Category Archives: History

Chuck Coles, 1958 Nashville Vols Hero

Charles Edward “Chuck” Coles was born on June 27, 1931 to Dorothy and Charles “Chalky” Coles in Fredericktown, Pennsylvania. He excelled at football, basketball, and baseball at Jefferson High School. His father had been a sandlot pitching ace in Greene County[1] and was a semi-pro player in the Middle-Atlantic League and managed in the local Big Ten baseball league. “Chalky” was inducted into the Big Ten Hall of Fame’s inaugural class in 1954.[2] Chuck played American Legion ball for his father’s Jefferson team, and enrolled at Waynesburg College. He was signed by Rex Bowen of the Brooklyn Dodgers before the 1950 season.

At Newport News (Piedmont League – Class B) to begin his professional career, Chuck had seven hits in 39 plate appearances before being sent to Valdosta of the Georgia-Florida League (Class – B). It was there he began to show the promise of being a solid hitter. Joining the club nearly a month after the season began, he had 30-game hitting streak at one point.[3] Finishing with a .355 batting average to go along with 14 home runs and 161 hits, he was named Georgia-Florida League Co-Rookie of the Year.[4] Back to Newport News for the entire 1951 season, his average tailed off to .299, but he impressed the Dodgers during spring training in 1952 and was sent to Mobile (Southern Association, Class – AA).

1952 with Mobile, on May 11 the 5’9”, 180-lb. outfielder had his streak of seven consecutive games of two or more hits halted when he was held to a single.[5]  He was selected to the Southern Association All Star game, Bears outfielders Bill Antonello and Bama Rowell[6]. Coles led off and played right field in the game at New Orleans, but had no hits in three turns at bat. He was one of three rookies from Mobile to play in the game, along with Norm Larker and Don Zimmer.

Mobile finished third in league standings with an 80-73 record, but in the SA playoffs, Coles had a key home run in Mobile’s 8-2 win over Atlanta to take a 3-2 margin over the regular season champions. In the final game of the series, Mobile won 3-2 as Coles knocked in two runs with a double.[7] In December, Coles notified Mobile club president John Toomey that he had been inducted into the armed services the previous month and was stationed at Fort Gordon, Georgia[8]. Coles served in the military in 1953 and 1954.

Back to baseball in 1955, he began the season with the Bears but in May was optioned by Mobile to Elmira.[9] Benched due to weak hitting on July 10, the next day he had a double and two triples, knocking in four runs in a 5-4 win over Johnstown.[10] He finished with a mediocre .278 batting average.

Sent to Pueblo of the Western League in 1956, he regained his hitting stroke and slammed 24 round-trippers during the season. He had two grand-slam home runs each against Sioux City and Des Moines. In 1957 he remained with Albuquerque for the entire year, and was selected to the Western League’s All Star team at the end of the season.[11] He hit .354 with 26 home runs and 120 RBI.

On March 10, 1958, Nashville purchased Coles’ contract outright from Albuquerque, and he reported to the Vols the next day at their spring training camp in Brooksville, Florida. Coles had been recommended to Vols general manager Bill McCarthy by Nick Cullop, who had managed him the for the first half of the previous season. Once Cincinnati farm director Bill McKechnie approved, the deal was made.

“Cullop told me that Coles would make an ideal Deller,” McCarthy said. “Apparently Cincinnati thinks he can help us, too.”[12]

Coles immediately made an impact. On April 23, 1958, he had two triples in successive innings in a 13-12 slugfest over Atlanta, [13] and by May20 had extended his hitting streak to 15.[14] The next day in the first game of a double header at Rickwood Field he extends it to 16 games, as he becomes only the second player in league history to hit three home runs (all three off Barons pitcher Ron Rozman) in a seven-inning game as the Vols beat Birmingham 8-3. In his last at-bat, Coles hits a single as he drives in seven of the eight Nashville tallies. In the nightcap, Barons pitcher Bob Bruce ended Coles 16-game hitting streak. But Coles had raised his batting average to .425.[15]

On June 6, Nashville’s fourth annual Knot Hole Night draws a crowd of 2,579 paid fans, with the club donating half of the proceeds to the Junior Chamber of Commerce-sponsored Knot Hole League baseball program.  But the evening is marred by an injury to Coles, who is hit in the head by a rock thrown from the stands. He was hitting .358 at the time, was not seriously hurt.

On July 1, he got Nashville’s only hit against Little Rock right-hander Bud Black as the Travelers beats. the Vols 3-0. A few weeks later his batting average had dropped to .333, but was selected to the 1958 Southern Association All Star Game.

In the annual event, he hits three-run home run off Atlanta’s Bob Giggie and later doubles to lead the All Stars win over Atlanta 4-0. Just six days prior, Coles had hit one off Giggie at Ponce de Leon ballpark, then had another off the same pitcher on Tuesday night. In total, Chuck hit four home runs off Crackers’ pitching, all but one off Giggie, then added the All Star homer to his feat. He had hit four-of-five home runs off the same pitcher.[16]

He ended with a .307 average with 107 RBI and 29 home runs, topping the league with 320 total bases. Called up by the Cincinnati, he made his big-league debut on September 19. Starting in left field against the Milwaukee Braves at Crosley Field, his first putout was on a fly ball by Vada Pinson for the third out in the second inning. In the Reds half of that inning, he struck out against right hander Carl Willey, who would be named National League Rookie of the Year for the season. In the fourth inning, the bespectacled Coles hit a double to drive in Smokey Burgess, collecting his first RBI in the majors.

Playing center field at Milwaukee’s County Stadium a week later, he gained his second (and last) major-league hit, a single in the fifth inning off Lew Burdette. Coles has the distinction of having played in five games for the Reds, all against the Braves; he wraps up his stint with a .82 batting average in 11 plate appearances.

Chuck played winter ball with Valencia, hitting two home runs in the game that clinched the pennant for his team. Beginning in 1959 with Havana (International League – Class AAA), in 30 games his batting average was a paltry .181 and he soon found himself back on the Nashville roster.

“We’re glad to have Chuck back,” general manager McCarthy said. “I talked with Dick (Nashville manager Dick Sisler) today and he was quite pleased. I don’t know where Dick will play him, but we can use a bat like Coles swings. We’re fortunate to get him. Havana has been getting a steady diet of left-handed pitching and wants to add some right-handed power.”[17] Coles never regained his batting ability. Used sparingly, he hitting .203 when on July 1, he was traded to Atlanta by Nashville for Ray Shearer. Coles was a visitor in the press box during the game that night against Memphis at Sulphur Dell.

“Maybe it’s all for the best,” he said. “I just couldn’t get going here. I have to play regularly. Maybe I’ll get to with Atlanta. I hate to leave Nashville, but it’s part of the game.”

It was an unusual trade. McCarthy’s negotiated deal with Atlanta owner Earl Mann meant both Coles and Shearer would return to the other club at season’s end, as both player’s contracts were owned by their parent organizations (Coles with Cincinnati, Shearer’s with Milwaukee).[18] It took some coaxing by Coles to Nashville’s new manager, Jim Turner. After a March 10 workout with the Vols, Turner was ready to give the former star a chance.

“I see no reason why he should not have five or six more good years left,” turner said. “It isn’t normal for a man of his age (29) to have two seasons like he did in 1957 and 1958 and then suddenly not be able to do a thing. I don’t believe he’s through.”[19]

coles-1960

Chuck Coles, Nashville manager Jim Turner, Cincinnati coach Jack Cassini at Spring Training in 1960

Chuck promptly led the Vols in spring training round-trippers with six. Once the season began, he joined Erv Joyner and Crawford Davidson in the outfield and he regained some of his hitting form. By September, he got on base 11 straight times on five hits and six bases-on-balls, then popped out to end the string, and at year’s end had hit 14 home runs, drove in 99 runs, and batted .290.

Surprisingly, he returned to Mobile to begin the 1961 season, but after 32 games and a .202 average, he was demoted to Charlotte (South Atlantic League, Class – A), a Minnesota Twins farm club. He hit .313 in 101 games, eight home runs and 47 RBI.

Remaining with the Hornets beginning in 1962, his manger was Spencer “Red” Robbins, who had managed Nashville the previous season. Used as an outfielder-first baseman at Charlotte, by late June he was leading the SALLY with a .369 batting average, and by June had increased his numbers to .376, six HR, and 22 RBI. But Robbins benched him when Ernie Oravetz reported from Syracuse (International League – Class A).

With 80 games under his belt, and a .305 average, on July 27 he was optioned to Wilson (Carolina League – Class B)[20]. The Tobs (short for Tobacconists) were in a pennant-chase and it was thought he would provide much-needed help at the plate. On August 1, Coles hit a home run with one on in the ninth inning to give Wilson a win over Winston-Salem, 3-1. The next day, he hit another homer against the Red Sox in a 6-0 win. here he finished the season by playing in 42 games. Wilson finished woefully 24 games out of first place, and as Coles’ average was only .243, it seemed he was near the end of his career.

1963 was last season, with Tidewater Tides in Carolina League. In 27 games hit .260, but his career had indeed ended. He finished after 12 minor league seasons with a .292 average, 176 home runs, and 357 RBI to go along with two RBI earned in his brief period with Cincinnati. Upon retirement, he became a millwright in Jefferson, Pennsylvania.

He passed away on January 25, 1996 in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina at the age of 64, and was buried in Greene County Memorial Park in Waynesburg, Pennsylvania. In 2009 was inducted posthumously into the Washington-Greene County Sports Hall of Fame[21].

© 2017 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

[1] The Evening Standard (Uniontown, Pennsylvania), July 6, 1956
[2] Von Benko, George. “Chuck Coles was another Jefferson baseball star”. Greene County Messenger. http://www.heraldstandard.com/gcm/sports/chuck-coles-was-another-jefferson-baseball-star/article_be836705-bdb6-5729-b73d-cd26583d5b6e.html. Retrieved January 25, 2017.
[3] The Sporting News, August 9, 1950, p. 20.
[4] Ibid., August 16, 1950, p. 22.
[5] Ibid., May 21, 1952, p. 29.
[6] Ibid., July 9, 1952, p. 43.
[7] Ibid., October 1, 1952, p. 46.
[8] Nashville Tennessean, December 10, 1952, p. 28.
[9] The Sporting News, May 18, 1955, p. 34.
[10] Ibid., p. 41.
[11] The Sporting News, September 25, 1957, p. 41.
[12] Nashville Tennessean, March 11, 1958, p. 19.
[13] The Sporting News, May 7, 1958, p. 37.
[14] Ibid., May 28, 1958, p. 35.
[15] Ibid., June 4, 1958, p. 31.
[16] Nashville Tennessean, July 17, 1958, p. 27.
[17] Ibid., May 21, 1959, p. 30.
[18] Ibid., October 16, 1959, p. 43.
[19] Nashville Tennessean, March 11, 1960, p. 24.
[20] The Sporting News, August 11, 1960, p. 41.
[21] Washington-Greene County Chapter Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Fame, http://www.wash-greenesportshall.org/2009/Coles.htm. Retrieved January 26, 2017.

Bibliography

Marazzi, Rich. Baseball Players of the 1950s: A Biographical Dictionary of All 1,560 Major Leaguers. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Co., 2004.

Nipper, Skip. Images of Baseball: Baseball in Nashville. Charleston, South Carolina: Arcadia Publishing, 2007.

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

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Old Timers Always Come Through

CreedThursday night marked the 79th annual banquet held by Nashville’s Old Timers organization. Close to 600 folks poured into the Nashville Airport Marriott to hear guest speaker Hall of Famer and 1971 Cy Young Award winner Ferguson Jenkins. He did not disappoint, as his talk lasted 50 minutes and he lingered beyond the allotted time to sign baseballs, bats, jerseys, photos, and a myriad of items.

The Old Timers board of directors can pat themselves on the back for coming through once again.

Way back in 1999, former Cincinnati Reds third baseman Ray Knight was to have been speaker, but at the last minute had to cancel. The Old Timers board members hastily contacted Chattanooga’s Rick Honeycutt, minor league pitching instructor for the Los Angeles Dodgers, who accepted.

Hall of Famer Harmon Killebrew was our speaker in 2009, the first year I was president of Old Timers, and I was anxious to see him come through the airport concourse. That meant we would be hearing him that night (and what a great speaker he was) and my fears of his being a “no-show”, much like Ray Knight, were alleviated.

Not so in 1955. Nashville Tennessean sports writer Raymond Johnson was the president that year (he served from 1951-1956), and with the cancellation of the invited speaker had to move the date of the banquet. Scheduled for January 24, Lefty Gomez was to be banquet guest, but found out he had scheduled two other banquets for the same evening, one in Minneapolis and one in Manchester, New Hampshire.

Johnson found out only a day or two ahead of time, and immediately went to work to find a replacement. In his “One Man’s Opinion” column the day before the banquet, he listed the names of those contacted to fill in for Gomez:

The first person he contacted was Chattanooga Lookouts owner Joe Engel, who found out his boss, Washington Senators owner Clark Griffith, was coming for a visit in Winter Garden, Florida. Engel had to turn down Johnson’s offer.

Birmingham Barons general manager Eddie Glennon, who had spoken to the group two years prior, had a banquet commitment in Demopolis, Alabama for the same night and could not come.

Kerby Farrell, native Nashvillian and recently-named Minor League Manager of the Year at Indianapolis, could not speak as team owners had set up meetings for him all week in Indiana.

Shelby Peace, president of the KITTY League, felt he should stay at home with his wife who had suffered injuries in fall.

Whitlow Wyatt, manager of Southern Association champion Atlanta Crackers (he would soon be heading to the Philadelphia Phillies as a coach), declined. He was worried about the lack of rain and needed to remain at his farm near Buchanan, Georgia.

Jim Turner, a native of Antioch and pitching coach of the New York Yankees, felt he was not a good storyteller and declined Johnson’s invitation.

Larry Gilbert, beloved co-owner and general manager of the Nashville Vols, agreed to have a minor part in the festivities but hesitated due to his wife’s recent fall.

Johnson then contacted Joe Engel once again, and since Johnson was willing to change the banquet date, accepted. One of Chattanooga’s finest came through.

The banquet was held on February 3, and a crowd of 250 were there at the Maxwell House. Included in the guests were Bill McKechnie, Jr., director of the Cincinnati Reds farm system, new Nashville Vols manager Joe Schultz, current Vols players Bert Flammini and Bob Schultz, former major-leaguers Red Lucas, Johnny Beazley, Clydell Castleman, and Nashville mayor Ben West. Even Kerby Farrell was able to make the trip after all, too.

Johnson closed out his column with a sense of relief.

“And my Old Timers’ troubles ended, at least temporarily…So put your handkerchiefs back in your pockets, my friends.”

The Old Timers always come through.

Author’s note: Raymond Johnson’s “One Man’s Opinion” columns in the January 23, 1955 and February 4, 1955 of the Nashville Tennessean were the basis for this story.

©2017 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

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When a Home Run Isn’t

Consider the plight of poor Bill Bribeck, first baseman of the 1923 Bloomington (Illinois) Bloomers of the Three-I (Illinois, Indiana, Iowa) League. He hit 11 home runs that season, but owns the odd distinction of hitting another six home runs in consecutive games with none going into the score book.

Bloomington’s ball field had a short left field fence, 275 feet from home plate, and on the day after team management erected a five-foot screen on top of it, Bribeck hit a ball near the top of the screen which fell in for a double. A day earlier, it would have been a home run.

In the first inning of the next day’s game, Bill hit a ball that cleared that same left field fence. But the game was rained out in the third inning, negating his second consecutive four-bagger.

He smacked another one out of the park in the third inning on the third day, but as he rounded third base, he missed the bag. The other team noticed, and so did the umpire, and he was called out. With a runner on base on day four he slugged one over the fence, but the runner failed to run in fear of the ball being caught. Bill passed him and was automatically called out.

In game five he hit another home run, but had batted out-of-turn, and his feat was annulled.

shes-outta-here-no-shes-not-fwThe final installment of his misfortune came on the sixth day of an extra-inning affair. It was getting dark, but in the top of the 15th the umpires thought the game would be able to finish. The visitors scored seven runs to take the lead, but with two aboard in the home half Bribick thumped a three-run homer.

His manager, fearing the Bloomers would not be able to pull the game out before complete darkness, began to stall until the umpire finally called the game. The score reverted to the previous inning, a 14-inning tie game. Hard-luck Bill lost his home run, the sixth time on six consecutive days one of his round-trippers was erased.

Similarly, only on a single occasion, one of the Nashville Vols favorite sons suffered the same fate.

Harold “Tookie” Gilbert had all the tools: a good hitter with power, a skillful left-handed first baseman, and youngest son of a baseball family. His father, Larry, played on the 1914 “Miracle” Braves, and became a legend as player-manager of the New Orleans Pelicans and co-owner and manager of the Nashville ball club. Two other sons, Charley and Larry, Jr. had successes of their own in baseball.

Playing for Nashville in 1949 with his father now general manager, Tookie batted .334 and socked 33 home runs, and the next season would find himself on the roster of the New York Giants. But on July 28, 1949 in Nashville’s famous Sulphur Dell, the ballpark that was oddly-shaped with a short right field wall that sat on a hill 22 ½ feet above the playing surface, he lost a home run due to poor judgement by the umpires.

Against Birmingham in the dimly-lit setting, Tookie’s blast off righty Jim McDonald easily cleared the right-center field wall. Center fielder Norm Koney stopped when he saw the ball go over.

But the ball came back onto the field. It had hit a city bus parked outside, rebounded back into the ballpark, and when the three umpires consulted, ruled it a triple.

Seven home runs, each with the same results: Not.

Sources

Baseball-reference.com

Newspapers.com

Author’s note: Much of Bill Bribeck’s story comes from Raymond Johnson’s “One Man’s Opinion” column in the January 22, 1943 edition of the Nashville Tennessean, in which Johnson refers to the original story from the January 1943 edition of Baseball Digest. Also, according to baseball-reference.com Bribeck’s name is “Walter J.”, with no mention of “Bill”.

©2017 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

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Nashville Barons?

In the fall of 1961, attempts to continue the Southern Association were failing. Atlanta dropped out in hopes of becoming a major-league city, and Shreveport and Mobile decided not to remain in the league.

Birmingham was rumored to be moving its franchise to Montgomery, Huntsville, or Columbus, Georgia. Barons owner W. A. Belcher would not remain in Birmingham due to the enforcement by city officials prohibiting mixing of the races in athletic contests, even though the law has been ruled unconstitutional by a federal court.

If it was to continue, operating as a six-team loop became a real possibility. Not only was it difficult to navigate through the question of playing black players (in September the board of directors of Nashville had voted to include negroes beginning in 1962), finding major-league affiliations was another issue. Chattanooga (Philadelphia Phillies), Birmingham (Detroit Tigers), and Little Rock (Baltimore Orioles) had affiliations, but Nashville and Macon did not.

When Belcher decided to withdraw the Barons from the league, two cities were needed. It had been determined the Los Angeles Dodgers would attempt to place a team in Evansville, Indiana, and the Minnesota Twins would do the same in Columbus.

But the key was Nashville’s inability to round up a major-league club to supply financial support and players. The final discussion about survival in Nashville, a last-gasp solution, was for the Vols to take over the Barons-Tigers agreement.

raymond-johnsonNashville Tennessean sports writer Raymond Johnson was aware of the possibility on November 17. It came from a conversation he had at the Georgia Tech-Alabama football with Eddie Glennon, who had resigned as general manager of the Barons just a few days earlier.

“Here take this.” Glennon told Johnson. “You might need it.”

It was a roster of players that Detroit was going to supply to Birmingham for the 1962 season. It included: Stan Palys, George McCue, LeGrant Scott, Norman Manning, Bob Micelotta, Mike Cloutier, Bob Patrick, Rufus Anderson, John Ryan, Al Baker, Henry Duke, John Sullivan, Larry Koehl, Jerry Lock, Bob Humphreys, Jim Proctor, Willie Smith, Jim Stump, R. G. Smith, Gene Bacque, Bob Paffel, and Nashville native Jere Ray.

It is doubtful the Nashville Vols would have become the “Barons”, but it shows willing effort to keep the Southern going. Per Johnson, the assistance of Glennon and behind-the-scenes activity by Dick Butler, president of the Texas League, Sam Smith, head of the SALLY League, and Buzzy Bavasi of the Dodgers were instrumental in attempts to prolong the historic league.

The entire process became moot a few months later, as the decision to shut down came in January of 1962, ending Southern Association operations. In his column, Johnson described the recent troubles that led to downfall, an epitaph that could have been written on the league’s gravestone.

“Fire that destroyed Russwood Park took Memphis out…Sale of Pelican Stadium so a huge motel could be built at the site virtually eliminated baseball in New Orleans…Atlanta scribes got the idea the Georgia metropolis was too big for the Southern and they inoculated the fans so well that they forgot baseball was played in Ponce de Leon Park…They may not return for triple A ball, either…The fear of mixing black and white athletes caused Birmingham to withdraw.”

SOURCES

Johnson, Raymond. (1961, November 30). One Man’s Opinion Column: “Sadler Spins Like a Reel After Closing Tiger Deal”. Nashville Tennessean, p. 30.

Watkins, Clarence. Baseball in Birmingham. Charleston, South Carolina: Arcadia Publishing, 2010.

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

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Aubrey Gatewood Pitched for Nashville in 1963

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Provided by Tony Roberts

Aubrey Lee Gatewood was born November 17, 1938 in Little Rock, Arkansas. His father, Lee, was a truck driver in building construction, his mother Gladys was a homemaker, and when he was born there were three older sisters: Betty, Dolpha, and Delores.

He attended North Little Rock High School, tossed a perfect game in an American Legion game in 1956[1], and played for legendary coach J. A. “Ike” Tomlinson at Arkansas State University for three years[2]. On June 12, 1959, he signed a contract with cthe Detroit Tigers as a free agent and was to become a member of the Birmingham Barons club of the Southern Association but did not play that season.[3]

He was assigned to Durham (Carolina League – Class B) in 1960 and was 2-3 with a 6.50 ERA before being shipped to the Duluth-Superior Dukes (Northern League – Class C) where he finished the year 9-5 with a 2.35 ERA and 102 strikeouts in 95 innings. At one point, he accomplished six consecutive victories.[4] In a playoff game against Minot in September, he was removed from a game after being hit by a line drive.[5]

On December 14, he was selected by the expansion Los Angeles Angels from Detroit as the 11th pick for $75,000.

He began the 1961 season with hopes of earning a roster spot with the Angels. Catcher Del Rice, who had 16 years of experience handling pitchers, assessed Gatewood’s talent in spring training at Palm Springs, California.

“He’s got a good fastball and curve, but will also need a lot of work.”[6]

When the St. Louis Cardinals sold pitcher Ron Kline to the Angels, Gatewood was sent to Dallas-Ft. Worth (American Association – Class AA).[7] After losing two games in six appearances for the Rangers, he was demoted to Portsmouth-Norfolk (South Atlantic League – Class A) and his poor showing continued. In seven games, he had no wins and three loses.

Optioned to Des Moines (Illinois-Indiana-Iowa League – Class B), he filled in quickly as a starter in 11 games in 13 appearances. He picked up his strikeout pace with 89 strikeouts in 75 innings with a 3-5 record and 5.04 ERA.

In October when Angels general manager Fred Haney called up six players from Dallas-Ft. Worth, he returned Gatewood to the Rangers from Des Moines.[8]

On November 27 in the 1961 Rule 5 draft, Gatewood was chosen by the New York Mets for $25,000 (he I s the only player selected in both expansion drafts). [9]He had recently moved his residence from Little Rock to Los Angeles in anticipation of remaining with the Angels.

Mets manager Casey Stengel was unhappy with Aubrey’s control and was returned to the Angels on April 6, 1962.[10] In his best Stengelese rationale, “The Old Perfessor” told Gatewood, “Son, we’d like to keep you around this season, but we’re going to try to win a pennant.”[11]

Assigned to Hawaii (Pacific Coast League – Class AAA), in 20 games he was 6-8 with a 4.54 ERA but was leading the league with 72 walks when he was sent to Tri-City (Northwest League – Class B) to end the season. He won one game and lost three and his ERA ballooned to 10.29.

Nashville, without professional baseball during the 1962 season after 61 years in the now-defunct Southern Association, reorganized in the Class A SALLY League and the Angels signed the Vols on as an affiliate. On April 3 Gatewood was assigned there under manager John Fitzpatrick who had managed Angels affiliate in Quad Cities (Midwest League – Class D) the previous year.

He was being counted on to anchor the starting rotation.

“(Gatewood) will probably be our starting pitcher in the opening game at Knoxville”, touted Vols general manager Ed Doherty. “He can fire. I saw him work four innings the other day and he struck out seven and walked but one. He’s got a good, live arm.”[12]

On April 19, in Nashville’s opening game in Knoxville, Gatewood was the starter. He pitched five innings with no decision as the Vols won 8-4. He was removed from the game after giving up five hits and two runs, but Fitzpatrick pulled him not for being ineffective but for sitting through three rain delays.[13]

In the second game of a double header with Macon on April 29, Fitzpatrick was ejected from arguing a close play at third, and Gatewood was called on to guide the club for the remainder of the game.[14]

Chronic arm trouble haunted him during the season, and twice he was flown to Los Angeles for a medical examination. Bone chips in his throwing elbow were the issue, and both diagnosis resulted in him being sent back to Nashville without surgery. Doctors felt he could be treated with occasional cortisone shots. [15]

However, he was chosen to play in the South Atlantic League All Star game played in Augusta on July 22, where he tossed two innings of hitless relief, striking out three in the All Stars’ whitewashing of the first-half champion Yankees 7-0.

After his second return in August, he did not win another game.[16]

 ““He had a huge curveball,” says 1963 Nashville Vols historian Tony Roberts watched him from behind the plate, “but his arm issues kept him from dominating hitters.”

“Without rehabilitation like the players receive today, Gatewood just never recovered.”[17]

He had a 6-10 record with a 3.34 ERA for the Vols before being called up by the Angels on September 5, and on September 11 pitched a four-hitter in a 4-1 complete game win over the Red Sox in his major-league debut. He finished 1-1 with a 1.50 ERA in four games.

At the beginning of 1964 spring training in Phoenix, he hopes of becoming a starter for the Angels. Los Angeles Times sports writer John Hall explained how Gatewood had come to the club nearly unnoticed.

“Gatewood’s career has been detoured in the past by arm miseries, but he indicated last September that he’s got the hex licked and he’s been taking it slow and sensible this spring, just now ready to make his move to become a starter in the Angel rotation that will include Ken McBride, Dean Chance, Bo Belinsky and Barry Latman.”[18]

But he was sent to Hawaii to begin the season; and was the Islanders starting pitcher in a spring exhibition against the parent club. After 17 starts, a 5-7 record, and 5.12 ERA for Hawaii, he was recalled by the Angels in July. He made seven starts and eight relief appearances, ending with a 3-3 record and a respectable 2.24 ERA.

His third loss came on September 16 against the New York Yankees when he walked Bobby Richardson in the sixth inning, and Roger Maris slugged a home run for his 1,000th career hit.

The Angels kept Aubrey on the major-league roster for the entire 1965 season, although when they sent him to their Seattle farm club during spring training, he threatened to quit[19]. To alleviate pressure on his arm, he became a knuckleball pitcher. Los Angeles Times writer Hall reported the change in delivery.

“Aubrey Gatewood’s knuckler has become the talk of the clubhouse, and the angry man from Arkansas is smiling for the first time all season.

“I can throw strikes with it and that’s the name of the game,” said Gatewood.”[20] His year ended at 4-5 and a 3.42 ERA in 92 innings.

1966 was not so kind to him. He began with El Paso (Texas League – Class AA) and was 2-6 with a 4.97 ERA as a spot starter and middle reliever before being purchased by Buffalo (International League – Class AAA), a Cincinnati farm club where he had a 6-7 record and a 5.67 ERA.

He continued his stay in Buffalo throughout 1967. He appeared in 37 games, winning four and losing five. His ERA was 3.80.

Before the 1968 season began, he was sent to Baltimore, a team which had envied his services in 1965[21]. He pitched for the Oriole’s Rochester (International League – Class AAA) club, but with a 4-10 record and ERA of 4.20, he was removed from the Red Wings roster in July and awaited reassignment.[22]

His reassignment was to Tacoma (Pacific Coast League – Class AAA), on loan to the Chicago Cubs affiliate. He was 1-1, pitched 39 innings in 11 games, and started in four.

Back with Rochester again in 1969, he pitched four innings in two games before being released in May. On June 20, 1969, he signed as a Free Agent with the Atlanta Braves and sent to Shreveport (Texas League – Class AA), where he was 7-6.

After getting a call to the Braves from Shreveport in June of 1970, he pitched two innings in three games for Atlanta. His last major-league appearance came on July 8 against the San Francisco Giants, before being sent to Richmond (International League – Class AA) a few days later. He played in five games for Richmond, and ended his season back in Shreveport.

He never overcame his loss of arm strength or his ability to overpower hitters. Gatewood’s major league career lasted for four seasons, and he finished 8-9 with a 2.78 ERA for Los Angeles and the Atlanta Braves.

After one final season, split between Savannah and Arkansas in the Dixie Association, he retired in 1971. His career included a minor-league career record of 61-90 and 4.36 ERA.

SOURCES

Ancestry.com

Baseball-reference.com

Newspapers.com

Retrosheet.org

Sabr.org

Writer’s note: Special thanks to Tony Roberts for providing newspaper clippings and other information about Gatewood’s season in Nashville.

© 2016 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

[1] Pittsburgh Courier, January 11, 1964, p. 15

[2] Decatur (Illinois) Herald, January 11, 1971, p. 17

[3]Battle Creek Inquirer, June 30, 1959, p. 14

[4] Eau Claire Daily Telegram, August 1, 1960, p. 11

[5] St. Cloud Times, September 7, 1960, p. 26

[6]Long Beach Independent, March 27, 1961, p. 19

[7] Ibid., April 11, 1961, p. 18

[8] Los Angeles Times, October 17, 1961, p. 79

[9] Long Beach Independent, July 31, 1964, p. 37

[10] Des Moines Register, April 15, 1962, p. 45

[11] Stewart, Wayne. (2012) The Little Red Book of Baseball Wisdom (Little Red Books). New York, New York: Skyhorse Publishing.

[12] Nashville Tennessean, April 4, 1963, p. 31

[13] Ibid., April 20, 1963, p. 13

[14] Ibid., April 30, 1963, p. 15

[15] Ibid., August 14, 1963, p. 20

[16] Ibid., September 12, 1963, p. 23

[17] Telephone conversation with Roberts November 17, 2016

[18] Hall, John. “Gatewood to Success”. Los Angeles Times, March 24, 1964

[19] Los Angeles Times, April 1, 1965, p. 46

[20] Hall. September 12, 1965.

[21] Long Beach Independent, June 7, 1965, p.  25

[22] Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, July 27, 1968, p. 33

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Vandy was a Vol

Johnny Vander Meer was born on November 2, 1914 to Dutch parents in Prospect, New Jersey, and grew up in Midland Park. Baseball became his love and he found the attention of a Cincinnati Reds scout, signing with Dayton (Class C – Mid-Atlantic League).[1] The next two seasons were spent in Scranton (Class A – NYPL) where he was 18-18.

In his first three years in the Cincinnati Reds farm system he developed arm trouble. In 1936 he was sent to Nashville to consult with Dr. Lee Jensen, a noted sports doctor who determined there was an issue with a muscle in Vander Meer’s back. After therapy and exercises, he was being counted on as a starter for the Vols.

vander-meerIn two-game exhibition series against the St. Louis Browns at Nashville’s Wilson Park, he was starting pitcher on April 7 and appeared as a reliever on April 8. In the first game, a cold and windy affair, after one out he issued walks to four consecutive batters to force in a run before being relieved by Johnny Intlekofer. The Browns won 3-1.

The next day he relieved Junie Barnes in the seventh. Only giving up one hit, Vander Meer gave up five runs in the eighth; for the game, he struck out four, walked five, and hit batter Harlond Clift before being relieved by Ray Davis. Johnny was the losing pitcher.

On April 21, he faced the Atlanta Crackers in his first start for the Vols, another cold affair that was eventually called due to darkness that ended in a 4-4 tie. Continuing to relieve for manager Lance Richbourg, on May 3 Vander Meer was given his second start, this time in Birmingham. He allowed two runs in five innings before being yanked for Red Ahearn.

In Nashville’s Sulphur Dell on May 9, Johnny started against New Orleans, but did not finish in the Vols 15-8 trouncing of the Pelicans. Having appeared in 31 innings in eight games but with no wins, he started against the Travelers in Little Rock on May 19, but did not last the inning after walking the first three batters he faced. He was the losing pitcher.

With 25 bases on balls in 32 innings, his arm control was beginning to show. By June 1 he was gone, sent to Durham (Class B, Piedmont League). Still under contract to Nashville, Vander Meer found his curve ball under the tutelage of manager Johnny Gooch, and won 19 games while losing only 6 with a 2.65 ERA.

Most impressive were his 272 strikeouts in 194 innings. He struck out 20 in one game, 19 and 18 in two others. “Vandy” was named The Sporting News Minor League Player of the Year for 1936.

Sold by the Vols to Cincinnati, he was invited to spring training and spent the season between the Reds where he was 3-4 with a 3.84 ERA, and Syracuse (Class AA – International League) where he was 5-11 with a 3.34 ERA.

He was an All Star for Cincinnati in 1938 and threw consecutive no-hitters, the only player to ever accomplish the feat. His first came against the Boston Bees on June 11 in Cincinnati and the second was accomplished against the Brooklyn Dodgers on June 15, the first night game ever played at Ebbets Field.

Four days later, on June 19 in Boston, he no-hit the Braves until one out in the fourth inning when Debs Garms hit a single. The streak ended at 21 1/3 innings, which included the batter Vander Meer retired in the game before his first no-hitter.[2]

Named The Sporting News Major League Player of the Year that season, Johnny was also named to the All Star team in 1939, 1942, and 1943.

His lifetime 119-121 record included 1,294 strikeouts, and he led the league in that category for three consecutive seasons; 1941 (202), 1942 (186), and 1943 (174).

Upon his release from the Cleveland Indians in 1951, he pitched in 24 games for Tulsa and won 11, losing 10. But on July 15, 1952, 14 years and one month after his record performance, he hurled a no-hitter in a Texas League game against Beaumont.

Oddly enough, Beaumont manager Harry Craft was centerfielder for the Reds and made the final putout in the second no-hitter by Vander Meer. The ball was hit by future Hall of Famer Leo Durocher of Brooklyn.

Upon retiring from active playing, he managed in the minors for 10 seasons where his teams won a total of 761 games and lost 719. Future major leaguers Jim Maloney, Vic Davalillo, Jack Baldschun, Lee May, Jim Wynn, Ed Kranepool, and Pete Rose played for “The Dutch Master”.

When his baseball career was over he worked for a brewing company and enjoyed fishing. Vander Meer passed away on October 6, 1997 in Tampa, Florida, and was buried with a baseball in his left hand.[3]

SOURCES

Ancestry.com

Baseball-reference.com

Nashville Tennessean

Newspapers.com

Retrosheet.org

Sabr.org

© 2016 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

 

[1] Johnson, James W. Johnny Vander Meer, SABR Baseball Biography Project. Retrieved from ww.sabr.org

[2] Goldstein, Richard. “Johnny Vander Meer, 82, No-Hit Master, Dies”, New York Times, October 7, 1997

[3] Johnson, James W. Ibid.

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Nashville’s Swift Sherman Kennedy

Sherman Montgomery Kennedy was born in Conneaut, Ohio on November 13, 1877. His father, Benjamin, was a real estate agent, and his mother, Clara, was a homemaker. By the time his three sisters were in school and his brother was a farm hand, Sherman had already made his name in baseball.[1]

Little is known of his early playing days, but by 1899 he joined the New London Whalers in the Connecticut League, hitting for a .244 average while playing third base and outfield, and pitching to a 7-6 record in 14 games. He played only a few games for New London in 1900, but Kennedy began the inaugural Southern Association season in 1901 at short stop.

In the opening game in Chattanooga on May 2, he reached on an error, scored a run, and made an error while making a putout with three assists in the field. Nashville won in 10 innings, 15-14; the next day he dropped from seventh to eighth in the lineup but gathered his first hit on a single as his team won its second game 6-4.

By mid-season, he had moved to first in the batting order to take advantage of his speed. Nashville ended the season 78-45 to capture the flag; Kennedy ended the year with 50 stolen bases and was reportedly off to the major leagues.

snapper_kennedy_fbBefore re-joining Nashville for 1902, the 23-year-old played center field for the Chicago Orphans (now the Cubs) on May 1 against Detroit.[2] He was hitless in five plate appearances against George Mullin, striking out once. It was Kennedy’s only major league game.

When he returned to Nashville, Dennis Lowney had been signed from Little Rock to play shortstop, and Kennedy took his turn in center field where he played outstanding defense on the outfield hills of Athletic Park.

He made good use of his swiftness in a 7-1 win over New Orleans that kept the Pelicans eight games behind the leading Nashville ball club. Lead-off batter Roy Montgomery socked a long fly ball to right center in the first inning and Kennedy chased after it. Losing his balance just as he grabbed the ball with his glove, he rolled to the ground but held on to rob Montgomery of a sure double.

The Nashville American reported the play with near-poetic expression:

“Kennedy’s catch of Montgomery’s drive in the first inning was a thing of beauty and a source of much joy to the jubilant fans. Sherman fell sprawling on his back upon the bank in right center just as he got his left hand on the sphere, but he clung to the ball, nevertheless. It was a great play.”[3]

Suffering from a knee injury during the middle of the season, Snapper’s stolen base total was reduced to 29. He played in 98 games, hitting .261, and Nashville captured a second-consecutive pennant.

He signed a new contract for the 1903 season, but for whatever reason manager and club-owner Newt Fisher asked Kennedy to approve his being loaned to New Orleans for two weeks to begin the season. Refusing the assignment, on May 30 had two hits in his first two season appearances for Nashville.

“I came to play with Nashville,” said Kennedy, “and I don’t propose to play anywhere else. I like the town and the people. I also like Newt(.) Fisher, and I will be glad to play for him and Nashville, but I will not play in any other city of the Southern League. This is final and absolute.”[4]

But on June 4 he was in New Orleans in an experiment that did not work.  He did not show for the Pelicans game against Birmingham the next day, and on June 6 he shows up as Nashville’s shortstop against Little Rock.

Battling from third place with Memphis and Little Rock ahead in the standings, stealing three bases in a double header with Montgomery on August 12 and two more on August 15, adding a sacrifice against Birmingham.

“Sherman Kennedy has “come back to life.” Sherman is doing his best now and his fast work on the base lines is a joy to the Nashville fans. “Let’s get Kennedy on a base,” is the cry now. Sherman stole two more bases yesterday. If he keeps up this work he will lead the league “a block” in the matter of stolen bases.”[5]

He stole four bases, including a steal of home, and was four-for-four at the plate against Memphis on August 25, fans took up a collection amounting to $32.00 to show appreciation for his specialty work on the base paths. Near season’s end he stole nine bases in 11 games, and finished with a team-best 35 stolen bases (James Smith lead the league with 48, splitting time between Shreveport and New Orleans). Nashville fell to fifth to end the season.

On February 27, 1904, Kennedy arrived in Nashville with his wife and new baby with him. It was the earliest he had shown up to prepare for any season, and Newt Fisher was pleased.

“Manager Fisher and Kennedy spent Saturday at the home of the former, talking over the prospects for the coming season and discussing the players who have been signed. To-day they will be at Athletic Park and will get into uniforms.”[6]

Fisher wanted Sherman to play first base, and he performed admirably at his new position. But the tide turned in a game on June 23 with his club hovering around the .500 mark. Kennedy muffed a throw to first by second baseman Tom Smith. The error was so unlike the agile first sacker that the crowd began to boo.

“There was one of two reasons for Kennedy’s rank error; either he was not able to handle the ball or he dropped it purposely. If it was the first reason, then he is not a fit player for that important position. If it was the second reason, then it is the plain duty of Newt Fisher to put him on the bench and keep him there until he learns what the duty of a ball player is and does not let his temper run away with him…”[7]

The next week Kennedy apologized, and he began to play up to the standard his teammates expected. But on September 17 his father contacted him to say the Kennedy’s young son Frank, who had been ill, was not doing well.

…Kennedy left for his home in Connaught <sic>, O., on a night train, and because of the fact that the season is so nearly over will not return. Kennedy’s child has been seriously ill for some time, and this is no doubt the cause of his indifferent work of late. Other hard luck has also been staring “Ken” in the face for several weeks, and he was almost broken down from the heavy strain on his mind. Kennedy has many friends here who will regret the news of his child’s illness.”

Little Frank soon recovered, and Nashville finished with a 72-67 record, 11 games behind pennant-winning Memphis. Talk began to circulate that Kennedy would sign with New Orleans for 1905. Instead he played for Shreveport where he led the league with 57 stolen bases, tied with 51 sacrifice hits, and batted .290.

For an unknown reason, he did not return to Shreveport until July 11, 1908. The Pirates were in a neck-and-neck battle with New Orleans and Birmingham for the top league spot, and he was immediately inserted into the lineup in a double header with Little Rock. He had two hits and stole a base in the split.

His speed and his bat did not return to him. When the season was over, his batting average had fallen to .189 in 69 games.

Whether another calamity had befallen him is not clear, but his late-season appearance and anemic performance may have spoken for his retirement from baseball.

A 5’10”, 165-lb. switch-hitter, he played all positions except pitcher and catcher for Nashville between 1901-1904. His team won the first two Southern Association championships. “Snapper” had a .292 batting average, and averaged 37 stolen bases in his four seasons with the club.

At the age of 66, he passed away on August 15, 1945 in Pasadena, Texas and is buried at Forest Park Lawndale Cemetery in Houston.

*Author’s note: It appears Sherman Kennedy is often confused with Albert Kennedy; baseball-reference.com shows both players with the same nickname “Snapper”.

SOURCES

Ancestry.com

Baseball-reference.com

Nashville American

Newspapers.com

Retrosheet.org

© 2016 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

[1] 1900 United States Federal Census, accessed November 1, 2016

[2] Lee, Bill. (2003) The Baseball Necrology: The Post-Baseball Lives and Deaths of Over 7,600 Major League Players and Others. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, Inc.

[3] Nashville American, July 16, 1902, p. 6

[4] Nashville American, May 31, 1903, p. 8

[5] Ibid. August 16, 1903, p. 6

[6] Ibid. February 29, 1904, p. 3

[7] Ibid. June 24, 1904, p. 7

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