Remembering Bill Whitby…
Last week, I found out some very sad news.
Bill Whitby, who pitched for the Charlotte Hornets from 1963-1965, passed away at the age of 72. I was informed of the news from his wife of 50 years, Donelle, who I had the opportunity to meet — along with Bill — in 2014 when the Knights held a tribute to the Charlotte Hornets at BB&T Ballpark. I’m so glad I met both of them.
The 2014 season was a special one for the Knights. It was the first year at BB&T Ballpark in Uptown Charlotte. After 25 years across the state line in Fort Mill, SC, the Knights moved back home to Charlotte, NC.
That season was special on so many levels.
On April 18, the team paid tribute to the Charlotte O’s. Over 20 former players made their way to the Queen City to see the new ballpark — and each other. It was a historic way to cap-off the first homestand in the ballpark’s inaugural season. I can never thank the Crockett family and Lib Shildt enough for everything they did to put together that tremendous event.
It was the first of two historic nights at the ballpark.
Months later — thanks to the tireless efforts of Char McEwen and her husband Tim — BB&T Ballpark welcomed over 20 former Charlotte Hornets players and their families.
The date was August 5, 2014 and among the former Hornets on hand for the event were Charlie Manuel, Minnie Mendoza, Gene Verble, and Bill Whitby.
A week before the big event, I welcomed a few of the former Hornets to the ballpark to meet the media. It was a day I will never forget.
I continued to do my research and look for newspaper articles featuring some of the former Hornets who were coming out to the ballpark. I love baseball history, and I enjoyed reading stories from the early 1960’s about the stars of baseball in the Queen City.
During my research, I found a few articles that caught my eye.
I read about Gene Verble. I read about Minnie Mendoza. I read about Tony Oliva. And then I read about Bill Whitby — a 19-year-old pitcher with the Charlotte Hornets in 1963. Just 19 years old and already at Double-A.
Whitby was signed by the Minnesota Twins as a free agent at the young age of 17. The Virginia native appeared in three games for the Hornets in 1963. Then, as a 20-year-old, his career took off.
In 1964, Whitby posted an 11-9 record with a 3.38 ERA in 29 games (28 starts) with the Hornets. His hard-work that season in Charlotte paid off as he earned a promotion to the majors in June. The Victoria High School (Virginia) product made his major league debut on June 17, 1964 against the Cleveland Indians. He allowed one run on two hits over 1.1 innings pitched.
Four days later, the young hurler pitched a perfect 1.2 innings against a tough Detroit Tigers lineup. He retired Norm Cash (double play), future National Baseball Hall-of-Famer Al Kaline, Bill Freehan, and Don Demeter in order. After two more appearances that season with the Twins, however, Whitby was back in Charlotte the following year.
In 1965, Whitby compiled a 10-8 record with a 2.61 ERA for the Hornets in 25 games (24 starts). It was an impressive year for the right-handed pitcher on the mound. He even tossed a no-hitter against Asheville that season.
Among some of the notable articles I found during my research, was the “no-hitter” article. Whitby tossed the no-no on August 11, 1965.
I also found articles about Bill and Donelle — who was “Miss Hornet”.
I brought those articles out to show the Whitbys and the former Hornets who attended the media session that day in July (2014). It brought back a lot of memories for them. I enjoyed hearing their stories that day. I really enjoyed meeting them.
A week later, Bill and Donelle were back at BB&T Ballpark, along with the former Hornets and their families for the tribute night. It was such a special day to see all of the former Hornets on the field in Hornets caps once again.
Bill, along with a few other former Hornets, appeared on the pre-game show that day. They spoke to Mike Pacheco about their time with the Hornets and continued to share stories.
When all was said and done, everyone in attendance (Knights players, Hornets, their families, and all of the fans) enjoyed seeing the former players back on the baseball diamond. It brought back so many memories for so many people. It really was a day I’ll remember for the rest of my life.
I’m truly grateful to have had the chance to meet Bill and Donelle. My thoughts and prayers go out to Donelle and the entire Whitby family during this time.
Thank you for all of your contributions to Charlotte baseball history. You will be missed by so many, Bill.