in a small Southern town in one of baseball's lowest ranked leagues.
The town of Wilson, located in eastern North Carolina, first fielded a pro baseball team in 1908. Here, a team called the Tobacconists, playing in the Class D Eastern Carolina League, won the pennant with a record of 36-18. Following the season, Wilson was trailing Wilmington in the playoffs, two games to one, when the series was called due to poor weather. After another pennant in 1909 and a second place finish in 1910, the Tobbacconists, named for the primary cash crop of the region, were left without a league when the Eastern Carolina League disbanded.
During the first half of the 20th century, the state of North Carolina was a hotbed of minor league baseball action. In all, over 75 towns in the state fielded minor league nines at one time or another. The only other state with more participation was Texas, which saw over 100 cities and towns place teams in the minors.
In 1920, Wilson began an eight-year association with the Class B Virginia League. During their stay, the team, called the Bugs, won pennants in 1921, 1922 and 1923, although their 1921 pennant was later overturned by baseball commissioner Judge Landis because of salary cap infractions. Following the 1927 season, the Bugs dropped out of the league.
Twelve years later, a club from Wilson joined a Class D circuit called the Coastal Plain League. This loop, which was formed in 1937, consisted of eight teams located in the eastern portion of North Carolina. In 1939, the Wilson Tobs (short for tobacco) finished sixth with a record of 54-51. They bounced back strongly the next year, winning the pennant behind a 77-49 season. Impressive as this turnaround was, the Tobs improved dramatically in 1941.
Wilson's 1941 Coastal Plain entry won the pennant with a sparkling 87-30, .744 record. Greenville finished a distant second, 23.5 games behind the Tobs. In the playoffs, Wilson dispatched Rocky Mount, four games to one, before defeating Greenville, four games to two, to win the playoffs. The team finished with the best totals in six different categories including best batting average (.298), most runs (767), most doubles (247) and triples (59).
The '41 Tobs were managed by 28-year-old right-hander Bill Herring, a lifelong resident of the Coastal Plain, who was born in the hamlet of Seven Springs, not far from Kinston and Goldsboro. He had pitched in the league when it was still a semi-pro organization, then was with Portsmouth in the Piedmont league in 1936-37. He returned to the Coastal Plain League in 1938 with Ayden and managed the team for a portion of the season. In 1939, he had a 22-11, 1.97 record for Kinston, leading the league in wins and finishing the season as the Eagles manager. He pitched at the highest minor league level in 1940 with Milwaukee (American Association) and Montreal (International League), but returned to the Coastal Plain in 1941, preferring as he said, to be "a big fish in a little pond." That year he went 16-3, 2.25 with 19 complete games and three shutouts. When the Coastal Plain shut down for the duration of World War II after 1941, Wilson shifted to the Bi-State League and Herring again led the Tobs to first place in 1942. That league also suspended operations after 1942 and Herring pitched for PCL Portland in 1943. When the Coastal Plain resumed play in 1946, Herring managed Goldsboro for three years. In 1949, he piloted another of the top 100 teams, Pensacola in the Southeastern League, before returning to Wilson in 1950. He managed in the minors for three more years before leaving baseball.
The best batting numbers posted by a Wilson batter were put up by outfielder Earl Carnahan, who won the batting title with a mark of .370 and also led the league in hits (176), total bases (263) and doubles (38). Center fielder Red Treadway hit .319 and led the league in triples (14). Little second baseman Irv Dickens batted .289, led the league in runs (114) and was second in stolen bases (28). Right fielder Fred Eason hit .305 and led the Tobs in homers (18).
On the mound, Wilson was led by a pair of lefthanders, 21-year-old, 5'10" Monk Webb and 28-year-old, 6'6" Joe Talley. Webb (23-4, 2.27) led the league in wins. Talley (21-3, 1.93) led in ERA and percentage (.875). They tied for the league lead in shutouts with six each. Webb pitched 28 consecutive shutout innings in June, the streak ending with a bang when he gave up a grand-slam to Williamston manager Frank Rodgers.
Carnahan, Dickens, Talley, first baseman Doyt Morris, shortstop Pete Stuart and utility man Rich Hoyle all made the league All-Star team. Treadway played 11/2 years for the New York Giants, batting .266 in 1944-45. He then played for Los Angeles in the PCL and managed for several years. The only other Tob to see major league action was Morris, who went 2-for-13 for the 1937 Athletics.
With the exception of Treadway, all of these players spent most or all of their pro careers in the Coastal Plain League or nearby circuits such as the Piedmont or Bi-State. Dickens, for example, played eight years, seven with Wilson and one with Kinston, managing Wilson to a third place finish in 1946.
In its remaining seven years in the Coastal Plain, Wilson won one pennant, in 1947. After the 1952 season, the league disbanded. Four years later, another Wilson team called the Tobs joined the Class B Carolina League. In its 14 years in the Carolina (1956-68, 1973), the team won championships in 1959, 1961 and 1963. Currently, a collegiate circuit team makes its home in Wilson. This team also is known as the Tobs, playing in an amateur Coastal Plain League.
Although not playing in an elite league or in a fancy locale, the '41 Wilson Tobs finished as one of the top 100 teams in minor league history. Though not known nationally, this team finished with a .744 winning percentage - one of only a handful to finish at that lofty level.
|1941 Coastal Plains League Standings|
|1941 Wilson Tobs batting statistics|
|Fred Hoyle (Williamston)||OF||105||407||61||119||47||14||4||2||35||23||6||.292|
|William Brinkley (G'boro)||1B||102||367||57||105||46||13||4||6||40||49||5||.286|
|Dave Fuller (Goldsboro)||OF,P||53||124||18||39||14||7||1||0||8||16||1||.315|
|Allen Green (Williamston)||P||36||74||9||17||7||6||0||0||4||13||0||.230|
|Ben McElhaney (G'boro)||P||26||52||10||13||9||2||0||3||1||14||0||.250|
|Henry Mooney (Kinston)||P||25||32||4||5||2||1||0||0||5||13||0||.156|
|Morris Featherstone (N-G)||P||11||21||4||7||2||0||0||0||0||3||0||.333|
|1941 Wilson Tobs pitching statistics|
|Allen Green (Williamston)||10||11||.476||35||9||1||184||185||114||111||4.74|
|Ben McElhaney (Goldsboro)||7||7||.500||19||5||0||109||120||81||80||5.04|
|Dave Fuller (Goldsboro)||4||3||.571||13||2||1||67||83||20||18||4.16|
|Morris Featherstone (New Bern-Greenville)||3||2||.600||10||2||0||43||36||44||39|
|Hardin Hinton (Williamston)||1||4||.200||7||0||0||34||49||25||12|