Minor League history: Eastern Carolina League

There were two Eastern Carolina Leagues. Both operated in the Eastern part of North Carolina. The first run lasted from 1908 through 1910, the second lasted two years: 1928-1929. In both cases the league got a class D classification.

1908-1910 cities represented:

Fayetteville, NC: Fayetteville Highlanders 1909-1910
Goldsboro, NC: Goldsboro Giants 1908-1910
Kinston, NC: Kinston 1908
New Bern, NC: New Bern 1908
Raleigh, NC: Raleigh Red Birds 1908-1910
Rocky Mount, NC: Rocky Mount Railroaders 1909-1910
Wilmington, NC: Wilmington Sailors 1908-1910
Wilson, NC: Wilson Tobacconists 1908-1910

In the early twentieth century, long before there were sports broadcasts on the radio, minor league baseball was a major entertainment in “Tobacco Towns” along North Carolina’s coastal plain, where tobacco was the major crop. The Eastern Carolina League had Class D teams in such towns as Rocky Mount, Wilson, Goldsboro, 1910 T210-7 Old Mill Eastern Carolina League Series 7 Baseball CardsRaleigh, and Wilmington.

In the first year of the Eastern Carolina League, the Wilson Tobacconists and the Wilmington Sailors reached the play offs. While the Sailors led the series 2-1, North Carolina was hit by a tropical storm and the series were cancelled and left the league without a champion in its first year.  The six team league did not reach the end of the regular season without losing two teams as New Bern and Kinston withdrew from the league on July 15.

In those early days of baseball, baseball cards were mainly a marketing article for cigarettes. Even an obscure league like the class D Eastern Carolina League got a series of cards (example above).

The championship of the league in 1909 was awarded to the Wilson Tobacconists after it became clear that there had been foul play in the league. On August 10, in a game between the Rocky Mount Railroaders and the Wilson Tobacconists, the Railroaders walked off the field because according to manager Walsh, the Tobs pitcher was doctoring baseballs and Walsh could not persuade the umpire to end this practice. According to a Wilson journalist, the Railroaders lost the games vs the Tobs’ competitors on purpose and only played hard when they faced the Tobacconists. Eventually three teams finished with the same 49-41 record: Fayetteville, Wilson and Wilmington. A meeting of league officials was called eight weeks after the end of the season and because of the foul play of Rocky Mount, the pennant was awarded to the Wilson Tobacconists.

cone ball park
Cone Field in Rocky Mount, around 1910

The 1910 championship was won by the Fayetteville Highlanders.

Perhaps the most famous player that played in the Easter Carolina League was Jim Thorpe .This multi sport athlete of mixed Native American and European descent, played for the Rocky Mount Railroaders in 1909 and 1910. Thorpe won gold medals in the decathlon and pentathlon in the 1912 Olympics. After they found out that he had played (semi-)professional baseball before he parti
cipated in the Olympics, he was stripped of his medals. In 1913 he debuted with the New York Giants. Next to the Giants, Thorpe played for the Cincinnati Reds and the Boston Braves.

Frank Walker played for the Rocky Mounts Railroaders in 1908. had a lengthy MLB career and eventually ran a Rocky Mount franchise in the final run of the Coastal Plains League.

The second edition of the Eastern Carolina League was founded in 1928. The league would last for two years. Two teams came from other leagues. The Kinston Eagles came from the Virginia League and the Rocky Mount Buccaneers came from the Piedmont League.

In 1928 the Wilmington Pirates won the regular season but fell 4-2 to the runner up Goldsboro Manufacturers in the championship series. The 1929 champion was the Rocky Mount Buccaneers that beat the Wilmington Pirates in the championship series 4-2.

Cities represented 1918-192

Fayetteville, NC: Fayetteville Highlanders 1928-1929
Goldsboro, NC: Goldsboro Manufacturers 1928; Goldsboro Goldbugs 1929
Greenville, NC: Greenville Tobacconists 1928-1929
Kinston, NC: Kinston Eagles 1928-1929, moved from Virginia League 1925-1927
Rocky Mount, NC: Rocky Mount Buccaneers 1928-1929, moved from Piedmont League 1927
Wilmington, NC: Wilmington Pirates 1928-1929

The league drew rather well. Even a club like the Kinston Eagles that resided near the bottom of the league, drew  quite some spectators in their stadium West End Park. When the league folded due to the great recession, the ballpark never would see any baseball game again.

One Major League player that paid a visit to the 1928 Eastern Carolina League was pitcher Johnny Allen. Allen pitched in an exhibition game vs the Yankees, and Paul Krichell, the scout that signed Lou Gehrig, was impressed with Allen’s performance and signed him to a contract. Allen started his professional career with Fayetteville and Greenville. In 1932 he debuted with the Yankees and finishe the season with a league best 17-4 W-L record. In 1936, Allen was traded to the Cleveland Indians where he had his only 20-win season in his career.

Another “famous” MLB player that played in the Eastern Carolina League, was Bobo Newsom, an MLB journey man. Newsom started his career with the Raleigh Capitals of the Piedmont League. But compared to the sleepy town Newsom came from, Raleigh was a metropolis, to which he was not accustomed. This had impact on his performance. He lacked skills to pitch out of the stretch and he wasn’t disciplined enough to learn it. Eventually he got released and a (former) team mate of his adviced him to go to Hal Weafer, manager of the Greenville Tobacconists. Newsome was worthless to the team and he was a pain in the ass as he did not accept any criticism, even if it was constructive. To him everything was black or white. Eventually the Tobs sold his contract to Wilmington for $18 and two hardly used bats…. After his wife moved to her parents, Newsom started to pitch well and finished the 1928 season with a 15-6 record for the Wilmington Pirates. His good numbers in the Eastern Carolina League did not remain unnoticed. In the 1928-1929 off season, his contract was acquired by the Brooklyn Dodgers. Newsome debuted with the Dodgers in 1929, but in three games he posted a 10.61 ERA and was sent down to Macon of the Sally League. Eventually he got settled in the Bigs and spent time with a broad variety of teams: (in random order) Brooklyn Dodgers, Chicago Cubs, St. Louis Browns, Washington Senators, Detroit Tigers, Boston Red Sox, Philadelphia Athletics, New York Yankees and New York Giants. After twenty years, he finished his MLB career with a 211-222 record and a 3.98 ERA.

After the 1929 season the country was hit by the stock exchange crash. This signaled the end for the ECL as it did not return in 1930.


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