Vol Dutch Prather’s 23 Home Runs Leads the League

Born on July 7, 1906 in Branch, Arkansas, Murl Argus “Dutch” Prather was a first baseman for Nashville in 1933 and a portion of the 1934 season. Purchased by the Vols in 1932 after hitting 19 homers and batting .303 for St. Joseph of the Class A Western League, he was sent to Hazleton, Pennsylvania the next year and led the Class C New York-Penn League with 104 RBI on 17 home runs and a .301 average.

He made the Nashville club in 1933, but his adeptness in covering the first base bag, not his hitting, was the basis for his call up to the Southern Association. Blinkey Horn, Nashville Tennessean sports writer, opined about the six-foot tall, 200-lb. first sacker.

“Dutch Prather with a great pair of hands is excellent on ground balls and thrown balls. (K)nows where to toss the leather and is unexcelled on the infield in defense ability.”[1]

Murl Dutch Prather

Dutch Prather

Hitting three home runs in the first nine games, his .362 average helped solidify his position on the Vols club. By May 8 he was stuck on three homers and his batting average had dropped to .281, but on May 18 Dutch had knocked two more over the fence. He hit his ninth home run of the season against Atlanta on May 22, helping the Vols win 5-2.

By mid-June he had improved to 13 round-trippers and a batting average of .311.

On August 1 against the Birmingham Barons and playing at Sulphur Dell, he socked his 20th home run of the season off lefty Abe White. Suffering a two-week slump at the plate in the weeks ahead, on August 17 Dutch hit a dribbler to start a rally in Nashville’s 7-0 win over New Orleans and at that point seemed to have regained his touch at the plate.

On September 8, Dutch hit his 23rd and final home run, a golf-shot over the right field fence off Knoxville Smokies pitcher Guy Green. Prather finished the season with a .279 batting average on 145 hits.

His 23 home runs lead the Southern Association, giving Nashville six consecutive seasons of leading the league in that category:

1928 Dick Wade 24
1929 Jim Poole 33
1930 Jim Poole 50
1931 Moose Clabaugh 23
1932 Stanley Keyes 35
1933 Dutch Prather 23

New York Giants manager Bill Terry was so impressed with Prather’s work during the 1933 season, he told local sports writer Horn that he would take Dutch to spring training the next year.

“I intend to take two Nashville players – (Clydell) Castleman and Prather – to spring camp with me. If Prather looks good enough to keep, I will send Joe Malay to Nashville…”[2]

But Horn was not so certain. In his From Bunker to Bleacher column on January 15, Horn expected Prather to be back in the Vols fold once the season began.

“For he has a batting fault – he is always off stride when he hits. Yet he is never off stride when fielding a ball at first base.”[3]

To make the World Series Champion Giants, Prather would have to do two things: impress manager Bill Terry and knock the regular first baseman out of a job: Terry himself, who had hit .322.

In spring training Terry ultimately chose George Grantham as his understudy, and Prather joined Nashville’s spring training headquarters in Dothan, Alabama on Marcy 25[4] in time to watch newcomer Charley Baron hold down first base in a 5-1 Vols loss to the Minneapolis Millers.

The next day he was in charge of the Vols Yannigans (author’s note: scrubs, often rookies or younger players) in an inter-squad game where he made his presence known to not only Nashville manager Chuck Dressen, but his heir-apparent Charley Baron. Although the regulars won 6-5 and Baron had a home run, Prather made a sensational grab of one of Baron’s liners and hit a score-tying three run home run in the seventh inning. Both Baron and Prather were 2-4 and errorless at first.[5]

Dressen must have been happy to have had Dutch back in the lineup, as Baron was sent to Jacksonville, Texas, the Giants’ Class C club in the West Dixie League (Baron would return to Nashville for five games in 1938 as a Brooklyn Dodgers farmhand).

Securing his spot on the team, Prather hit a single off pitcher Johnny Allen’s shin in the first of two exhibition games at Sulphur Dell against the New York Yankees. On April 7 Nashville won 5-4, and in a 6-5 win over the major league club the next day, Dutch slammed a three-run home run off Russell Van Atta to stake the Vols to a 5-0 lead in the first inning.

Babe Ruth, not to be outdone by the Vols slugger, hit a massive home run of his own in the seventh inning.[6]

On April 17 before an opening day crowd of 13,000 in Atlanta, Dutch hit a long home run using Charley Dressen’s bat in Nashville’s 6-4 victory[7]. Prather faced a home run drought until April 29 when he had two against the Chattanooga Lookouts, then followed with another one the next night in Birmingham.

Against Birmingham on May 2, Prather socked two homers and Lance Richbourg, still suffering from the effects of sciatic rheumatism, hits one; all three came in the same inning. Dutch increased his batting average to .333 with six home runs, 12 hits, and 19 RBI.

With a league-leading team average of .312 (Phil Weintraub’s .392 led the loop and Richbourg’s .331 was good enough for seventh place), the slumping Prather became expendable.

With only seven home runs and a 2.95 batting average, on July 14 he was sold to Dallas (Class A- Texas League) only a few hours after being hit by a pitch from Clarence Struss of Little Rock earlier that day[8].  His spring training nemesis Charley Baron, batting .344 for Jacksonville, was called up to take his place.

The injury broke a bone on the middle finger of Prather’s right hand, but the Dallas club was willing to take a chance on him as it was thought he would be out of action for three weeks. However, he played in only 20 games to end the season, batting a paltry .176 with 12 hits and no home runs.

Over the next 15 years he would bounce between Class D, C, B, A, A1, and AAA clubs with varying degrees of success. In 1936 for Omaha/Rock Island (Class A, Western League) he hit 22 home runs and was named Most Valuable Player in the Western League by The Sporting News.[9] He was the only player to play in every game for the Robin Hoods/Islanders.

He briefly served in the Army Air Corps in 1937 and was limited to 103 games with Sacramento (Class AA, Pacific Coast League). In 1939 he spent a portion of the season with the Quebec Provincial League team from Trois-Rivieres, Quebec, Canada.

In 1940 Pampa (Class D – West Texas-New Mexico League), Texas, he hit a personal best 27 round-trippers. When “The Story of Minor League Baseball” was published by the National Association in 1952, Prather’s feat of 167 RBI was mentioned.[10]

He managed Pampa the next season and also Tyler (Class C – East Texas League) in 1946. Two future Nashville Vols players, Jim Kirby and Poco Taitt, were members of his team in Tyler.

He led Pauls Valley in 1948, and the Seminole and Shawnee Clubs in 1951, all teams in the Class D, Sooner State League.

Dutch retired as an active player and became an umpire in the West Texas-New Mexico League in 1953. He umpired in the Evangeline League in 1955-1956, California League in 1957, and the Sooner State League in 1957.

Prather died on March 13th, 1967 in Ada, Oklahoma, and was buried in McGee Cemetery in Stratford, Oklahoma.[11]

© 2016 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

Sources

baseball-reference.com

nebaseballhistory.com

newspapers.com

southernassociationbaseball.com

Notes

[1] Nashville Tennessean, April 23, 1933

[2] Ibid., December 9, 1933

[3] Ibid., January 15, 1934

[4] Ibid., March 26, 1934

[5] Ibid., March 27, 1934

[6] Ibid., April 9, 1934

[7] Ibid., April 18, 1934

[8] Ibid., April 15, 1934

[9] The Sporting News, November 19, 1936

[10] Arkansas Baseball Encyclopedia

[11] Prather’s FindaGrave.com

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