Tag Archives: Atlanta Crackers

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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Too Little, Too Late

Integration did not come to the Southern Association until a 1954 experiment by Atlanta Crackers owner Earl Mann, when Nat Peeples was inserted as a pinch hitter in the Crackers’ season opener in Mobile. A week later, he was sent down to Jacksonville after appearing in two games and coming to the plate four times.

Reportedly, Mann considered the same action the previous season with a different negro player who was playing in Jacksonville: Henry Aaron. For whatever reason, the future Hall of Famer was not selected and had an outstanding season with the South Atlantic League club.

There was no Southern Association rule that kept rosters segregated. But with teams in New Orleans (the franchise would cease to exist after 1959, replaced by Little Rock), Nashville, Memphis (replaced by Macon after 1960), Birmingham, Atlanta, Shreveport, Mobile, and Chattanooga, civil rights issues were just coming to the forefront of American culture, and integration never occurred.

However, a Birmingham city ordinance prohibited integrated games from taking place on city-owned fields, and Louisiana state law did not allow different races to participate in sporting events together.

One occurence brought attention to the situation: in August of 1960, after six years as the parent organization of the Nashville Volunteers, Cincinnati withdrew its affiliation. Without negro players, said Reds GM Gabe Paul, development of potential players could not properly take place.

In his August 30, 1960 Sports Showcase column, Nashville Tennessean sports writer F. M. Williams quotes Paul on the issue:

“Having a team in the farm system, at Double A level, where Negro players cannot perform creates a void that hinders the entire player development program, he says. Player development is expensive at best, and it becomes even more so when there is one link in the chain that does not help the best young players.”

Williams’ opening lines in his column predict a dim future for the trouble league, emphasizing a rule (unwritten or not) of segregation and acknowledging the tension in race relations:

“If Gabe Paul’s thinking is in line with that of other major league executives, time is running out on Double A baseball.

“Paul took a public stand against the Southern league’s policy of not using Negro players. This is the first time, to my knowledge, that any big league executive has used the racial issue to establish farm policy.

“Eventually it could lead to a Southern boycott.”

On August 31, the Tennessean published an Associated Press story that the American League announced plans to expand to 10 teams by 1962.[1] The National League had previously agreed to absorb up to four teams of the proposed Continental League, but followed suit with an announcement during the World Series that Houston and New York would become members of the league.[2]

nashville-tennessean-08-30-1960-gabe-paul-quote-cincinnati-reds-nashville-vols-08-29-1960If Gabe Paul knew of the plans, which certainly would change the course of developing players, it appears he did not let the directors of the Nashville club know.

Minnesota Twins* farm director Sherry Robertson offered an affiliation proposal to Vols general manager Bill Harbour on January 20, 1961. The agreement was ratified by Nashville board members on February 9.

Vice-President Lyndon Johnson was invited to throw out the first pitch at Sulphur Dell on April 8, and the Southern Association began its final season. Team owners did nothing to integrate the storied league, but waning attendance was the final culprit in its demise.

By season’s end, one of Williams’ predictions had come true, as time ran out on Double A baseball. Nashville drew only 64,450 for the entire season.

Attempts to revive the league went for naught, even though on October 31 a federal judge ruled that Birmingham, Alabama, laws against integrated playing fields were illegal, eliminating the last barrier against integration in the Southern Association.

On January 24, 1962, the Southern Association suspended operations “due to a lack of enough major league working agreements.”

*The original Washington Senators, now relocated to Minneapolis-St. Paul; a new expansion team was set in Washington as a replacement.

[1] Corrigan, Ed. Associated Press. “AL Votes to Expand to 10 Teams by ’62”. Nashville Tennessean, August 31, 1960

[2] McCue, Andy and Thompson, Eric. “Mis-Management 101: The American League Expansion for 1961”. Published in The National Pastime: Endless Seasons: Baseball in Southern California, 2011. Phoenix: Society for American Baseball Research, 42

SOURCES

baseball-reference.com

Nashville Tennessean

newspapers.com

Paper of Record

sabr.org

© 2016 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

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Sulphur Dell Circuses and Slugfests

In what must be one of baseball’s most productive offensive games ever in Sulphur Dell, Chattanooga outlasted Nashville 24-17 in the second game of a double header on Wednesday, June 12, 1946.

With the Shrine Circus scheduled for a five-day run at the historic ballpark the next week, sportswriter Raymond Johnson offered his view by comparing the wild game to circus shenanigans under the sub-heading “Vol-Lookout Gyrations Bring To Mind Shrine Circus”:

“…it is extremely doubtful if the circus will provide more amusing things than some of the comical and, at times, stupid play Those Vols, their rivals, and the umpires – let’s not forget them – have in the Dell this week.”[1]

Nashville won the first game that day by a score of 4-3, but the night cap was one for the record books.

Nashville Tennessean, 06-17-1946 Shrine Circus Sulphur Dell

Nashville and Southern Association rival Chattanooga set a league record for most hits in one game for both teams with 51 and tied a league record for runs scored in a game with 41. There were 109 official times at-bat, 29 left on base, 15 doubles, three home runs, and a total of 71 bases.[2]

What does not show up in the box score are other zany happenings.

Twenty-eight players, 12 Lookouts and 16 Vols, took part in the game. Nine pitchers, six Vols and three Lookouts, took his turn on the mound. There were four hit batsmen and nine errors.

In the first inning, Nashville’s Joe Stringfellow golfed a long home run out of the ballpark, and a few batters later second baseman Jim Shilling hit an infield popup which Lookouts third baseman Ray Goolsby, first baseman Jack Sanford, and pitcher Larry Brunke dropped between them. Shilling later pitched two innings for Nashville.

There was even a protest, although only rules interpretations can be protested, not judgement calls. In the fourth inning Chattanooga’s Hillis Layne hit a fly ball that hit the right field screen and dropped down to settle at the top of the wooden fence. Base umpire Lyn Dowdy ruled it a ground-rule double, but plate umpire Paul Blackard thought the ball had cleared the fence and gave the signal for a home run.

Nashville outfielders Stringfellow and Pete Thomassie convinced Blackard that the ball was clearly visible on top of the fence and the arbiter reversed his decision. The decision brought manager Bert Niehoff out of the Lookouts dugout to argue that the ball on the fence could have been one hit there during batting practice. After discussing the issue, both umpires ruled once again that, in fact, Hillis should be credited with a home run. Larry Gilbert protested the game at that point, to no avail.

A blowout game had happened in Atlanta’s Ponce De Leon ballpark a few seasons before, with similar results.

In a 26-13 win over the Crackers on August 18, 1943, every Nashville player collected at least one hit, scored at least one run, and all except Charlie Brewster knocked in at least one run[3].  Charlie Gilbert went to the plate eight times in the game, and the entire team totaled 58 plate appearances and 29 base hits.

First baseman Mel Hicks started the Vols scoring spree with a three-run homer in the first inning, and Ed Sauer added another four-bagger for two runs in the fifth. It was the 10th home run on the season for the pair. After three innings the Vols had scored 14 runs, then added five more in the fifth.

The Crackers made it interesting by scoring 11 runs in the final three innings, but by then Nashville increased their total with three more in the seventh and four in the ninth, which included a steal of home by third baseman Pete Elko for the final Vols tally.

Gritty Vols manager Larry Gilbert called on outfielder Calvin Chapman and catcher Walt Ringhofer to direct the ball club in his absence, flying from Atlanta to attend the wedding of team owner Fay Murray’s daughter Emily on that day.[4]

One of the highest scoring games in Vols history, the previous record had occurred two years prior in Chattanooga.

On the third day of the 1941 season in Chattanooga on April 13, Nashville won 25-1 by sending 19 batters to the plate in the seventh and final inning of the second game. Vols outfielder Oris Hockett hit a grand slam and catcher Marvin Felderman drove in three runs with a single to clear the bases, accounting for seven of the runs. With 15 runs in the frame, the Vols came within one of the league record for runs scored in an inning, set by Little Rock against Nashville on April 25, 1929.[5]

Big scores continued six days later on April 19 Nashville won 20-1 at Sulphur Dell, and the next day as the Vols pounded the Lookouts again 21-9.[6]

Rivalries between opponents created some of the most memorable games in Southern Association history, complete with all-time marks, record stats, and individual performances. The success of Nashville’s franchise during the 1940s includes noteworthy performances such as these.

[1] Johnson, Raymond. “One Man’s Opinion”. Nashville Tennessean, p. 40, June 14, 1946.

[2] Nashville Tennessean, April 13, 1946, p. 19

[3] Nashville Tennessean, August 19, 1943, p. 18

[4] The Sporting News, August 26, 1943, p. 19

[5] The Sporting News, April 24, 1941, p. 11

[6] Johnson, Raymond. “One Man’s Opinion”. Nashville Tennessean, p. 32, August 20, 1943.

Sources

baseball-reference.com

newspapers.com

paperofrecord.com

sabr.org

© 2016 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

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Jimmy Wasdell’s Breakout Game

Not necessarily known as a power hitter, Nashville’s Jimmy Wasdell had a special game at Sulphur Dell on May 27, 1936 that proved otherwise. Facing Little Rock’s big 6’4”, 210 lb. right-hander Joe Mulligan and reliever Charlie Burgess, Wasdell had three hits and drove in seven runs to lead the Vols to a 12-5 win over the Travelers.

Nashville Tennessean 05-28-1936 Nashville Little Rock Box Score 05-27-1936Appearing in only his twelfth game in a Nashville uniform, 20-year-old Wasdell raised his batting average from .289 to .320, increased his RBI totals from eight to 15, and slammed his first home run of the season, a grand slam. He scored three runs and added two doubles to complete his evening’s feat.

Third baseman Jimmy Outlaw added two singles as submarine thrower Byron Speece won his 10th game of the season by holding Little Rock to one hit in the first six innings before allowing two additional hits in the last three frames. Tiring in the late innings, his teammates secured his victory by scoring 12 runs in the first two-thirds of the game when “Lord Byron” was at his best.

With the win, the Nashville club held second place with a 26-17 record, 7 ½ games behind front-runner and defending champion Atlanta.

Wasdell was holding down the first sack as the seventh Vols player to play the position on the young season. Raised in Cleveland and signed by the hometown club, Jimmy had been a pitcher in the local sandlots. Sent to Zanesville (Class C – Middle Atlantic League) as an outfielder he led the club in hitting (.357), doubles (54), and home runs (19).

Moved to Minneapolis (Class A – American Association) to begin the 1936 season, he was moved to the outfield when he could not beat out Millers first baseman Joe Hauser. On May 14 Wasdell was sent to Nashville to provide stability at first base and add an additional left-handed hitter in manager Lance Richbourg’s lineup.

Jimmy started but was hitless on May 15, then secured his first hit the next day against Memphis’ Sol Carter, scoring a run in the process.  Over the course of nearly two weeks, Wasdell would average one hit per game until his breakout event.

But on June 26, a pitch thrown by Chattanooga Lookouts lefty Dick Lanahan caught Wasdell square on the chin, breaking his jaw. At the time Jimmy had been hitting at a .339 pace, and had socked 8 homers as the Vols chased the Atlanta Crackers in the standings.

Out for better than two weeks, upon his return he maintained his hitting and fielding but teammates thought he never recovered his power hitting after the injury.

Nashville ended the year seven games behind first-place Atlanta, who topped the loop with a 94-59 regular season record. The Vols garnered second-place at 86-65. Appearing in 88 games, Wasdell’s season average would stand at .336 on 107 hits, 22 doubles, and 12 home runs.

In the off-season, Wasdell would be traded to Chattanooga, a Washington Senators farm club, where he batted .319. Appearing in 32 games for the Senators near the end of the 1937 season, he jumped between the majors and minors over the course of the next 15 seasons and would play for Washington, Brooklyn, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia Cleveland before retiring in 1949.

On a special night in a game played at Sulphur Dell on May 27, 1936, Wasdell broke out of a slump and thumped Little Rock pitching to jumpstart his special season for Nashville.

© 2016 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

Sources

baseball-reference.com

newspapers.com

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Nashville’s Larry Gilbert and Six Seasons of Glory 1939-1944

Before Gilbert

Nashville had been the winner of four Southern Association pennants in the first 16 years of the league’s existence: 1901, 1902, 1908, and 1916. It would be a long drought, over two decades long, before another championship would occur.

Murray-HamiltonFay Murray and Jimmy Hamilton purchased the club in 1931. From 1931 – 1938 the team finished second three times with an overall record of 686 -674. Nashville finished in second place in the Southern Association for 1938 and Brooklyn Dodgers general manager Larry MacPhail added Vols manager Chuck Dressen to Leo Durocher’s staff for the 1939 season.

The move paved the way for Vols owner Fay Murray to offer Larry Gilbert the managerial position and an ownership stake in the Nashville club if he would leave New Orleans. In 18 seasons Gilbert’s teams had won 1,392 and lost 1,035 (.574).

1939: The Coup

Larry_Gilbert_LetterDuring negotiations in Montgomery, Alabama on November 4, 1938 Larry Gilbert, veteran manager of New Orleans, was promised that if he would leave the Pelicans and his hometown, he would be given one-half share of the Nashville club. Full reign of daily operations would be his at a salary of $10,000. On November 8 owner Fay Murray announced that Gilbert was the new Nashville Vols manager. Jimmy Hamilton’s share of the Vols had been purchased by Murray to make possible the deal offered to Gilbert. On November 9, Gilbert began his first day on the job.

In his first season he lead Nashville to third place behind Chattanooga and Memphis. First baseman Bert Haas won the batting title (.365). Nashville became the Southern Association’s representative in the Dixie Playoffs by defeating Atlanta four games to three in the playoffs, and in the Dixie Series, Ft. Worth won over Nashville four games to three.

1940: Dream Season

On March 2 Baron “Boots” Poffenberger was purchased by Nashville from the Brooklyn Dodgers. Proving his eye for talent, Larry Gilbert took a chance on the bad boy pitcher who once had been suspended. No manager really knew how to handle him, but in 1940, Poffenberger would lead the league with a 26-9 record; no pitcher equaled his win total in the history of the Southern Association.

Gilbert knew how to handle him.

With the weather around 39 degrees, the Vols took a 6-0 lead and coast to a 12-8 opening day victory on April 12 over the Atlanta Crackers before a Sulphur Dell crowd of 8,206 chilly fans. The team never fell out of first place the entire season, and the starting lineup remained intact throughout the season with only two roster changes to the pitching staff in mid-season.

Nashville_Vols_1940_2Nashville finished the season with a 101-47 (.682) record as Arnold Moser lead the league in hits (216), Bob Boken and Gus Dugas tied with 118 RBI, Dugas has 22 home runs, and Ace Adams strikes out 122. For the second year in a row, seven starters hit over .300.

In the first round of the playoffs Nashville shut out Chattanooga three games to none, and on September 10, Nashville pitcher George Jeffcoat struck out seven consecutive Lookouts on his way to tallying a league record of eighteen.

Trouncing Atlanta four games to two to take the Southern Association Shaughnessy Playoffs title, Nashville won its first Dixie Series over Texas League champion Houston four games to one.

1941: Tragedy, Loss, and Victory

The laurels that surrounded the previous season changed to apprehension at the beginning of 1941, as beloved team owner Fay Murray passed away on March 4 just before spring training. Manager Gilbert faced a completely revamped lineup and injuries to key players Gus Dugas, Les Fleming, and John Mihalic during the season.

Boots Poffenberger was suspended by the league for throwing a ball at an umpire on June 24, and in August personal tragedy occurred for Larry Gilbert in the death of one of his sons, Larry Gilbert, Jr.

1941_SeasonPassA multitude of rainouts resulted in an unkind twin-bill schedule to end the season. The brutal series of double-headers began on August 17 and ended on September 7. Fourteen double-headers were played during the last twenty-two days of the regular season, including seven twin-tilts in a row. Nashville won 18 games during the spree.

Gilbert piloted his charges to a second-place regular-season finish at 83-70 (.542), 15 ½ games behind Atlanta as Les Fleming lead the league with a .414 season batting average. Oris Hockett at .359 and Tommy Tatum at .347 finish second and third; only two starters hit below .300.

Nashville won the Southern Association Shaughnessy Playoffs by beating the New Orleans Pelicans three games to one, and ousted regular season champion Atlanta Crackers four games to three. In the Dixie Series, Nashville had little trouble taking the Texas League champion Dallas Rebels in four straight games. The Vols’ pitching staff had three complete games, with only one reliever being used the entire series. It was the Vols’ second straight Dixie title.

1942: Three for Three

In the first inning of the second game of a double-header in Knoxville on April 19, the first nine Nashville batters each got on base with a hit, a walk, or an error, The same nine scored in succession: Roy Marion, Jim Shilling, Legrant Scott, Gus Dugas, Charley English, Charley Workman, Mickey Kreitner, Johnny Mihalic, and Dutch McCall pulled off the exploit.

Nashville_Vols_1942On August 17 Nashville scored ten runs in the first inning before the Lookouts can retire a batter. Final score: Nashville 21, Chattanooga 6. Three Vols batter each has 5 hits: Charley Workman, Charles Brewster, and Roy Marion.

Nashville ended the year four-and-a-half games behind first-place Little Rock. Charlie Workman lead the league in home runs with 29, and Charlie English in hits (201), RBI (139), doubles (50), and batting average (.341) as George Jeffcoat lead in strikeouts with 146.

Winning over Birmingham three games to one in the first round, the Vols upended Little Rock four to none to take the playoffs. In the Dixie Series, Nashville won over the Texas League champion Shreveport Sports in six games. It was Nashville’s third consecutive Dixie Series title, the only team in the title series history to accomplish the feat.

1943: Back in First Place

CGilbert_FBCharlie Gilbert returned to Nashville to play for his father once again in 1943. He had played on his father’s first Nashville team in 1939 and would later return to the Vols again in 1948.

In a 26-13 win over Atlanta on August 18, every Nashville player in the game got at least one hit, scored at least one run, and all except Charles Brewster knocked in at least one run. Charlie Gilbert batted eight times in the game as the entire team totaled 58 plate appearances and 29 base hits.

With a split-season format, Nashville finished atop the standings in the first half (75-49). In the second half the Vols finished second (34-29) with an overall record of 83-55 (.601), best in the league. Only one starter hit below .300 as Ed Sauer won the batting title (.368) and pitcher Mack Stewart lead in pitching percentage (18-5, .783).

With a 12-hit barrage on September 13, the Vols roughed up four Pelicans pitchers to win the Southern Association championship in New Orleans, 7-0. A crowd of 6,437 attended the game, including 1,975 military personnel. The series ended 4 games to 1.

With World War II raging in Europe and the Pacific, there is no Dixie Series for the first time in 24 years.

1944: The Last of Six Straight

1944On March 3, Charles Fred “Red” Lucas, sold to the New York Giants in 1922 by the Vols, returned to Nashville as pitcher, pinch-hitter, and coach. It would be key to success of the team as the experienced Lucas would become Larry Gilbert’s chief assistant during the season.

In the second year of a split-season, Nashville finished 32-36 in the first half, and 47-25 (79-61 combined), taking the second half crown on the last day of the season.

Mel Hicks lead the league in home runs with 16, pitcher Boyd Teplar lead in winning percentage (12-2, .857) and strikeouts with 147. Seven starters batted over .300.

In the seventh game of the Southern Association playoffs, Nashville won over Memphis 11-10 for the championship.

The Larry Gilbert Legend

On September 8, 1948, in his final game as manager, Gilbert was honored for 25 years as a manager in the Southern Association. 6,509 fans gathered at Sulphur Dell as Gilbert was awarded a Chrysler New Yorker, a television set, and 12-place silver setting.  Friends and dignitaries attending the event included Commissioner A. B. Chandler, George M. Trautman, president of the National Association, and Southern Association president Charlie Hurth, calling testament to Gilbert’s reputation among his baseball brethren.

By winning win one more regular season championship in 1948 with a 95-58 (.621) record, Gilbert’s tutelage in Nashville would include league titles in 1940, 1943, 1948, 1949, and 1953. Dixie Playoff titles were won in 1940, 1941, 1942, and 1949.

He finished with a 736 – 592 (.554) career record with Nashville. Overall he was 2,128-1,627 (.567) in 25 seasons. Gilbert maintained ownership in the Nashville Vols until 1955 when in May he sold his share of the club and moved back to New Orleans. He passed away February 17, 1965 and was buried in Greenwood Cemetery in New Orleans.

The 1940 team was honored as the 47th best minor league team of all time in celebration of the 100th season of Minor League Baseball in 2001.

© Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

Resources:
ancestry.com
baseball-reference.com
Davidson County/Metro Nashville Archives
newspapers.com
southernassociationbaseball.com
The Sporting News
Tennessean
Wright, Marshall D. The Southern Association in Baseball, 1885-1961. Jefferson, NC, United States: McFarland & Co. 2002.

Author’s note: Nashville’s Larry Gilbert and Six Seasons of Glory, 1939-1944 was presented at the 13th Annual Southern Association Conference at Rickwood Field on March 5, 2016. Special thanks goes to Rickwood Field Executive Director David Brewer, Clarence Watkins and the Friends of Rickwood. Additional thanks to Bill Traughber, Derby Gisclair, and Tony Roberts.

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Fast Track Through Nashville: Lefty Jim O’Toole

Jim O’Toole was signed by Cincinnati on December 23, 1957 for $50,000, paid over four years, coming off a 4-1 college season for the University of Wisconsin. He struck out 15 batters in three different games for the Badgers.

JO'TooleThat summer he played semi-pro baseball for Mitchell, South Dakota in the Basin League where he had an 8-1 won-lost record and 2.79 ERA[1]. With nine other clubs interested in his services, the large contract was an investment general manager Gabe Paul was willing to make. Averaging 12 strikeouts per game in the summer league might have had something to do with it, furthering the Reds’ intent on signing him.[2]

The son of a Chicago policeman, the 6’1” 195-lb. O’Toole’s high school did not field a baseball team, but he played in area amateur leagues and took up boxing.

His reputation began in his teens as he missed tossing no-hitters on three occasions where he allowed a hit in the final inning and once struck out 19.[3]

Assigned to Nashville after spring training, he immediately showed the Reds that he would be worthy of their confidence. With the letters “T-H-I-N-K” written on the fingers of his glove[4], on April 18, 1958 the 21-year-old shut out the Chattanooga Lookouts 1-0, allowing only four hits.

Four days later he struck out five but walked 10, gaining the win over Chattanooga as Nashville catcher Vic Comoli had a grand-slam home run in the first inning to lead the Vols to a 15-7 win over the Lookouts.

Jim won three of his first four decisions as a professional, but he continued to impress. On May 3, he nearly tossed the first no-hit, no-run game at Sulphur Dell in 42 years in a 14-0 route of Little Rock. With two outs in the ninth inning former St. Louis Cardinal Harry Elliott hits a single, and Ben Downs adds another before Jim retired Lou Heymans to end the game. O’Toole finishes with a two-hitter.

He earned his fifth win in six decisions on May 12. Throwing a five-hitter in an 8-2 win over Mobile, he broke one of manager Dick Sisler’s team rules by walking the opposing pitcher. Jim was fined $1.00 which was collected for the player’s party account.[5]

The warmer weather of June proved to be of Jim’s liking. On June 3 Nashville won over Little Rock 4-2 as the Vols scored three runs without hitting the ball out of the infield. Two walks, three singles and an error help break open a pitching duel between Nashville’s O’Toole and the Travelers’ Al Grunwald, with Jim improving his pitching record to 7-3 with the win.

On June 11 Nashville ends a six-game losing streak at Hartwell Field in Mobile as the left-hander blanked the Bears on six hits, 3-0.  It is O’Toole’s third shutout and ninth win of the season.

Not only did he shut out New Orleans on four hits on June 20, Jim slugged his first home run and was perfect at the plate in three appearances. The Vols beat the Pelicans 16-0 as he registered his fourth shutout of the season and eleventh victory.

He pitched fourteen innings on June 24 in leading the Vols over Memphis 3-2, the Chicks’ ninth loss in the ten games.  O’Toole raises his record to 12-3 with the victory, lowers his league-leading ERA to 2.07, and his twelve complete games, 106 strikeouts, and 152 innings also lead the Southern Association.

O’Toole was a unanimous selection to the leagues’ July 16 All Star game and was named the starter by All Star manager, Nashville’s Dick Sisler. Jim pitched the first two innings, gave up two hits, and was credited with the 4-0 victory over host Atlanta Crackers. Four days earlier he improved his record to 14-4 in a win over Atlanta, giving him a win over each team in the circuit. A six-hit win over Memphis on July 22 gave him victory number 15.

Jim added to his credentials in a mid-season poll of all Southern Association managers compiled by Nashville Banner sports editor, Fred Russell. O’Toole was voted number one major league prospect in the league, picked as one of the fastest pitchers, and surprisingly one of the fastest base runners.[6]

He became the league’s first 17-game winner of the season with a 4-3 win over New Orleans on August 5.

It was the only full season Jim spent in the minors. His totals for Nashville were impressive: 180 innings pitched in 35 games, 21 complete games, a 20-8 record and 2.44 ERA.

Called up to the parent Reds, he appeared in one game in Milwaukee. Starting against the Braves on September 26, O’Toole allowed one unearned run on four hits, striking out four and walking five in the Braves 2-1 win over Cincinnati.

He was selected to the AA and A All Star team by the National Association of Sports Writers, and was named the player in the minors who made the most rapid advancement toward major league status for the season. Jim was also selected to the Southern Association’s All Star team, and a unanimous choice of the loop’s top rookie at season’s end.

He would have a 10-year major league career, nine with the Reds and one with the Chicago White Sox. Never a 20-game winner, he made the National League All Star team in 1963, and had five consecutive seasons of 10 or more wins. Perhaps his best season came in 1964 when he was 17-7 with a 2.66 ERA.

In his first year of eligibility in 1970 O’Toole was inducted into the Reds Hall of Fame. Born on January 10, 1937, he passed away on December 26, 2015.

© 2015 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

[1]The Sporting News, January 1, 1958 p. 6

[2] Ibid., January 15, 1958, p. 16

[3] Ibid., June 11, 1958, p. 55

[4] Ibid., October 8, 1958, p. 10

[5] Ibid., May 21, 1958, p. 35

[6] Ibid., August 6, 1959, p. 36

Additional Sources

Retrosheet.org

Baseball-Reference.com

 

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Nashville Plays Two

It had been a remarkable year for Larry Gilbert’s Nashville Vols in 1940. Everything had fallen into place: the three regular outfielders batted no less than .336, the starting lineup remained intact during the entire season, pitcher Cletus “Boots” Poffenberger stayed out of trouble enough to lead the league with a 26-9 record, and the Vols won their first game of the season to remain at the top of the league standings the entire year.

Nashville captured the Southern Association regular-season pennant over second-place Atlanta by 9 ½ games and finished 101-47.

Breezing through the league playoffs by shutting out Chattanooga three games to none and trouncing Atlanta four games to two to take the Southern Association Shaughnessy Playoffs title, Nashville won the Dixie Series by thumping Texas League champion Houston four games to one.

In 2001 the 1940 team was honored as the 47th best minor league team of all time in celebration of the 100th season of Minor League Baseball. It had been a dream season.

1941_SeasonPassThe laurels that surrounded the previous season changed to apprehension at the beginning of 1941, as beloved team owner Fay Murray passed away just before spring training. Manager Gilbert was soon facing a completely revamped lineup, and injuries to key players Gus Dugas, Les Fleming, and John Mihalic created doubt for repeated success. Adding to the disorder, pitcher “Boots” Poffenberger was suspended by the league for throwing a ball at an umpire on June 24, and in August personal tragedy occurred for Larry Gilbert in the death of one of his sons, Larry Gilbert, Jr.

On July 27 at a Sunday double-header versus Chattanooga a ceremony was held honoring Gilbert as “Outstanding Minor League Manager” of 1940 by The Sporting News. Gilbert addressed the fans by saying, “but for injuries to some of our key players this season, I feel confident that we would have been up there battling Atlanta for the pennant”. As the season headed into August, Nashville was in second-place a full 16 games behind league-leading Atlanta.

It was still going to be another outstanding year for Larry Gilbert and the Vols, but included in the year’s turmoil was a multitude of rain outs that resulted in an unkind twin-bill schedule to end the season. It came close to the baseball record for consecutive double-headers played set by Boston (NL) in 1928 with nine.

The brutal series of double-headers began on August 17 and ended on September 7 at season’s end. Fourteen double-headers were played during the last twenty-two days of the regular season, including seven twin-tilts in a row:

Date Location Opponent Scores update

Gilbert had the mettle to pilot his charges to hang on to their second-place regular-season finish, as Les Fleming led the league with a .414 season batting average and Oris Hockett (.359) and Tommy Tatum (.347) finished second and third.

Nashville won the Southern Association Shaughnessy Playoffs by beating the New Orleans Pelicans three-games-to-one, and ousted the regular season champion Atlanta Crackers four-games-to-three.

In the Dixie Series, Nashville had little trouble taking the Texas League champion Dallas Rebels in four straight games. It was the Vols’ second straight Dixie title and perhaps Larry Gilbert’s most valiant effort.

© 2015 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

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