ASHEVILLE- In celebration of Black History Month, throughout February, teams across Minor League Baseball are taking a look back at five of the best Black players to suit up for their club.
Here is a look at the top five African-American baseball players to suit up in Asheville, along with a few honorable mentions; criteria ranges from MLB performance, numbers put up in Asheville, and significance in both the baseball world as well as the Asheville community:
#5 Clarence Moore
Originally a member of the Asheville Black Tourists, Clarence Moore founded the Asheville Blues in the 1940s and recruited a number of his teammates to his new club; one of the most talented Negro baseball teams in the region.
Moore was born in El Dorado, Arkansas in 1908 and was drawn to baseball at an early age. During his teenage years and into his twenties, Moore faced off against some of the best African-American ballplayers including “Cool Papa” Bell and Satchel Paige. In 1934, Moore became a teacher and Athletic Director at Stevens-Lee High School in Asheville. Leading up to the 1944 season, Moore purchased the Asheville Blues. For the first two years of its existence, the Blues were Asheville’s only professional baseball team.
Moore led the Blues to back-to-back Negro Southern League championships in 1946 and 1947. He was then named the president of the newly formed Negro American Association, a league which was based in North Carolina that Moore and the Blues joined in 1948. Despite losing a lot of talent throughout the season, Moore led the Blues to a 38-9 record in the first half of the season and ultimately a runner-up finish in the championship.
Clarence Moore retired in 1973. He was inducted into Shaw University’s Athletic Hall of Fame, the Western North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame, and the North Carolina High School Athletic Association Hall of Fame (Mitchem, 2012). Moore’s contribution to the city of Asheville goes well beyond baseball; however, his Asheville Blues were one of the most successful and historically significant baseball teams in the city’s history.
*The information and photographs used to highlight Clarence Moore are from the article “Wonder Team of the Carolinas” C.L. Moore, the Asheville Blues, and Minor League Blackball in the South by Pamela Mitchem.
#4 Derrick Gibson
Derrick attended Haines City High School in Haines City, Florida where he was selected by the Colorado Rockies in the 13th Round of the 1993 MLB June Draft. Gibson was assigned to play for the Asheville Tourists during the 1995 season, a team that eventually had six players appear in the Major Leagues, including Todd Helton. The team also featured a future Tourists manager, Fred Ocasio, who managed Asheville to a SAL championship in 2014.
Gibson, an everyday outfielder for the club, hit .292 and sported and on-base percentage of .350 in 135 games. Derrick led the club with 148 hits and also led the team in stolen bases with 31. Where the outfielder really made his mark was his ability to hit the long ball.
Derrick blasted 32 Home Runs during the 1995 season and drove in 115 runs. His 32 Home Run-campaign ranks tied for seventh All-Time among Tourists and he is one of only 13 players to eclipse the 30-Home Run plateau. Derrick’s 115 RBI ranks 11th in club history. He is one of only 27 players to drive in 100 or more during a season.
Derrick appeared in 17 games with the Rockies from 1998-99. He went 4-for-4 in his first MLB game.
#3 Juan Pierre
Juan Pierre checks multiple boxes on our list of criteria. At the MLB level Juan accumulated over 2,200 hits, stole over 600 bases, and won a World Series title with the Florida Marlins in 2003. His career .295 batting average at the big-league level across 14 seasons speaks for itself.
Pierre led the National League in hits on two separate occasions and totaled four seasons with 200 hits or more. He also led the league in stolen bases in 2001, 2003, and 2010. Juan did not miss a game from 2003-2007.
Those who watched Juan play in Asheville during the 1999 season may have seen it coming. The Mobile, Alabama native took the South Atlantic League by storm during his one season with the Tourists. Pierre appeared in 140 games, accrued a league record 187 hits, stole 66 bases, and batted .320. Pierre’s record of 187 hits still stood when the SAL came to an end in 2019. Of Juan’s 187 hits, only one was a Home Run. It just so happened to be a walk-off Grand Slam.
#2 Eddie Murray
In 1975, Asheville’s 19-year-old right-handed hitting first baseman, Eddie Murray, was looking for a way to break out of a slump. Manager Jim Schaffer had Murray hit from the left side of the plate during early work and would watch him hit balls out of the park for weeks. Finally, Schaffer told Murray to give batting left-handed during the game a shot. To say that decision paid off is an understatement (Christensen, 2003).
Murray hit .264 with 17 Home Runs and 68 RBI with Asheville. He was voted a Southern League All-Star. In 1977 Murray was named the American League Rookie of the Year. The future MLB Hall of Famer would go on to hit Home Runs from both sides of the plate in the same game an MLB record 11 times during his career.
Eddie Murray hit 504 Home Runs during his 21-year Major League career. He was an eight-time All-Star, three-time Silver Slugger, and three-time Gold Glove winner. Murray is also the MLB Career leader in Sacrifice Flies with 128. Eddie was inducted in the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2003. Had it not been for Schaffer’s decision to allow Murray the opportunity to switch hit, baseball may have been denied one of its all-time greats.
#1 Willie Stargell
In 1961 the Asheville Tourists dominated the South Atlantic League with an 87-50 record. They finished in first place; 13 games clear of their closest competitor. The Tourists offense during the ’61 season was a big reason for Asheville’s success and the leader of that offensive unit was future Hall of Famer Willie Stargell, who was serenaded by Tourists fans throughout the season with the rallying cry “On the hill, Will!” because of the massive Home Runs he was capable of hitting (Ballew. 2007).
At age 21, Stargell helped pace the Tourists with 22 Home Runs, 89 RBI, 21 doubles, and eight triples. A few years later Stargell made his first MLB All-Star appearance, one of seven in his MLB career. Across his 21 seasons in the Major Leagues, all with the Pittsburgh Pirates, Stargell hit 475 Home Runs accumulated 2,232 hits, and drove in 1,540 runs. Willie led the NL in Home Runs on two separate occasions and also led the league in RBI in 1973. He helped lead the Pirates to World Series Championships in 1971 and 1979.
The Earlsboro, Oklahoma native finished second in the NL MVP voting twice before winning the MVP in 1979. It was the first time in MLB history a player won the NLCS MVP, World Series MVP, and NL MVP in the same season. Stargell was inducted into the MLB Hall of Fame in 1988, his first year on the ballot.
Dock Ellis (1966): Ellis won 138 games in the Major Leagues. His most famous victory was a no-hitter thrown on June 12, 1970. The no-hitter was caught by former Tourists catcher Jerry May.
Hal King (1967): As a catcher for the Tourists in 1967, King hit 30 Home Runs and drove in 87. King recorded 132 hits and batted .288. King spent parts of seven seasons in the Major Leagues.
Tommy Dunbar (1981): Dunbar spent 1980 and 1981 with Asheville but it was his ’81 season that stood out. Tommy recorded 157 hits and scored 101 runs during the campaign. Dunbar played in the Major Leagues from 1983-85.
Rich Johnson (1986): Johnson put together arguably the greatest half season in Tourists history prior to a mid-season promotion. In the first half of 1986, Johnson played in 68 games with Asheville. He hit 24 Home Runs and recorded 101 hits - a .396 batting average.
Eric Anthony (1988): Anthony finished the 1988 season in Asheville with 29 Home Runs and 36 doubles. He spent nine seasons in the Major Leagues, five of them with the Houston Astros.
Kenny Lofton (1989): Lofton’s MLB numbers are certainly good enough to be on this list. A six-time All-Star, four-time Gold Glove winner, and over 2,400 hits. However, Lofton only spent 22 games with Asheville in 1989.
Willie Ansley (1989): Ansley was drafted in the first round, seventh overall, by the Houston Astros out of Plainview High School in Texas. Willie appeared in 103 games with Asheville in 1989 where he hit .309 with a .431 on base percentage and stole 53 bases.
Dexter Fowler (2006): Fowler posted solid numbers during his one season with Asheville in 2006. The current MLB outfielder hit .296 with eight Home Runs and 31 doubles across 99 games. Dexter has gone on to play 14 seasons in the Major Leagues. He’s accumulated over 1,300 hits and hit 127 Home Runs.
Correlle Prime (2014): Correlle hit .291 with a team best 21 Home Runs and tied for the team lead in RBI with 102. He was voted the starting first-baseman on the SAL southern division All-Star team. Prime also paced the Tourists in their postseason championship run with a .414 batting average. Of his 12 postseason hits, none were bigger than his monstrous, game-tying, solo Home Run at Grayson Stadium in Savannah that came in a Tourists 2-1, series clinching victory.
A History of Professional Baseball in Asheville. Bill Ballew. 2007.
Black Ball. “Wonder Team of the Carolinas” C.L. Moore, the Asheville Blues and Minor League Baseball in the South. Pamela Mitchem. 2012. Pp. 33-51.
The Baltimore Sun. “Switch-hitting experiment paid off”. Joe Christensen. 2003.