1921 Negro League Team Names: Giants, Pirates, EE-lites

My friend and fellow SABR (Society for American Baseball Research) member Mark Aubrey, who resides in Seymour, Tennessee and plies various research opportunities on Knoxville baseball, presented me with a question today regarding the name of a negro league team in 1921, the Knoxville Pirates. He has often seen the team referred to as “Giants”; “Pirates” was a new reference to him.

The reference came from a clipping in the Nashville Tennessean published on August 11, 1921:

Negro League baseball earned its place in the south in 1920, when the Negro Southern League was formed. Nashville’s entry in the Negro Southern League was named the White Sox, changed to Elite (pronounced EE-lite) Giants by team owner, Tom Wilson, the next season. Many details are sketchy concerning final standings, but it is generally accepted that Nashville played .500 ball for the entire season, finishing with a record of 40 wins and 40 losses.[1]

Knoxville was also a member in the inaugural season of the NSL, finishing first in league standings according to one report which gave the east Tennessee team a record of 55 wins and 21 losses. Bill Plott, another fellow SABR member and author of The Negro Southern League, writes that without explanation, wins were forfeited by Knoxville.

“Fred Caulfield, the New Orleans manager, told the (Alabama) Journal that Knoxville was going to have to forfeit games.”[2]

The Alabama Journal printed final standings with Knoxville at 34-30 on the season.

Returning to Mark’s original question, I became curious about the team name for Knoxville, especially from this February 19 newspaper clipping:

To add to the mystery, another clipping explained that while Knoxville baseball was dead (apparently referring to “white” ball) while giving hope that a Negro team was to be formed. Booker Washington Field was the home to black baseball in Knoxville.

Today’s research offered the conclusion that “Pirates” was simply an error by the newspaper. In fact, Plott’s book does not mention the team name; Knoxville “Giants” is correct. It took a little time to return the results, but Nashville Tennessean accounts of games played between August 12 through August 15 use “Giants” and “Pirates” interchangeably. The same is done for “Sulphur Dell” and the prior name of Nashville’s ball park, “Athletic Park”. Both are one in the same.

In total, Nashville took four out of the five games played: 4-2, 11-0, 8-0, and 4-2 before losing in the second game of a double header on August 15, 4-3. Of special interest, and a piece of history that has eluded me, is Nashville’s 18-game winning streak that was halted in the loss to Knoxville. That will be a research project on the near horizon.

Thank you, Mark, for allowing me to participate in the Knoxville mystery; it pointed to new questions seeking answers. In researching baseball, that is usually the case.

Sources

Nashville Tennessean

Newspapers.com

Sabr.org

Notes

Plott, William J., (2015) The Negro Southern League. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company.

[1] William J Plott, The Negro Southern League, A Baseball History, 1920-1951, (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, 2015), 21.

[2] Ibid. 22.

© 2018 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

Leave a comment

Filed under History, Research, Uncategorized

Play Tennessee’s Vintage Game!

One of many joys a person has in his or her lifetime is friendships born in camaraderie. Often such joys are found with family, traveling to a far-away destination, or playing games. The great game of baseball permits us to watch, study, participate and enjoy what we call our “national pastime” with all the pleasures, and failings, that come with it. That’s where teamwork reigns.

Establishing roots in early-19th century America, mighty men of baseball slugged and slung a magnificent orb, while fans encouraged their favorite teams and players to win. Those same qualities, those same enjoyments, those same fans were there in the origins. The ball may have been a little softer, thrown with an underhand motion, and fielders were allowed to catch a fly ball on first bounce for an out. Men observing a game wore top hats and ladies wore hoop skirts, where a fiddler scratched out a rousing tune between innings, and players ran hard to gather in a grounder or to score. That was vintage baseball.

It still is.

Tennessee Vintage Base Ball was formed in 2013 to play baseball as most would understand it, but with 1864 rules that are modified slightly to keep players safe and fans interested without the detail of rules. It is separated from the modern game by more than dividing baseball into two words. Fair play is always in mind for everyone, and so is relishing  the past. But this style of game is not fleeting. It brings much of the best out of each and every player, and gentlemenly (and lady!) qualities prevail.

Have you seen a game? Do you want to know more, or have you thought you might like to participate? Do you want to have the time of your life? Watch this video; you will see and hear how life’s blessings are interwoven in baseball:

There many ways to become involved. I joined up as an umpire two years ago, and I can attest that I have had the time of my life. Camaraderie and friendship are worthy joys that come along with participation. If you would like to experience those in a special way, or just want to know more, just follow this link: www.tennesseevintagebaseball.com/register

We want to welcome you with a hearty “Huzzah!”

Leave a comment

Filed under Current, History, Opinion, Research

Real Champions, Fake Products

Getting away from my usual research and blog posts that relate to Nashville baseball and Sulphur Dell, I am compelled to unleash my feelings about the unmitigated gall that some vendors have in bypassing MLB licensing.

First, let me say that I am a New York Yankees fan and have been since the age of 10. But I could not help myself in rooting for the Red Sox during the 2018 World Series because of two Tennessee greats on the Boston roster: Mookie Betts and David Price. The content of their character is what sets them apart from many ballplayers today; no roster is void of the other kind of character, but Betts and Price are very special men, and I am proud of both of them.

I spent 43 years in the sporting goods business, and from day one was taught how the sports licensing business works. Already this morning I am seeing a bunch of “Boston World Champions” fake merchandise, and it’s not right.

Any entity such as MLB, NFL, NBA, and Collegiate Licensing spends a lot of money, time, and effort to provide fans with the best quality merchandise, not cheap t-shirts, caps, and jerseys from sleazy vendors. These guys that think they are clever by outwitting the licensees, retailers, and sports clubs themselves verify their dishonorable practices.

“Boston World Champions” on any item that is advertised as soon as the game is over, yet carries no MLB-licensed hang tags nor is advertised by MLB itself, calls out that it is unlicensed by its own admission. The proper phrase is “Boston Red Sox, World Series Champions”, which is a licensed trademark of the Red Sox and MLB. See how the phrase is mis-used?

To those who commit this fraud: honor the license. Wouldn’t you want your trademarks honored?

My recommendation to fans: only buy OFFICIAL merchandise licensed by the sport…

​© 2018 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

Leave a comment

Filed under Current, Opinion

Nashville’s Junior Gilliam Named 1953 National League Rookie of the Year

On October 3, 1953, The Sporting News named Harvey Keunn and Junior Gilliam as Rookie of the Year for their respective leagues. Keunn, a shortstop for the American League’s Detroit Tigers, finished first in voting with Boston Red Sox Tom Umphlett outfielder, St. Louis Browns shortstop Billy Hunter and pitcher Don Larsen finishing 2-3-4.

Gilliam, who beat out Jackie Robinson for the Brooklyn Dodgers’ second base position prompting Robinson’s move to the outfield, finished ahead of pitcher Harvey Haddix, outfielder Rip Repulski, and third baseman Ray Jablonski, all of the St. Louis Cardinals, in the voting for the National League honor.

Born in Nashville on October 17, 1928, Gilliam hit for a .278 average, stole 21 bases, and led the National League with 17 triples to earn the award. He had played for the Nashville Black Vols and Baltimore Elite Giants before being purchased by the Dodgers prior to the 1951 season. Gilliam spent two seasons with the Montreal Royals (International League, Class AAA), where he was league MVP in 1952

Sources

Nashville Tennessean

Newspapers.com

Paper of Record

Sabr.org

The Sporting News

​© 2018 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

Leave a comment

Filed under History, Negro League, Research

Tommy Brown’s Place in Baseball History

On June 5, 1955, Birmingham trounced Nashville 11-8 in what was supposed to have been the first game of a double header. A torrent of rain made it impossible to play the second game. But most of the 3,555 fans at Sulphur Dell were able to witness the Nashville debut of former major leaguer Tommy Brown, recently acquired from Los Angeles of the Pacific Coast League.[1]

Brown’s flight from the west coast was delayed for seven hours due to weather conditions at the Ft. Worth airport. Arriving in Nashville at 6:30 AM that Monday morning, and with only a few hours of sleep, the 6’1”, 170-pound third baseman, hit two singles, scored twice, was hit by a pitch, and walked once. In five fielding chances he was perfect, and started three double plays.

His success story had begun 10 years earlier, while World War II was going on. At the age of 16 years and seven months old, on August 3, 1944, he started the first game of a double header for the Brooklyn Dodgers at Ebbets Field against the Chicago Cubs, becoming the youngest position player to appear in a major league game, and the second youngest ever behind pitcher Joe Nuxhall who had first appeared in a game earlier in the season.[2]

Known as “Buckshot”, a name given to him by Dodgers manager Leo Durocher because of his erratic throwing, Brown’s first hit was a double off Chicago left hander Bob Chipman in the seventh inning of the Cubs win, 6-2.

The next season, on August 20, 1945, in front of 6,332 paid fans and 1,046 servicemen at Ebbets Field, he became the youngest player to hit a home run in the majors when he clubbed one off Preacher Roe in the seventh inning. It was the Dodgers’ lone run as Pittsburgh won, 11-1.[3]

Five days later, he had his second career homer. Facing New York Giants left hander Adrian Zabala in the seventh inning of the first game of two, Brown popped one over the Ebbets Field outfield wall, making him the second-youngest major league player to have a round-tripper.[4]

His historic story began a few years before, when at 15 years old he attended a Brooklyn tryout camp in his home town (he was born there on December 6, 1927). Impressing the club with his abilities, the Dodgers invited him to spring training in Bear Mountain, New York, where he was signed to a free agent contract.[5]

Settling in at Newport News (Piedmont League – Class B) where his teammates included Clem Labine and Duke Snider, he played in 91 games and hit .297. Not wanting to answer the call up to Brooklyn because he felt he was hitting so well in the minors, Brown relented and started at shortstop the day he arrived in Brooklyn against the Chicago Cubs on August 3, 1944, his major league debut.

After hitting into a fielder’s choice and pop-up in foul territory in his first two plate appearances, Tommy hit a double for his first major league hit. Although the Dodgers lost to the Cubs, 6-2, it began his career as a capable player even at such a young age.

He was 16 years and seven months old.

In seven seasons he never appeared in more than 57 games for Brooklyn, mostly as a utility player and pinch hitter. He was traded to the Philadelphia Phillies on June 8, 1951 for outfielder Dick Whitman. Unable to break into the starting lineup, he was purchased by the Chicago Cubs on June 15, 1952, and given a chance to become the Cubs regular shortstop. When the 1953 season ended, Tommy’s major league career ended at the age of 25. But he was not finished playing professional baseball.

Before being acquired by Nashville, Brown had batted .263 in 152 games for the Los Angeles Angels in 1953, and with the help of Cincinnati Reds general manager Gabe Paul Brown was purchased outright by Nashville from the west coast club after appearing in 24 games.

For the next three years, he was a dependable third baseman for Nashville. During the 1955 season in which he hit for a .299 batting average, his play continued to improve. But his best minor league season was just around the corner.

In 1956, Tommy gets at least one hit in the first 12 games to open the season before his streak is halted on April 22. On May 25 against Birmingham at Sulphur Dell, he entered the game having reached base either with a walk or hit in 16 straight appearances. When he walked four times in his first four times at bat, it extended his streak to 20 games.

But in the eighth inning he lofted a soft fly ball that was caught in left field, and his streak was over. Had he gotten a hit, it would have been his twelfth straight in 12 official plate appearances, which would have tied Pete Thomassie’s Southern Association record.[6]

Leading the league in batting by mid-season, he was a unanimous selection to the league’s All-star team but was purchased by the Reds on July 15 and was on his way to Cincinnati. Still suffering from an injury sustained while landing on his shoulder in a play in Atlanta a few weeks before, Tommy was unable to lift his arm over his head and the Reds sent him back to Nashville to finish the season.[7]

On August 5, Nashville turned its first triple play of the season with Brown starting things off.  In the fourth inning against the Chicks in Memphis with the bases full, he scooped up Jim Landis’ low liner and threw to catcher Frank Baldwin for a force out.  Baldwin’s return throw to Brown forced an out at third, and Brown’s toss to second retired a third Chicks runner.

At season’s end, he had a .316 batting average, hit 10 home runs, and had 85 RBI in 128 games while playing third base. In 1957, his average dropped to .256, and after 39 games with Nashville he was sent to the Chattanooga Lookouts.

His final season was in 1958, as he split the year between Chattanooga and New Orleans Pelicans, when he retired at the age of 31. Keeping his residence in Nashville, he spent the next 35 years working at the Ford Glass plant before moving to Florida, where he now lives.

His 1956 season in Nashville was a special one, but his claim as the youngest major leaguer to hit a home run will always be the special accolade he will hang his hat on.

Sources

Baseball-almanac.com

Baseball-reference.com

Newspapers.com

Retro-sheet.org

Sabr.org

Notes

[1] F. M. Williams, “Barons Crunch Vols, 11 to 8,” Nashville Tennessean, June 6, 1955, 14.

[2] C. Paul Rogers III, “Tommy Brown,” Sabr.org Bio Project, https://sabr.org/bioproj/person/7913ae6c, accessed August 18, 2018.

[3] Harold C. Burr, “Flock Crackup Weakens Grip on 3d Place,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, August 21, 1945, 11.

[4] “Home Run Records by Age,” Baseball Almanac, http://www.baseball-almanac.com/recbooks/rb_hr6.shtml, accessed August 20, 2018.

[5] Rogers.

[6] “Brown Out On 21st AB,” Nashville Tennessean, May 26, 1956, 11.

[7] Rogers.

© 2018 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

Leave a comment

Filed under Biography, History, Research

Could Happen

It is hard to argue that the longer baseball games are played, the more oddities occur. A couple of minor league twists during the past few days mark the characteristics that keep us watching our beloved game. The first was a win by a team that did not have a single hit, but still won, and the second had two players on the same team to hit for the cycle.

We knew it was going to happen, didn’t we? On Monday, August 6, 2018, the Clearwater Threshers (Florida State High Class-A), a farm club of the Philadelphia Phillies, had no walks and no hits. And won.[1]

Through seven innings, Tampa Tarpons pitcher Deivi Garcia struck out 12 Clearwater batters, and giving up no hits. Since the game was the second of the night (minor league double headers are seven innings), the eighth inning became an extra inning since the score was tied, 0-0.

The new 2018 rule in place for minor league teams, calling for a runner to be placed at second base automatically to begin extra innings, allowed for an eventful throwing error and fielder’s choice that gave the Threshers a 1-0 lead into the bottom of the eighth, a lead they held to win. On no hits.

Last night in Indianapolis, second baseman Kevin Newman and catcher Jacob Stallings each had a single, double, triple, and home run in the Indians win over the Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs. According to sports writer Ryan Young, the feat has been duplicated before in the minor leagues, but never in the majors.[2]

Could an earlier prediction have been made for such as these?

Peculiar as those are, Nashville Banner sportswriter poised an interesting question in his book, I’ll Go Quietly (Nashville: McQuiddy Press, 1944). Under the title “Could Happen”, he wondered if in a team could make six hits in one inning, including three triples, and not score.

“Yes, it could happen, like this:” he writes.

“The first man up triples and is thrown out at the plate trying to stretch it into a homer. The second batsman does the same thing. The third hitter triples. That’s three triples, with two men out.

“The next batter singles to the third baseman; next man also singles to the third baseman, who on both plays, after making magnificent stops on balls labeled hits, decides to hold runner on third rather than make a play for the hitter. The next batter then singles and the ball hits a base runner, retiring the side.

“This could happen, but I doubt if it ever will, because base runners are taught to run on anything with two outs, and infielders are taught to play for the hitter when there are two out.”[3]

Mr. Russell, I’m not so sure your play has not happened at least once since 1944, but we know that just about anything else can. We keep going back to the ballpark to see just one more.

© 2018 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

Sources

Baseball-reference.com

Newspapers.com

Notes

[1] Matt Monagan, “This Minor League team got no-hit and still won the game,” Cut4 by MLB.com, https://www.mlb.com/cut4/minor-league-team-gets-no-hit-and-still-wins-game/c-289197828, retrieved August 7, 2018.

[2] Ryan Young, “Two minor league teammates hit for the cycle in the same game,” Yahoo Sports, https://sports.yahoo.com/two-minor-league-players-hit-cycle-game-044657876.html, retrieved August 8, 2018.

[3] Fred Russell, I’ll Go Quietly, (Nashville: McQuiddy Press, 1944), 43.

Leave a comment

Filed under Current, History, Opinion

A Primer On Baseball Reading

My wife and I are planning our seven-day trip to Florida for rest and relaxation, and I have been sorting through my meager collection of books to decide which ones to take with me to read, reread, or finish. She is an avid reader at the rate of three or four a week, so I have much to do to catch up with her. Of course, I will never catch her, but I am bound and determined to make it through the ones I select.

This task reminded me that not long ago I was asked for book suggestions for someone who was interested in learning more about the history of baseball. I compiled the list from my own inventory, and only from books I have read. I am no expert on book reviews, but I know what I have enjoyed. This is my offer, all from my own collection, books I have read and enjoyed over the years:

Baseball in the Garden of Eden: The Secret History of the Early Game by John Thorn (Simon & Schuster, 2012)

 

 

 

 

​The Glory of Their Times: The Story of the Early Days of Baseball Told by the Men Who Played It by Lawrence S. Ritter (Macmillan, 1966)

 

 

 

 

Boys of Summer by Roger Kahn (Harper & Row, 1972)

 

 

 

 

A Complete History of the Negro Leagues: 1884 to 1955 by Mark Ribowsky (Carol Publishing Group, 1995)

 

 

 

 

Joe DiMaggio: The Hero’s Life by Richard Ben Cramer (Simon & Schuster, 2000)

 

 

 

 

Branch Rickey: Baseball’s Ferocious Gentleman by Lee Lowenfish (University of Nebraska Press, 2007)

 

 

 

 

Willie’s Boys: The 1948 Birmingham Black Barons, The Last Negro League World Series, and the Making of a Baseball Legend by John Klima (Wiley, 2009)

 

 

 

The Echoing Green: The Untold Story of Bobby Thomson, Ralph Branca and the Shot Heard Round the World by Joshua Prager (Vintage Books, 2006)

 

 

 

October 1964 by David Halberstam (Ballantine, 1994)

 

 

 

 

Ball Four by Jim Bouton (World, 1970)

 

 

 

 

One book that I would like to have included but cannot since I have not read it, is Babe: The Legend Comes to Life by Robert Creamer (Simon & Schuster, 1974). It is one that seems to have eluded me, but if it makes delivery on time I will be carting it with me to the beach. I have purposely omitted Money Ball by Michael Lewis (W. W. Norton & Co., 2003), as that chapter of baseball history is ongoing; however, it is worth reading to learn the basis for statistical tools that have often overshadowed the game itself.

An additional note: these may be read in whatever order one wishes, but I have selected them in the order shown as a way of building up one’s knowledge of historical news, facts, and importance. Should one choose to deviate, be my guest. Baseball is the worthy subject no matter the order!

© 2018 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

Leave a comment

Filed under Current, History, Opinion, Research