Beacon Blanketeers were industrial baseball stars for 30 years
by Rob Neufeld
PHOTO CAPTION: The 1957 Beacon Blanketeers, Industrial League baseball champions. Front row, left to right: Bud Harper, Pepper Martin, Ose Waldrup, Wade “Gob” Martin, Mark Ferguson, Charley Ferguson, Jim Gaddy, and batboy, Larry Rhymer. Back row: Fat Waldrup, Dean Wilkerson, Carlos Maness, Jim Johnson, Butch Harper, Gary Edwards, Bud Matthews, and Jake “Drowsey” Hardin.
The mystique of the Beacon Blanketeers, premiere Industrial League baseball team in this region in the thirty years following the Depression, stemmed not only from their all-star play, but also from their team spirit. Sponsored by Charles D. Owen, owner of Beacon Manufacturing, and bound by the community ties of Beacon’s village in Swannanoa, they rose above the defeating squabbles of other competitors.
“We loved one another,” Wade “Gob” Martin, shortstop for the Beacon Blanketeers baseball team, declared. “When I was a boy, I could go into any home and say, ‘Momma, you don’t have another jelly biscuit, do you?’ and she’d take care of me.”
On the field, an error would be greeted not by the pitcher’s grumbling but by the encouragement of a friend, such as Jake “Drowsey” Hardin, who might chirp, “Don’t worry, Gob. You did good the day before.”
Everybody had a nickname. For example, the 1940 championship team featured, among others, Bill “Nanner Nose” Barnwell, Mark “Red Eye” Ferguson, and Wade’s brothers, Quentin “Pepper” and Wayne “Bozo” Martin.
Wade was given his nickname, “Gobbler” (shortened to “Gob”) by his brother, Fred “the D.A.” Martin, to describe his late-in-starting and fast-in-catching-up dinner-eating habits.
If “Drowsey” Hardin was slow-moving on the mound, it didn’t hurt him. His pin-point control resulted in a no-hitter in 1941. However, once a co-worker found him napping atop a jacquard loom head crate at lunch-time and said, “Feeling a little drowsy today?” It stuck.
The Blanketeers played in the days of an 18-inch wide plate and no helmets. They played two to three games a week from April through September—including paid stints on Wednesday afternoons—in an industrial league that included the Canton Champions and the Enka Rayonites.
The war years brought two soldier teams, the 28th General Hospital and Moore General Hospital, which in one year featured the New York Yankees’ 1943 Most Valuable Player, Spud Chandler. By 1960, the industrial teams began dying out as unionization and home ownership ended the patron system in factories. Beacon joined a non-industrial county league.
But the Blanketeers had had a long time in the sun, excelling in hundreds of games against league members, the Moore Generals, league all-stars, major league barnstormers, and national non-professional champions. They drew huge crowds to McCormick Field as well as to their village stadium, Nolan Field.
A 1943 box score records a game at McCormick Field in which Beacon scored eleven runs in the last three innings to defeat Moore 13 to 3. Wade Martin helped execute a triple play; Red Gregg, the first baseman, left the game with a spiked foot; and the opposing catcher broke a finger.
“One time, when we went to play Sayles (the bleachery’s team),” Wade Martin recalls, “The manager dropped gravel on the shortstop part of the infield” to make Martin’s fielding more difficult.
“When he hit the ball,” Martin added, “I made a point of charging it to throw him out. It made him furious.”
The Berkeley Mills manager had other tricks. He inserted a gramophone needle into a ball to make it wobble; and froze it to deaden its bounce. “We told him we’d protest the game if he used that ball again,” Martin said. The threat worked because a protest would stop play, which was worst case scenario.
Wade and his brother Pepper Martin played professional ball for a number of years in the Coastal League. (You can read about it in Robert Gaunt’s book, “We Could Have Played Forever.”) Pepper led the league in home-runs in 1949 and in batting in 1950 and was named to its all-time, first string all-star team.
But the Martin boys put aside pro ball careers. Their hearts were in their home. In 1954, 1955, and 1957, they led the Blanketeers to championships; and, along with Drowsey Hardin, spearheaded Beacon’s renowned, community-wide recreation programs.