Legion Baseball flashback: Honoring 1 of Shelby’s champion sons

When Loy Paige and his teammates on the Shelby, N.C., American Legion Post 82 baseball team were enjoying one of the greatest summers of their lives, they shared local and national newspaper headlines with news from the other side of the world.

Paige, 94, is one of two surviving members of the 1945 American Legion World Series championship team that set its history while the world was focused on military endeavors of World War II in Europe and Japan.

“Obviously there was a lot going on that summer,” said Paige, who was honored during the 2022 ALWS. “We were just young kids enjoying the game of baseball and chasing a championship.”

The news of the world was celebrated by fans during their championship run as Paige still remembers hearing cheers in Sumter, S.C., while his team was playing at Riley Park in an American Legion Baseball regional.

“There was a lot of hollering when we were playing a game and (Shelby head) coach (B.E. “Pop”) Simmons was asking us, ‘Why are they rooting for Shelby down here in South Carolina?’” Paige said. “We told him, ‘No. It’s because the war’s over!’ He was so wrapped up in coaching us that he didn’t think about anything else.

“The best news is that we went on and won the game.”

Simmons, like many in the world, was looking for a release from the grueling nature of World War II.

Paige was motivated enough to support the effort as he enlisted in the Naval reserves.

He never did see active military service and in the summer of 1945, he served the Shelby community by helping the local American Legion Baseball team win its first and only national championship.

“Baseball has always been part of my life and I’ve always enjoyed it,” said Paige, who was the left fielder on the 1945 Post 82 team. “We had a great group of players and we played really well together.”

When Shelby began its historic season in June of that summer, Germany had surrendered just a few weeks earlier on May 7.

By the time the season ended on Sept. 1 with a Post 82 ALWS title, Japan had surrendered as well — 17 days earlier during Shelby’s regional playoff game in Sumter, S.C.

In between, Shelby rolled to a 36-6 overall record that included a season-ending 15-game winning streak. After winning the South Division of North Carolina Area IV with a 7-1 league record, Post 82 advanced to a Western North Carolina finals series by virtue of a 10-2 second-round record.

Shelby would defeat Charlotte Post 9, 4-1, in a best-of-seven Western finals, then swept Laurinburg 4-0 in the state championship series.

Three straight victories in a regional in Sumter, three straight victories in a sectional in Charleston, S.C., and three straight victories in the ALWS in Charlotte followed as Shelby became the eighth of 19 teams in ALWS history to go unbeaten in national tournament competition.

“It seemed like we’d always have guys come up with a hit at the right time and got good pitching and things worked out real well,” Paige said. “As kids, our parents worked at the mill and they would bring yarn home and we’d get it and make a ball and use a broom stick. We had a lot of ballgames out in the street.”

In 1945, American Legion Baseball was celebrating its 20th season. In Shelby, where Post 82 first sponsored a team in 1931, local support was extraordinary.

“The people that lived in Shelby followed us throughout the year,” Paige said. “I thoroughly enjoyed it and I know my teammates did too.”

Crowds of 9,000 jammed Charlotte’s old Griffith Park for the first two ALWS victories before 10,250 came to the 4-2 championship game victory over Trenton, N.J.

Since Shelby’s population in 1945 was 14,000 and so many of them were in Charlotte to see the ALWS, Simmons and his assistant coach Lloyd Little cracked jokes about the town they’d left behind.

“I doubt if there are enough people left in Shelby to put out a fire,” Simmons said.

Little added: “I doubt there are enough people left to start the fire.”

Nowadays, Paige and pitcher Harry McKee (who lives in Georgia) are the only surviving members of the team. At the 2022 ALWS, Paige even showed American Legion officials the glove he used to play left field for Post 82.

“It’s a great memory for me and I’m happy that people still remember that team,” Paige said.

Though he frequently has gone to local American Legion Baseball games ever since he played, Paige makes a point of getting to Shelby’s Veterans Field at Keeter Stadium annually.

“It’s really nice to have the World Series here in my hometown,” Paige said. “I enjoy being able to come and watch games every year.”


American Legion Baseball

American Legion Baseball

American Legion Baseball enjoys a reputation as one of the most successful and tradition-rich amateur athletic leagues. Today, the program registers more than 5,400 teams in all 50 states, including Canada and Puerto Rico.

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