Fracas at the Ballpark: Firemen and Policemen Battle at Sulphur Dell

In 1919, with the uncertainty of Nashville being able to play games on Sunday, Southern Association magnates published a schedule for the season which included games on the Sabbath[1]. Printed within the published league calendar where the words, “Southern League Will Take Chances In Playing Sunday Baseball”.

In fact, John D. Martin, president of the Southern Association, arrived in Nashville on March 27, just a few days after the schedule was approved, to urge the State Supreme Court to render an early decision in allowing Sunday baseball games[2]. He got his wish on April 12, when the Tennessee Supreme Court rendered their decision permitting Sunday baseball in the state. The court held that the blue laws of 1893, which were the basis for banning baseball on Sunday, do not apply to baseball as the game was not then being played[3].

On the day of Martin’s visit, Nashville’s spring training began at Sulphur Dell. It was going to be a long year.

By July 29 the ball club was mired in eighth and last place in the standings. With 39 wins and 52 losses, the Vols were facing a lengthy 12-day road trip beginning in Chattanooga, then New Orleans, Birmingham, and Mobile, finally returning home after a final road trip game on August 9 in Atlanta.[4]

In the meantime, Sulphur Dell did not sit idle.

Nashville’s amateur Volunteer League was comprised of eight teams: Rigo Chemical, Acorn Brand, Nashville Garage, Haury Selects (formerly known as Sparkman Bros.), L. Jonas & Co., Grandview, Postoffice [sic}, and the Orioles[5].

There was also a Commercial League: Gray & Dudley, Nashville Railway & Light Co., Telephone Company, National Casket Co., City Hall, Fourth & First National Bank, N. C. & St. L. Railway, and E. & N. Mfg. Co.[6]

The leagues mostly used Shelby Park’s two diamonds, ball fields at the Railway Company’s property, and a diamond at Centennial Park for games. But if the Vols were out of town, Sulphur Dell (often referred to as “Fifth and Jackson”) was included as a venue.

A game was played on Sunday, August 3 at Sulphur Dell between the Nashville police and fire department. Proceeds from the game were to go to their “Combined Benefit Fund” sick and death association.

The lineup for the Policemen included “Drennan, right field; Lonnie Martin centerfield; Lowe, third base; Dickie Swint, shortstop; “Give-Me” Rainey, left field; “Fourth Ward” Bracey, second base; Glennon, first base; “Tick” Robinson catcher; Cummings, pitcher. Subs for the Police: Varner and “Little Bracy [sic].”

Nashville Fire Department Team

Batting for the Firemen were “Hog Head” Goodwin right field; “Round Head” Farrell, centerfield; “Dough Boy” Dillard, third base; “Dutch” Eckhart, shortstop; “Cheese Head” Laitenburger, left field; “Red” Carter, second base’ “Gabby” Garrett, first base; “Piggy” Pegrum, catcher; “Old Head” Scruggs, pitcher. Subs were Davis and White.

As one can tell from the nicknames for many of the players, the day’s events were going to be lighthearted. Besides the game, a boxing match was to be held between Mayor Gupton and Chief of Police Alex Barthell, with Al Robinson as referee, along with a race between “Kidney Foot” Ferriss, Chris Kreig, and others following the game.

Besides the game, the highlight of the frivolities was to be a high-dive exhibition.

“Chief A. A. Rozetta of the fire department, George Drennan of the police force and “Sergeant” Tom Glenn, market house office, will attempt to excite the fans with a diving stunt. These three men, dressed in dainty bathing suits of the latest make-up, will dive headon [sic] from the top of the grandstand into a tank of water, twenty-five feet below.”[7]

With a batting assault that included 19 hits, the Police won, 13-1. Around 3,000 fans enjoyed the festivities. But the Firemen were not going to let the Policemen get away with another beating in a repeat performance, as reported in the August 4 edition of the Nashville Tennessean.

“After the game, the firemen met at headquarters and made a complete set of rules to be used in next year’s fracas. They are:

  1. All policemen must bat with their clubs
  2. The firemen must be allowed six outs to an inning
  3. Firemen must have nine runs before the game starts, and young “Boliver”  Cummins can’t pitch

To these rules the three outfielders of the Policemen’s team added:

4. Three beds must be placed in gardens for the policemen outfielders to take regular   naps on. They don’t need to be awake

  1. “Subject to change without notice.)[8]

The results of the boxing match, race, or diving are not reported.

© 2017 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

[1] “Playing Managers Favorites In Dixie,” The Sporting News, March 13, 1919, 10.

[2] “Martin Optimistic Over Sunday Games Case In Tennessee,” Atlanta Constitution, March 28, 1919, 8.

[3] “Sunday Baseball In State Allowed By Supreme Court,” Nashville Tennessean, April 13, 1919, 1

[4] “Vols Leave On Road Trip Of 12 Games,” Nashville Tennessean, July 29, 1919, 12.

[5] “Volunteer League,” Nashville Tennessean, August 28, 1919, 9.

[6] “Managers Commercial City League Meet Monday,” Nashville Tennessean, May 5, 1919, 10.

[7] “Firemen and Policemen Meet in Ball Game This Afternoon,” Nashville Tennessean, August 3, 1919, 35.

[8] “Policement Slaughter Ladder Lizards 13-1; Red Eye Cheers Firemen,” Nashville Tennessean, August 4, 1919, 11.

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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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Joe Engel, Baseball’s Promotion Genius Showed Nashville How It’s Done

These days major and minor league teams are known for fan giveaways; colleges have even picked up on the idea. Everything from “So-and-so Bobblehead Night”, “Cap Night”, “Warm-up Jacket Night”, “Bat Night”, and a plethora of other products have joined “Used Car Night”, “Cancer Awareness Night”, “Faith Night”, and many others.

These have become staple concepts, as teams attempt to out “-Night” each other, all to stimulate attendance and encourage fans to get behind their team, give to a charity, or just have fun. Giveaways and promotions did not begin with the new surge of minor league team popularity in the 1970s.

Chattanooga’s Joe Engel, owner of the Lookouts and ball park in which his team performed, is considered one of the greatest promoters of all time. Dubbed the “P. T. Barnum of the Bush Leagues”, he was honored by Minor League Baseball as “King of Baseball” for his service to the Game.[1]

Engel once raffled away a fully furnished house, signed 17-year-old female Jackie Mitchell to pitch in an exhibition game against the New York Yankees (she struck out Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig), and traded a player for a turkey (“The turkey was having a better year”).[2]

The promotions were a great draw, and when teams needed a boost in lagging attendance, Engel’s successes were often emulated.

The Nashville Vols had their share of promotions. “Money Night” on a hot August evening in 1953 went awry as three fans have ticket stubs bearing the lucky number. After a bit of a rhubarb ensued, only one is determined to be the proper series and the holder carries $800.30 from a pile of silver coins placed on the mound).

“Car Night” was held at Sulphur Dell between double header games in 1956, “Knot Hole Night” drew young fans to the ballpark (usually with a parent in tow), and businesses would give tickets away for “Esso Night” and “Jersey Farms Night”.

On July 21, 1954, Nashville lost to Atlanta, 4-2. Surprisingly, attendance is a low total of 624 fans; 252 were members of the “Knot Hole Gang”, meaning only 372 people paid for a ticket to the game.

Nashville acted quickly, deciding to promote the next day’s double header as “Tee shirt Night”, giving each youngster 6 to 12 who purchased an admission ticket a Vols tee shirt.

The promotion helped attract 2,620 for the July 22 double header with the Crackers. Atlanta won the opener 16-3, and the Vols won the second game 8-6 (both games took the same amount of time, two hours and seven minutes). The fans were treated to a couple of extra treats: Nashville’s Bob Lennon, in his quest to win the Southern Association’s triple crown, blasted home runs number 44 and 45, bring him within eight of tying the league record.

Lennon would end the season with 64 homers, a record never matched. Before that, however, he was honored with “Bob Lennon Night” on August 29, 1954. He was given an engraved black bat from Louisville Slugger and a trophy from league President Charley Hurth for his special season.

Fans received an 8 x 10 photo of Lennon.

The promotion attracted 5,419 fans, and was the best attended event that season since opening day. Lennon gave fans an added treat by smashing round-tripper number 56.

With more promoting being done than ever before, Nashville’s home attendance would still end the season at 89,470. It had not been that low since the year World War II ended: 89,470 in 1945.

But the next day after Nashville’s “T-shirt Night” at Sulphur Dell, Joe Engel was honored by his hometown with his own “Joe Engel Night” with a luncheon and buffet after the night’s game between his Lookouts and Birmingham.

And how did he plan on celebrating? He was going to hold another “Money Night”.

“I’m going to have one drawing for the women, another for the men, and the third for children under 16 years of age…Why not give each of them a chance? Besides, it’s not my money.”[3]

[1] “King of Baseball Award by Minor League Baseball,” Baseball-Almanac, http://www.baseball-almanac.com/awards/kingofbaseballaward.shtml, accessed July 22, 2017

[2] Steve Martini. “Joe Engel,” The Engel Foundation, http://www.engelfoundation.com/historical-importance/joe-engel/, accessed July 22, 2017.

[3] Raymond Johnson, “Chattanoogans Will Honor Joe Engel Today,” One Man’s Opinion column, Nashville Tennessean, July 23, 1954, p. 37

Sources

Baseball-reference.com

Nashville Tennessean

Newspapers.com

Paper of Record via Sabr.org

The Sporting News

© 2017 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

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Lucky Number 17 for Nashville’s Bob Kelly

In 1976, Atlanta Braves owner Ted Turner encouraged some of his players to use a nickname on the back of their jerseys, above the number. One of them was pitcher Andy Messersmith, who wore number 17, and Turner had “Channel” added. The problem was, that was the cable television station owned by the media mastermind, and commissioner Bowie Kuhn put a stop to it (Messersmith chose “Bluto” instead).[1]

The first team to wear numbers on the back of their uniforms were the New York Yankees on June 30, 1929. Numbers were chosen based on the players’ batting position, and that’s why Babe Ruth wore number 3 and Lou Gehrig 4. Other teams followed suit; the Cleveland Indians were next a few weeks later. By 1931 all teams had begun the standard we know today, although numbers were chosen for a variety of reasons, not according to batting order.[2]

Researching Nashville Vols player numbers according to game program lineups has been a fun project. My friend Tony Roberts has been doing in for several years, and we have each been creating a database to keep up. Any time  we can get our hands on a score card, we go into “check the numbers” mode.

It is interesting to find that a player who started the season with one number may not have held on to that same number throughout the year. For example, if a player was out for a few games or went on the DL (disabled list), upon his return he may have found that a teammate liked that number a little better, and chose to wear the returning player’s jersey; especially if that new jersey was the worn when a special home run was hit or a great play was made.

One of the most peculiar changes in number was by Vols pitcher Bob Kelly for his game on July 20, 1957. After failing to gain his 17th win in three consecutive starts, he switched his jersey number from 16 to 17.

Kelly struggled through 11 innings, but the Vols took the win 7-6 over Chattanooga, breaking Nashville’s losing streak at 5 games, the Lookouts winning streak at 6, and giving Kelly his desired win number 17.

One change made in the game did not hinder his effort: he was forced to remove his undershirt in the third inning, as Lookouts manager Cal Ermer protested to umpires that it was too loose, and hampered his player’s vision at the plate.

Let’s give Kelly his win based on a new jersey number and not for having to remove his baseball undershirt.

By the way, having previously pitched for the Chicago Cubs (1951-1953) and Cincinnati Reds (1953), he would lead the Southern Association with a 24-11 record in 1957. He would return to the majors with Cincinnati and Cleveland in 1958 before retiring.

Note: Are players superstitious? Neither Tony nor I have found a Nashville player to have worn number 13.

[1] Paul Lukas. “Where the jerseys have no name,” http://www.espn.com/espn/page2/story?page=lukas/041202, accessed July 20, 2017.

[2] David Hill. “Yankees History: Yankees First Team to Number Uniforms,” http://www.foxsports.com/mlb/story/yankees-history-yankees-first-team-to-number-uniforms-012217, accessed July 20, 2017.

Sources

Baseball-reference.com

Nashville Banner

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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McCall’s Near Shutout, English’s Eight RBI, and Brewster’s Behind-the-Back Flip

Eyeing a second pennant in three years, Nashville begins a 10-day home stand by winning an important double header over Birmingham on July 19, 1942 in Sulphur Dell. After a first-game slug fest, in the second contest Vol left fielder Cal Chapman barely misses snagging a long fly ball, nullifying Dutch McCall’s potential second straight shutout. In his previous start, McCall allowed only three Memphis hits in a 1-0 whitewash of the Chicks, also at Nashville’s home ballpark.

The last time a Nashville pitcher tossed two shutouts in the same season at Sulphur Dell was Ace Adams in 1940. Two major league scouts are in attendance to see McCall’s performance and watch slugging center fielder Charley Workman, who had only one hit but leads the Southern Association with 18 home runs.

Gus Dugas, who had his 16th homer in the opener, drove in two runs in each game, increasing his total to 95, and Charley English added eight to finish with 88 RBI. He had three singles, two doubles, and a home run to accomplish his brilliant performance.

In the two games, shortstop Charlie Brewster started three double plays, but the highlight play was in the nightcap when he nabbed a drive over second and flipped the ball behind his back to second baseman Johnny Mihalic for a force out. In the first game, Mihalic had nine chances and six putouts, while Brewster contributed five hits on the day.

With two wins against the Barons, 11-10 and 10-1, Nashville closes to within ½ game of Little Rock and Atlanta, who are tied for first place in league standings.

Sources

Nashville Tennessean

newspapers.com

Raymond Johnson, “Vols Closer to Rim Now Than Any Time Since April 20,” One Man’s Opinion  column, Nashville Tennessean, July 20, 1942, p. 10.

Raymond Johnson, “Vols Kick Barons Twice, Move Within Half-Game of Top,” Nashville Tennessean, July 20, 1942, p. 10

© 2017 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

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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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