Category Archives: Biography

Hub Perdue’s First Managing Job


October rings in the close of each baseball season, as the National League and American League champions move on to the best-of-seven World Series. Once a champion is determined, players tuck away their cleats, gloves, and bats for winter, unless opportunity allows them to continue in barn-storming exhibitions to pick up some winter cash. Otherwise, stadiums are locked down until the wisp of spring sets in once again.

Minor league teams finish their seasons much sooner than the big-league clubs, and it was no different in 1913 when the Atlanta Crackers won the regular season Southern Association championship by ½ game over the Mobile Sea Gulls. Bill Schwartz’s Nashville Vols were 19 ½ games behind in the standings with a 62-76 record, good enough for seventh place.

Having completed its season, Atlanta secured the pennant on September 7, as Mobile lost to last-place New Orleans, thereby giving the Georgia club the flag. Most eyes soon focused on the major’s culmination series, taken by Connie Mack’s Philadelphia Athletics as they vanquished Mugsy McGraw’s New York Giants in five games. One would believe that was all the baseball to be played for the year, as football was gaining traction. Games were already being played at Sulphur Dell by high school teams and Fisk University.

Even with no minor league playoffs in those days, Nashville was still in the baseball business. Its own regular season finished, Sulphur Dell hosted a game on the same day as the Crackers pennant clinch. It featured an all-star team from the not-to-distant Kitty (Kentucky-Illinois-Tennessee) League, mostly players on the Clarksville and Hopkinsville teams. Only a few hundred fans viewed the contest won by Nashville, 4-1.[1]

Once Mack’s Athletics had captured the World Series crown on October 11, it was time for one final game in Nashville. Sportswriter Jack Nye made the announcement in the October 13 edition of the local newspaper.

“With the closing of the world’s series the obituary of the baseball season is usually written throughout the country but Nashville fans will have one more opportunity to witness an exhibition game before the old winter league sets in.

“Arrangements have been made for a game at the Athletic park next Sunday afternoon between an all-amateur and an all-professional team, chosen from the baseball talent of this city…”.[2]

Named to pitch for the pros were Roy Walker, a pitcher from the New Orleans club, Detroit’s Charlie Harding, who was 12-6 for the Tigers’ Winston-Salem club, and Nashville native Bill McTigue. Native Nashville pro Bob Fisher, who had spent the past season as the Brooklyn Superbas shortstop, would play third base and join Nashville’s John Lindsay (shortstop) and Bill Schwartz (second base) in the infield, while Johnson City’s Tige Garrett would hold down first base.

Earl Peck, catcher for the Henderson Hens, was to man chores behind the plate. The remainder of the pro roster would include outfielders Johnny Priest, who had been a member of the Yankees a few years prior, Knoxville’s James Burke and another Nashville-born slugger, Tiny Graham. Graham had batter .370 during the season for Morristown in the Appalachian League.

Hub Perdue, from nearby Sumner County and nicknamed the “Gallatin Squash” by sportswriter Grantland Rice during his local tenure a few years ago, was to be the featured star for the amateurs even though Perdue had been a professional since 1906. Perdue had played for Nashville 1907-1910 (he was 16-10 on the Vols’ 1908 championship club) and had been a member of the National League’s Boston Braves for the past three years. It was rumored that he had been signed by the Giants’ McGraw to play on a barn-storming tour around the world during the winter.[3]

The balance of the amateur staff would be made up by Payne, catcher; Tally, first base; Lynch, second base; Sawyers, shortstop; Harley, third base; O. Schmidt, left field; Sutherland, center field; Conley, right field; and Gower, substitute.

Two days before the game was to take place on Sunday, October 19, the Friday edition of the Nashville Tennessean and Daily American announced lineup changes. Two professionals with ties to Nashville, Wilson Collins, pitcher for the Boston Braves, and Clarence “Pop Boy” Smith, of the Chicago White Sox, were set to join players previously set to play.

“Collins will play centerfield for the professionals, while Smith has agreed to assist Hub Perdue in pitching for the amateurs. It will be Collins’ first professional appearance in Nashville, and his presence in the line-up is sure to prove a big drawing card, especially among the Vanderbilt students. Smith married a Nashville girl some months ago, and is at present visiting in the city. He declared that he would be glad to take part in the contest, and says his arm is as strong as during the middle of the American league season.[4]

Also added to the pross roster as substitute was Munsey Pigue, who had previously played third base for Clarksville and Cairo, and who had made Nashville his residence.

The day before the game, Perdue was touting his ability to perform, quoted about his willingness to pitch to the best of his ability. “Tell ‘em I’ll show ‘em some pitching tomorrow afternoon,” said Hurling Hub Perdue last night. “I am going to pitch my old arm off to win that game.”[5]

Perdue was a promoter, that’s for certain, but whether due to a small turnout of only 200 fans or in truth suffering from a sore arm, he did not pitch in the game. And the pros took it on the chin, too.

“Hub Perdue was there, but did not pitch on account of a sore arm. However, the son of Sumner took his place on the coaching lines, and was one of the big attractions of the afternoon’s entertainment.”[6]

Held hitless by pitcher “Crip” Springfield through eight innings, the pros could not collect a run until the bottom of the ninth when they had two hits to force across the tying run, sending the game into the tenth inning. Springfield, who had a lame leg, won the game when the amateurs scored a run in the bottom of the tenth and the pros could not respond.

It was Springfield’s triple in the eighth that drove in the amateurs’ first run, but it was his brilliant mastery of the pros that had the sportswriters buzzing.

“Crip Springfield, of the Rock City league, is the name of the hero of the post-season game, which drew the bugs out in spite of the chilly weather and he came near having a no-run, no-hit game to his credit.”[7]

Perdue would play two more seasons in the majors, with Boston (1914) and the St. Louis Cardinals (1914-1915).  He would not return to the majors, but he remained in the minors for another seven seasons. Fighting through lingering arm troubles and wrenching his back slipping on a wet mound, even a spiking incident could not keep him from finishing his minor league career with 168 wins against 129 losses. He even returned to Nashville for a short time in 1920.[8]

In 1921 he was given another chance to manage a team, eight years after his first foray of leading a squad of amateurs. Named manager of the Nashville Vols, the season did not go well, as Perdue’s club finished in sixth place, a distant 41 ½ games behind pennant-winning Memphis. It was his second opportunity to manage, and his last.

Did his previous bid to lead a club in 1913 foretell his managing misfortune?

© 2017 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

Sources

Baseball-reference.com

Newspapers.com

Sabr.org

Wright, Marshall D. (2002). The Southern Association in Baseball, 1885-1961. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Co.

[1] Jack Nye, “Kitty League All Stars Beaten,” Nashville Tennessean and Daily American, September 8, 1913, 10.

[2] Nye, “One More Baseball Game Here Before Old Winter League Begins,” Nashville Tennessean and Daily American, October 13, 1913, 10.

[3] Ibid.

[4] “Two More Major League Stars To Play,” Nashville Tennessean and Daily American, October 17, 1913, 10.

[5] “Will  Pitch My Arm Off, Says Perdue,” Nashville Tennessean and Daily American, October 19, 1913, 34.

[6] “Professionals Held To Two Hits,” Nashville Tennessean and Daily American, October 20, 1913, 10.

[7] Ibid.

[8] John Simpson, “Hub Perdue,” SABR Bio-Project, https://sabr.org/bioproj/person/584e9b10, accessed October 10, 2017.

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Consecutive One-Hitters and Four Strikeouts in an Inning: Nashville’s Bernie Boland

In 2012, Nashville’s R. A. Dickey of the New York Mets finished the year with a 20-6 record, started 33 games and completed five of them, pitched in 232 innings, had 230 strikeouts, and faced 927 batters. In each of these categories, Dickey was tops, and he was named National League Cy Young Award winner as the best pitcher in the league.

He joined another elite group, too. Only 10 pitchers in Major League history have held the opposition to only one hit in consecutive games. R. A. was the last to accomplish the deed, when he held Tampa Bay and Baltimore to one hit in consecutive starts during his fantastic season.

Here’s the complete rundown of pitchers who have accomplished the feat[1]:

Hugh Daily, Chicago Browns, Union Association, July 7 & July 10, 1884

Toad Ramsey, Louisville Colonels, American Association, July 29 & July 31, 1886

Charlie Buffinton, Philadelphia Phillies, National League, August 6 & August 9, 1887

Rube Marquard, New York Giants, National League, August 28 & September 1, 1911

Lon Warneke, Chicago Cubs, National League, April 16 & April 22, 1934

Mort Cooper, St. Louis Cardinals, National League, May 31 & June 4, 1943

Whitey Ford, New York Yankees, September 2 & September 7, 1955

Sam McDowell, Cleveland Indians, American League, April 25 & May 1, 1966

Dave Stieb, Toronto Blue Jays, American League, September 24 & September 30, 1988

R. A. Dickey, New York Mets, National League, June 13 & June 18, 2012

Almost a century before Dickey did it, in 1914, another pitcher with a Nashville connection did the same thing as a member of the Vols in the Southern Association. Pitcher Bernie Boland pitched consecutive game one-hitters, joining the knuckleballing Dickey, who is currently a member of the Atlanta Braves, in making history.

Born Bernard Anthony Boland in Rochester, New York on January 21, 1892 to Patrick and Catherine Boland, Bernie honed his pitching skills in the sandlots of his hometown. Playing in a semi-pro league in Rochester in 1911, by mid-July his reputation as a fire-balling right hander was well-known. The 19-year-old had pitched 34 scoreless innings for the Orange Blossoms[2] when he faced the Lyons Cubs on July 23. The Cubs spoiled Bernie’s scoreless streak, but he struck out 12, gave up eight hits, and banged out two singles of his own[3] as his club won, 10-4.

By September, he won every game he had pitched in.[4]

Boland joined the Akron Giants (Central League, Class-B) for the 1912 season. He was a dependable starter for manager Lee Fohl, and won 10 games while losing 14 on the year. He returned to the club in 1913 and his reputation began to shine, culminating in his domination of a baseball immortal as the league began to collapse in July.

Although he began to suffer from a sore arm in early June,[5] Bernie had recovered quickly, holding Youngstown to four hits in a 12-0 whitewashing of the Steelmen.[6] On July 2, he pitched a four-hitter against Steubenville. One of the hits was by the second batter Bernie faced, Ernest Calbert, who socked a fly ball over the head of Akron centerfielder Arch Osborne. Calbert circled the bases to score. It was the lone run, as the Giants won 5-1.[7]

But three thousand fans packed the Akron ballpark on July 15 when the American League’s Cleveland Naps came to town for an exhibition game. Boland was selected to start the game, and he although he gave up 11 hits, the Naps won, 4-3. Cleveland great Joe Jackson faced Boland four times, hitting a triple in the sixth inning. Bernie struck him out twice.

“In the first inning Joe Jackson walked to the plate. The fans all had a feeling of sympathy for Bernie Boland, the youngster, who was facing the American League’s premier slugger. But Jackson failed to connect, and when he missed the third strike he hurled his bat almost to the Akron bench. Joe was an easy out again in the fourth, got the longest hit of the day in the sixth, a triple to deep center, and fanned again in the eighth.”[8]

When the Central League disbanded a few weeks later, Boland’s contract was purchased by Nashville (Southern Association, Class – AA). He decided to hold out, but when the Vols agreed to his terms, he joined the club.[9]

In his first start for the Vols on August 5 in Birmingham, Bernie lasted into the seventh. He gave up 11 hits and six runs and was removed from the game with an injured hand.[10] Nashville lost the game at Rickwood Field, 9-4. On August 10 at Sulphur Dell against Atlanta, he once again left the game, this time in the fifth inning, as he had torn the cuticle on his index finger from his curve ball. Nashville was ahead 3-1 at the time, and ended up losing 5-4 in extra innings.[11]

In six games during the year, Bernie won 2 games and lost 3, appearing in 31 innings. Only 5’8” and 168 pounds, the diminutive curve baller was expected to contribute at a greater level in 1914. Due to his speed and fielding ability, manager Bill Schwartz even considered making him an outfielder.[12]

Boland was named starter against Boston in an April 1 exhibition game at Vanderbilt’s Dudley Field (Sulphur Dell was deemed too wet to play on). After retiring lead-off batter Harry Hooper, Clyde Engel singled and future Hall of Famer Tris Speaker slapped a home run into the trees beyond right field.

Hooper returned the favor to Bernie, snagging Bolahd’s long drive in right field in the second inning. The game ended in favor of the American League team, 8-2. Boland had pitched five innings, allowing 4 runs and seven hits.[13]

Once the regular season began, Boland was joined by Heinie Berger, Floyd Kroh, Forrest More, and Erwin Renfer in the starting rotation. Tom Rogers, who would become the ace of the ball club and toss a perfect game in 1916, was in his first year with Nashville.

On July 28, Boland and pitcher Roy Walker, who was born in Lawrenceburg, Tennessee, pitched against each other in an intense duel in the Pelican’s ballpark. Nashville lost to New Orleans, 3-2 in 10 innings, as Walker struck out 11 and Bernie had 10 of his own. But Bernie accomplished a rare feat by striking out four batters in the eighth inning.

“In the eighth Tim Hendrix led off for the Pelicans and Boland fanned him. Charlie Starr (formerly with the Bisons) likewise swung and missed three successive times but was not out until Catcher Smith had thrown to first, as Smith dropped the ball after the third strike. Then Walter Barbare, the fleet Pelican shortstop, came to bat and he struck out. But Walter, for some reason, chose to swing on a wide on his third attempt and both he and Catcher Smith missed it. Result: Walter got to first in safety. Shortly afterward, too, he stole second and then third. Otto Burns was at bat and a hit would have won the game. Otto tried hard to deliver, but failed, and after three tries was out. Hence Boland’s four strike outs in one inning[14].

At the time Boland achieved his rarity, only four major league pitchers had done it:[15]

Ed Crane, New York Gothams, National League, October 4, 1888

Hooks Wiltse, New York Giants, National League, May 15, 1906

Orval Overall, Chicago Cubs, National League, October 14, 1908

Walter Johnson, Washington Senators, American League, April 15, 1911

On August 8 at Sulphur Dell against Memphis, Boland gave up a walk and only one hit as his team beat the Chicks 3-0. Through eight innings Bernie kept the opposing hitters in check, but opposing catcher George “Admiral” Schlei slapped a hit between first and second for a clean hit, spoiling a no-hit bid. It was the only hit allowed by Boland in the game, which was played in one hour and 30 minutes.

He started his next game in Atlanta on August 12, and gave up four runs to the Crackers. But after only 1 ½ innings had been played, the game was cancelled due to rain. Since the game was a washout and had not gone the minimum of 4 ½ innings to be considered a complete game, none of the hits or runs counted.[16]

His second one-hitter came on August 13 in the second game of a double header in Atlanta. After Nashville scored ten runs in the first inning of game one, 11-1, Boland held the Crackers to a single hit in 11 innings, as Nashville pushes a run across in the top of the 11th to win, 1-0.

Nashville sports writer Jack Nye explained.

“In his last two games Boland has allowed but two hits and no runs. In his one-hit affair against Memphis he gave up but one base on balls, but yesterday his control was not quite so good, five Crackers working him for passes. In the pinches, however, he had enough stuff to pull him out, fanning eight opposing batsmen.

“As far as can be learned, these two consecutive one-hit games set a new Southern league record. Bernie has now pitched twenty-three innings without a run being score on him. Though four runs were made in the first inning of Wednesday’s game at Atlanta, this does not go in the records, as the game was call in the second inning on account of rain.”[17]

The 22-year-old Boland finished the season 17-14 as Nashville finished in fifth place with a 77-72 record. The Detroit Tigers had seen something they like in Bernie, and Nashville sold his services to the American League club on August 28 for $5,000.00.[18]

He made his major league debut on April 14, 1915, relieving starter Harry Coveleski against Cleveland at Detroit’s Navin Field. He had no decision, but allowed no hits in two innings as the Tigers fell, 5-1.

He worked his way into the starting lineup and finished the year 13-7 with a 3.11 ERA. The club won 100 games, but lost the American League pennant to the Boston Red Sox, who had won 101.

In Detroit, his teammates included Ty Cobb, Sam Crawford, and Bobby Veach. Cobb set the season stolen base record of 96 in 1915 that was not broken until Maury Wills of the Los Angeles Dodgers stole 104 in 1962.

Boland stayed with the Tigers for six more years, and had his best season in 1917 when he was 16-11 and an ERA of 2.68. The next season, as World War I was raging in Europe, major league baseball played a short season, and when it ended he served in the Army until war was over.

In seven years he was 67-49 for Detroit, and finished his career as a member of the St. Louis Browns in 1921 when he was 1-4 in seven appearances. His final game was on June 17 against Washington at Griffith Stadium, when he started for one last time. After giving up nine hits and five runs in five innings, he was given his unconditional release by the Browns.

Bernie married Grace Belle Russelo on May 22, 1917 in Detroit, and together they had four children: Patrick, Mary Anne, John, and Rita. After baseball, he entered the construction business, opening Tiger Construction Company. He later became a construction foreman in Detroit’s Department of Public Works before retiring in 1957.[19] He died on September 12, 1973 in Detroit, and is buried in St. Hedwig Cemetery in Dearborn Heights, Michigan.

As a member of the Nashville Vols, his claim on the baseball record books includes a couple of near-impossible feats: striking out four in an inning, and tossing two consecutive one-hitters. As rare as those feats are, his right to assert his mark on baseball will remain in the annals of Nashville baseball history.

Sources

Baseball-reference.com

Newspapers.com

Paper of Record

Retrosheet.org

Sabr.org

Southernassociationbaseball.com

Wright, Marshall D. (2002). The Southern Association in Baseball, 1885-1961. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Co.

© 2017 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

Notes

[1] “1-Hit Games Records,” baseball-almanac.com, http://www.baseball-almanac.com/recbooks/1-hit_games_records.shtml, accessed August 8, 2017

[2] “Among The Semi-Professionals.,” Democrat and Chronicle (Rochester, New York), July 23, 1911, 25.

[3] “Orange Blossoms On Top,” Democrat and Chronicle, July 24, 1911, 15.

[4] “Game for the Orange Blossoms,” Democrat and Chronicle, September 20, 1911, 19.

[5] “Saturday’s Game,” Akron Beacon Journal, June 9, 1913, 9.

[6] “Even “Red” Ainsworth Was Unable to Check Slugging of the Giants,” Akron Beacon Journal, June 13, 1913, 16.

[7] “Slugging Giants Continue To Climb,” Akron Beacon Journal, July 3, 1913, 9.

[8] “When He Fanned.,” Akron Beacon Journal, July 16, 1913, 9.

[9] Jack Nye. “Weak Spots To Be Bolstered Up Soon,” Nashville Tennessean, July 31, 1913, 10.

[10] Nye. “Bill Prough Beats Vols And Makes It Nine Straight Wins,” Nashville Tennessean, August 6, 1913, 10.

[11] Nye. “Eleven-Inning Game Goes To Crackers,” Nashville Tennessean, August 11, 1913, 8.

[12] Nye. “New Players In Line-Up Tomorrow,” Nashville Tennessean, March 21, 1914, 10.

[13] Nye. “Speakers Hitting Helps Beat The Vols,” Nashville Tennessean, April 2, 1914, 10.

[14] “Struck Out Four In Single Inning,” Buffalo Commercial, July 30, 1014, 8.

[15] “Four Strikeouts in One Inning,” baseball-almanac.com, http://www.baseball-almanac.com/feats/feats19.shtml, accessed August 8, 2017

[16] Dick Jemison. “Rain Stopped Opening Game With Crackers Leading 4-3; Two Double-Headers Now,” Atlanta Constitution, August 13, 1914, 6.

[17] Nye. “Back In First Division; Pennant Hopes Revived,” Nashville Tennessean, August 14, 1914, 5.

[18] “Tigers Buy Boland, Nashville Pitcher; Reports Sept. 15,” Detroit Free Press, August 29, 1914, 10.

[19] Lee, Bill. (2003) The Baseball Necrology: The Post-Baseball Lives and Deaths of More Than 7 ,600 Major League Players and Others. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Co., Inc.

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“Bittersweet Goodbye: The Black Barons, the Grays, and the 1948 Negro League World Series”

A new book, “Bittersweet Goodbye: The Black Barons, the Grays, and the 1948 Negro League World Series (The SABR Digital Library) (Volume 50)” has been published and is now available. I am fortunate to be a contributing writer to this publication.

Released at SABR’s 20th annual Jerry Malloy Negro League Conference last week in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, all available copies of “Bittersweet Goodbye” quickly sold out at that event.

1948 is often considered by many the last, great season of the Negro Leagues. Jackie Robinson’s signing with Brooklyn in 1946, then becoming a member of the Dodgers in 1947, was the impetus that ended segregation in the majors. The popularity of the Negro Leagues began to diminish, as all eyes turned to Robinson and his successes on and off the field.

Edited by Frederick C. Bush and Bill Nowlin and associate editors Carl Riechers and Len Levin, this book includes biographies on the owners, managers, and players from the Homestead Grays and Birmingham Black Barons, and describes the detail of the final playoffs between the two teams to determine a final Negro World Series champion.

It also includes information on the two East-West All-Star Games, the Negro National League and Negro American League playoffs, along with the World Series.

Nashville-born Jim Zapp was a member of the Black Barons that season, along with 17-year-old Willie Mays.

Some of these biographies and histories are written by close friends. Friends of Rickwood members Jeb Stewart and Clarence “Skip” Watkins, both knowledgable resources for Birmingham baseball history, and friend and fellow Grantland Rice-Fred Russell (Nashville) SABR chapter member Peggy Gripshover, are included.

My biography is on Grays pitcher Bill “Willie” Pope. Born in Birmingham, his father moved the family to Pennsylvania where Willie played baseball and boxed, and ultimately became a strong, competitive right-handed thrower in the Pittsburgh area sandlots. His professional career took him to Pittsburgh and Homestead in the Negro Leagues, then to organized baseball in Canada at Farnham and St. Hyacinthe, Colorado Springs (Colorado) and Charleston (West Virginia), and winter ball in Mexico.

Standing 6’4” and weighing 247 pounds, his ultimate dream was to play for the Chicago White Sox. That opportunity passed him by, but his season with the magical Homestead Grays would be his legacy.

“Bittersweet Goodbye” is available from Amazon by clicking here.

Or, if you area  member of SABR (Society for American Baseball Research), it may be downloaded for free here at SABR’s Digital Library.

Not a SABR member? I encourage you to consider joining! An annual SABR membership is $65 (which works out to about $5 a month), with discounts available for three-year rates and for anyone under the age of 30 or over 65. Family memberships are also available. More information is here.

I hope you will enjoy reading about Willie Pope, Willie Mays, Jim Zapp, and many others who deserve our thanks for being the final bastions of Negro League history.

Note: Previous contributions to SABR publications include biographies on Sam Narron, published in “Sweet ’60: The 1960 Pittsburgh Pirates” (SABR, 2013); Hank Schenz, published in “The Team That Time Won’t Forget: The 1951 New York Giants” (SABR, 2015); John Mitchell, published in “The 1986 New York Mets: There Was More Than Game Six” (SABR, 2016); and R. A. Dickey, published in “Overcoming Adversity: The Tony Conigliaro Award” (SABR, 2017).

A biography on Jack Scott in “20 Game Losers” is to be published soon. Profiles on former major league players Jim Turner, Charlie Mitchell, Sherman Kennedy, Bobby Durnbaugh, Jerry Bell, and Buddy Gilbert are ongoing, as well as Nashville Old Timers board member bios published here.

I continue to publish here and update www.sulphurdell.com on a regular basis.

© 2017 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

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Nashville’s Larry Gilbert: Baseball Honors A Legend

Metro Archives Photo

On Sunday afternoon, July 27, 1941, Larry Gilbert was honored as Sporting News “1940 Minor League Manager of the Year” before his team’s double header against Chattanooga at Sulphur Dell in Nashville.

It was the second ceremony of the year honoring Gilbert, the first having been held May 7, recognizing him for his 25 years in the Southern Association[1]. He was given various gifts, including a gold lifetime pass by league president Trammell Scott, a silver set from Vols team owner Ted Murray and treasurer Jack Flanagan, and his players presented him with a silver service.[2]

Gilbert began his career in local sandlots of his hometown of New Orleans, Louisiana, but found his way to the majors as a member of the famous “Miracle Braves” of 1914, which had a 26-40 record in July but managed to win the National League pennant by winning 68 of its next 87 games[3]. Gilbert was a seldom-used outfielder and appeared in 72 games, hitting .268. His only appearance in the World Series was as a pinch hitter,  drawing a walk from  Philadelphia Athletics ace Bill James.

As a 23-year-old the next season, Larry was used very little and batted a paltry .151. His career would resume in Toronto (International League – Class AA) and Kansas City (American Association – Class AA) before he joined New Orleans (Southern Association – Class A). He would remain there for nine years, becoming manager of the club in 1923, leading the club to the league pennant that season, and remained there through 1938 (he moved to the front office in 1932, but returned to the dugout in 1933).

When Nashville owner Fay Murray was looking for a manager after the 1938 season, he convinced Larry to become part-owner, general manager, and manager of the Vols. He remained as field leader through 1948, moving to the front office until 1955, when he sold his shares in the club.

Larry Gilbert’s rise to fame as the best manager in the minor leagues culminated in 1940, when his Nashville ball club led the Southern Association from opening day until the end of the season. His team won 101 games with a combined batting average of .311, pitcher Boots Poffenberger won 26 games, and reliever Ace Adams struck out 122 rival batters.

In the league playoffs, the Vols eliminated Chattanooga, three games to none, and won the playoff championship against Atlanta by winning four games to two for the Crackers, sending Nashville to the Dixie Playoffs to face Texas League champion. They polished off the Houston Buffaloes in five games, ending a remarkable season. That club was selected as the 47th best minor league of all time in 2001 in celebration of Minor League baseball’s 100th anniversary[4].

His two-year record at Nashville was 186-115, and included a Southern Association regular-season pennant, two playoff championships, and one Dixie Series title. He had previously led New Orleans to four pennants, two playoff championships, and two Dixie Series crowns.

On September 8, 1948, in his final game as manager, Gilbert was honored once again, this time for 25 years as a manager in the Southern Association, beginning with his first entering the league in 1923.  6,509 Nashville fans, Baseball Commissioner A. B. Chandler, George M. Trautman, president of the National Association, and Southern Association president Charlie Hurth, were there to bestow recognition to Larry Gilbert, the most successful manager in the history of the Southern Association.

With eight league championships, including six consecutive titles with Nashville between 1939-1944, his final record as manager for the Vols and New Orleans was 2,128 – 1,627. It was an impressive record for an equally impressive manager.

From the honors bestowed upon him, it was easy to tell that Baseball loved Larry Gilbert.

To view Gilbert’s entire managerial record, click here: http://www.southernassociationbaseball.com/managers/larrygilbert.php

Sources 

Baseball-reference.com

Newspapers.com

Paper of Record 

Retrosheet.org

Sabr.org

Southernassociationbaseball.com

© 2017 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

[1] Raymond Johnson. “Fourth Celebration Due,” One Man’s Opinion column, Nashville Tennessean, July 28, 1941, 8.

[2] Sporting News, May 15, 1941, 12.

[3] “1914 The Miracle Braves”, http://www.thisgreatgame.com/1914-baseball-history.html, accessed July 27, 2017.

[4] Bill Weiss & Marshall Wright, “Top 100 Teams: 47. 1940 Nashville Vols,” http://www.milb.com/milb/history/top100.jsp?idx=47, July 27, 2017

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The Fortitude, Honesty, and Respect of Controversial Umpire Bill Brockwell


Baseball umpires have a seemingly thankless job, and Bill Brockwell often faced the un-forgiveness of Nashville managers and players for three seasons beginning in 1950. The Tulsa native had umpired in the inaugural Sooner State League (Class D) in 1947[1] and West Texas-New Mexico League (Class C) in 1948[2]. He umpired in Texas’ Big State League (Class B) in 1949, including a 16-inning game pre-season game won by San Antonio of the Texas League (Class AA) over Austin[3].

Elevated to the Southern Association (Class AA), there were no notable conflicts during his rookie season of 1950. “Nemesis” may be too strong a word to describe him when he called games in which the Vols were participating, but at least the disdain for him did not begin until his second season in the league.

In the seventh inning against Birmingham at Sulphur Dell on May 31, 1951, Vols shortstop Daryl Spencer offered a few choice words to Brockwell as a commentary on the plate umpire’s ability to call balls and strikes. The ump quickly sent Spencer to the showers, but that was not the last time.

One week later, on June 5 in Birmingham, Spencer got the “heave-ho” again from Brockwell, this time for arguing on a missed force play that Daryl thought should have been an out. Spencer had now been thrown out of three games, and his adversary had tossed him twice.

In Chattanooga on July 29, Vols catcher Bob Brady was chased for complaining too long on a called ball thrown by Nashville ace Pete Mallory. That seems to have set another confrontation off against the game’s decision-maker. It appeared Barons left fielder Don Grate was hit by a batted ball while running from first to second which should have been an out, but none of the three umps called it, and the entire Vols dugout erupted towards Brockwell.[4]

No further clashes seem to have occurred, and when Charlie Hurth named his pre-season selection of umpires for the 1952 season, William “Bill” Brockwell was listed as a returning arbiter.[5] Once the season began, Brockwell did not get off to a great start in the eyes of the Nashville players and manager.

There were no issues in the first game, as Little Rock invaded Sulphur Dell for a two-day, three-game set beginning with the home opener on April 12. Nashville lost, 9-6.

The next day was a double header, scheduled to begin at 1:30 p.m. But the ire of Nashville sports writer Raymond Johnson rained down on the umpire crew when Brockwell called both games at 2:12 p.m. due to rain and the condition of the field. According to Johnson, the umpires’ decision was flawed.

“The field was already in bad shape,” Brockwell told me (Johnson) in the dressing room after his decision, “and the groundskeeper said it would take more than an hour to get the field playable. It gets dark awfully early in this park. We didn’t want to keep the spectators waiting and then not play…”[6]

Johnson chimed in on that reasoning.

“Brockwell and (Paul) Roy who insisted that he do most of the talking although he was not the umpire-in-chief, apparently didn’t know that the field had been covered with large tarpaulins until about an hour before the game time…”

The rain stopped about the time of the decision to not play, and thirty minutes later, the field was dry.

Johnson continued. “Action like this causes a sour taste in the spectators’ mouths.”[7]

On June 3, one of the strangest calls in Sulphur Dell history transpired, and it involved Brockwell’s indecisiveness. In the fifth inning, Nashville’s third baseman Rance Pless (with a .364 batting average at the end of the year, the 1952 league batting title would belong to Pless) lofts a fly ball over the outfield screen and Blackwell signals the ball is a home run.

After a protest by Birmingham manager Al Vincent that lasted 10 minutes, the umpire reversed his decision and calls Pless’ stroke a foul ball. The Vols eventually lose to the Barons, 6-5; had the homer stood, Nashville would have won.

If Nashville fans in attendance at the game were expecting Raymond Johnson’s wrath in the next day’s newspaper, they didn’t receive it. Johnson quoted Brockwell’s explanation.

“The more I weighed the facts, the more I was convinced that I should reverse myself. I went over to (Nashville manager Hugh) Poland and said: ‘Hugh, I know you are going to blow your top but I’m going to have to change my decision. That was a foul ball. I cannot give you two runs and be honest with myself. Deep down I know I was wrong on that call. I know it’s a jolt to you and to your ball players.’ He accepted my decision in a much more gentlemanly way than I had expected.”

Johnson backed up the honesty.

“As a result of Brockwell’s intestinal fortitude on this occasion, Poland has much more respect for Brockwell…I do, too…It takes real guts to change a decision that takes away two runs from the home club before 3600 home fans…”[8]

At that point, the umpire may have gained the confidence of Poland and Johnson, but that did not mean he would not make arguable calls.

In the June 22 game between Nashville and Mobile in the Vols’ home park, Bama Ray swung at a pitch and missed, but the ball hit him in the back of his head. Brockwell called it a foul ball. The next game, working the bases at Sulphur Dell, he did not see the Bears’ George Freese drop the ball thrown to him as Rance Pless advanced, and Brockwell called Pless out at third.

On July 12, when he ruled Vols catcher Rube Novotney had interfered with Memphis’ Ed McGhee’s bat, awarding first base to the Chicks right fielder, it was business as usual when Poland took up for his catcher. Surprisingly, no one was tossed out of the game.

The next day in the second game of a double header, Johnson was on Brockwell’s bad side once again, as Nashville’s favorite son, Buster Boguskie, was tossed for arguing against a safe call at second base.

“Umpire Brockwell booted another in his usual fashion[9],” Johnson wrote.

Then, in the fifth inning of the game of July 18, Brockwell ejected four Nashville Vols in their 10-3 loss in Chattanooga. Boguskie was sent packing again for arguing a strike decision, manager Hugh Poland was sent to the showers after continuing the debate, Johnny Liptak was chased for a comment as he passed Brockwell on his way to coach first base, and Ziggy Jasinski, who had taken Boguskie’s place at bat, was banished after making another remark that Brockwell did not like.  Out of infielders, Rube Novotney had to play second base.

Then, Novotney was tossed four days later for protesting a called third strike in a 7-2 loss to Atlanta in Nashville.

It appears there were no further conflicts the rest of the year, and when Brockwell was named to the umpiring crew for the Mobile-Atlanta first-round playoffs, his umpiring career was soon to be over. Perhaps he had enough of umpiring, or the salary was not enough to support a new family. He returned to his home town of Tulsa, Oklahoma, to take a sales position.[10]

At the time of his death, he and his wife Mary, whom he married on October 31, 1951, had seven children and had been married 63 years before his passing. They had nine grandchildren, and twin great-grandchildren. Mary passed away on October 12, 2014.[11]

Note: An obituary for Bill Brockwell  could not be located; Mary’s obituary mentions the years of marriage.

[1] “Umpires Retained,” Miami (Oklahoma) Daily News-Record, September 15, 1947, p. 8.

[2] “WT-NM Umpires Named; Brockwell, Odom Open Here,” Lubbock Avalanche-Journal, April 18, 1948, p. 13.

[3] “Baseball Marathon (Box Score)”, Austin American, April 3, 1949, p. 19.

[4] “Bama Ray Slams Out 2 Homers,” Nashville Tennessean, July 30, 1951, p. 11.

[5] “Charlie Hurth Names Umps,” Nashville Tennessean, March 16, 1952, p. 16

[6] Raymond Johnson, “One Man’s Opinion,” Nashville Tennessean, April 14, 1952, p. 15.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Johnson. June 5, 1952, p. 22.

[9] Johnson, July 14, 1952, p. 12.

[10] “Umpire Changes of Southern Association Made,” Clarion-Ledger (Jackson, Mississippi), February 25, 1953, p. 13.

[11] Obituary, Mary Harpole Brockwell, Santa Fe-New Mexican, November 2, 2014. http://www.legacy.com/obituaries/santafenewmexican/obituary.aspx?pid=173002024, accessed July 18, 2017.

Sources

Baseball-reference.com

Nashville Tennessean

Newspapers.com

Wright, Marshall D. (2002). The Southern Association in Baseball, 1885-1961. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Co.

© 2017 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

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“Rogue” Poffenberger Gains Split, Wins No. 15

On July 11 ,1940, Boots Poffenberger wins his 15th game as he holds Atlanta to three hits in the second game of a double header win 1-0 at Sulphur Dell, giving Nashville a split after the Vols loss to the Crackers 9-8 in the opener. Both games are seven inning affairs.

By the way of the win, Nashville (50-29) holds on to the Southern Association lead over Atlanta (51-34).

In the first game, Vols pitchers Leo Twardy, Russ Meers, and Johnny Sain are unable to hold Atlanta, allowing a total of 17 hits. Oris Hockett has two doubles and a homer, his eighth, and drives in five runs for Nashville as Johnny Mihalic adds two doubles. Bob Boken’s 20-game hitting streak is halted when he fails to get a hit in the first game.

In the second game, Mihalic hits two more doubles and scores the game’s lone run on a single down the right field line by Arnold Moser.

Known for his heavy drinking and poor training habits during two seasons with the Detroit Tigers (1937-38) and three games with Brooklyn in 1939, Nashville manager Larry Gilbert took a chance on the temperamental Poffenberger. After his splendid 1940 season (26-9), he would face manager Gilbert’s ire the next season.

Boots’ win total would be a league record that would never be matched, but he gained notoriety in 1941 by throwing at an umpire from the mound. Gilbert, declaring the right-hander would never appear in a Nashville uniform again, shipped Poffenberger to San Diego. He never regained his form and retired after spending 1947 in Hagerstown near his home of Williamsport, Maryland.

Sources

Anniston Star

baseball-reference.com

Baton Rouge Advocate

Nashville Tennessean

newspapers.com

© 2017 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

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Jack Harshman Hits 26th Home Run of 1951 Season

July 2, 1951 – Jack Harshman hits his 26th home run of the season with a two-run drive in the tenth inning, his second round-tripper of the game, to break up a slug-fest at Sulphur Dell as Nashville wins over New Orleans 16-14.

Harshman will go on to hammer 47 home runs, and tying former Vols player Carl Sawatski’s record with five grand slams for a season. The strong-armed first baseman also pitches in five games that year, making his debut at Sulphur Dell on July 19th with two scoreless innings of relief against Chattanooga.

When the Southern Association relaxed a rule that kept non-pitchers off the mound, Nashville general manager Larry Gilbert suggested to Harshman that he might make it to the majors sooner by relying on his arm strength instead of his power.

Harshman spent the 1952 season with Minneapolis but returned to the Vols in 1953. Primarily a starter, in 40 games Harshman worked to a 24-7 record with a 3.27 ERA. He was sold to the Chicago White Sox for $25,000 in September, and went on to a 69-65 record in eight years in the major leagues.

© 2017 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

Sources

baseball-reference.com

Nashville Tennessean

newspapers.com

sabr.org

The Sporting News

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