Cole, Stu

Position: Second base
Birthplace: Charlotte

First, Middle Names: Stewart Bryan
Date of Birth:  Feb. 7, 1966                           

Current Residence: Charlotte

High School: South Mecklenburg High School, Charlotte
College: University of North Carolina- Charlotte

Bats: R             Throws: R        Height and Weight: 6.1, 175
Debut Year: 1991       Final Year: 1991          Years Played: 1
Team and Year: Kansas City Royals, 1991

Career Summary
G         AB       H         R          RBI      HR       BA.      OBP.    SLG.     WAR
1          7          1          1            0          0          .143       .333     .143       0.1

Stu Cole’s baseball career probably didn’t turn out as he had hoped when the Kansas City Royals drafted him out of University of North Carolina-Charlotte in 1987. He didn’t become a big-league star. There were no dives at second base to save a World Series game, no dramatic homers in the ninth to win one, no film clips on ESPN. In fact, his major-league playing days were over almost as soon as they began: one month, one game started, one hit.

Yet, here he is all those years later, a respected elder in the game and a mentor to hundreds of young players. Cole celebrated 25 years with the Colorado Rockies’ organization in 2020. Most of that time was spent as a minor-league manager, but Cole has been a fixture in the third-base coaching box at Coors’ Field for eight years.

“Just to see the guys come up through the organization, to watch them improve and make it to the big leagues has been very rewarding,” Cole said in a Denver Post podcast in 2019. “It’s been a joy to see guys get better and know you were a part of it.”[I]

Cole had played baseball since his childhood in Charlotte. As a 12-year-old, he starred on an all-black little league team that won a state championship. He lettered in baseball and football at South Mecklenburg High School and played baseball at UNC-Charlotte.

It took him four years to work his way up the Royals’ farm system, making his big-league debut on Sept. 5, 1991. He got seven at bats over the next month. One resulted in a single, his only hit in the major leagues. “You always dream about playing in the big leagues and to go and make that dream come true and to participate and get a big-league hit,” Cole said in that podcast. “That’s something that can never be taken away from you. It was something special and I will always treasure that moment.”[II]

Cole was back in the minors in 1992. He was playing for Colorado Springs, Colorado, the Rockies’ Triple A club, three years later when his knees began aching. He had had two previous knee surgeries and didn’t want another. He retired at age 29.

He became a Rockies’ minor-league manager in 2001, managing in more than 1,600 games at every level of the team’s farm system for the next 12 years. He was named the Manager of the Year Award in 2003 in the California League. Cole joined the big-league club as its third-base coach in 2012.

Cole still lives in Charlotte with his wife, Maria. They have two children.

Footnotes
[I] Newman, Kyle. Episode 91, Stu Cole. On the Rox podcast. Denver (CO.) Post. May  2, 2019. https://soundcloud.com/rockiespodcast/ep-91-rockies-third-base-coach-stu-cole.

[II] Ibid.

 

Cooper, Pat

Position: Pinch hitter, first base
Birthplace: Albemarle

First, Middle Names: Ogre Patterson    

Date of Birth:  Nov. 26, 1917 Date and Place of Death: March 15, 1993, Charlotte
Burial: Sharon Memorial Park, Charlotte

High School: Albemarle High School 

Bats: R             Throws: R        Height and Weight: 6-3, 180
Debut Year: 1946       Final Year: 1947          Years Played: 2
Team and Years: Philadelphia Athletics, 1946-47

Career Summary
G         AB       H         R          RBI      HR       BA.      OBP.    SLG.     WAR
14        16        4          0          3          0          .250     .250     .375     0.0

A faded black-and-white photograph in a book about the baseball teams that textile mills in North Carolina sponsored through much of the 20th century shows a group of men – mostly men, anyway – posing with bats and balls and in dirty uniforms with “Knitters” embroided on their chests. They are the Wiscasset Knitters of 1935. Wiscasset Mills Co. was one of three textile factories in Albemarle at the time.

Pat Cooper is standing in the back row. He was just 18, a senior at the local high school. He had grown up in Stanly County and was part of Elijah and Ella Cooper’s large family.  The Knitters were Cooper’s first stop on an almost 20-year career in organized baseball. Most of that time would be spent in the minor leagues or on industrial teams in North Carolina’s piedmont.

After serving in the Army during World War II, Cooper played briefly in the majors, appearing sparingly over the parts two seasons for the Philadelphia Athletics in 1946 and ’47. He was used mostly as a pinch hitter.

He and his wife, Marzelle, lived in Charlotte after Cooper’s baseball day were over where he was an independent building contractor. Cooper died in 1993.

Campbell, Paul

Position: First Base
Birthplace: Paw Creek

First, Middle Names: Paul McLaughlin  

Date of Birth:  Sept. 1, 1917   Date and Place of Death: June 22, 2006, Charlotte, NC
Burial: Forest Lawn West Cemetery, Charlotte

High School: Paw Creek High School 
College: Brevard College, Brevard, NC

Bats: L             Throws: L        Height and Weight: 5-10, 185
Debut Year: 1941       Final Year: 1950          Years Played: 6
Teams and Years: Boston Red Sox, 1941-42, 1946; Detroit Tigers, 1948-50

Career Summary
G         AB       H         R          RBI      HR       BA.      OBP.    SLG.     WAR
204   380    97       61        41        4         .255     .308     .358     -0.9

A long career in the major leagues requires skill, of course, but a bit of luck sometimes doesn’t hurt. Paul Campbell was a bit short on the hitting skills expected of first basemen, and he had the awful luck of playing on the same teams with some big-hitting ones.

Though he was a part-time player for six years, Campbell lasted more than 50 years in professional baseball as a minor-league manager and coach, a front-office executive and a scout.

Born in the small community of Paw Creek in western Mecklenburg County, Campbell and his two younger sisters grew up in nearby Charlotte where their father, Charles, worked first in a cotton mill and then managed a grocery store that he later owned. He would be murdered in the store in 1959.

Campbell played competitive baseball as a 12-year-old on the Chadwick-Hoskins Mill team, which played in one of the industrial leagues that flourished in North Carolina through the middle of the last century. He was a fan favorite in American Legion ball, hitting .407 for the Charlotte, North Carolina, club in 1934.

Two years later, after attending junior college in Brevard, North Carolina, Campbell signed his first professional contract with the Danville Leafs in Virginia. He got his first call to the big leagues in 1941 after two solid years for the Boston Red Sox’s Class AA franchise in Louisville, Kentucky. Campbell appeared in one game at first base for the Sox before being demoted. He made it into 26 games when the Red Sox beckoned again the following year, but he hit a paltry .067.

Tradition was working against him. First base in the major leagues has always been a power position. The guys who play there are usually big and bulky and hit a lot of home runs. Think Lou Gehrig or Harmon Killebrew, Hank Greenberg or Albert Pujols. Campbell, at 5-10 and 185 pounds, was small in comparison and never hit more than 15 homers in a season and that was back in Class D ball.

He was also trying to take the job from two of the most prolific power hitters of their era. Though at the tail end of a Hall of Fame career, Jimmie Foxx was still a dangerous hitter when Campbell first joined the Red Sox. Rudy York, who hit almost 300 homers during his career, held the job when Campbell returned from World War II in 1946.

Campbell had joined the Army Air Force three years earlier and had toured American air bases in England playing baseball.

Sent back down to Louisville again after appearing in only 28 games for the Red Sox in 1946, Campbell was frustrated. “I have to convince myself that I can play ball,” he said at the time. “For the last five seasons, I’ve been at-bat only 41 times. I’ve played only three full seasons since the start of 1942. Sitting on the bench with the Red Sox in 1942 and again last season after three years in the service has made me feel uncertain of my ability. I don’t know whether I can play because I haven’t had a chance to play.”[I]

But at 29, Campbell turned in his finest season in 1947. In 152 games with Louisville, he batted .304 with 71 RBIs, received MVP honors and prompted manager Harry Leibold to say: “There’s no finer fielding first baseman anywhere. I think he would be a handy guy for any big-league club to have around.”[II]

Campbell was excited to get a fresh start with the Detroit Tigers in 1948, but the results were same – hitting .270 or thereabouts with no power led to sparse playing time. After five more years in the minors, Campbell retired as an active player in 1954.

He was a minor-league coach, manager and executive before becoming a scout for the Cincinnati Reds in 1958. Campbell was promoted to traveling secretary six years later, a position he would hold until 1978. He would continue scouting for the Reds in some fashion until his retirement in 1993, 57 years after his first professional job in Danville.

Campbell and his second wife, Lillian, — his first, Mary Ellen, had died in 1961 – retired to the Charlotte area, where Campbell died at age 89 in a nursing home.

References
[I] Bedingfield, Gary. “Paul Campbell.” Baseball in Wartime, 2008. http://www.garybed.co.uk/player_biographies/campbell_paul.htm.
[II] Ibid.

 

 

Burris, Paul

Position: Catcher
Birthplace: Hickory

First, Middle Names: Paul Robert

Date of Birth:  July 21, 1923   Date and Place of Death: Oct. 3, 1999, Charlotte, NC
Burial: Williams Memorial Presbyterian Church Cemetery, Charlotte

High School: Central, Derita high schools, Charlotte

Bats: R             Throws: R        Height and Weight: 6-0, 190
Debut Year: 1948       Final Year: 1953          Years Played: 4
Teams and Years: Boston Braves, 1948, 1950, 1952; Milwaukee Braves, 1953

Career Summary
G         AB       H         R          RBI      HR       BA.      OBP.    SLG.     WAR
69     196      43      15        24        2        .219       .254     .276     -0.8

Paul Burris crouched behind the plate in the fourth inning of a meaningless game between his Milwaukee Braves and its Wisconsin farm club in Eau Claire. It was an off day in the middle of the 1953 season and it’s likely that the Braves’ owners were using the exhibition game to promote the team’s recent relocation from Boston.

After years of bouncing up and down to and from the minors, Burris thought he had finally latched on for good as the team’s backup catcher. He had been playing professional baseball for more than a decade, ever since his father, Clarence, a postal clerk, wrote his hometown Hickory Rebels back in 1942 suggesting they take a look at his talented son, who had pitched a no-hitter for Charlotte’s Derita High School against Cornelius High and its star pitcher Hoyt Wilhelm. Burris signed a few days later. The only things anyone might remember about that Hickory team was its awful record – it won 18 games while losing 80 – and its zany manager, Struttin’ Bud Shaney.[1]

Burris survived almost three years fighting in the jungles of Guadalcanal and Luzon with the Army’s 25th Infantry Division and endured the long bus rides, the cheap motels, and the yo-yo existence of the minors. He got his first taste of the big time when the Braves, then still in Boston, called him up at the end the 1948 season after the team had already clinched the National League pennant. Burris made his major-league debut on Oct. 2, catching the great Warren Spahn in the first game of a doubleheader. He caught again the next day in the final game of the season. Though Burris was ineligible for the World Series, his teammates voted him a one-eighth share, or $571.34.

He got another brief taste in 1950 and a longer sip last year when he appeared in 55 games. There was that one glorious afternoon on June 12, 1952, against the Pittsburgh Pirates. Burris drove in six runs with a homer, a double and two singles.

Always a solid defensive catcher with a strong, accurate arm, Burris had worked diligently on hitting a major-league curve ball so that he was no longer a liability when he had a bat in his hands. When the 1953 season began, Braves’ Manager Bob Grimm had penciled the 29-year-old Burris in as a capable backup for his two aging, frontline catchers.

Almost 8,000 fans filled the Bears’ ballpark in Eau Claire that June 22 night in 1953. It was later said to be the largest crowd in the team’s history. Mickey McGuire, the Bears’ pitcher, stood at third with two outs as Burris settled back down behind the plate. The batter laced a liner through the hole at short. McGuire broke for home. The throw from the left fielder reached home plate just as he did. A violent collision was the result. Burris and McGuire ended up piled in the dirt. Safe, ruled the umpire as fire raced up Burris’ left arm. Doctors would later diagnose a dislocated elbow and broken humerus. Surgery would be required. Burris’ season was over, his career in jeopardy. McGuire brushed himself off and pitched the next inning.

“Burris going out is a definite blow to our pennant hopes,” Grimm said.[I]

Cathey, the oldest of Burris’ three siblings, took a longer, personal view. She recalled for a sportswriter all those rainy days growing up in northern Mecklenburg County when young Paul would practice pitching, hour after hour, by throwing balls into pillows propped up on a bed. She remembered his “cow-pasture” teams during the Depression that scrounged for balls and bats and the glories of his high-school days when he pitched one game and caught the next. “When I hear of any sports figure getting hurt, I hurt deep inside,” Cathey told the reporter. “I know that regardless of who he is, someone’s hopes and dreams may be shattered.”[II]

Dreams don’t often figure in the calculus used by baseball general managers, however. Burris was demoted to the Braves’ Triple A affiliate when he returned in 1954. His major-league career was also a casualty of that collision. As it turned out, that meaningless game meant a lot to Paul Burris, who bounced around the minors for two more years, seeing less and less playing time.

Burris retired with his wife, Bette, and their two children to Huntersville near Charlotte in 1956. He worked at the old Douglas Aircraft Co. plant in Charlotte making rockets and then for Duff-Norton Co., which made industrial equipment, until he retired for good in 1985.[III]

Bette, a native of Mecklenburg County, began working for the local Alcohol Beverage Control Board in 1966 as an administrative assistant. She became its general manager in 1990.

Burrus died in 1999 at age 76. He’s buried in the graveyard at Williams Memorial Presbyterian Church Cemetery in Charlotte where he got married in 1952 and worshipped for almost 50 years.

Footnote
[1] Charles “Struttin’ Bud” Shaney began his legendary career as a minor-league pitcher in 1920 for the Asheville, NC, Tourists. He won 230 games with a 3.70 ERA over the next 16 years. Shaney was notorious for such antics as knawing and eating baseballs and inserting phonographic needles in the balls he pitched. After his playing days, Shaney managed in the minor leagues and was later the groundskeeper at Asheville’s McCormick Field for many years. Shaney is fondly remembered for his sheer love of the game. (“The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Story,” Charlotte-Mecklenburg Library. https://www.cmstory.org/exhibits/outlaw-carolina-baseball-league-1936-1938-player-information/charles-mars-%E2%80%9Cstruttin%E2%80%99-bud%E2%80%9D).

References
[I] Quincy, Bob. “Burris Didn’t Make the Major Leagues By Sitting Around.” Charlotte (NC) News, July 1, 1953.
[II] Ibid.
[III] Hurd, Jay. “Paul Burris.” Society for American Baseball Research. https://sabr.org/bioproj/person/79ae0e54.

 

 

 

Baker, Bill

Position: Catcher
Birthplace: Paw Creek

Full Name: William Presley

Date of Birth:  Feb. 22, 1911  Date and Place of Death: April 13, 2006, Myrtle Beach, S.C.
Burial: Unity Church Cemetery, Woodleaf

High School: Boyden High School, Salisbury

Bats: R             Throws: R        Height and Weight: 6-0, 200
Debut Year: 1940       Final Year: 1949          Years Played: 7
Team(s) and Years: Cincinnati Reds, 1940-41; Pittsburgh Pirates, 1941-43, 1946; St. Louis Cardinals, 1948-49

Career Summary
G         AB       H         R          RBI      HR       BA.      OBP.    SLG.     WAR
263      588      145      45        68        2      .247     .328     .316     0.6

Bill Baker spent a decade in the minor leagues as an everyday catcher before getting his shot in the majors in 1940. Though he would spend seven years with three National League clubs, Baker was never more than a backup catcher.

Born in the rural community of Paw Creek in Mecklenburg County, William Presley Baker was the second of Iva and Lawrence Edward’s seven children. Edward, a merchant, moved the family to nearby Salisbury when Bill was 14 and opened a clothing and dry good store. Years later, Baker would often return home during the off seasons to work in his father’s store.

A football and baseball player at Boyden High School, Baker began playing semipro baseball around Charlotte after graduating as jobs became scarce at the start of the Great Depression.

Baker signed his first professional contract in 1931 to play for the Greensboro Patriots in the Class C Piedmont League. He was an outfielder and pitcher but converted to catcher the following year on the advice of a teammate. He would be a dependable starting catcher over the next eight years in the minors.

Baker was 29 when the Cincinnati Reds, the defending National League champions, finally called him up as a backup to Ernie Lombardi, an established star and future Hall of Famer. Baker appeared in only 27 games that year. The Reds won another pennant, and Baker singled in one his four at bats in the World Series against the Detroit Tigers.

Two years in the Navy during World War II interrupted a major-league career in which Baker never saw much playing time. His best year was 1943 with the Pittsburgh Pirates when he hit .273 in 63 games.

After quitting as an active player after the 1949 season, Baker coached for a couple of years and umpired in the minor and major leagues until knees ravaged by years of squatting forced his retirement from baseball in 1959.

Baker returned to North Carolina and settled in Granite Quarry in Rowan County with his wife, Valdois. They had married in 1936 and had lived in Woodleaf, a small community near Salisbury where they raised three children.

In Granite Quarry, Baker was elected as a town alderman and served as commander of the local American Legion post. His work as commissioner of the county’s American Legion baseball earned him induction to the N.C. American Legion Baseball Hall of Fame in 1975.

Bill and Valdois had been married for 52 years when she died in the summer of 1989. Over the years, Baker had become one of the oldest living major-league veterans. He eventually moved to the Myrtle Beach, S.C., to be closer to his daughter, Susan. He died there at age 95.