Championship Caliber

With a 12-hit barrage on this date in 1943, Nashville roughed up four Pelicans pitchers to win the Southern Association championship in New Orleans 7-0. The series ended in the Vols favor, 4 games to 1.  Nashville had won the regular season championship with an 83-55 record, finishing four games ahead of the New Orleans Pelicans who had finished 78-58.

Winning the playoffs was not an unusual feat for Nashville; it was the fifth straight season for it to happen.

ImageBeginning with Larry Gilbert’s first year as manager of the club in 1939 when the team finished third but beat Memphis three games to none and over Atlanta four games to three, each successive season for the next four years Nashville repeated as playoffs champions.  It wouldn’t stop there, either, as the Vols would take the 1944 playoff championship, too, by beating Memphis four games to three.

Previous to the 1939 championship, Nashville’s only years to capture the pennant had been in 1901 and 1902 (the first two years of the Southern Association), 1908 (won on the last day of the season against New Orleans what sportswriter Grantland Rice named in one of his columns, “The Greatest Game Ever Played in Dixie”) and 1916 (the year that Tom Rogers tossed a perfect game). In each of those seasons, there was no playoff system in place.

After 1944, Nashville would win only one more league playoff championship, in 1949, when they were also the regular season champs. The previous year in 1948, Larry Gilbert’s last year as field manager, Nashville had finished on top of the season’s tally but lost in the playoffs to Birmingham. The closest the Vols would come again was in 1953 when they finished two games out behind regular season champion Memphis.

The influence by manager Larry Gilbert was strong, as it was during his leadership that the local club had its best success in the Southern Association.

When he retired after the 1948 season (he remained with the club as General Manager through 1955), his managerial success tallied 2,128 wins and 1,627 losses with eight Southern Association championships and six consecutive titles (1939–44).

Arguably one of the best managers in the history of minor league baseball, Gilbert was once thought to have been in line to lead the Cleveland Indians.  Gilbert would not let the conversation get much past the newspapers, and Nashville and Southern Association fans have had their managerial hero and his records to thank for the success of the Vols franchise.

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