On this day in 1953, Nashville’s own Jim “Junior” Gilliam, second baseman for the Brooklyn Dodgers, is announced as the winner of the National League Rookie of the Year, awarded by The Sporting News.
12,059 fans had turned out to see the Brooklyn Dodgers defeat the Milwaukee Braves 3-1 on April 6th, but mostly to see home town favorite Jim Gilliam in his return to Nashville as a professional player. Gilliams went 2-4 to lead the Dodgers. Warren Spahn is the losing pitcher as the Braves muster only one run on catcher Ebba St. Claire’s home run over the high right field wall. The Dodgers’ Dick Williams doubles off the left field wall and drives in two runs.
A product of Pearl High School, Gilliam would lead the league with 17 triples, have 168 hits, 23 stolen bases, and a .278 average after taking over second base from Jackie Robinson who moved to third base and the outfield for the 1953 season.
On April 4, 1954 a sell-out crowd of 12,006 fans at Sulphur Dell watched the Milwaukee Braves defeat the Brooklyn Dodgers 18-14 with Gilliam anchoring third base. Nine ground-rule doubles are called on balls hit among those seated on the outfield hills. Carl Furillo smacked a grand-slam, and George “Shotgun” Shuba, Duke Snider, and Ed Mathews each hit homers. Roy Campanella pinch-hit and worked the last inning behind the plate and Jackie Robinson played first base.
A two-time All Star, Gilliam’s career lasted 14 years as he remained with the Dodgers during their move to Los Angeles and retired as an active player after the 1966 season.
One of the first African-American coaches in the major leagues as he continued with the Dodgers, Gilliam’s number 19 was retired prior to Game 1 of the 1978 World Series after he suffered a brain hemorrhage and passed away on September 17th.