Following the Larry Gilbert Legend: Rollie Hemsley’s One Season in Nashville

On December 8, 1948, Rollie Hemsley was named manager of the Nashville Vols.  Larry Gilbert had announced in September that this season would be his last as manager.  In giving up the on-field reins to the club, Gilbert moved to the front office and continued as vice-president and general manager.

Gilbert did not finish his career without fanfare.  The 1948 club won the Southern Association pennant with a 95-58 record, although Nashville faltered in the Southern Association playoffs.

Perhaps the post-WWII resurgence in attendance was an appropriate way for Gilbert to go out: the 1948 Vols drew a club record of 269,893 fans to Sulphur Dell.

But new manager Hemsley nearly matched it. RollieH

Hemsley had spent 19 years in the major leagues, and in 1947 spent the season as a backup catcher and coach for Seattle in the Pacific Coast League.

The move by team owner Ted Murray and Gilbert in selecting Hemsley was not a popular decision. It was well-publicized that he had been dropped from major league teams on four occasions due to his drinking problem.

But he had joined Alcoholics Anonymous and considered himself a recovered alcoholic. During the off-season Hemsley would speak about the perils of alcohol addiction. The newspapers were fair in assessing his hiring in Nashville, but fans would only be forgiving should Larry Gilbert’s successes be matched.

In 1949 Hemsley’s squad once again won the Southern Association championship. He even played in 56 games as a catcher, outfielder, or pinch hitter and rapped 40 hits.

The team’s record? 95-57, losing one less game than the previous season. And to boot, the club drew a home crowd of 228,034. That in itself was not necessarily impressive, but at least it was respectable.

It was 600 less fans per game than the previous season, but it was a time when attendance would begin to decline throughout all of minor league baseball. One of the influences was the threat of a potential conflict in Korea.

Hemsley would only remain at the Nashville helm for one season before moving to Columbus, Ohio, to manage the Red Birds where he was named The Sporting News Minor League Manager of the Year for 1950.

He managed for parts of six more seasons and coached in the major leagues for the Philadelphia Athletics and Washington Senators. Hemsley passed away in 1972 at the age of 65.

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