July 17, 2001
A TRIBUTE TO CITY'S BASEBALL LEGENDS MOVE OVER RIPKEN,
THIS ALL-TIME TEAM IS FOR THOSE WHO SHINED IN CHARLOTTE
STAN OLSON, Staff Writer
The best minor-league hitter I ever saw was a guy named Tom Dodd.
If the name's familiar, it's because he smashed baseballs all over Crockett Park in 1985, '86 and '87 as a member of the Charlotte O's. His 127 RBIs in '87 are the most by a Charlotte player in the past half-century.
Problem is, you won't see him on the Charlotte Professional Baseball All-Century team, recently unveiled by the Charlotte Knights in honor of the city's 100 years of pro baseball. Dodd wasn't on the ballot.
The team the Knights have honored would be better known as the Charlotte Future Major Leaguers' Team. Most of the guys were on the ballot because of their success in the majors.
"This was designed to capture players who had total careers worthy of an all-century team, not just from the period of time they spent in Charlotte," said Knights general manager Tim Newman. "We understand that they may not have had the best seasons of any Charlotte players, but that's not what we were looking for."
For example, the four catchers who were nominated - Rick Dempsey, Jesse Levis, Rick Wilkins and Kelly Stinnett - all eventually played in the majors. The catcher who made my team wasn't even on the ballot.
That would be Willie Royster. In 1981, he set what was then the Charlotte O's record of 31 home runs. He also stole 53 bases, often hitting leadoff that season. The statistics of those other catchers don't come close.
Royster didn't make the Knights' team; Dempsey did. In this rapidly changing city of ours, hardly anyone remembers Royster now. If he got any write-in votes, they didn't make a dent in the balloting.
But he makes my team, which is based on nothing more than how a player performed in Charlotte.
The Knights' team includes Hall of Fame first baseman Eddie Murray. He played half a season for the Charlotte O's in 1976, and hit 12 home runs. He doesn't make my squad.
Neither does Cal Ripken Jr.Third base goes instead to Cleveland's Jim Thome, the International League Most Valuable Player in '93. The Knights got both men on the All-Century squad by listing four infielders.
But you know about Thome. My team is interesting more for the forgotten standouts it includes, guys who didn't make the Knights' ballot.
Players like outfielder Bobby Estallela, a great slugger whose grandson played in the majors this season. And Ben Paschal, known as Babe Ruth's caddy during his big-league career. And "Struttin" Bud Shaney, who could rearrange the cover of a baseball until it seemed to move in opposition to the forces of nature.
Many great players, of course, did not make either team. I couldn't find room for pitcher Ralph "Razor" Ledbetter, who was 26-12 in 1914. And I was forced to leave off outfielder Frank Campos, the South Atlantic League's MVP in 1951, when he won the batting title.
Charlotte has a rich and varied baseball history, going back to outfielder Moonlight Graham of "Field of Dreams" fame. While the movie has immortalized Graham, many of the city's best, players who were once the toast of old Wearn Field and Griffith Park, are forgotten ghosts.
For some of the finest, my team is a way to remember.
ALL-TIME CHARLOTTE PRO BASEBALL TEAM STAN OLSON'S SQUAD, POSITION-BY-POSITION, BASED ON PERFORMANCES WHILE IN CHARLOTTE:
1B Bobby Estalella.
Primarily an outfielder, but we've got a logjam there and he needs to be on this team. In 1937, he led the league in HRs (37) and batting (.349). The following year he won the triple crown for the league champs with a .378 average, 38 HRs and 123 RBIs.
2B Victor Rodriguez.
A great fielder who led the 1981 O's in batting at .306. In 1982 he made the Southern League All-Star team.
3B Jim Thome.
Led Charlotte's first Class AAA team to the International League title in 1993. Thome, the league's most valuable player, batted .332 with 25 HRs and 102 RBIs in 115 games.
SS Minnie Mendoza.
Played all or parts of 10 seasons for the Charlotte Hornets, winning batting championships in 1967 (.297) and '71 (.316). Played every INF position, and was an All-Star at 3B in 1964.
C Willie Royster.
A rare combination of speed and power behind the plate, Royster hit an O's record 31 HRs and stole 53 bases in 1981. He batted .265.
OF Frank Packard.
Spent several seasons with the Hornets, and led them to a 100-37 record in 1931, winning the triple crown (.366, 21 HR, 103 RBIs).
OF Ben Paschal.
Led Charlotte in HRs in 1916, '20, '21, '22 and '23. In '23, hit 26 HRs, batted .351 and scored 147 runs.
OF Tony Oliva.
Couldn't speak English when he arrived from Cuba, but he could hit. A South Atlantic League All-Star in 1962 when he hit .350 with 93 RBIs.
DH Tom Dodd.
Played for the O's in all or parts of 1985 through '87. Hit .289 with 37 HRs and 127 RBIs in '87, the best season a Charlotte O ever had.
SP `Struttin' Bud Shaney.
Dominant in the 1930s, Shaney went 24-10 in 1931. In 1936, at 36, he won a Charlotte-record 17 consecutive games.
RP Garland Shifflett.
Won 14 games for the Hornets in '57, but came back as a reliever. Had a 1.98 ERA in 63 games in '66, 1.45 ERA in 69 games in '67.
Manager Charlie Manuel.
The current Cleveland skipper managed the '93 Knights to the Class AAA International League championship.
Knights' All-Century Team
The All-Century Team is based on a player's entire career: