These first families struggled to adapt from open air work dictated by the sun and seasons to the close confines and the rigid schedule of the mills; the Southern Textile Bulletin recommended that owners offer employees "recreation, exercise, [and] entertainment" to help textile workers "look on the bright side." As Hall noted in her book: " Mills also financed workers' baseball teams and organized factory leagues in an effort to transform sandlot games into a sport sponsored by and identified with the company." In his book They Called It Inman, local historian James Walton Lawrence, Jr., divulged a "closely guarded secret" kept by the Chapman family for many years that gives insight into Papa Chapman's paternalism:
" Management at the mill would provide as many amenities for their work force and their families 'as the traffic would bear.' In turn, the early workers brought with them from the mountains a philosophy that was passed on to succeeding generations and lingers within those brick walls today…to always give an honest day's work for an honest day's pay."
Long before Mr. Chapman sponsored the first team in 1906, baseball was being called The Great American Game. On May 13, 1869, the first baseball game in Spartanburg County was played between Wofford and the Pioneers at Kirby Hill. By the 1880's, mill workers played "cow pasture ball" while their barefoot children played on clay streets with picker sticks for bats and balls cobbled together from yarn and cloth. The love of the game increased and, as Thomas K. Perry noted in his book Textile League Baseball: South Carolina's Mill Teams, 1880-1955, "base ball fever extend[ed] from the mill president to the janitor, and the community that did not have its bunch of fans was a rarity." In 1915, the Inman Hornets – the mill officials – and the Inman Tigers – the operatives, played a "fine game of ball" in which the officials won 17 to 14, a testament to the closeness of the mill family and the love of the sport.
In1907, Greenville formed the Cotton Mill Baseball League, and soon every mill had built a baseball diamond. Jim Everhart, a First Team or "A" level Inman Mills player (and its beloved Recreation Director for over fifty years,) recalled how the mill came to have a ballpark: "Employees had the desire to play that game they called textile baseball, but they didn't have a place to play." Inman Mills had a cow pasture with barns and hog pens and they "cleaned off a little place on a big ole red hill with barbed wire around it to keep the cows out and built the first Inman Mills baseball park. Then they come a little later on along and built a wooden grandstand behind home plate. They put up a plank fence all the way around the ballpark and done away with the barbed wire."
Inman Mills played a handful of games each season as an independent team from 1906 until 1923 when they joined the Spartanburg county League. Big Jim said most of the players were employees of the mill but "there were people who lived around here, not employees, but good ball players who found some way they could play for Inman Mills." Players, like Ellard Nix, were tough; he pitched 21 innings in 1912 against Beaumont Mill, only to lose 1-0. Before WWI, textile ball was a little rougher and rules were sometimes broken. Competition between mills became fierce. Textile league baseball's first star, Champ Osteen commented: "it was a game where no quarter was asked or given…where open wounds and tobacco juice were items of the trade." Balls were scarce, gloves were primitive, and uniforms were a luxury.
And there were cows. Cow pasture ball was a reality for players at Inman Mills; the cows and their aroma have been known to rattle visiting teams. Originally, the cows belonged to operatives who lived in the mill village; there were cow barns alongside hog sheds. The Chapman family decided to raise cattle on the 700-acre Inman Mills Farm in 1952. The position of the herd was a reliable predictor of weather; if they stayed out in left field, the good weather would hold, if they headed toward right field on their way to the barn, fans would know rain was imminent. Everhart once asked nostalgically: "Where else can you go to a ballpark and see an old scoreboard that you hang scores on, an old grandstand and an old cow pasture beyond the outfield?”
The April 1, 1921 headline of the Spartanburg Herald Journal read: "Textile Baseball League With Six Strong Clubs Is To Provide Clean Sport." The article stressed that the league was "strictly on an amateur basis…without compensating the players," but as Perry stated in his book, by the mid 1920's, "the mills began bidding against each other for the best players and the true amateur days were gone. By most accounts of the men who played, their skills were on par with mid-level minor leagues." This helped mill ball gain respect outside the mill village and townies now looked at baseball as more than just a side event during Inman's big Fourth of July Festivities.
The Fourth of July baseball games were all day affairs enjoyed by mill workers and "townies" alike. As Perry wrote: " when it came to sponsoring celebrations on the Fourth of July, mill owners and their operatives did not take a back seat to anyone." Some mills had greasy pole climbs and sack races. Roosevelt Bridges recalled: " Games began at ten in the morning and went on till it got dark…The Sympathy Club would make fried chicken, people were singing whatever song was the most popular tune on the radio …women showin' off those hats." On July 4, 1936, Inman Mill's Spartanburg County League "B" team played at home in the morning played against Glendale, while the Eastern Carolina League "A" team played at Whitney: in the afternoon, the Inman "A" team played again against Pacolet on their home field. The July 5, 1936 Herald-Journal reported: " Four baseball players were treated for scratches and bruises they were said to have received in a baseball game at Inman." This accident report showed that games were often quite spirited.
During this time there were three teams: the First Nine" or "A" team that played on Friday and Saturday afternoons, the "Second Nine" of "B" team that played only on Saturday afternoons, and the "outlaws," young adults who played Saturday mornings. Youngsters developed skills from watching adult family members play. Perry wrote of this special family connection: "They became the mill's boys of summer, whose exploits on baked clay waxed legendary from father to son." John Messer played on a "B" team in 1950; his father, Joe, played for Inman from 1921 to 1925. Jim Everhart's grandfather, A. J. "Jeff" Lee, also played mill ball. Similarly, many players passed their gifts to their sons, making textile ball a family affair. Sur names like Maybry, Waldrop, Nix, Pack, and Parris, which filled the line ups before World War I, could be found on the rosters after World War II and beyond.
Jim Everhart spoke of those early years: "After WW1 everything seemed real rosy, it was good times for all. People had plenty of money and the textile league program was a thriving thing. …Then, the stock market crashed…but people continued to play." To lighten everyone's load, Donkey Ball, "America's newest comedy sport" was played at the ballpark in 1937. Donkey Ball was played across the country to raise money for charity. The June 5th 1937 edition of the Spartanburg Herald-Journal reported: "The town of Inman and Inman Mill will stage a batting, riding and – perhaps – kicking duel." Prominent citizens and baseball players came together to forget there troubles and enjoy the game they loved. Bases were sixty feet apart and four feet square, there was no such thing as a strike out, and even the umpire mounted a donkey. Roosevelt Franklin remembers that anybody willing to get on a donkey could play. "It might take five hours to get an out," he recalled, but everyone had a good time.
The House of David baseball team also came to entertain the Inman community on May 13, 1940. Members of a religious colony founded in Michigan, one of their tenets stated they must never shave or cut their hair. These famous sports clowns played before packed houses wherever they went; their beards were a novelty as much as their famous "pepper game." Games like these helped mill people and townspeople find common ground through baseball.
In the 1930's, both textile ball and the Inman Mills Park underwent changes. Everhart said they moved the ballpark, which had been in the same place since 1906, toward Cothran Creek: "They got the chain gang from Spartanburg County and mules with drag pans, and they run the creek in a different direction away from the old ballpark, filled up the old channel, and run it through the outfield. They moved the infield and made a big ballpark with a new wooden grandstand on the first base side, a new dugout with a tin roof with chicken wire to protect ballplayers, and everything was hokey dokey."
Inman Mills built a better team in the 1930's by paying its players. Everhart said John C. Bell, president of the Inman team, was a cotton buyer for the mill who smoked tailor made Camel cigarettes, often two at a time. Bell was also the team manager until 1941. " He was looking for players…times was still hard, but if you was a good athlete, you could come to Inman Mills and play ball and maybe find a job." Bell also recruited players from Wofford College. They were paid a weekly mill wage plus a little extra for playing ball, but as Everhart said: "Nobody was allowed to work." Players had token jobs, such as riding around on the trash truck, counting money, or just hanging around the ballpark.
From 1934 to 1937, Inman had teams in both the Spartanburg County Textile League (playing against Gaffney, Arkwright, Arcadia, Valley Falls, Whitney, Clifton and Fairmont) and the Eastern Carolina Textile League (playing against Mills Mill, Drayton, Lyman, Converse, Pacolet, Beaumont, and Tucapau.) Bell's investment in players paid off. Inman pitcher J. E. Blackwell was signed to the Detroit Tigers in 1935. The second (or B team) won the 1934 Spartanburg County Textile League Championship, and The 1938 Tri-County League Championship. Play continued from 1939 to 1940, and when America entered the war, many mill workers put down their bats to serve their country. Some mills kept the game alive during until 1945; Inman fielded a team in the 1941 Spartanburg County Colored League, but baseball was put on hold until after World War II.
Thomas Perry noted that South Carolina textile mills had African-American teams (called Negro or Colored Leagues) as early as 1895." Blacks held menial jobs in the mill…and, though, not strongly supported in their recreational efforts, they did manage to field baseball teams alongside their white counterparts." The Carolina Colored League began in 1914. There were to be twenty games in 1941 when Inman played Saxon Mills, Arcadia, Beaumont, and Converse, but as Perry stated : "Arcadia was declared the first half winner, and Pacolet declared the second half flag, though there was no series played to determine the season's champs." In 1950, Inman played the Drayton Black Dragons, the Gaffney Black Tigers, the Pacolet Black Trojans, Gaffney, and Saxon Mills.
In 1946, Jim Everhart returned to Inman and worked briefly as a painter for the mill. Then, he bought a Chevy truck and tried to "make a million dollars" hauling produce. His 1941 American Legion championship teammate, Grey Gosnell, asked if he would like to play ball in Campobello. Everhart replied, "I sure would…I had on my Sunday go to meetin' clothes so I rolled up my britches… Someway that pitcher went and hit my bat real hard. It went over the bob wire fence, and old Jim became a hero in the Campobello season of 1946." Everhart played with other Inman boys: Belton Parris, George Parris, Otis Maybry, Bill Blackwell, and his 4th Street gang buddy, Jack Donahoo. " We had a good team. We won more than we lost…and at the end of the season… I decided peddlin' wasn't my cup of tea, so I asked my daddy how about putting me back to work."
In the spring of 1947, a meeting was held in the old company store to talk about forming a baseball team with Earl Prince as manager. The old Inman ballpark had "lost its luster." According to Everhart, the field was overgrown with weeds; people had torn the grandstand and wooden fence down, and used the lumber to heat their houses. In 1947, a yearlong remodeling project was started. Everhart said the mill built "cement grandstands and bleachers, put up eight poles with lights on them, got good infield grass…concession stands, rest rooms, a ticket office, a press box, …a score board on the third base side…and a place to park the cars." There was a new playground built with a merry go round and swings, an outdoor basketball court, two tennis court, and a volley ball court built as well. John Bell had spent big bucks recruiting the 1939-1940 team; the second John Chapman – known as "Mr. Jim"- said: "John, you spent $900 on that ball team. Looks Like you are going to break Inman Mills." After $30,000 was spent on remodeling the park, Bell "reminded Mr. Jim of what he had said before. Mr. Jim replied, 'Well John, things have changed a lot in 7 years.'"
Inman began the 1947 season in the Spartanburg County League. As Everhart said, "We thought we were top dogs…we knew we could tear 'em up." Everhart hurt his ankle before the opening game, and Jackson Mills "beat the socks off" Inman twenty to one. Southern Shops had to drop out of the league mid-season, but they had a good pitcher. The operatives in the card room paid Earl "Lefty" McGraw $50.00 a week to pitch for Inman. Soon, the team found its stride and Inman Mills was in fourth place and in the playoffs. Over 2,000 people came to Duncan Park to watch Inman Mills beat Clifton to win the 1947 Spartanburg County League Playoff Championship. "Mr. Chapman took us to Epp's eating place and fed us a big meal," Everhart recalled. Mill workers had taken up a collection during the season and each player was given $25.00; Mr. Chapman matched the amount so everyone was paid $50.00. "We was in high cotton," Everhart recalled, "you talk about money, we had it, baby!"
On the heels of their championship, Inman Mills moved into the 1948 Eastern Carolina Textile League. "That was the big league," Everhart said. " They bought us new wool uniforms, white, trimmed in red for home, grey trimmed in red for away." Inman played Tuesday and Thursday nights, and Everhart was paid $20.00 a week on top of his weekly wage. He happily recalled: " I started painting at 9:30 in the morning, quit when I wanted to, played ball, and I received all that money." The "home town boys" went on become the 1948 Eastern Carolina League Champions.
Inman won the 1949 pennant, but lost in the playoffs to Excelsior. In 1950, Everhart said Inman played " three games a week, Tuesday, Friday and Saturday nights…with a team playing out on the road going and out on the road coming, it wasn't good baseball." Pay increased to the ringers, as discipline declined. "[The game] lost it's little home town feeling with hometown boys getting pushed off to the sideline…Sort of a mess," Everhart said. Inman also had a "B" team in the Mid-County League, and a team in the Carolina Colored League. Everhart recalled that in 1951, "Mr. James and Mr. Bob Chapman were gonna stop that big time baseball. They were in the business of making cloth… If you played, you played, if you worked, you worked, but that was the end of payin' ball players."
Everhart was asked to coach a team in the 1951 Textile Industrial League. 1952 was a rough year for mill ball. Irvin Cribb wrote in the Herald-Journal: " The top league in the area – the Eastern Carolina – is not operating. Several other loops have thrown in the towel." Inman played in the Eastern Carolina League in 1953 and 1955. Many players left the textile leagues to play slow pitch softball. Fans enamored with the new car culture, began to follow racing. Jim Everhart said in a 1969 Herald-Journal interview that he " quit playing in the early '60s. I figured I had played long enough. "
Inman played in semi-pro and quasi-textile leagues such as the Spartanburg County, Textile Industrial, and Twin County Leagues until the 1970's when African American players like Don Landrum broke the color barrier. "I played in the old Spartanburg County League," Landrum said. "As far as I know we were the only team still sponsored by the mill. A lot of the players were older than I and it was quite an education in textile baseball. I played that until it finally disbanded in the late 90's." According to Landrum, there were two leagues at that time : "The Palmetto State League, which was comprised of teams that were predominately black and the Spartanburg County League which was comprised of teams that were predominately white. I played in both leagues until they merged. There were a lot of talented players in both leagues. It made for quite a Saturday or Sunday afternoon in some cases." Mill sponsored teams played into the 1990's, but the glory days were over.
Fans of Textile League baseball's golden years remained loyal and paid to attend "Old Timer's" Reunions that began in 1975. These featured attendance of players such as Ernest "Powerhouse" Hawkins who played for Arkwright Mills and "Big Jim" Everhart of Inman. Some of the other players that attended reunions were Reginald and Don Campbell, the Parris Boys – Belton, Buster, Otis and George- Jake Cantrell, Buzzy Camp, Rip Collins, Reginald Campbell, Alan Clark, and Tom Stilwell, business manager. Stories were told and legends were made. Roosevelt Bridges heard that Everhart had hurt his legs in World War II, so "Big Jim" developed a playing style to give him time to run the bases. Franklin said: " He hit the ball, and it would get lost up there in the clouds. "High Fly Jim" we called him. He'd run around the bases while they were lookin' for the ball. It was up so high." Joe Everhart commented on these tales: " I am not surprised…Uncle Jim was a great story teller… I know he did not run very well, but none of us Everhart's are very fast runners.”
The history of the league was in danger of being lost; many of the stories had been passed down orally. These reunions were one way the leagues and their players were honored and remembered. In 1986, Thomas K. Perry sent a letter to the Herald-Journal calling for material for a book on textile league baseball. Fans and former players reached out and sent their photos and recollections. His book is now considered to be the definitive history of textile league baseball in South Carolina. Bob Nestor also preserved the history in his book Baseball in Greenville and Spartanburg. Today's fans can see great Inman Mills and American Legion photos and read Big Jim's recollections at bigjimeverhart.com, a site maintained by Jim Everhart's nephew and grandnephew.
Jim Everhart stressed that the Chapman family "believed in community recreation…As long as there were those who wished to play, the expenses of running the team were paid for by the Chapmans." Big Jim said that as far as he knew, "the Chapman family and Inman Mills [were] the only firm in Spartanburg County… that still furnished recreation to the community." Then, in 2006, Inman Mills plant number one was sold. According to Robert Thomas of the Greenville Textile Heritage Society, "the future of Inman Mills Ball Park was in doubt… Thanks to an $85,000 grant secured by Representative Ralph Davenport, S.C. House District 37, new lighting and underground power was installed to literally save historic Inman Mills Ball Park." Scenes for the movie Walker Payne were filmed at the park in 2006. In 2008, Inman honored Everhart by renaming the ballpark Jim Everhart Field, now the home to Inman American Legion Post #45 and the Spartanburg Christian Academy baseball teams.
"Big Jim" told many tales about mill ball, but one story captured how beloved the old ballpark was to the mill community. In 1981, former Inman Mills pitcher Bodie Fite returned to Inman Mills Field to see the ballpark one more time on his ninetieth birthday. "He came all the way from California to Inman to see this ballpark," Everhart said. " It was his lifelong dream… Bodie got up on the pitcher's mound and his family took pictures of him. He just had one more heck of a good time." Then, as Fite got back into the van to leave, he leaned his head down and died. Jim Everhart died in 2011. Like Bodie Fite, Big Jim was living his dream. He once said of baseball: "I'm so glad I had a lifetime of playing. I dream about it and wish everybody had a chance to play textile ball like ole Jim did."
FULL EXPANDED VERSION
"Textile League Baseball at Inman Mills: A Ballpark in the Side of a Cow Pasture"
by Bonnie Werlinich
Cotton being loaded onto a wagon outside Inman Mills prior to WWI. Photo courtesy of bigjimeverhart.com
On a fine summer day, in a time before television, a small boy completes a rite of passage. Balancing on a narrow two by four support, he makes his way around the entire length of the Inman Mills Baseball Park fence. Little Roosevelt Bridges puts twenty-five pennies from twenty-five returnable Coke bottles into the usher's hand (and gets three of his friends in as well.) Out in the parking lot, young Johnny Messer parks cars "as a reward for being a good Boy Scout in Inman Mills sponsored Troop #26." Inside, on the green grass section, mill workers spread tablecloths and share food with their neighbors; the grandstand, now full to bursting, leaves standing room only for those who arrived late. Beyond the outfield, mill cows munch contentedly, predicting fair weather, as "Big Jim Everhart" comes up to bat.
"Unbridled and unabashed, must-attend events:" that's how John Messer described game day at Inman Mills Park. "The major textile companies sponsored the teams" which gave mill owners and operatives "a sense of pride and identity." Retired Saybrook employee Michael Sams recalled that baseball "was really THE pastime. We made our own entertainment." The 1930's were the glory days of the Textile League, but the heyday for Inman Mills was after World War II when a bunch of hometown boys became the 1947 Spartanburg County League Playoff Champions, the 1948 Eastern Carolina League Champions, and the 1949 Eastern Carolina League Pennant Champs. Baseball at Inman Mills was more than a just a game; it was part of the fabric that wove mill workers and "Townies" together, a place where all residents, both black and white, could unite and cheer for the home town team.
When James A. Chapman completed Inman Mills in 1902, the operatives came from the mountains with beliefs that were rooted in a rural way of life; their principles were based on hard work, independence and self-sufficiency, yet were balanced with sharing, reciprocity, and "neighborliness." Jacquelyn Dowd Hall noted in Like A Family: The Making of a Southern Cotton Mill World that "each family strove to take care of itself, but its survival rested squarely on a broader interdependence of kith and kin." In order to stay connected, these families "visited" and socialized when they went to church. By bringing these values to the mill village, this communal safety net gave families solidarity and helped them endure the five and a half day workweeks in a noisy factory, the stigma of being called a "linthead," and tough economic times.
Front row, L to R: Buchanan, Belton Parris, Pete Laurens, Bob Witherow, Otis Maybry, Oneil Casey, Gene Kirkpatrick. Back row L to R: Tom Stillwell, Earl Prince, Earl McCraw, Perrin Waldrop, Jim Everhart, Joe Robertson, Bill Kerr, Allen Clark, and Jake Cantrell. Photo courtesy of bigjimeverhart.com.
Sitting L to R: Otis Maybry, Earl McCraw, Otis Parris, Belton Parris.Kneeling L to R: Allen Clark, Ike Helms, Jake Cantrell, Reg Campbell, Earl Prince, manager. Standing L to R: Buzzy Shelton, Jim Everhart,Joe Robertson, Rip Collins, Perrin Waldrop, George Paris, Buster Parris, T.D. Stillwell.
1918 House of David Baseball Team. Photo: Chris Serrano, House of David Museum.
photo courtesy of Bonnie Werlinich
1915 Inman Mills baseball team. Photo courtesy of bigjimeverhart.com.
June 22, 1979 Old Timers Textile League Baseball Players Reunion held at Spartanburg Memorial Auditorium. Front, L to R: Belton Parris, Otis Parris, Buster Parris, Jim Everhart. Back, L to R: Joe Robertson, Rip Collins, Allen Clark, Jake Cantrell, George Parris. Photo courtesy of bigjimeverhart.com
Donald Landrum, standing, fourth from left. Photo courtesy of Inman Mills.
Inman Mills 1947 Spartanburg County League Playoff Champions. Kneeling L to R: J. B. Waldrop, Earl "Lefty McCraw, Reg Campbell, Belton Parris, Don Campbell, Otis Parris, Jack Donahoo, Standing L to R: Bob Davis, Mark Shockley, Jim Everhart, George Parris, Arthur Cothran, Arthur "Pern" Waldrop, "Brownie Pack, and Earl "Honey" Prince, manager.
Photo courtesy of Robert Thomas
Everhart and Donahoo on the Junior American Legion South Carolina ChampionshipTeam in 1941. Front L to R: Mack Blanton, Norman Boling, Jim Hazel, Jim Everhart, Jack Bagwell, Greg Scott, Otis Mabry, and J.P. Medlock. Back L to R: Harold Porter, Alton Linder, A.T. Sumner, Ralph Linder, Grey Gosnell, Woody Beasley, Vernon Medlock and coach Lonnie Dunlap. Photo courtesy of bigjimeverhart.com.
John C. Bell, manager, near home plate on Inman Field in the 1940 season ("Note old wooden grandstand and fence and Mr. Bell's cigar: should have been a Camel cigarette.") photo courtesy of Inman Mills.
Inman Mills 1939 Textile Baseball Team of the Eastern Carolina League. Front L to R: Batboys Buford Hayes and Johnny Bell, Jr. Sitting L to R: Eddie Smith, George Parris, Otis "Tairp" Parris, Curt Randall, Ed Parris and Charlie Quinn. Kneeling L to R: Hayes "Speck" Clark, Wade Abernathy, Arthur Penn Waldrop, Ernest "Powerhouse" Hawkins, Brownlow Pack, and Furman Dobson. Standing L to R: Claude High, scorer, Autry "Bo" Dotherow, Lewis "Bob" Davis, Roy Lowe, and John C. Bell, manager. Photo courtesy of Inman Mills.
Fourth Street Gang in the Inman Mills village circa 1930's. Front L to R: Jack Donahoo and Jim Everhart. Middle L to R: Walter "Cricket" Peace and Howard "Bill" Cox. Back L to R: Joe Everhart, Jr., Meloin Peace, and Bill Donahoo.