South Hill Baseball History

“Play Ball” the forgotten years. Article #3

South Hill Eagles 1948
1948-1949 Eagles, South Hill town teams - (Memorial Park)

This was part of an ongoing series devoted to the forgotten years of baseball 1936-1953 in La Crosse and South Hill, Virginia called ‘Play Ball’ compiled from interviews and information from previous baseball players, families and local business owners.

Root- Root- Root for the home team and its community for its efforts in changing the way we looked at baseball and a better way for playing the game. The year of change for our South Hill baseball diamond and its fans was truly the year of 1948. This year would bring great change thanks to our community and its baseball players. The team wouldn’t be known as just the ‘South Hill team’ anymore, as the club had selected a name, they would be called the Eagles. Maybe it was because the balls that the team hit went so high in the air they flew with the Eagles, or in this year we were soaring to new heights, or maybe it represented the national bird and symbol of the United States of America or being that many of our players had just came back from military service or were still in the military playing for uncle/coach Sam. Whatever the reason for the selection of this name, it would not remain in years to come. The interested South Hill Community baseball crowd would meet on January 6,1948 at the South Hill High school auditorium to discuss raising about $15,000 to grade the existing field and to install lights at the park. Also in the discussion was a plan to build a grandstand that would seat 600, and two bleachers that would seat 200 each. Also during the time of construction, locals including Jack Rainey, and barely a teenager at the time, Frank Nanney, along with numerous other South Hill students and community helped volunteers put up the fence. Mr. Nanney and classmates were allowed to leave school early by Mr. Charles Morgan, Principal at the time, to do the volunteer work. Mr. Lawrence Crowder, former owner of South Hill Lumber Company, donated some of the lumber. Mr. Crowder told the committee that they could pay him back a little at the time when money was available. Mr. Crowder’s house was located directly behind centerfield.

The citizens formed a non-profit stock company at $10.00 a share. In April, the organization took on the name Memorial Park with Herbert McAden as president. This would pave the way for the Old Southside Minor League summer teams that had players from top colleges and universities such as UVA, Duke, N.C, State and others. Most of these players would later go professional and were seasoned veterans, local and professional.

The 1948 Eagles team played their first scrimmage game on May 23 with Pete Boaz of Richmond as the team’s manager. Team members included Doc Murphy, Wiley Warren, G.W. Taylor, Pete Smith, Bill Hamlin, Gerald Simmons, Coleman Allen, Earl Rowley, Flint Nichols, Babe Freeman, Joe Brown, B.J. Montgomery, Jimmy Brooks, Burke Howerton, Butcher, Ferguson, Stacie, Hastings, Inge, White, Jack Craig, Coghill, Hughes, Lewis, and Crowley. They posted a 38-22 record with top batters being Woody Slayton .381 Wiley Warren .345 Tom Inge .337 Coghill .320 and Babe Freeman with a .316 season average. The Eagles won their opening game at Victoria. 11-0 when Pete Smith of Lawrenceville and the University of Richmond pitched a no hitter. They then lost to Victoria 9-6 and then winning their first two afternoon games at home against the Richmond Athletic Club 12-1 and 11-7. The big event everyone had been waiting for finally came on June 18 when the town park was dedicated with the first night game in the history of the town. The Eagles defeated the Lacrosse Scrappers 4-1 with approximately 1,200 fans in attendance made possible by the communities love for the game and being able to come to games after work instead of trying to make a game before dark. The following baseball article was printed in the South Hill Enterprise in September of 1948, South Hill’s baseball team the Eagles won two of three games over the La Crosse Scrappers to win the four-game series, three games to one. After winning the first game 2-1, the week before, South Hill won the next two games before La Crosse salvaged a win in the final game. Childress was the winner of game two as South Hill pounded out 14 hits in the 7-3 victory. Inge and Howerton had home runs. Inge had three hits while Slayton, Howerton, Hamlin and Freeman had two hits each. Southpaw Jimmy Brooks pitched South Hill to a 3-1 win to guarantee the series edge. Brooks struck out ten while giving up seven singles. Freeman, Wheeler, and Slayton had two hits each for South Hill.

La Crosse won the final game, 6-1, as Taylor was the winner and also knocked in two runners. Eugene Evans of The La Crosse Scrappers was the only player to have two hits in the game. This League would in the next few years advance to independent semi professional baseball to be the topic of my next article the South Hill Twins.