June 13, 2012

Minor League Baseball: the South Atlantic League (a Class-A league).

Filed under: Baseball,Baseball: MiLB Class A — admin @ 8:50 pm

South Atlantic League

The South Atlantic League (III) is a 14-team Class A minor league baseball league within Organized Baseball. In 2011, the South Atlantic League averaged a solid 3,148 per game. The highest -drawing team in 2011 was one of the newest teams in the “Sally League”, the New Jersey-based Lakewood Blue Claws, who drew 6,558 per game – a very impressive figure for Single-A baseball. That figure was 28th highest in all of minor league baseball in 2011. Second-highest-drawing South Atlantic League team in 2011 was one of the oldest teams in the league, the Greensboro Grasshoppers, who have had a Sally League team since 1980, which was the first season of the modern-day South Atlantic League (III) (more on that further below). Greensboro drew 5,545 per game, which was 45th highest in all of minor league baseball in 2011 {map of top 122 drawing minor league teams in 2011, here}. The Greensboro Grasshoppers were also 2011 South Atlantic League champions {‘South Atlantic League/champions‘ (

There have been 3 South Atlantic Leagues throughout the history of minor league baseball in America. The first Sally League existed from 1904 to 1917; and 1919 to 1930, and was a Class C minor league up until 1920, when it became a Class B league. The second South Atlantic League, also a Class B league, existed from 1936 to 1942; then shut down because of World War II, and re-started and played from 1946 to 1962. In 1962, in the last season of the South Atlantic League (II), the league moved up a level to Class A. One year [1963] was then taken off for re-organization. In 1964, South Atlantic League (II) took the place of the disbanded-because-they-refused-to-integrate Southern Association (1901-1961).

South Atlantic League (II) circa 1936 to 1962 is actually the present-day Southern League (1963-present). [The Southern League is a Class AA league.]

After 1961, the name “South Atlantic League” went unused for 16 years. Then the name was adopted by the [Class A] Western Carolinas League (which existed from 1960 to 1979). That league was just a 5-team league in its last season before the name-change (see below). So in 1980, South Atlantic League (III) was established, also as a Class A level league within Organized Baseball.

Here are the 5 teams in the last season of the Western Carolinas League (1979) that switched from the Western Carolinas League of 1979 into the newly re-established South Atlantic League (III) of 1980…
-Asheville Tourists (1976 to present) – the Asheville Tourists are still in the South Atlantic League (and an Ashevile minor league baseball has been in nine different minor leagues throughout their 98-year history, from 1915 to 2012).
-Gastonia (NC) Cardinals (1977-82) – the Gastonia South Atlantic League franchise changed its name 3 times as their affiliation changed (Gastonia Expos: 1983-84; Gastonia Jets:1985 [Independent]; Gastonia Tigers: 1986; Gastonia Rangers: 1987-92). In 1993, the Gastonia franchise moved 40 miles north to Hickory, NC and became the Hickory Crawdads (1993 to present [2011]).
-Greensboro (NC) Hornets (1979-1993) – the Greensboro team is still in existence in the South Atlantic League…the Greensboro Hornets changed their name to the Greensboro Bats (in 1994), then changed their name to the Greensboro Grasshoppers (in 2004).
-Greenwood (SC) Braves (1968-79; 1980-93 as the Greenwood Pirates) – defunct.
-Shelby (NC) Pirates (as Shelby Reds, 1977-78; Pirates, 1979-80; Mets, 1981-82) – franchise moved to Columbia, SC (1983-2004); then moved to Greenville, SC as the present-day Sally League team the Greenville Drive.
These 5 teams went directly from the 1979 Western Carolinas League to the 1980 Sally League.

Here is an illustration of the 8 teams in the inaugural 1980 season of the South Atlantic League (III)…
1980 Final standings, South Atlantic League -
North Division
Greenboro Hornets (NYY) (champions)
Gastonia Cardinals (STL)
Asheville Tourists (TEX)
Shelby Pirates (PIT)

South Division
Charleston Royals (KCR)
Spartanburg Phillies (PHI)
Anderson Braves (ATL)
Macon Peaches (Independent)

Three of these teams have remained ever since in the same city – the Asheville Tourists, the Greenboro team (now called the Grasshoppers); and the Charleston, South Carolina team (Charleston Royals, 1980-84; Charleston Rainbows, 1985-93; Charleston RiverDogs, 1994-present).

The following year, 1981, the Macon Peaches became a Detroit affiliate and shed their precarious Independent-status (the only other Independent team in this league would be the aforementioned Gastonia Jets, in 1985). Macon later became the Macon Redbirds, then the Macon Pirates, and then, in 1988 moved 100 miles east to Augusta, GA and became the Augusta Pirates, then the Augusta GreenJackets (1994 to present/in Augusta since 1988). Also in 1981, 2 more teams were added to make the South Atlantic League a 10-team league – the Florence (SC) Blue Jays and the Greenwood Pirates. In 1987, the Sally League became a 12-team league, and spread its reach to West Virginia with the addition of the Charleston (WV) Wheelers, who were the Charleston Alley Cats from 1995-2004, and since 2005 have been known as the Charleston Power. The other new team in 1987 was the Myrtle Beach Blue Jays, which was the transferred Florence NC franchise. By 1988, other Sally League teams included the aforementioned Augusta Pirates, the Columbia (SC) Mets, the Fayetteville Generals, the Savannah Cardinals and the Sumter (SC) Braves.

In 1991, the Sally League expanded once again, with the re-introduction of a Macon, GA team – the Macon Braves; and the inclusion of a former Southern League team – the Columbus (GA) Indians. In 1993, the Sally League spread its range further north with their first Maryland-based team, the Hagerstown Suns (1993-present). Also in 1993, (as mentioned before) a team from Hickory, NC joined the league – the Hickory Crawdads. In 1994, Spartanburg said goodbye to its minor league team, and that team move east to Kannapolis, NC (a town 20 miles north of Charlotte), initially as the Piedmont Boll Weevils, then the Kannapolis Intimidators (since 2001, and named in honor of the late NASCAR legend Dale Earnhardt, who had purchased a share of the team in 2000, before his death during a race in February, 2001). In 1996, a second Maryland-based team was added to the Sally League, with the new Delmarva Shorebirds of Salisbury, on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. That same year, the South Atlantic League tried a new format, with 3 divisions, with a 4-team North Division (Delmarva, Hagerstown, Charleston (WV), and Fayetteville); a 6-team Central Division (Asheville, Hickory, Piedmont, Greensboro, Capitol City [Columbia, SC], and Charleston (SC)); and a 4-team South Division, all teams from Georgia, (Macon, Columbus, Augusta, Savannah). The 3-division format lasted from 1996 to 1999.

In 2001, the South Atlantic League expanded yet again, to a 16-team league, with the inclusion of the first team in the Sally League from Kentucky, the Lexington Legends; and the Wilmington (NC) Waves, who lasted one year (with an inadequate ballpark), then moved to Albany, GA as the South Georgia Waves (2002), then moved to the suddenly-vacant Columbus, GA spot (see 2 sentences below) with the same name (South Georgia Waves, 2003), then became the Columbus Catfish (2003-08), then moved again (see 2 sentences below). Also in 2001, the first Sally League team from the Northeast began play – the Lakewood Blue Claws, of Lakewood Township, NJ (located about 45 minutes south of New York City and about 1 hour north-east of Philadelphia). This team was the transplanted Fayetteville franchise. In 2003, the Macon Braves moved 130 miles NW to Rome, GA as the Rome Braves (2003-present). Also in 2003, the Columbus, GA team, the RedStixx, moved north to become the second South Atlantic League team north of the Mason-Dixon line by moving to northeast Ohio in Eastlake, Ohio (16 miles east of Cleveland), as the Lake County Captains (in the South Atlantic League from 2003 to 2009). The Lake County Captains would (logically) end up in the other Class A league , the Midwest League, in 2010. The other team that would leave the Sally League to join the Midwest League in 2010 was the Bowling Green Hot Rods, of Bowling Green, Kentucky, established in 2009 in the South Atlantic League, who were the transplanted Columbus, GA franchise (last called the Catfish, 2004-08).

So since 2010, the other Single-A league in Organized Baseball – the Midwest League – has had 16 teams, and the South Atlantic League has had 14 teams.

Photo and Image credits –
Delmarva Shorebirds,
greensboro Grasshoppers,’s eye satellite view.
Hagerstown Suns,’s eye satellite view.
Hickory Crawdads,
Kannapolis Intimidators,
Lakewood BlueClaws,’s eye satellite view.
West Virginia Power,

Asheville Tourists, photo by Baseball Bugs at
Augusta GreenJackets, Augusta GreenJackets via
Charleston RiverDogs,’s eye satellite view.
Greenville Drive,’s eye satellite view.
Lexington Legends,’s eye satellite view.
Rome Braves,
Savannah Sand Gnats,’s eye satellite view.

Base map of 1980 SAL map by Júlio Reis at at:
Thanks to
Thanks to Baseball, ‘South Atlantic League (A) Encyclopedia and History‘.

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