Nashville was the winner of four Southern Association pennants in the first 16 years of the league’s existence: in 1901, 1902, 1908, and 1916. It would be a long drought, over two decades long, before another championship occurred.
It took the arrival of Larry Gilbert in the fall of 1938 as field manager, general manager, and one-half ownership for Nashville to renew the success of earlier years.
On November 8, 1938, owner Fay Murray announced that Larry Gilbert, veteran manager of the New Orleans Pelicans, was the new Nashville Vols manager succeeding Charlie Dressen, who resigned after signing to become a coach of the Brooklyn Dodgers. During negotiations in Montgomery, Alabama on November 4 Gilbert had been promised that if he would leave his hometown of New Orleans, full reign of daily operations of the Nashville club would belong to him.
Murray and Jimmy Hamilton had purchased the club in 1931 and according The Sporting News November 17, 1938 edition, it was Hamilton’s share that was purchased by Murray to make possible the deal offered to Gilbert:
Hamilton, who had managed the club between 1923 and 1928 (with no higher than a third-place finish once in 1925) did not seem too upset about the change in ownership:
On November 9, Gilbert began his first day on the job in putting his team together for the 1939 season:
Two of Larry’s sons would play for him in Nashville: Charlie and Tookie. A third son, Larry, Jr., passed away in 1941. Gilbert would remain as field manager through 1948, moving to the front office full-time.
On September 8, 1948, in his final game as manager, Gilbert was honored for 25 years as a manager in the Southern Association. 6,509 fans gathered at Sulphur Dell as Gilbert was awarded a Chrysler New Yorker, a television set, and 12-place silver setting. Friends and dignitaries attending the event included Commissioner A. B. Chandler, George M. Trautman, president of the National Association, and Southern Association president Charlie Hurth, calling testament to Gilbert’s reputation among his baseball brethren.
Gilbert maintained ownership in the Nashville Vols until 1955 when he sold his shares and moved back to New Orleans. He passed away February 17, 1965 and is buried in Greenwood Cemetery in his home town.
During the Gilbert tutelage Nashville would rack up league titles in 1940, 1943, 1948, 1949, and 1953. Dixie Playoff titles, a best-four-of-seven championship series between the Southern Association and Texas League champions, were won in 1940, 1941, 1942, and 1949.
© 2014 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.