I had returned to Roxboro, North Carolina after being away for almost ten years. Having friends living in the area, my family had visited the region numerous times over the years. Entering town from the north on Route 501, there was a sign welcoming visitors and announcing the community as the home of Enos Slaughter.
Although I had explored the region before, I had never visited the area to the northeast of town, a place I had managed to neglect over the years, but I was now giving it attention as I drove to the Allensville United Methodist Church, I parked in front of the church and stepped out to scan the cemetery east of the building. The memorial I sought was just off the roadway that went around the church.
I walked over to the black granite stone and studied it. On its front was the name Enos Slaughter with the likeness of him as a baseball player and the back of stone has a baseball bat with two cardinals – the mascot of the team he played with the majority of his career.
Enos “Country” Slaughter was born April 27, 1916 in Roxboro, North Carolina, one of six children of Zadok and Lonie Slaughter. Enos played baseball and football at Roxboro High School and was offered a sports scholarship to Guilford College. Enos turned down the scholarship, choosing to work in Durham and play semi-pro baseball there. The textile mill he worked for during the day had a baseball team that played in the evenings – his ability soon had the Saint Louis Cardinals system looking at him.
Slaughter started his professional baseball career in 1935 as a part of the Martinsville (Virginia) Manufacturers. The following year he was playing for the Columbus (Georgia) Red Birds. It was while playing for the Red Birds that Slaughter gained the nickname “Country,” which was given to him by team manager Burt Shotten.
Slaughter, who batted left-handed and threw right-handed, had a batting average of .382 in 1937, Shotten pressed to have Slaughter be placed on the roster of the Saint Louis Cardinals. Note: Slaughter had competition for the outfielder position at Saint Louis. His competition was teammate Johnny Rizzo who ended up in Pittsburgh. Rizzo had a short career of five seasons of professional baseball.
In Slaughter’s first season with the Saint Louis Cardinals, he had his lowest batting average of his career with the team with a .276. By 1942, Slaughter was leading the National League in many areas, including most plate appearances (687), hits (188), triples (19) and batting average (.318). That same year he was named to the Sporting News All Star team.
After the Cardinals won the 1942 World Series, Slaughter left the team and enlisted in the United States Army Air Corps. He was assigned to the San Antonio Aviation Cadet Center, where Slaughter desired to be a pilot. Unfortunately, Slaughter was unable to fulfill that dream due to being colorblind. He obtained the rank of sergeant and became a physical education instructor.
When he was discharged from the service on March 1, 1946, Slaughter returned to the Saint Louis Cardinals. That season he led the league with 130 RBIs and helped the team to the World Series.
In the 1946 World Series, Saint Louis faced the Boston Red Sox and the series was tied at three wins each when Slaughter would make the “Mad Dash.” It was the bottom of the eighth inning when Slaughter singled on a pitch by Bob Klinger. He was stuck on first base as the next two batters were retired. When Harry Walker stepped up to the plate, he doubled into the gap between left and center field.
The moment Klinger let go of the ball, Slaughter took off. He passed second as the ball was thrown to shortstop Johnny Pesky. Pesky hesitated as Slaughter turned third base and headed towards home, despite being signaled to stop by the third base coach. Slaughter slid into home as the ball arrived several feet up the third-base line.
Slaughter would be visibly upset when he was traded in 1954 – just two days before the start of the season – to the New York Yankees. He started only twenty-two games in right field and made plate appearances also as a pinch hitter. Slaughter would miss over a month of games that season after crashing into the outfield wall, fracturing his wrist. The following year he was traded to the Kansas City Athletics. Note: During this time period, the Kansas City Athletics were owned by Arnold Johnson, who also owned Yankee Stadium and was a business associate of Yankee owners Dan Topping and Del Webb. This association created many questions regarding the sixteen trades involving sixty-one players between 1955 and 1959. Slaughter would be traded back to the Yankees the following year.
The Yankees used Slaughter very sparingly over the next four years. In 1956, he would make a massive three-run homerun off Roger Craig in the third game of the World Series against the Brooklyn Dodgers. Slaughter was released by the Yankees near the end of the 1959 season and was picked up by the Milwaukee Braves. The following two years he managed and made appearances as a pinch hitter for two minor league teams – the Houston Buffs in 1960 and the Raleigh Capitals in 1961. Slaughter ended his nineteen seasons in the major leagues with 2380 game played, 7946 plate appearances, 2383 hits, 169 homeruns, 1304 RBIs, and 71 stolen bases. He was named an All-Star ten times and played in five World Series during his career.
At the age of forty-five, Slaughter found managing jobs had vanished in baseball so he retired to his farm near Roxboro. In 1971, he came out of retirement when he was named the head coach of the Duke University baseball team. In the seven season as head coach, the Blue Devils went 68-120.
In 1985 Slaughter was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. In 1996, the Saint Louis Cardinals decided to retire Slaughter’s number 9, making him one of nine Cardinal players to have this honor. Enos Slaughter passed away on August 12, 2002 and was buried at the Allensville Cemetery.
After a couple minutes I walked back to the vehicle to leave him slumbering in the shadow of the Allensville United Methodist Church.