Big Guy Lefty and Christmas at Sulphur Dell

Cold snow covered Monroe Street as Guy Leftowich pulled his front door tightly shut and slowly shuffled down the porch steps, being sure to hold on to the black wrought-iron rail. Christine always insisted he hold on even when it was clear as a bell outside because as he had grown older his balance was not what it used to be. He was still strong, his broad shoulders and narrow waist giving him an appearance of someone who had either been an athlete or was simply a chiseled picture of good health. At the age of 68, he was both.

He stood 6’6”, and at 225 pounds the left-hander had been an ominous presence in his Nashville uniform 20 years ago. Standing at home plate with his 40-ounce bat at his first spring training, Pete Johnson, manager of the Nashville Vols ballclub, took one look at him and said, “You’re a pretty big guy, Guy” and when other players heard that he was forever known as “Big Guy”. Teammates shortened his last name to “Lefty” after lovingly teasing him as teammates do: “Hey, which is it Big Guy? Leftowich? Rightowich? Or Which-away?” Always present was a gleaming smile on his face. He loved to play baseball, so it didn’t matter much that his buddies teased him like that.

His real name was Abner Ulysses Leftowich, but his dad had called him Guy since he was born (“Hey, look at the big guy”). Neither his father nor fellow players were going to stand for calling him Abner or Ulysses, so “Big Guy Lefty” it was.

Before venturing out of the house he checked the temperature from the gadget he and Christine had placed outside their kitchen window when they first purchased the bungalow in Germantown. A fan of the team had given it to them as a housewarming gift, a handmade contraption in the shape of a baseball bat on top of a baseball, the thermometer inserted inside the bat and a round clock face inside the baseball. It showed 12 degrees, but the clock hands were frozen at 7:11 PM and he knew that wasn’t right.

That must’ve been the time when the temperature dropped below freezing, he thought.

When he reached the sidewalk, he could see the entire neighborhood was covered in at least eight inches of pure white snowfall. The smooth surface of the road told him no one had been bold enough to drive their automobiles this morning, and since it was already 9:30 he doubted many would risk getting out at all today.

“I probably should have broken tradition and gone yesterday,” he muttered to himself. He and Christine had a ritual of going grocery shopping every Christmas Eve morning. They were alone with no children to visit them during the holidays, and both would spend the rest of their day in the kitchen. Christine had kept his mother’s recipe cards, and in the morning,  they would go through them together and pick their favorites to make for lunch on Christmas Day. They would sip eggnog spiced with rum and snack on Christmas treats in the evening.

Christine passed away nine months ago, it was a long time for one to be ill like that. She was never sick a day in her life until her energy, vitality, humor, friendship, companionship, and lastly, her breath went away. For 45 years Guy and Christine had spent every waking moment together except when he was playing ball for Gadsden, Tallahassee, Buffalo, or Nashville. They loved Nashville. It was their favorite city of the ones they had lived in, and the home where they chose to spend their golden years together was only a few blocks away from Sulphur Dell where he had roamed the outfield hills for nearly 20 years.

The grocery was not far off, only two long blocks, but he continued to waddle threw the snow, certain Ethan Fisher would have his store open at Sixth and Taylor.

“Good morning, Ethan. Merry Christmas,” he told the shopkeeper as he kicked the snow from his boots and entered. The old man with the apron was standing near the counter, his right elbow on top of the cash register and his other hand on his hip, his diminutive body wrapped in a woolen sweater that was much too big.

“The merriest of Christmas to you, too, Big Guy,” he said. “Need some help with your list?”

Guy handed him the piece of paper with things he needed scratched on it in pencil. Christine always kept a notepad by the telephone, and he had written everything down as he checked the pantry.

“Let’s see: a dozen eggs, butter, flour, sugar, cloves, ham, a quart of milk. Is this everything?” asked the proprietor.

“I think so. We still have brown sugar and powdered sugar left from last year,” he answered.

The grocery man gathered the things from the list and placed them in a brown paper sack while curiously searching his customer’s facial expressions. He was looking for sadness, or self-pity, or sense of loneliness so he could console the retired ballplayer, but Ethan did not see it. He knew it was Guy’s first Christmas alone, and the entire neighborhood had wondered among themselves how he would react.

“Here you go, that will be $3.49.”

Guy handed Ethan exact change and took the bag. He headed out of the store, turning with a high wave toward the man in the over-sized sweater who shouted, “Merry Christmas! ” to him. The shop’s screen door smacked against the door frame, and as Guy balanced the sack in both arms, he noticed the streets were still empty. Two ruts the width of a car had cut their swathe down Sixth Avenue, with a few wavy ones where the icy mix had kept the driver from navigating a straight line.

It took him about ten minutes to return home as he stopped to say hello to two neighbors who were clearing their sidewalks with shovels. Another was attempting to conquer the white powder with a broom without much progress. Two dogs came bounding through a drift near a car sitting in a pile of snow, and Guy lurched to get out of their way and nearly went tumbling, grocery sack and all. He managed to maintain his poise and his groceries, then turned the corner towards his house. He paused to see the beauty of their cottage and how it  glistened in the sun, peeking through the billowy white clouds.

Entering the house, he hung up his coat, put the grocery sack on the floor near his feet as he sat down on the bench in the foyer. He untied his boots and kicked them off, returning them to their place of rest under the bench, and made his way to the kitchen. Setting his bounty on the counter, he folded his big arms across his chest and peered at the thermometer once again. This time it said 17 degrees. The time had not changed.

For the first time in many months sadness overcame him. The walk alone, the return to the house empty of the giggles of his sweetheart, and the cold and snowy day outside cast a pall over the wonderful home he and Christine had shared.

The idea came to him to build a fire to warm the dreariness of the damp air and his sad thoughts at the same time.

He went through the door at the back of the house and gathered firewood and kindling in his arms to make the fire in the living room fireplace. Down on one knee he set the wood on the andirons, checked to be sure the flue was open, and reached for the matchbox on the mantle. Taking a match and lighting it, he moved toward the newspaper wad and lit it, watching the first plumes of smoke make their way up through the chimney opening. The little flames soon became a blaze, and he stared at the burning wood. He thought he could see Christine’s face in the glow. “But it couldn’t be,” he said softly.

And that is when she appeared to him. The word Christine immediately came to his lips.

She nodded without a word, smiled at him, and gazed directly into his eyes. He did not need for her to say anything, for he felt her words in his heart. She was telling him, “I love you, I am near you, and I care for you. Don’t be afraid, someone is coming.”

He had been afraid. The love they shared was like a rock they could stand on, something they could cling to. But without her, he had not felt that in nearly a year, and he had secretly, passionately longed for it.

Her image began to fade. Wanting her to stay, Guy began to cry. Dabbing at his tears with the sleeve of his flannel shirt, the one she gave him the Christmas before, he looked up to see she had disappeared.

Once he recognized she was no longer there, he felt the warmth from the fireplace and how the room began to lighten. The curtains, the bookcase, the ceiling fan, and the coffee table, everything in the room began to radiate their own warmth, and he felt Christine’s presence even more.

For over an hour he remembered, and prayed.

“It’s time to cook!” He surprised himself with the sound of his own voice, as if he was calling to her from downstairs to rouse her from her nap. He began to pull the bowls and cookware from their hiding places in the cupboards and spent the next four hours busy, but alone, preparing a meal fit for the king and queen who happily resided at the house on the corner of Monroe and Sixth Avenues.

In the evening after a long nap he washed and dried the dishes and tucked them back into their places in the cabinets. Taking a loaf of cranberry-banana-nut bread and cutting two slices, he placed them on the Christmas plate Christine loved, then one her grandmother passed down to her, then added some cashews and peanuts, and a few pretzels, poured a cup of eggnog spiced with rum, and settled in his chair in the living room. He had to get up twice to put another log on the fire and stoke it, but he felt peace while watching it burn, sipping on the eggnog and eating his Christmas snacks as usual on this special night.

Because Christine was there. He felt her presence, and he was happy for the first time in a long while.

The next morning, he stuck his head out the front door and saw that much of the snow had melted. The sidewalk in front of the house had patches of bare concrete, so he checked the temperature and it read 32 degrees.

He and Christine usually took a stroll through the neighborhood on Christmas morning unless the weather was too cold or snowy. Often, they would manage to visit the old ballpark where they spent so much time. Guy wanted to make that journey again today. He laced up his boots and put on his coat and headed out the door.

Only once did he have to step into the street because the sidewalk was frozen. The sun was shining, and the air was warming, so it was a pleasant walk to Jefferson Street and Fifth Avenue to Sulphur Dell’s entrance. The outside of the stadium took on a picture of an oversized bird house painted in a cheap green and white. That conception was not too far off, as pigeons roosting in the eaves of the rafters left markings on the side of the building and on the street and sidewalk below.

Sulphur Dell was famous for the peculiar configuration of the outfield, as the distance from home to right field was a short 262 feet, and if the right fielder was standing at the base of the right field wall, his feet were 22 ½ feet above the playing surface. The streets in this part of the city had been built up long ago because the area was prone to flooding, but Sulphur Dell was left as a low-lying ball field and the entire park resembled an oversized wash basin. That, and the sulphur spring nearby, helped to explain the ballpark’s name.

Most ballplayers hated to play there, but Guy handled the outfield hills like no other, traversing the rolling outfield no matter his massive frame.

The front gate was open, and he stepped inside, making his way through the concourse. When he stopped and took in the expanse of the field, a rush of energy came over him, making him feel young and excited and ready to play once again.

He barely heard the tender voice from above and behind him.

“Hey mister,” the boy said. He had been crying, and he had something around his mouth that looked like the residue of cotton candy.

“Well, hello,” he replied. The youngster appeared to be eight or nine years old, dressed in ragged jeans, a sweater, and woolen jacket. On top of his head he wore a blue baseball cap with a white “SO” on the front. Everything he wore was tinged in black soot as if he had crawled through a coal chute.

A shout rang out from a row of seats four sections over . “There you are, you rascal!” said a policeman. “I’ve been looking everywhere for you.”

The boy cuddled tightly into the stadium chair he had chosen as a hiding place and muffled his crying with his bare hands over his mouth. Guy recognized the officer, one who was security guard at the ballpark since 1927 when the grandstand was moved from one side of the block to the other.

“What’s the story on him, George?” Guy asked. At first the old policeman did not recognize him.

“Hey, aren’t you Big Guy Lefty? The one who hit a home run every Sunday game played at Sulphur Dell the entire season in 1948 and led the league with 65 homers that year? The one who was the only player to wear number 13 in the history of the Vols? The one who…”

“I suppose that’s me,” he interrupted. “It’s both an honor and a pox to be recognized sometimes. Don’t remember me?”

“I’ll just tell you, sometimes my memory lapses, Lefty. I think you are just about the best baseball player to hit this town since Roy Pomeroy,” the man in blue responded.

“Well, thank you, but I was no Roy Pomeroy,” he said. “What about the kid?”

The policeman returned to his reason for being there and told Guy that earlier in the day the Stratton Orphanage brought a group of boys to the ballpark for a Christmas outing to run the base paths and sled down the snowy inclines of the outfield. Peppermints and oranges had been given to the boys, too. When the group returned to the home, this one had been missing.

“What’s your name, son?” Guy asked.

“Hector,” the boy replied sheepishly.

Guy inquired further. “Hello, Hector, it’s nice to meet you. You can call me Lefty. How old are you?”

“Nine,” the boy answered.

“What are you doing here? Are you lost? Did you forget you were supposed to go back to the orphanage with the other boys?”

“Naw. I didn’t wanna’ go back there. I just want to live at this place.”

Guy stared into the boy’s face for a few moments, then turned to the officer. “Do you think you could wait here with Hector while I run home? I need to get something, and I’ll call the headmaster at Stratton to let him know we’ve found the boy.”

“I guess that will be okay,” said the officer.

Guys legs moved as fast as he could get them to, which was just short of a ramble. Soon he was home, opening the front door and searching through his bedroom closet without removing his coat. He found his old ball glove, one of his bats, and a couple of baseballs. He faced the front door before he realized he had not phoned the orphanage.

“May I speak to Mr. Denning, please?” he said to the person who answered. Denning immediately came to the phone.

“Mr. Denning, this is Guy Leftowich. Merry Christmas.”

“Merry Christmas to you, too. The old Nashville ballplayer?” asked Denning. “I remember you, you were terrific!”

“Yes, it’s me, and thank you. Hector has been found, safe and sound at the ballpark, and he is with George, the security guard at Sulphur Dell. Would it be all right if I stay with the boy at the park, just for a little while? I’ll be responsible for him and bring him to the orphanage in about an hour. He needs a friend, and I could use one, too, and I’d like to spend a little time with him, maybe toss a ball around for a bit. George will stay there with us, too.”

“I suppose that will be all right,” was the reply.

“Thank you,” said Guy as he hung up the phone and left his house, bounding down the steps and running down the sidewalk as fast as his 68-year-old legs would let him.

For the next 45 minutes, Guy taught Hector the orphan boy how to throw the ball, to swing the bat, and to catch fly balls and grounders. George sat in the stands and smoked his pipe, remembering how the outfielder used to smile so big that fans on the back row of the grandstand could see his wide grin from there.

Today Big Guy Lefty was smiling just like that.

© 2018 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

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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.

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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!”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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