RALEIGH — For more than a decade, Charlie Dobbins was a member of softball royalty.
Not that it registers with any of the members of his teams at William Peace University, where he’s coached for 20 seasons.
“The girls haven’t heard of me,” Dobbins said. “But a lot of times their dads have … or, now, their grandfathers. So it can still help with recruiting.”
Dobbins was a member of the legendary exhibition softball team The King and His Court — which, for 65 years, were softball’s version of the Harlem Globetrotters. They traveled the country, taking on all comers and seldom, if ever, losing.
The King was Eddie Feigner, who formed the Court in response to a challenge.
“Like most great things, it came about as a bar bet,” Dobbins joked.
Feigner challenged a rival softballer, saying he was such a good pitcher, he could beat the rival’s team by himself.
He later added a catcher to his team, to catch his unhittable pitches. Then he added a pair of fielders to bring the roster size to four so that his team would have someone to send to the plate if they happened to load the bases.
After winning his bar bet, Feigner hit the road, quickly becoming one of sports’ biggest — and highest-paid — stars in the post-World War II era.
“They started in San Diego with a station wagon and a gas card,” Dobbins said, recalling the birth of his team, which took place years before he was even born. “They drove to the Florida Keys, stopping in each city to tell them, ‘We’ll be back through here in a couple weeks to play an exhibition game. Book a venue.’”
When they reached the Keys, they turned around and drove west to play the games.
By the time Dobbins joined the squad, in the late 20th century, the team had been established. They were honored by Sports Illustrated as one of the 10 best teams of the millennium. They still followed one long-standing tradition, however.
“Every year, we’d meet in San Diego and set out from there,” Dobbins recalled.
Like the Globetrotters, the Court wouldn’t just beat teams, they’d put on a show. Feigner, who hit 104 mph on the radar gun with a softball pitch, would strike batters out pitching from second base, behind his back and blindfolded. He’d strike guys out with pitches between his legs.
During one memorable charity game in 1967, Feigner faced a lineup that included MLB stars Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, Brooks Robinson, Roberto Clemente, Maury Wills and Harmon Killebrew. He struck all six out in succession.
Dobbins’ time with the court took him all over the world.
“We played as far north as Alaska, beneath the northern lights,” Dobbins said, “and all the way down to the Keys. We played on the deck of an aircraft carrier in San Diego, years before college basketball teams started doing it. I remember we once played in the Demilitarized Zone on the border between North and South Korea. We could see the North Korean guards, on the wall, watching our game through binoculars.”
They also went to Australia, in 2000, the year Sydney hosted the Summer Olympics. Feigner was asked to throw out the first pitch at a softball game Down Under.
“That was the last pitch he threw,” Dobbins said. “He suffered a stroke the next day.”
Feigner continued to travel with the Court for the next seven years, but he served as an on-field MC, telling stories while his younger teammates put on the show.
The team continued for another four years following Feigner’s death in 2007, before going on a final 100-game farewell tour.
“We ended in Walla Walla, Wash., where Eddie was born,” Dobbins recalled. As catcher, he had the honor of catching the final pitch in King and his Court history. “After that, we turned out the lights,” he said.
The numbers were staggering in their dominance. In 65 years, the court registered 9,743 victories — 150 a year. They struck out 141,517 batters, threw 930 no-hitters and 238 perfect games.
Dobbins isn’t the only member of the Court who went on to coach. Longtime Baylor softball coach Glenn Moore is a former member, as is longtime actor Jack Knight, who appeared on “Cheers,” “Moneyball” and “Catch Me If You Can,” among other credits.
The remaining members are working on a book and hope to also produce a documentary detailing their experience on softball’s greatest team.
“You’d be surprised how many people come up to me and tell me how they remember seeing us play when they were a kid,” Dobbins said.
A few minutes later, a 40-something man approached Dobbins.
“I’m sorry to interrupt,” he said, “but did you mention the King and His Court? I remember seeing you in Greece, N.Y., back in the ’80s.”
Dobbins nodded and grinned, probably secretly hoping this fan had a softball-playing daughter who was looking at colleges.