… If you were watching TV on Sunday night you saw the “wide world of sports” from “the agony of Phil’s defeat” to “the thrill of victory” in UNCs improbable shutout of Clemson. BobLee has some thoughts on Phil but better thoughts on baseball. … those “Moochies” in Omaha got me to thinking about another bunch of Tar Heel baseballers from another era … “The Boys From Post 9” …
This column was posted BEFORE the hockey game,
let’s add this note at 11:00 PM.
‘CANES WIN..’CANES WIN !
now … where were we.
I’ve been around championship teams in football, basketball and baseball and camaraderie is part of any super successful team. But baseball is “just different”. Maybe it’s the long season, maybe it’s the dugout, maybe it’s the dramatic moments and the pace of the game. One superstar can carry a team so far but at some point his teammates have to chip in. Over a championship season nearbout everyone has his moment and those moments create lifelong memories. Baseball is all about “memories and moments”. I guess that’s why I like it the best.
You folks know how yours truly is stuck in a 60s time warp. An era just before sports at every level lost its innocence and became either “business” or a socio-cultural political experiment. I get asked a lot how come I remember so much from those days … (1) I never “did drugs” and (2) I took good mental notes … knowing someday I would be an Internet Legend with a demanding audience with unrealistic expectations.
Carolina in the mid 60s had two sports “contingents” … The first, Danny Talbott led a bunch of his Rocky Mount footballers to Chapel Hill along with their coach Chris Carpenter. They had dominated NC 4-A high school sports and were expected to bring such success to Kenan Stadium. It didn’t quite happen.
The 2nd contingent were “The Boys From Post 9”. American Legion Post 9 in Charlotte finished 2nd in America in 1964. In 1965 they won the American Legion “Little World Series”. They had a convertible parade down Trade & Tryon in downtown Charlotte. The heart of that team came to Chapel Hill in ’65 and ’66.
Try this … go to a Charlotte Knights game down in Rock Hill and find a grizzled older fan in his 60s-70s probably keeping score on his souvenir scorecard. Ask him “who is the best pitcher there’s ever been around these parts?” He won’t even have to stroke his chin to think … “why that’d be Garry Hill, with David Lemonds a close second, … and Skippy Hull caught both of’em.” It’s been almost 50 years … and the legend of “The Boys From Post 9” is in no danger of fading away.
It was “Garry Hill’s team” because he was “The Natural”. Like colts on a thoroughbred farm … you know early which ones will be running for the roses and which will be running stakes races at Hialeah. Garry Hill was a thoroughbred sure enough. If he gave up a TOTAL of dozen hits from the time he was 9 thru 20, nobody can remember the last 6 of’em. He was THAT GOOD! He was better than THAT GOOD! He was “the best there’s ever been around here.” Around Charlotte granddads brag to their grandsons about “the loud foul ball I once hit off Garry Hill.”
But ask Garry about those days (and I did for an hour on Monday) and he talks about his brother Eddie and Skippy and the Lemonds brothers Ronnie and David and Robert Rhoades and John Richards and Neal Wester and Coach Jack Lemonds (Ronnie and David’s daddy). And he talks about the guys on those other teams on all those sandlots and recreation league fields … Bruce Bolick and Charlie “Fox” Thomas and John Rudisell and John Yancey up in Newton.
His brother Eddie could hit. Wake up Eddie Hill at 3 in the morning and he could hit “frozen ropes” in his pajamas. If anybody ever did hit a fair ball off either Garry or David, Ronnie Lemonds was a vacuum cleaner down at 3rd. And Skippy Hull … the quintessential “fireplug” behind the plate. Garry threw Nolan Ryan level hard heat and Lemmonds had a Bert Blyleven curve ball and Skippy set the target. Clair Bee woulda loved these guys.
This is a story about these boys at Chapel Hill but a quick story about Post 9. As noted, they came in second in the nation in ’64 … Garry pitched a memorable pitcher’s duel with a kid from California named Fingers … Rollie Fingers. The next year Post 9 won it all … with Garry and David each strking out 19.
“The Boys From Post 9” came to Carolina in the Fall of 1965. Freshmen were not eligible for “varsity”. Garry Hill went 6-0 for that Frosh team. His ERA was 0.00. Whoa there Swagger … a misprint? No misprint … Garry Hill allowed zip, zero, nada earned runs in his UNC Freshman career. He got a little sloppy as a sophomore.
I wrote one time about Don McCauley and Burly John as UNC footballers. About how they were “the quiet ones” who laughed at others’ jokes and how they walked with that “rolling gait” that certain special athletes have. And how that quiet demeanor changed to a warrior’s glare when they walked on the field. Garry Hill had left UNC for the Atlanta Braves before Don and John moved into Ehringhaus but those three were “of a special breed”. I knew’em … I remember’em … I’m glad I never “did drugs”.
The Spring of 1966 was the first year for what is now Boshamer Stadium. Emerson Field was being swallowed up by Student Stores and such. Memories of Ted Williams’ and Ken Willard’s tape-measure blasts would belong to historians (like my friend Frank Gay!). Left field at “the new field” fell into a sinkhole so Garry and his buddies did practice some at old Emerson.
UNC Baseball was under the firm hand of “The Old Leaguer” Walt Rabb and his able and quite colorful assistants, Dallas Branch and Big Bill Lovingood. Dallas was a Derm businessman who just loved baseball and his dear friend Walt Rabb. Bill Lovingood was a professor in the P.E. Department and a certified “nut”. He was a ham-fisted bear of a fella with a head the size of a basketball and a permanent twinkle in his eye. If you ever met Bill Lovingood, you have “a Bill Lovingood story”.
If Hollywood wrote this story, it would end up in Omaha with Garry striking out the side and Walt Rabb anointing “the Post 9 boys” as “old leaguers”. It didn’t happen quite that way.
I said Garry got sloppy his sophomore year. He went 9-0 but his ERA “ballooned up” to 0.71 !!! which is still a UNC record. That team had the aforementioned Danny Talbott at first base backed up by a hail fellow well met named Bill Estes. As nice a guy as you’d ever meet, Bill always drove a newer-than-new Corvette. “Newer-than-new because Bill’s Daddy was CEO of Chevrolet and sent Bill a fresh “vette right off the assembly line.
Clem Medley patrolled Center Field with Charlie Carr on one side and somebody else on the other. The rest of the infield was Ronnie at 3rd, Bolick at SS and “The Fox” at 2nd.
Of course, Skippy Hull was behind the plate. If somehow Walt Rabb coulda gotten David Lemonds up from the Frosh team they mighta had a strong enough rotation to hold their own against Bill Wilhelm’s Tigers and Sammy Esposito’s Wolfpack led by a lefty from Tarboro named Mike Caldwell and Chris Cammack. That 1967 Carolina team was “good” but not “good enough”.
In May of ’67, Garry signed with the Braves. Again Hollywood would have Garry Hill in Fulton County Stadium sharing a club house with Aaron and Evans and Torre and Carty and Garr; but Hollywood isn’t reality. A promising start in AA was followed by National Guard duty and then a dreaded rotator cuff injury. “The best pitcher there’s ever been around here” moved to the outfield. Garry Hill could hit too. Alas, well before he was 27, Garry Hill was out of baseball.
Hollywood might have had Garry become a “has been”, maybe a sad alcoholic wandering around Charlotte with faded press clipping proclaiming “I used to be …”. Hollywood loses again. Garry transitioned to “the real world” and a successful business career and three fine sons … all of whom inherited some of their dad’s baseball skills. After “retiring from business” he recently bought a baseball training center in Charlotte … OnDeck Baseball Academy … which he and his sons operate together. Is that cool … or what! Drop by their HQ in Pineville and tell’em you remember “the boys from Post 9”.
( David Lemonds was College Player of The Year in 1968 and #1 in the draft by the Cubs. Like Garry, his pro career was cut short by injury.)
I asked Garry how it felt when he saw Rollie Fingers go into the Hall of Fame. Not a single regret … no coulda, shoulda, wouldas … a “good life well led” with so many wonderful memories and so many good friends to share them with … A “good life” indeed.
A great sidebar to this story … the UNC pitcher Robert Woodard who shutout Clemson on Sunday night went thru OnDeckBaseball. (As did several other current Tar Heels) Garry knows the kid very well and his parents. I asked Garry if he had goosebumps for the kid on such a big stage. He admitted “I got a little nervous about the 8th inning.” Didn’t we all?
Life is “funny” weird with no guarantees. That Clemson game might be “as good as it ever gets” for Robert Woodard. He might make it to “the show”, he might not … but like John Kinsella and Crash Davis and Garry Hill, Robert Woodard’s life will always include “a baseball moment and baseball memories”.
One more quick story if you have a couple of minutes … in 1967, Carolina got another freshman battery. This one came from Kingsport TN and Dobyns Bennett High School … a hard-throwing lefty Larry “Ox” Kiser and his catcher Mike Roberts.
Mike is now known as Brian Roberts’ daddy. He was UNC baseball coach for many years until Prince Tassel Loafer became AD, but that’s another story.
What about Larry Kiser? … WELL …
In about 1973 or 74 I was in real estate development outside Atlanta and became good friends with Roric Harrison. Until Anna Benson’s husband Chris hit a home run for Baltimore vs the Mets on Saturday, Roric was the last O’s pitcher to hit a home run. He was a middle reliever on that O’s staff with four 20 game winners. He had been traded to the Braves in 73. Roric had invited me down to West Palm Beach for the Braves spring training. We walk into the Braves clubhouse. Picture this … Hank Aaron, Eddie Matthews, Davey Johnson, Darrel Evans, Dusty Baker, Ralph Garr, et al et al … and who do I see … Larry “Ox” Kiser. “Ox” had signed with Atlanta and was enjoying what would be “as good as it would get” for him that Spring working out with “the big club”.
I like to think that after Ox and I had caught up and I had left … Hammerin’ Hank probably walked up to “Ox” and asked … “Do you really know BobLee Swagger?”
NOTE: Of all “the boys from Post 9” only Robert Rhoades had an adult career in baseball. Robert recently retired as the longtime baseball coach at Olympic High School in Charlotte.
What was Ralph Garr’s nickname?
That former “Senator” known as “The Washington Monument” was Frank Howard … not Strom Thurmond.
There was abject fear in Omaha and throughout Nebraska when goofy ol’ Chancellor Meezie was spotted at the CWS game. Had the former goofy-looking Chancellor of The Univ of Nebraska come back to haunt “the Huskers”? As The Meez “clapped like a gay seal” for the Tar Heels, it took Ol’ Roy to calm the worst fears of Nebraskans as The Blue Messiah promised he would take Meezie back home with him … darn it!
I would give up my autographed picture of “President Logan” to know what Jim “Bones” Mackay said to Phil on the 18th Tee. “Excuse me, Boss, but why in the name of all that’s holy are you hitting your driver? Are you out of your ever-lovin’ mind?”
Unconfirmed report … Coach K has asked Nifong to please transfer JJ’s recent DWI to Pete Gaudet’s driving record.
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