Now in the 45th year of his presidency of the Western Carolina and South Atlantic baseball leagues, John Henry Moss, of Kings Mountain, has brought baseball to more North Carolina towns, cities, and burgs than anyone ever. At one time or another, his league has encompassed twenty-four Tar Heel towns.
During the 2003 baseball season, 42.5 percent of the 1,200 players on major league teams were graduates of the South Atlantic League. Among league alumni are such star major league players as Hank Aaron, Steve Carlton, Ty Cobb, Willie Stargell, Harmon Killebrew, Don Mattingly, Frank Robinson, Nolan Ryan, Ryne Sandberg, and a thousand others.
Moss’ 16-team South Atlantic League, the nation’s largest minor circuit, covers eight states, stretching from south Georgia to New Jersey and westward to Ohio and Kentucky. Last season, the SAL attracted a record 3,129,000 fans through its turnstiles.
“We have done this,” Moss said, “by providing quality, wholesome, family entertainment at affordable prices in comfortable surroundings. Most of our ballparks are comparable to the major leagues, except in size.”
John’s work has been so prominent in organized baseball that in 1990 SAL directors voted him a lifetime contract as president of his league, the only such contract in Organized Baseball.
He was the architect of the Western Carolina League in 1948 with teams in the small towns of Forest City, Lenoir, Lincolnton, Marion, Morganton, Newton-Conover, Shelby, and Hendersonville, towns that had never fielded professional teams.
At the end of that season, John worked eleven years in other baseball capacities, returning to Kings Mountain in 1959 to reorganize the Western Carolinas League, which assumed the name of the defunct South Atlantic League in 1980. He has been president of that league since and has been personally responsible for guiding the league from a one-time four-team structure to its present, sprawling size.
Outside of providing baseball for millions of southern fans, John’s greatest job in the states was serving his hometown, Kings Mountain, as mayor for 23 years (1965-1988) during which he earned national recognition by securing more than $40 million in federal grants to improve his town’s quality of life. Newsweek called him the “mayor with the Midas touch,” and The Shelby Star picked the Moss Lake Project as one of the five top events in the 20th century in Cleveland County.
John served three years as general manager of the Wausau Muskies Professional Football Club in the 1950s, during which the Muskies won the Central States Professional Football League championship all three years and was given the league’s General Manager of the Year award.
Moss has been honored by his peers with selection into four Halls of Fame prior to his induction in the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame, including the South Atlantic Baseball League Hall of Fame, the North Carolina American Legion Sports Hall of Fame, and the Kings Mountain and Cleveland County sports halls of fame.
John is married to the former Elaine Caroline Beilke of Wausau, Wisconsin, whom he met while working there in the 1950s. She serves as his director of Administration for the South Atlantic League.
by Bob Terrell
May 20, 2004
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