Former Carolina League president Jim Mills, who spent more than a half-century in baseball and for whom the league's championship trophy is named, has died. He was 89.
A North Carolina native, Mills died Friday in Southern Pines. According to the (Durham) Herald-Sun, he had suffered a stroke in September.
During his tenure from 1977-83, Mills oversaw an unprecedented expansion of the league from four to eight teams, including the return of baseball to Durham, N.C., after a seven-year absence.
When he was chosen to succeed the late Wallace McKenna as president, the circuit had an annual attendance of 167,000. By the time Mills' term ended, that figure was up to 600,000. Carolina League attendance for the 2008 season was just over 1.7 million.
Mills went on to serve as a consultant for the Durham Bulls and was inducted to the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame in 1997.
According to a history of the Carolina League written by Jim L. Sumner, Mills began playing Minor League ball in 1941 for Owensboro of the Kentucky-Ohio-Missouri League. Following a four-year stint in the U.S. Army Air Corps, he resumed his playing career before becoming a player-manager through 1953 for Concord, Mooresville and Rocky Mount of the North Carolina State, Coastal Plain and Tar Heel leagues. He batted .386 for Mooresville in 1949, posted a .310 career average and compiled a 308-255 managerial record.
Mills returned to the Carolina League as an umpire in 1954, was named general manager of Fayettevile's North Carolina State League team in 1956 and remained a Minor League executive through 1971. The following year, he became a field representative for the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues.
Mills also officiated basketball and football games in the Atlantic Coast and Southeastern conferences for two decades.
He is survived by his wife of 63 years, Florence, three daughters, a son, six grandchildren and three great grandchildren. Funeral services are Monday at 11 a.m. ET in Apex, N.C.
Daren Smith is an editor for MLB.com.