Greenville and the Upstate region has a rich baseball history. Everyone knows the stories of “Shoeless” Joe Jackson and others, including Tommy Lasorda, Nolan Ryan, and Jim Rice. However, the lesser known stories include the Greenville Black Spinners, St. Anthony’s, and Sterling High School – teams that also utilized Mayberry Park and Meadowbrook Park.
As the Drive continues the celebration of Black History Month, we are proud to pay homage to the Greenville Black Spinners, with a commemorative Greenville Black Spinners t-shirt. You can pre-order the t-shirt by CLICKING HERE. Proceeds from the sale of this t-shirt will support the City of Greenville’s Unity Park project, particularly the restoration of Mayberry Park.
Greenville Drive owner Craig Brown and his wife, Vicki, are among the first partners with the City of Greenville in donating to Unity Park. The couple provided funding for the restoration and preservation of historic Mayberry Park, built in the 1920s for Black children at a time they were not allowed to play in the city’s segregated parks. Mayberry Park, which sat just beyond the outfield wall of Meadowbrook Park, will be known as Mayberry Field when Unity Park opens in spring 2022.
The following passages were taken from the upcoming book, Voices from Meadowbrook Park, Memories of Greenville, South Carolina’s Historic Baseball Park (1938-1972) written by Greenville historian, author, and Drive season ticket holder, Mike Chibbaro. The book will be released in late March 2022, and can be preordered by CLICKING HERE.
On a warm June morning in 2021, John Calvin Whiteside returned for a visit to Mayberry Park. He stood in a familiar spot on the grass covered infield, halfway between second and third base. More than fifty years have passed since Whiteside was a slick fielding shortstop for his high school team, the Sterling Tigers. Sterling practiced at Mayberry Park and played its home games at the adjacent Meadowbrook Park.
Whiteside was one of many youth from the surrounding neighborhoods who chased down baseballs beyond the boundaries of Meadowbrook Park, sometimes even jumping into the Reedy River to retrieve the souvenir. “We would take the balls and sell them to the White parents going into the game who gave them to their children. We would get anywhere from twenty-five cents to a dollar for a ball, which would give us money to go to a movie, plus buy us something at the concession stand,” Whiteside remembered. “Sometimes we would take the ball to the gate at Meadowbrook and if we gave it back, they would let us in the game free.”
Whiteside and his friends often watched games at Meadowbrook standing atop a small hill outside the park and peering over the left field wall. “I remember standing on that hill watching Willie Stargell hit one over the right field wall and over the Reedy River,” Whiteside’s cousin, Marion Butler, said about a memorable home run the future Hall of Famer hit in 1961 while playing for the Asheville Tourists.
On that June morning when Whiteside returned to his shortstop position at Mayberry Park, the sounds of heavy construction equipment could be heard as workers graded the land for the planned 60-acre, $40 million Unity Park. The new park is in part an attempt by the city to right some of the past wrongs related to the inadequacy of recreational facilities offered to Greenville’s Blacks during segregation. Whiteside smiles at the irony of the massive construction in an area where the city’s investment was so minimal during the days of his childhood.
“The infield at Mayberry was lots of lumps and bumps. We’d have to pick up rocks and glass out of the infield before practice,” Whiteside said. “We had a single merry go round that held about three of us, a swing set and one see-saw.”
The distance between the outfield fence of Mayberry Park and the concrete outfield wall of Meadowbrook Park was a few hundred feet. In terms of access for Blacks, there was a vast chasm between the two parks, a divide that had been built over years of legalized racial segregation.
For most of Meadowbrook’s life, it was a place where Blacks were only allowed to use the park on selected dates and times, and their access came with a series of restrictions. If a Black resident attended a “non-Black” event they were forced to sit in the designated “colored section” along the third-base line. Separate, but certainly not equal, concession and restroom facilities were provided. Members of Black teams playing at Meadowbrook dressed in their uniforms prior to arriving at Meadowbrook as they were not allowed to use the park’s locker rooms.
Like many other American cities, Greenville’s Black community built its own baseball world. Author Donn Rogosin in his book, Invisible Men, Life in Baseball’s Negro Leagues, explains that these baseball sub-cultures were built out of necessity.
Baseball has long been called America’s game. It was not just white America’s game, it was a game loved by all races, but due to the segregated society that emerged in America during reconstruction, Black communities were forced to build their own baseball world.
In segregated America, great Black baseball players were forced to exhibit their talents behind a rigid color barrier—victims of the unwritten law that no black man was allowed in the major leagues. Men of extraordinary athletic ability passed their lives in obscurity, absent from the sport pages of the white newspapers, obliterated from American sports history.
Confronted by an intolerant society, the Black athlete and the Black community built their own sports world. Black teams were formed and later, black leagues…Black teams, representing Black communities, formed a replica of major-league baseball, separate and unequal in everything but athletic ability.
Baseball was played non-stop by youth at Mayberry Park or on any other open field within the black neighborhoods of Greenville. Adults played baseball as well as softball on evenings and weekends.
Meadowbrook Park became the home field for games for the following Black teams: The Sterling High School Tigers, The Greenville Black Spinners, The Greenville Red Socks, the St. Anthony Braves and the Greenville Negro All-Stars. The most prominent of the semi-pro teams was the Greenville Black Spinners.
The first reference to an organized Black baseball team in Greenville dates to 1910 when The Greenville News reported on a game between the Greenville Giants and a similar team from Anderson. The Giants were referred to as “Greenville’s fast colored team” and one of “the best colored teams in the State.” The team disappeared around the time World War I began but made a brief reappearance in the late 1940s.
The Black Spinners were a collection of mostly local players who competed against teams like the Spartanburg Sluggers, Easley Browns, Asheville Blues, Charlotte Black Hornets or the Raleigh Tigers. Initially, home games were played on the baseball field on Perry Avenue and later at Graham Field, and Meadowbrook became the Black Spinners official home when it opened in 1938. Many of the Black Spinners games were scheduled for Monday evenings when the park was not being used by Greenville’s White professional team.
Infrequent and brief accounts of Black Spinners’ contests appeared in The Greenville News from 1921 to 1969. Advertisements for the games always included the following statement: “A special section will be reserved for white fans at the game.” Most often, this meant that the entire grandstand section on the third base side was reserved for Whites. The games drew large crowds, particularly those against archrival Spartanburg. Whenever gate receipts were significant enough, players were paid small amounts of money for their play.
Meadowbrook also became a stop-over for traveling Negro League teams. The Kansas City Monarchs appeared at Meadowbrook in 1955, 1961 and 1962. The Monarchs opponent in their August 16, 1962 visit to Meadowbrook was the Harlem Stars, a team that featured legendary Hall of Fame pitcher Leroy “Satchel” Paige. The 56-year-old Paige hurled three scoreless innings before a sparse crowd of 528 as Harlem defeated Kansas City 8-4.
The Indianapolis Clowns of the Negro American League played at Meadowbrook eight times between 1953 and 1970. The 1953 appearance of the Clowns showcased their second baseman Toni Stone, the first female player in the Negro Leagues.
A barnstorming group of Negro Major League All-Stars played a series of exhibition games throughout the southeast in 1960 and stopped at Meadowbrook on the evening of October 20. The game featured the Milwaukee Braves’ Hank Aaron who went on to break Babe Ruth’s career homerun record, along with the L.A. Dodgers Maury Wills, Cincinnati’s Vada Pinson and Cleveland’s Jim “Mudcat” Grant. The Greenville News promoted the game, yet no account of the game’s results appeared the following day in either the morning or evening papers in Greenville.