Bringing the Heat
Springtime means baseball! Take a look at Columbia’s baseball roots through the eyes of legendary sportscaster Bob Fulton.
Excerpted from the transcript of an Oral History with Bob Fulton. Listen to the full interview, HERE>>
Interviewee: Bob Fulton (1920-2010)
Interviewer: Jhan Robbins
Date: May 23, 1985
Location: Columbia, S.C.
ROBBINS: Were they [Columbia] as sports-conscious then as they are now?
FULTON: No, not nearly as sports-conscious. When I first came to this town, the big thing here really was the minor league baseball team, because they were doing so well. That was a professional team owned by Cincinnati. But then later in the fifties, their success went down. Cincinnati pulled out. They had a working agreement with Kansas City, and that didn't go over too well, and then finally it just dwindled away into 1961 and they decided to give up minor league ball because the man behind it, Julius Love, who has the Love Chevrolet Agency had lost so much money and in 1961, when they stopped operating. I believe we drew only 28,000 people for the entire season. And in those days, back when I first came here, basketball was nothing. We played -- the basketball team played in the old Carolina field house, the blood pit over there, and we would draw maybe 2-3,000 a game, and I think capacity was close to 4,000. It was not a good facility.
ROBBINS: Where would they play baseball, where was, you know –
FULTON: The baseball field for the pros?
FULTON: You're talking about is the same place it is right now, Capitol City Park, and it was entirely different then. They have changed the structure of the ballpark. They refurbished it. We used to have a big press box up on the roof and that is all gone, and it looks entirely different now than it did back when they were operating before, you know, the new team, new ownership came in here and they resumed baseball.
ROBBINS: I wonder if you could tell me a bit about the, you were saying it was a semi-pro farm team at that time. When did they come and make the, when did the Mets...?
FULTON: OK. This was not a semipro team. This was a professional Class A baseball team known as the Columbia Reds. And we had a very good league, much stronger Class A league than you have here now. And you know back in those days of baseball, you had Class D, B, C, and A, and then AA, AAA, and then of course you went to the majors. So they...
ROBBINS: yet you said 28,000 over the years, so it wasn't very well subscribed...
FULTON: No, well see, well the team started to lose, and interest dropped, and I think there was a problem with the black ballplayers and then something else came in then too about that time. More people started watching television at night. Air conditioning became a factor too. More homes were air conditioned, and people in those days were what I call a charcoal town. They would go home after work after a hot day in the summer, turn on the air conditioning. They might listen to the game on the radio. They may watch something else on television, but they didn't wander far away from that air conditioning. These may have been excuses more than reasons for not attending, but the attendance did drop down dramatically. But that was a good league. We had teams like Charlotte, Jacksonville, Columbus, Georgia, Montgomery Alabama, Augusta Georgia, and it was good baseball. See today in Class A, the Columbia Mets came in here. This is their third season of operation here now. These ballplayers, although they're Class A and it's a South Atlantic League, they're not as experienced as the players you had years ago. Years ago, you had players who might have been 27 and 28 and 29 years old who had played a lot of baseball and were coming down.
ROBBINS: You mentioned Frank Robinson and Hank Aaron, what other players that came through from there?
FULTON: OK, Harmon Killebrew who was a great ball player for Minnesota played in this league, and Bobby Hazle played here who was up with Milwaukee and did so well, and we had a pitcher, Clark E. Valentine, who also pitched in the big leagues, and Barney Martin was one of the best pitchers we had in the Columbia area at that time. The first year I was here, he won over 20 games on the championship team and he later went to Cincinnati.
ROBBINS: Did Kirby Higbe ever play here?
FULTON: Kirby Higbe came back to the South Atlantic League in the late fifties I guess, it was about the end of his career. He had a sore arm and he could throw, he was a pretty good junk pitcher. He had been around long enough to know how to retire guys. He could also, Kirby, a lot of people don't realize about Higbe, he was a great hitter. He would often come in as a pinch hitter. He didn't play in Columbia at that time. He came down, I believe, with Montgomery, the team in Montgomery, Alabama. I think he spent just about a season here and that was it. But you've had a lot of outstanding baseball players go through the South Atlantic League. I mentioned Killebrew. He was one of the best ever played here. He played for the Charlotte team at that time, and I know he was good because he used to wear Columbia out all the time.