The Durham Bulls have a rich history dating back to 1902, but there are some gaps in the time-line. Play was suspended during World War I, the Depression and during much of the 1970s. WWI and the 30s – that makes sense – but what happened in the 70s?
Rusty Staub, Joe Morgan and Greg Luzinski played for Durham in the 1960s, but the team was on life support by the end of the decade. In 1968 the Durham and Raleigh teams merged. This early attempt at “regionalism” was a bust. The team folded in 1971 running a newspaper ad inviting its paltry fan base to “the final game in a long, disastrous, just plain awful season.” That is truth in advertising!
The baseball landscape was not a pretty picture in our region - no local baseball and the Carolina League had downsized to only four teams.
...and that brings me to Jim Mills, the former Carolina League President who passed away on November 14th at eighty-nine. He had much to do with the Bulls' renaissance.
Jim worked aggressively to expand the CL to eight teams. As part of that plan he aided and abetted the Bulls' return to Durham. Entrepreneur Miles Wolff deserves full credit for reviving the team in 1980 as a Atlanta Braves affiliate, but Jim was a behind-the-scenes force lending expertise and credibility to all aspects of the resurrection. The CL was taking in a new team, the Braves were adding a farm club and the City of Durham had to be persuaded to fix up the old Durham Athletic Park. Jim worked alongside Miles to get all of that done. Jim was his bench coach. And what an outstanding outcome: the Carolina League is considered the premier single-A league and the Bulls are the most renowned club in the minors.
Later in his career Jim worked in the Bulls' front office. He was a fixture at the DAP, and he served as consultant to Capitol Broadcasting Co. when we purchased the team in 1991. In retirement, he visited us each summer in the new ballpark, and we enjoyed his company.
Please read Jim's obituary and this news story. He's in the NC Sports Hall of Fame and NC High School Athletic Association’s HOF.
Our thoughts and prayers are with Jim's wife of sixty-three years, Flossie, and their family. He lived a full and interesting life. I'm thankful the Lord gave him extra innings!
(Jim & Flossie at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park, circa 2003)