August 5, 1940: Bound for majors, Fred Caligiuri, Phil McCullough square off in Class D gem

This article was written by Jack Zerby

Fred Caligiuri (BASEBALL-REFERENCE.COM)In 1940 baseball was truly America’s national game. But it was played at the major-league level by 16 teams in only 11 cities, none west of St. Louis or south of Cincinnati.1 Minor-league baseball proliferated over the rest of the country, with 39 leagues in six classifications, designated Class AA through Class D. For a large part of the country, these teams were the way fans got to see baseball.2

The Coastal Plain League in the hotbed baseball state of North Carolina was one of the 18 Class D leagues. It had come into existence as a semipro circuit in 19343 but earned Organized Baseball recognition as a Class D league for the 1937 season,4 with teams in Greenville, Ayden, New Bern, Kinston, Snow Hill, Goldsboro, Tarboro, and Williamston. By 1940, the Coastal Plain League was still in Class D and still had eight teams, but Wilson, North Carolina, had replaced Ayden. All the teams were in eastern North Carolina, located within a roughly 100-mile radius in the basin of the Neuse and Tar Rivers. Tarboro was the league’s northernmost outpost and New Bern the farthest south.5

The league prided itself on its ballparks. “It may be that there’s another Class-D league which can offer baseball plants as fine as those of the Coastal Plain, but it’s doubtful,” one of the Raleigh papers boasted as the 1940 season was about to open. Goldsboro and Snow Hill had new parks for 1940, Wilson and Greenville had opened their new facilities the prior season, and Kinston, with a park opened in 1938, was already looking ahead to a new one for 1941.6

With five rungs of the minor-league ladder ahead of them and players in 17 other leagues at the same level as they were, not many members of 1940 Coastal Plain rosters made it to the majors –only 13 from the eight teams.7 In early August 1940, though, two of those who did make the big time matched up in an epic pitchers’ duel at Greenville.

The Kinston Eagles and Greenville Greenies were set for a two-town, two-game, Sunday-Monday series with the Sunday game in Kinston and the Monday game in Greenville, about 30 miles to the southwest. Greenville had won the 1939 Coastal Plan regular-season pennant but fourth-place Kinston had ousted them in the first round of the playoffs.8 As the early August miniseries unrolled, Kinston was still bedeviling Greenville, standing third in the league behind the red-hot Wilson Tobs,9 who topped the Coastal Plain pack with a torrid 67-32/.676 record.10 Kinston was 52-49, just a game ahead of fourth-place Goldsboro. Greenville was well off its pennant-winning pace of the prior season, lodged in sixth place, 11 games under .500.

But Greenville won the Sunday game at Kinston, 2-1. Pitching dominated, as Greenville’s Bill Teller got the win against Bill Zinser of Kinston.11 The Monday night game in Greenville matched Kinston’s big 22-year-old right-hander Phil McCullough, the number-four man in the Eagles’ rotation, against another righty, Greenville’s ace Fred Caligiuri, only 21 but already in his fourth season with the Greenies. McCullough, a graduate of Oglethorpe University, near Atlanta, had started his professional career the prior season in the Coastal Plain League with the New Bern Bears. He was with Kinston in 1940 because the Washington Senators had a loose working agreement with Kinston and had purchased McCullough’s contract during the 1939-40 offseason.12

As the Greenville fans gathered at year-old Guy Smith Stadium13 on Monday evening looking for a sweep that could get their team kick-started in the standings, both Caligiuri and McCullough seemed invincible. There was one hit through the first six innings. McCullough held the Greenies hitless; Kinston catcher Buck Overton ticked Caligiuri for an infield single in the second inning.

Greenville broke up McCullough’s no-hitter in the seventh but didn’t score. Art Bator got another infield hit off Caligiuri in the Kinston eighth.

Through nine innings it was scoreless; Caligiuri had yielded only two hits, McCullough four.14 He’d been aided by a pair of around-the-horn double plays pulled by Sid Stringfellow, Pete LaPiana, and Bator. Caligiuri had even more defensive help with three twin killings by Bill Shelton, Art Kracek, and Halley Wilson.15 Greenville’s Kracek managed a stolen base against McCullough and Overton; otherwise, second and third bases were unassailable.

In the 10th inning Caligiuri once again shut down Kinston, giving the Greenies another chance for a last-at-bat rally. They hadn’t been able to do it in the ninth inning, but got it done in the first extra frame. Ben Crowe singled for Greenville’s fifth hit and moved to second on a sacrifice. Then catcher Russell Helleckson drilled another single past the Kinston defense to score Crowe with the only run of the game. McCullough’s six-hitter, with three walks and three strikeouts, would have been good enough to win most nights, but the run saddled him with a tough loss.

Caligiuri, who struck out five and walked three in his two-hitter, called it “the nearest I ever came to pitching a no-hit, no-run, ballgame.”16 A week later, Greenville feted him with “Fred Caligiuri Night” at the ballpark to celebrate his four years with the team and his recent signing of a $1,500 contract with the Philadelphia Athletics.17

Kinston went on to edge out the Snow Hill Billies by two games to finish fourth in the 1940 Coastal Plain regular season and capture the final playoff spot. Kinston eliminated the first-place Wilson Tobs in the semifinals, then lost the championship finals to the Tarboro Tars. Greenville, sixth in August, didn’t capitalize on the Kinston sweep, fading to seventh place in the final standings at 53-71.18

Caligiuri had a 20-6 record (2.17 ERA) for sub-.500 Greenville in 1940 and was the only member of the team to be named all-league.19 His signing with the A’s earned him a two-rung promotion to the Wilmington (Delaware) Blue Rocks in the Class B Interstate League for 1941. There, he continued to excel, posting a 16-7 record (1.79 ERA) and earning a late-season call-up to the A’s. On September 28, 1941, in his fifth career start in the majors, he faced Ted Williams and the Boston Red Sox. The dogged Williams played both games of a season-ending doubleheader that day, aiming to sustain a historic .400 batting average for the 1941 season. Although Williams solved him for two hits in three at-bats and finished at .406, Caligiuri wrapped up a complete game 7-1 win for the last-place A’s.20

McCullough also advanced to Class B for 1941, pitching for the Greenville (South Carolina) Spinners. There, he was 14-16 with a tidy 3.10 ERA. He pitched well in 1942 spring training with the Senators, went north with the team, and had a three-inning cup of coffee with Washington that April.21 His stint was in relief, also against the Red Sox, and although he yielded four runs (two earned) on a bitterly cold day that featured a campfire in the Washington bullpen, he has the distinction of striking out two future Hall of Famers – Bobby Doerr and Williams.22



In addition to the Sources cited in the Notes, I used the and websites for general information. I also used the B-R Minor League Encyclopedia for data on the 1940 Kinston Eagles and the 1940 Greenville Greenies. I found the cited Stats material a useful resource for geographic and statistical details on the 1940 Coastal Plain League. Having written SABR biographies of both Fred Caligiuri and Phil McCullough and realizing through that research that the Kinston game that stuck in Caligiuri’s memory may have been against McCullough but not having been able to locate details, I finally came across this game in the Raleigh News and Observer, accessed through The box score with the game story and other day-to-day coverage of the 1940 Coastal Plain League in the News and Observer made this account possible.



1 The single-team cities were Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, and Brooklyn in the National League and Cleveland, Detroit, and Washington in the American League. Five cities – Boston, St. Louis, New York, Philadelphia, and Chicago – had teams in both leagues.

2 For the 1940 season, Baseball-Reference lists three leagues in Class AA, one in A, two in A-1, seven in B, eight in C, and 18 in D. In addition there were the Negro National League (six teams) and the Negro American League (seven teams) playing primarily in urban centers but sometimes barnstorming to wherever promoters could offer a worthwhile financial opportunity. Semipro and town teams in even the smallest communities also helped whet pre-World War II interest in baseball played at higher than a scholastic level.

3 J. Chris Holaday, Professional Baseball In North Carolina (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, 1998), 96.

4 “New Deal Starts in Coastal Plain,” News and Observer (Raleigh, North Carolina), May 6, 1937: 10.

5 1940 Coastal Plain League map, Stats,, accessed February 3, 2021.

6 “All Clubs Figure Fans Have ‘Rights,’” News and Observer, April 23, 1940: 15.

7 Goldsboro and Kinston led with three each. Tarboro and Williamston had two, New Bern, Wilson, and Greenville each had one. Only the 1940 Snow Hill Billies lacked a player who advanced to the majors.

8 Holaday, 83.

9 “Tobbaconists.”

10 Standings, Coastal Plain League, News and Observer, August 5, 1940: 10.

11 Bill Zinser and his older brother Louis were the leaders of the 1940 Kinston pitching staff. They were 28-13 between them. Bill was 17-9, Louis was 11-4. Bill Zinser pitched in two games for the 1944 Washington Senators.

12 Caligiuri was 26-22 with Greenville from 1937 through 1939, including 8-0 in 1939. McCullough was 7-8 with New Bern in 1939.

13 Holaday, 83.

14 “Greenies Top Eagles in One-Run Struggle,” News and Observer, August 6, 1940: 10. This brief game story includes a complete box score of the game.

15 There were four double plays in the 2-1 Sunday game, but the game story still termed it “otherwise colorless.” “Greenies Defeat Kinston’s Eagles, News and Observer, August 5, 1940: 10.

16 Jack Zerby, “Fred Caligiuri,” SABR Baseball Biography Project,, accessed February 3, 2021.

17 “It’s Caligiuri Night at Greenville Ballpark,” News and Observer, August 15, 1940: 11. Caligiuri was signed by Chief Bender, scouting for Philadelphia owner-manager Connie Mack. Bender was voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1953.

18 1940 Coastal Plain League Standings, Stats,, accessed February 3, 2021.

19 Holaday, 83.

20 The game was called after eight innings due to darkness.

21 Jack Zerby, “Phil McCullough,” SABR Baseball Biography Project,, accessed February 4, 2021.

22 In 1942, Doerr struck out 55 times in 625 plate appearances (.088); Williams 51 times in 671 plate appearances (.076).

Additional Stats

Greenville Greenies 1
Kinston Eagles 0

Guy Smith Stadium
Greenville, NC

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