Elkin Blanketeers

From BR Bullpen

General Team History[edit]

The Elkin Blanketeers took their name from the town's semipro team, the Chatham Blanketeers, which in 1949 went to the finals of the National Baseball Congress World Series in Wichita, Kansas. (Chatham Manufacturing was a major blanket maker and the town's principal industry until about 1990.) The Blanketeers were members of the Blue Ridge League in 1949 and 1950, and of the North Carolina State League from 1951 to 1952. Harvey Laffoon, the publisher of The Elkin Tribune, was a principal owner and used his newspaper to promote both the team and its leagues. The team's ownership was reconstituted every year through the sale of shares to local benefactors and other important members of the community, typical of many franchises in Class D ball.

The Blanketeers' best season came in 1950, when Elkin finished with the highest winning percentage in all of professional baseball, 82-32 (.719), or 50 games over .500. Shorty Brown and Bob Withrow were stars, Brown winning the league's batting title with a .379 average, placing first in RBI with 87, and Withrow leading in runs scored with 104. The team fell in the two-round "Shaughnessy Playoff" format, swept by rival Mount Airy in the finals.

Kelly Jack Swift, who in 1953 became the last man ever to win 30 games in a single season in the minor leagues (with Marion of the Tar Heel League), was also a star in the team's final season, 1952. Swift, a tobacco farmer, singlehandedly pitched the team into the fourth and last playoff spot, leading the league in in both strikeouts (283) and ERA (2.31). Swift's endurance is all the more impressive considering the innings he logged in July and August, the hottest months and tobacco-priming season, when leaf is brought into hot barns to cure. Swift's performance notably declined in these months, and newspaper accounts mention his weight loss, sagging uniform and fatigue. He was still an uncommonly durable pitcher, standing 6-5 and throwing an overpowering fastball, and little else.

The team folded in the great minor league collapse of the early 1950s.

A First-hand Recollection[edit]

The following is an anecdote about the team by a former player:

I played 55 games at third base for the Elkin Blanketeers in 1952. We finished in fourth place in the six team North Carolina State League. We lost in the first round of the playoffs to Mooresville Moors. I played four years of profesional baseball but 1952 was my rookie year. The N.C. State League was "fast" for class D as most of the players were in their late twenties and thirties whose baseball careers were interrupted by World War II. The experience of the players made the play was better than in the rookie-dominated Appalachian League and PONY League, in which I had started out the season.

The team was owned by the town's major employer a blanket factory, hence the team nickname. Tige Harris was the manager. Kelly Jack Swift was our ace pitcher, winning 19 games and led the league in most pitching categories. Burl Storie was the team's catcher, Claude McQuire played first base, Patteson was at second, I was the thirdbaseman and Billy Rakes was the shortstop. Shorty Brown was an All-Star center fielder, with Bo Bell and Davenport rounding out the outfield. Another Bo Bell (imagine two players with the same name on the same team) was our second best pitcher with 13 wins.
-- Joe Herpin

Year-by-Year Record[edit]

Year Record Finish Manager Playoffs Notes
1949 62-65 7th Tige Harris
1950 82-32 1st Tige Harris Lost League Finals
1951 67-59 overall 3rd Fred Chapman Lost in 1st round Landis moved to Elkin on July 18
1952 45-64 4th Wayne Harris Lost in 1st round