By Thomas Grant Jr.
Since 1929, aspiring youth baseball players have found a home to compete with the South Carolina American Legion.
With chapters throughout the Palmetto State, it has seen numerous alumnus go on to play either college or Major League Baseball.
The list of renowned former South Carolina American Legion players includes MLB Hall of Fame outfielder Jim Rice, World Series champions like former New York Yankee centerfielder Brett Gardner, Texas Rangers pitcher and University of South Carolina graduate Jordan Montgomery.
A baseball Hall of Fame has been discussed over the years. Through the work of West Columbia Post 78 director Legree Oswald, the dream became a reality in 2023.
On Nov. 2, the inaugural class was recognized during a dinner and ceremony at Seawell’s Restaurant. A total of six former players and two league officials were enshrined before a standing-room-only audience.
Among the inductees was former MLB draft pick and coach Jerry Martin. A graduate of Olympia High School, he played baseball for Post 78 at the now Brookland-Cayce High School ballfield.
After playing basketball at Furman University. Martin was drafted fifth overall by the Philadelphia Phillies in 1970. spent seven seasons in the minors between Rookie and Triple-A before having a long coaching career in the pro ranks.
A ‘humbled’ Martin said he was honored to be in the inaugural Hall class and remains grateful for his experience in South Carolina American Legion baseball nearly 60 years later.
“It was definitely a good stepping stone for me to make the transition from high school to college and later on to pro ball,” he said.
Sumter native and former New York Yankee second baseman Bobby Richardson expressed similar sentiments. A World Series champion and Most Valuable Player and former coach at the University of South Carolina, Coastal Carolina and Liberty University, Richardson won a state and regional title with Sumter Post 15.
It was during Richardson’s time in the American Legion that he was recruited by a scout from the Yankees. The club drafted him out of high school and Richardson credits the organization for his MLB career.
Rounding out the list of inductees were:
Billy O’Dell – The Whitmire native pitched 13 seasons in MLB with four different teams (Baltimore, San Francisco, Milwaukee/Atlanta, and Pittsburgh. He threw in 479 games, winning 105, striking out 1,133 batters and posting an earned run average of 3.29.
Lou Brissie – The Anderson native pitched seven seasons in MLB with the Philadelphia As and Cleveland Indians. He had 44 victories, 29 saves and struck out 436 batters.
Bobby Bolin – The Hickory Grove native pitched 13 seasons in MLB with San Francisco, Milwaukee, and Boston. He won 85 games, had 50 saves, struck out 1,175 batters and had an ERA of 3.40.
Don Buddin – The Turbeville native played six seasons at shortstop and second base for Boston, the Houston Colt .45s and Detroit. He batted .241 with 551 career hits, 41 home runs and 225 RBI.
Bill Brewer – A graduate of Manning High School, he served 35 years as an American Legion coach and athletics director for Post 68. He’s currently a member of the American Legion Baseball State Committee.
Buck Schwing – A graduate of Rock Hill High School, he served 50 years as an American Legion Coach, Athletics Officer, and member of the American Legion Baseball Committee. He also earned the Purple Heart in Vietnam.
Of the four living inductees, Schwing, Richardson and Martin were the only ones in attendance.
“You don’t find as many boys playing baseball,” Richardson said. “They don’t have games in the parks and areas. It’s a different day we live in today. They have those computers. They spend time on them. But I still like the program and it does a lot for boys around the country.”
For Bobby Richardson and Jerry Martin, the road to a Major League Baseball career started with the South Carolina American Legion.
The organization helped provide the Midlands natives a career path into Major League Baseball. It led Martin to a long career as a player and pro scout, while Richardson earned World Series titles with the New York Yankees.
Thursday night at Seawell’s restaurant, the two men were inducted in the inaugural S.C. American Legion Baseball Hall of Fame Class.
Photo by Thomas Grant Jr. – South Carolina American Legion Baseball Hall of Fame class members Jerry Martin, Buck Schwing and Bobby Richardson.