1951 Greenwood Tigers unable to capture attention, wins

Mike Garbark, Greenwood Tigers manager in 1951

Baseball had long been a part of life in Greenwood County, S.C., with textile, Legion and high school baseball programs. 

In 1951, a group of investors in Greenwood saw an opportunity to take Greenwood to the next level.  They wanted Greenwood to become the home for a minor league team.

The opportunity really presented itself when the Greenville Spinners were dropped from the South Atlantic League (SALLY) in 1951.  A natural home for Greenville’s team would be the B-level Tri-State League.  As this move was happening, Greenwood let the league know it was interested in joining as well. 

While there was optimism about Greenwood and Greenville becoming the seventh and eighth teams in the league, there was also caution expressed about Greenwood.  The biggest question mark was whether Greenwood would be able to attract enough fans to make it a profitable. 

On Feb. 28, 1951, The Index-Journal reported that a group of backers for the team in Greenwood had raised $10,000 and was trying to raise $10,000 more.  Greenwood was given until the end of the week to raise the money to join the Tri-State League.  The investors were able to meet the goal.

In March, Greenville and Greenwood were officially announced as TriState League members. That gave Greenwood and Greenville very little time to pull a team together.  In addition, unlike the other teams in the league, Greenwood and Greenville would not be affiliated with a Major League club.

The directors chose to name the team the Greenwood Tigers. According to a column in the Index-Journal on March 15, 1951, the team name was a nod to E.F. “Tige” Fletcher. He is credited with working to bring the team to Greenwood.

One of Greenwood’s first signings was Zeb Eaton who had been one of the top pitchers in the TriState League in the previous year. Eaton’s experience also included 23 games for the Detroit Tigers in 1944 and 1945.  Walt Dixon, a veteran minor league player who would have a long managing career in the Chicago Cubs system, signed on as manager for Greenwood.

As the season began, Greenwood and Greenville struggled to compete with the established teams.  Greenwood would find itself in the bottom of the standings before moving ahead of Greenville.

With the team struggling, Greenwood’s manager Dixon resigned on June 12.  Third baseman Harry Ashworth served as interim manager until the arrival of Mark Garbark.

Garbark, 35, was a catcher and near the end of his professional career.  Previously, he had played for the New York Yankees in the 1944 and 1945 seasions, hitting .244 with two home runs and 59 runs batted in.  He played in the lineup for Greenwood and hit .289 for the season. 

By July 23, Garbark’s Braves would put together a string of playing better than .500 baseball and pulled within 3.5 games of fifth place.  However, that would not hold up over the course of the season and Greenwood fell to seventh place.

At the end of the 1951 season, the Greenwood tigers were 56-81 and 42.5 games behind the league-leading Charlotte Hornets.

As that season ended, the baseball effort in Greenwood was failing.  The team was more than $18,000 in debt.  Early season projections said that Greenwood needed to sell 75,000 tickets to break even.  The Tigers only sold 48,661 tickets.

In October 1951, the shareholders met and voted to end the team.  Minor league baseball did not return to Greenwood until 1968.

Notable player information

  • Zeb Eaton and Mike Garbark are the only players on the 1951 roster to play in MLB.  Both played in MLB prior to the 1951 season.
  • Lynward Riddle was the only player from Greenwood to play for the team.
  • Based on the limited statistics available, Babe Ellis led the team with 10 home runs and 40 doubles.  He previously played at the AA level.
  • Fred Giullani led pitchers with 16 wins.  This would be his last recorded season in baseball.

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