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A Look at Baseball History in Newton County: Local Leagues & Legends

Batter up! Summer is here, and with it comes America’s favorite pastime. Our community has many connections to baseball history and even a few big-league legends, so grab yourself some peanuts and Cracker Jacks, and take a step back in time with us as we recount the history of local baseball in Newton County.

Mansfield’s Famous Southpaw: Sherrod “Sherry” Smith
baseball history
Sherrod “Sherry” Malone Smith in Brooklyn Robins uniform

On the historic strip in local Mansfield, Georgia is a mural depicting the life and distinction of “Mansfield's Famous Southpaw”, Sherrod Malone Smith.

Sherrod or “Sherry” Smith was born in nearby Monticello. Georgia in February of 1891. He began receiving attention early on after he batted right-handed, yet pitched with his left. Smith played town ball in Mansfield, Madison, Elberton, and Newborn before turning pro in 1910. He played in the major leagues for 23 years as a pro baseball player for teams like The Pittsburg Pirates, Cleveland Indians, and Brooklyn Robins.

baseball history
Mansfield's Famous Southpaw

Smith was the hard-luck loser of one of the longest World Series games ever played, between the Brooklyn Robins and the Boston Red Sox in 1916. He pitched all the way into the 14th inning for the Robins, dueling with Boston's starting pitcher, Babe Ruth, in Game 2 of the 1916 World Series. The Red Sox ultimately won it 2-1. It was Smith’s only appearance in the World Series, but made a lasting impression nonetheless. Afterwards, the Great Bambino himself claimed that Sherry “was the greatest pick-off artist who ever lived.” In fact, the two went on to become lifelong friends.

In his 14-season career over 23 years, Smith posted a 114–118 record with 428 strikeouts and a 3.32 earned run average in 2,052.2 innings pitched. After his retirement from baseball, Sherrod Smith became the Chief of Police in both Porterdale and Madison, Georgia. He was inducted into the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame in February of 1980.

B.C. Crowell: Player Dedicated to Future Generations
baseball history
B.C. Crowell

Billy Carl [B.C.] Crowell spent his childhood playing baseball on the field right next to the house he lived and grew up in. After graduating from Porterdale High School in 1940, he received a baseball scholarship to Oglethorpe University in Atlanta. Crowell went on to serve in the US Navy during WWII, and returned home in 1948 to then begin playing for the NY Yankees Farm Team in Lakeland, Florida.

He later began a 22-year baseball coaching career, which included many games held on the very field he had played as a child. He coached a multitude of other sports such as softball, football, basketball and track, resulting in a 1,280/274 won/loss record. As Bibb Manufacturing Company's Athletic Director, Crowell not only taught physical education and coached teams at Porterdale High School and Junior High, but he also coordinated the adult baseball and softball leagues in the area. Additionally, Crowell was a founding member of the Covington/Newton County Recreation Commission, and was instrumental in organizing the athletic program for Newton County's junior high schools.

baseball history
Porterdale Ball Field, located next to Porterdale High School

Since we mentioned Mansfield’s Sherrod Smith earlier, the following is a great piece of baseball history recounted by B.C. Crowell, after a bout with pneumonia when he was 12 years old:

“Dr. J.C. Loveless said for me to get a lot of exercise. Where the golf course [The Oaks] is now, Bibb [Manufacturing] had a dairy. I walked there every day after school to milk cows and drink free milk. I met and became friends with Sherrod Malone Smith of Mansfield. Sherrod was a retired professional baseball player who ran the dairy and was police chief in Porterdale. He had played against the famed Babe Ruth.

One day, Sherrod told me to ask the principal for permission to leave school so that I could go with him to Thomaston to watch Babe Ruth play in an exhibition game to open a new park. We drove down to Thomaston and found the train station where Ruth was expected to arrive. We waited, and waited, and the crowd kept getting bigger. Finally, the train arrived and Ruth was the last person off. He was carrying two big bags on his shoulders. When he spotted Sherrod, he threw down those bags and held out his arms to give Sherrod a big hug. Then he put his arm around me. I was in shock. Later, after the game, Ruth came into the stands and gave me an autographed baseball. I was speechless!”


Porterdale Blue Caps: A Local League of Hope
baseball history
Johnny Johnson, Porterdale Blue Caps

In the 1950’s, baseball was a sport that local black children in the area desired to play. Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in 1947, and inspired black youth across the nation with a message of hope and a chance to make it in the major leagues. Since there was no high school baseball team, these local youth gravitated to community teams during the summer months. Each community at the time fielded it's own team: Nelson Heights, Needmore, Oxford, Porterdale, and Springhill.

Johnny Johnson of the Porterdale Blue Caps recalled his time on the team by saying, “There were many intra-community games arranged between the teams. Many of these games were played at Tom Brown's Lake on July 4th, and on local neighborhood fields. Fourth of July at Tom Brown's Lake included baseball games, the best barbeque that you could eat, and a night of music and dance. Many of these players moved on to the adult teams in town, the Porterdale Blue Caps or Springhill.”

The Porterdale Blue Caps were coached by Carl McKnight, Sr. and Joe Petty. The team was sponsored by local Bibb Manufacturing Company, who provided their uniforms in addition to a dozen balls for each game. Bibb also sponsored a team in Macon that was comprised of players from the area. Games were scheduled between these two teams, and were played at the Newton County Fairgrounds or Porterdale Park. Many games held at Porterdale Park were said to have been called after the allotment of baseballs all ended up in the adjacent Yellow River.

porterdale history

 Bibb Manufacturing Team- forerunners to the Porterdale Blue Caps Team, circa 1940's-50's

The Porterdale Blue Caps played in several leagues and were Champs of the Middle Georgia League, drawing in hundreds for its Monday games and Saturday doubleheaders.  They also traveled to different towns to compete. Teams were in Milledgeville, Athens, Royston, Atlanta, Ellenwood, Macon, Madison and Newnan. There was always a great rivalry between the Blue Caps and the Springhill team. “Even though we were rivals, friendship remained an integral part of all that we did,” added Johnson.

The Blue Caps played against the likes of John “Blue Moon” Odom from Macon who became ace of the Oakland Athletics staff, and Mack Jones who became an outstanding member of the Atlanta Braves.

Local historian Flemmie Pitts remembers the Blue Caps and the many great memories of attending these local games. “They were a lot of fun to watch play, and I believe the league gave them dreams of reaching the majors,” Pitts said. “I believe if it was today, a lot of them would have made it.”

Some of the most legendary players noted in Newton County were Willie Roy Grier known as “Bo Gator,” with his unusual wind up to throw the hitters off balance. Bo Gator would often tell the batter what pitch he was going to throw, and still strike them out! Junior Freeman of Springhill is another local legend whose pinpoint use of the strike zone left a hitter speechless. His brother Norman held a record fastball of over 100 miles per hour. How’s that for a local legend!

By 1959, community and textile leagues sponsored by Bibb Manufacturing were disbanded with the full integration of Major League Baseball. Black players began to play professionally, as well as in local high school intramurals. However, we will not forget how paramount these community teams were to the growth & development of our local baseball history and culture.

In recent years, our community has continued the baseball legacy in Newton County with the Covington 32’s team in the American Legion. We also have the brand new Legion Field facility located in Downtown Covington for tournaments and various event. Do you have any local baseball memories or great stories of a local baseball legend? Don’t strike out, share them with us on our Facebook or social media!

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