More than 50 years before the Huntsville Stars came along, top quality baseball was being played throughout the city in the tough cotton mill leagues. Some oldtimers still insist many of the players for the mill teams could have played professionally, even at the major league level, had they been given the opportunity. In the years before World War II, Dallas and Lincoln mills turned out a number of outstanding baseball players, including Jim Tom Gentry, Commodore Pinion, Houston Goodson, Norman and Willie Allen, Archie Grant, Floyd Bryant and Lev Gentles. After the war, mill ball faded into memory. But other amateur leagues and other players came along to make their own marks on the citys baseball heritage. The best of that era included Taylor Myers, Bill Daniel, Brooks Church, Ty Samples, Slick McGinnis and, of course, James Talley. Hub Myhand, the Dallas physical education director, was known as Huntsvilles Mr. Baseball before the war. After the war, the mantle fell to Jim Talley. A strapping, hard-hitting, hard-nosed player, Talley switched over to managing in the early 1950s. Several of his teams, particularly the Huntsville Independents of the 1960s and 70s, were among the best amateur and semi-pro teams the state of Alabama ever produced. Talley, who retired several years ago from the Huntsville Parks and Recreation Department, fondly remembers the good old days before TV and drive-ins. Baseball used to be the thing to do, Talley said. Thats why we had so many good ballplayers around here, and the big crowds. The biggest crowd he ever saw at a local game was when the Boosters played a major league all-star team at Optimist Park in 1950. They had Harry The Hat Walker, Roy Campanella, Rube Walker, Carl Erskine, Talley recalled. They beat us 3-2, but the thing I remember most is the home run that big first baseman for the Chicago Cubs, Hank Sauer, hit out of Optimist Park. That was the longest ball Ive ever seen hit. And boy, what a crowd. They were standing in the outfield. Talleys career as a player and later a manager spanned nearly four decades (1938-76). One of the best players at Lincoln Mills in the late 1930s and early 40s, Talley signed with the St. Louis Cardinals in 1947 but soon returned home because of low pay. He played with the Huntsville Boosters from 1949-53 and the Huntsville Parkers in 1955. He was player-manager of the Huntsville Boosters from 1956-60 and manager of the Huntsville American Legion team from 1961-63. From 1965-76, he managed the Independents, winning the state tournament nine times and playing in several national tournaments at Wichita. He was also National Baseball Congress state commissioner from 1967-76. Talley coached many top local players over the years, including Don Mincher, John Gaught, Jim Mathis, Billy Michael, Tebo Watson, Bill Stewart, Cliff Coggin, Harold Hill, George Burns, Max Burleson, Dave Beck, Eddie Echols, John Dudley, Brooks Gentle, Ricky and Randy Davidson, Frank Houk, Condredge Holloway and others. Talley and his wife Naomi will celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary on July 18, 1992. They have two children Ronnie, who lives in St. Petersburg, Fla., and Rita Purvis of Gaithersburg, Md.