Honoring the History of Black Baseball in Greenville
From 1921 to 1969, the semi-professional Greenville Black Spinners played against rival teams from across the Southeast at Mayberry Park, as well as Meadowbrook Park, in what is now Unity Park. The Black Spinners had a long history here in Greenville and throughout Black History Month, we’ll be highlighting and
From 1921 to 1969, the semi-professional Greenville Black Spinners played against rival teams from across the Southeast at Mayberry Park, as well as Meadowbrook Park, in what is now Unity Park. The Black Spinners had a long history here in Greenville and throughout Black History Month, we’ll be highlighting and celebrating the successes of these men.
The Greenville Drive will once again take the field as the Black Spinners on April 15, Jackie Robinson Day, to commemorate and honor the start of baseball in this community.
Throughout the tenure of the Black Spinners, Mayberry Park, and Meadowbrook Park, scores of stellar and all-star Black players passed through Greenville. While famous stars such as Satchel Paige and Henry Louis (Hank) Aaron played on the grounds of the parks with their respective teams, much of the Black Spinners’ roster was composed of local Upstate talent.
And young talent at that.
One such player, Frank White, a Greenville native, was honored prior to the inaugural Black Spinners Night in 2022. Beginning as a bat boy for the Black Spinners he eventually earned a spot on the team as a first baseman. He rose through the ranks reaching the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro Professional League.
Cornell Blakely, a local Greenville talent, showcased his talent from an early age, shifting from the youth leagues to the Black Spinners at just 15-years-old. After graduating from Sterling High School in 1949, Blakely was invited to the Brooklyn Dodgers spring training in Vero Beach, Florida, looking to follow in the footsteps of his hero, Jackie Robinson.
Blakely ultimately fell short of reaching the majors, but he went on to a successful career in music, working as a promoter in Detroit’s Motown and later as a disc jockey back in Greenville. He was a popular radio personality in the upstate and was known by all as “bouncing Cornell Blakely” or simply as “Corn."
Giving back to the youth was not far from the minds of successful Black Spinners players either.
Ralph ``Doc” Shumate was a player/manager for the Black Spinners during the 1940s and 50s. While a standout pitcher himself, he turned his focus to developing Greenville’s organized little leagues, teaching the game to hundreds of kids including Reverend Jesse Jackson.
As he left his imprint on youth baseball, he also worked alongside Roger C. Peace, the long-time publisher of The Greenville News, as Peace’s personal assistant.
While the Black Spinners harbored local talent, the talent did not stay local for long. Multiple players emerged from the Black Spinners to the higher ranks of the Negro Professional Leagues. Furman Johnson, a lefthanded pitcher for the Black Spinners, notched 20 wins in the 1953 season and was promptly signed by the Indianapolis Clowns of the Negro American League. He later returned to the Black Spinners and other local Negro League teams.
In the early 60s, Rico Dawson was a standout shortstop for the Sterling High School baseball team, batting over .400 in three seasons. He captured a conference title with South Carolina State College before launching his career with the Black Spinners. In 1969, Dawson was signed by the Indianapolis Clowns of the Negro American League, where he played two seasons. While playing for the Clowns, Dawson was offered a role in Universal Pictures’ The Bingo Long Traveling All Stars and Motor Kings. Dawson played the role of second baseman, Willie Lee Shively, alongside Hollywood stars, Billy Dee Williams, Richard Pryor and James Earl Jones.
Another Sterling High School standout, “Big Thomas” Hallums also made a stop with the Black Spinners before rising up the professional ranks. After college ball with South Carolina State, Hallums played for the Black Spinners where he was discovered by professional scouts and was selected in the ninth round by the New York Mets in 1970. In his first season of professional baseball, Hallums led the Appalachian League in home runs, total bases and RBIs. In 1973, Hallums batted .305 for the Double-A Memphis Chicks. He spent a total of four seasons in the Mets organization.
Whether at the professional, semi-pro or amateur level, the Black Spinners imprint on baseball continues to be felt in the Upstate and beyond. The Drive will continue to highlight the stories of Black baseball throughout Black History Month.