Tag Archives: Babe Ruth

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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Famous Teams, Stars Played Exhibitions at Sulphur Dell on April 4

Major-league ball clubs, training in the southern part of the United States, scheduled exhibition games as they made their way homeward, primarily against minor-league clubs. April 4 was a popular date for such games in Nashville as the teams worked their way toward opening day. Often, the starting lineup consisted of the most famous stars against the hometown team.

In 1906, the Chicago Americans defeated Nashville 6-2 in a game that took 1 hour and 40 minutes. The game was played at Peabody Field due to the wet conditions at Athletic Park. Known as the “hitless wonders”, the White Sox would go on to win the pennant despite having the lowest batting average in the league, then becoming World Series champions by winning four-games-to-two over the Chicago Cubs.

In 1915, the Chicago Cubs defeated the Nashville Vols 7-4 at Sulphur Dell. Cy Williams hits two home runs and the Cubs score three runs in the ninth for the win. Cubs short stop Bob Fisher and brother of former Nashville owner/manager/player, was born in Nashville.

The World Champions New York Yankees paid a visit to Nashville in 1928, falling to the Vols 11-10. Ed Pipgras, brother to the Yankees’ George Pipgras, tossed the last three innings and was the winning pitcher for the Vols. One of his strikeout victims was Babe Ruth, who had a home run in the first inning. Lou Gehrig and Leo Durocher each had a double. The star of the game was Nashville right fielder Wally Hood, who hit a double and home run along with three singles. He was 5-for-5, had a sacrifice fly, drove in two, and scored three runs.

Ruth and the Yankees returned to Sulphur Dell in 1933. With two home runs, New York shut out the Vols, 13-0. Nashville had 23 assists, and only one runner made it to third base. 2,500 fans were in attendance.

In 1942, only 3,500 attend the game at Sulphur Dell as the New York Yankees route the hometown Vols, 10-1. Nashville can muster only six hits, while the Yankees collect a total of 15, including a three-run homer by Don Pulford. Charley English hits a home run in the bottom of the fourth inning off Lefty Gomez for the only run for the host team. The next day, the Yankees win again by a 11-6 score with a barrage of 18 hits as 8,000 fans witness the contest.

In a three-hour, six-minute game played before 12,006 fans in 1954, the Milwaukee Braves defeat the Brooklyn Dodgers, 18-14.  Nine ground-rule doubles are called on balls hit among those seated on the outfield hills. Carl Furillo smacks a grand-slam, and George “Shotgun” Shuba, Duke Snider, and Ed Mathews each hit homers. Roy Campanella pinch-hits and works the last inning behind the plate as Junior Gilliam anchors third and Jackie Robinson plays first.

Two years later, only seven days after Sulphur Dell is under fourteen feet of water, Eddie Mathews hits three home runs to lead the Milwaukee Braves over the Brooklyn Dodgers 10-8. Mathews’ first homer off Don Newcombe is a 340-foot drive over the left field wall. Tom Lasorda relieves in the 9th inning for the Dodgers. Sandy Amoros has two home runs and Hank Aaron also has a homer as Johnny Logan has two doubles and a triple. The Dodgers will go on to win the 1956 National League pennant with a one-game lead over the Braves.

Nashville fans had many opportunites to see baseball’s best and brightest at famous Sulphur Dell.

© 2017 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

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Hank Aaron’s Professional Debut Was in Sulphur Dell

Henry Aaron was inducted to the Hall of Fame in 1982 after a career that included 25 All-Star appearances, at least a .300 batting mark in 14 seasons, hitting 30 home runs 15 times, and winning three Gold Glove Awards.

Aaron1Most notably renown for becoming baseball’s home run king on April 8, 1974 in passing Babe Ruth with his 715th, Aaron would still have more than 3,000 hits should his total of 755 home runs be removed from his hit total.

“Hammerin’ Hank” captured the National League MVP Award in 1957, won the league’s batting title in 1956 and 1959, and appeared in the World Series in 1957, 1958, and 1969.

Born on February 5, 1934 in Mobile, Alabama, the 18-year-old, 5’11” 170-lb sensation began his march to baseball immortality as a member of the 1952 Negro American League Indianapolis Clowns. The team held spring training in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, then traveled to several cities to play exhibition games between Buffalo and Kansas City.

The Kansas City Monarchs, Chicago American Giants, Birmingham Black Barons, Memphis Red Sox, and Philadelphia Stars were the other teams in the six-team league. The Clowns did not schedule games in Indianapolis, playing all games in other cities, but opening day was scheduled for May 11, 1952 as a double header against the Philadelphia Stars.

In Nashville, at Sulphur Dell. It would be Hank Aaron’s first regular-season game as a professional.

The Memphis World heralded the “newcomer Henry Aaron, the sensational 16 [sic]-year-old, will open at short…”

Memphis World 05-06-1952 Indianapolis Clowns Philadephia Stars Hank Aaron Rookie Sulphur Dell

But the Nashville Tennessean made no mention of Aaron in articles previous to and after the two games:

Tennessean 05-10-1952 Henry Aaron Sulphur Dell Indianapolis Clowns Philadelphia Stars 05-11-1952Tennessean 05-11-1952 Henry Aaron Sulphur Dell Indianapolis Clowns Philadelphia Stars 05-11-1952Tennessean 05-12-1952 Henry Aaron Sulphur Dell Indianapolis Clowns Philadelphia Stars 05-11-1952

With no report of his batting or field totals on that day in the historic ballpark, one can only guess that he began a string of games that included strategic hits and powerful blows that lent to his successful career.

Exactly one month later, on June 11, Aaron was leading the Negro American League with a .483 batting average on 15 hits, 51 total bases, five home runs, six doubles, 28 runs, and 24 RBI. On that day he was purchased by the Boston Braves for $10,000 and his major league career was off and running.

Sent to Eau Claire (Class C – Northern League), he ended his first season in organized baseball with a .336 average. In his first full year in the minors at Jacksonville (Class A – South Atlantic League) in 1953, Hank slammed 22 home runs and had 208 hits leading to a batting average of .362. He earned a trip to spring training where he caught on with the Braves who had left Boston for Milwaukee.

On April 4, 1954, Hank returned to Nashville and had two doubles, scored twice and had two RBI in an 18-14 exhibition win over the Brooklyn Dodgers. At Sulphur Dell one year later against Brooklyn, he hit a home run and a single, driving in two runs in the Dodgers 10-8 win.

In Brooklyn’s 12-2 win the next year on April 9, he had a double and an RBI. It would be four years before Aaron returned to Sulphur Dell, this time against Cincinnati before 6,763 in a 6-3 win over the Reds when he had a single and scored a run.

Aaron’s four appearances in Nashville as a member of the Braves were preceded by a particular date on the baseball calendar, May 11, 1952, when Hammerin’ Hank marked his official professional debut in the infield dirt at Sulphur Dell.

© Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

Special thanks to fellow researcher, Mark Aubrey (oldknoxvillebaseball.blogspot.com)

References

Bryant, Howard. (2010). The Last Hero: A Life of Henry Aaron. New York, New York. Pantheon Books.

Vascellaro, Charlie. (2005). Hank Aaron: A Biography. Greenwood. Westport, Connecticut.

Online Sources

http://coe.k-state.edu/annex/nlbemuseum/history/players/aaron.html

http://www.baseball-reference.com

http://www.baseballhall.org

http://www.crossroadstofreedom.org

http://www.georgiaencyclopeia.org

http://www.newspapers.com

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Nashville’s Slugging Combinations

In 1927 Babe Ruth hit a remarkable 60 home runs for the New York Yankees. Lou Gehrig had 47, and for many years their two-man total of 107 was the benchmark for home runs by two team mates.

In 1961 Roger Maris of the Yankees hit 61 for the season, breaking Ruth’s single-season record, and Mickey Mantle hit 54 to give the duo a total of 115. The Maris-Mantle record still stands.

In comparison, when Barry Bonds hit his record-breaking 73 homers in the 2007 season, team mate Rich Aurilia’s 37 round-trippers gave them a total of 110.

Nashville had a few tandem sluggers, too. In 1930 first baseman Jim Poole slugged 50 home runs and second baseman Jay Partridge added 40 to set a Southern Association record of 90. Two years later Moose Clabaugh and Stan Keyes combined for 67 but fell far short of the Poole-Partridge tally.

Workman_GilbertBut in 1948 Charlie Workman and Charlie Gilbert hit 96 home runs combined; Workman had 52 and Gilbert added 44. It was an especially notable feat in that the entire club hit only 60 the previous season.

The pair had previously played for Nashville with very little home run success. Gilbert roamed the outfield hills for his manager-father Larry Gilbert in 1939 and 1943 and had 21 total. Workman played for the senior Gilbert in 1941 and 1942. His production increased from 11 to 29 those two seasons, but both players especially found the Sulphur Dell fences to their liking during 1948.

In 1949 two new sluggers appeared on the scene and immediately chased the record of the previous season. Catcher-outfielder Carl Sawatski, with 45, and outfielder Herman “Babe” Barna with 42 gave the Nashville club an added season of slugging success with 87 combined.

The Southern Association record for home runs by one player came in 1954 when Nashville’s Bob Lennon hit 64. Nearly reaching the 1932 combined record of Clabaugh and Keyes all by himself, the second place slugger for the Vols was Larry DiPippo who had 20. His and Lennon’s output totaled 84.

Taking the comparison one step further, the major league record of 165 home runs by four players on the same team in a single season is the 1961 New York Yankees: Maris with 61, Mantle with 54, Bill Skowron with 28, and Yogi Berra with 22.

Next is 147 by the 2001 San Francisco Giants: Barry Bonds with 73, Rich Aurilia with 37, Jeff Kent with 22, and Marvin Benard with 15.

Nashville had two teams with impressive homer stats that are not too far off from those major league totals; both the 1948 and 1949 club tallied 129:

Home Runs by 4

In both of those seasons the quadruplets hit for a combined .351 average and led Nashville to Southern Association pennants. Those feats were never accomplished again; even with Bob Lennon’s excellent record-setting season, the 1954 team tied for seventh place:

Home Runs by 4 1954

In the history of Nashville baseball, none could match the slugging combinations of 1948 and 1949.

© 2015 Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

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Pete Rose and a Baseball Stain

One of my great memories as a father is having played catch with my kids. One particular day my youngest son Chris wanted to throw and went to his room to get a baseball. He was playing in Little League and was a strong, hard throwing left-hander. His throws could more aptly be called “scorchers” instead of “tosses”.

As we separated about 40 feet from each other, he hummed his first pitch to me but it took a couple of hops (“worm burners” my dad used to call them) and went under my reach. I turned and retrieved the ball and took a look at the grass stain on it. It had an autograph on it.

grass stained baseball“Pete Rose” was clearly legible as the grass stain had not perpetrated the autograph. Pete’s signature was clear as a bell.

I said, “Chris, you brought a ball that has Pete Rose’s autograph. Don’t you want to hold on to it?” He shrugged, as it was more important that we have a ball to catch than not.

I examined the ball for more autographs, and found another: “Bill Boner”. The Nashville mayor’s signature was not as legible since a green smear came over the “er”.

A decision had to be made. Do I rescue the icon of baseball lovers everywhere by stopping our backyard encounter with the National Pastime, or do I continue to play catch?

Impatient during the delay, Chris finally yelled, “C’mon dad, throw it!” Our throwing to each other continued.

In 1987 Greer Stadium hosted a two-game exhibition series between the Montreal Expos and the Cincinnati Reds, the parent club of the Nashville Sounds. As my uncle Walter Nipper was a member of the ownership group of the Nashville club, he invited my dad, me, and my children onto the field to watch batting practice and shake hands with players.

Uncle Nip gave each of my boys a baseball to collect autographs. My oldest son Doug was able to get the signatures of a couple of the Reds players, most notably Barry Larkin (who would be named to the Hall of Fame in 2012) and Chris had to settle for Pete Rose and the mayor (I specifically remember Chris asking Ron Dibble to sign his ball, but Dibble told him “no”, that Chris didn’t even know who he was).

All this leads me to yesterday’s announcement that evidence had been found that Pete Rose had gambled on baseball games (including his own team, the Cincinnati Reds) while he was a player. Since then mainstream media, radio talk shows, and social medial posts have been rampant both critically and in support of Rose’s potential reinstatement to Baseball by MLB commissioner Rob Manfred. I have bantered back and forth with Facebook friends today, and here is my take on it.

Is Rose eligible for reinstatement because he finally confessed?

No. He knew the rule. It’s Rule 21 under the heading “Misconduct”, instituted for good reason: to keep players from taking payouts to affect the outcome of a game and ruining the nature of The Game. Rose knew the rule but chose to ignore it.

Many people compare Rose’s gambling issue to the Chicago Black Sox scandal (which lead to Rule 21), but there was no such rule in 1919 when the Black Sox scandal occurred. Chicago player Joe Jackson, who was banned from baseball in 1921 by commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis, was a great player who Babe Ruth patterned his hitting stance on. Jackson often has been mentioned in the same sequences of support as for Rose.

Another contention questions whether Rose’s actions are as bad as PED users including Barry Bonds, Alex Rodriquez, Ryan Braun and others, along with questions of the character of Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth, and Mickey Mantle.

Really? Aren’t these entirely different sets of circumstances?

To put anything into one’s body to enhance athletic performance has long been considered “against the rules”. No matter that former MLB commissioner Bud Selig took so long to address the issue (remember, Sosa and McGwire were swatting long home runs, and lots of them, while “juiced”), the PED issue became a distraction and subsequent steroid use has been banned.

That banishment has left many fans with a bad taste in their mouth, including me. I see no reason to include known steroid-users from Hall of Fame selection. And the argument that other moral issues should keep outstanding players out of Cooperstown should hold no bearing, either, if there was no rule against it.

Otherwise, does Joe Jackson get tossed into the A-Rod, Ryan Braun, etc. category?

When Cobb and Ruth were playing there was no National Baseball Hall of Fame and I doubt they were too worried about what people thought of their lives beyond the ball field. When Mantle was playing, he thought he was going to die at a young age and did some things that may have been morally wrong but I don’t believe were against baseball rules.

Even if Rose were to be reinstated, which he won’t, he will never be elected to the Hall of Fame. That conversation, his appeals, and consideration for anything but being a proven liar over and over, should end.

Hall of Fame selection is an honor. A great player? Yes. Charlie Hustle? You bet. But according to the rules for voting on players by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America for Hall of Fame membership, there is one glaring rule that can never be overlooked:

5. Voting: Voting shall be based upon the player’s record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played.

I suppose three out of six ain’t bad.

Pete does not need the money that Hall of Fame membership brings. He makes plenty of money right now signing baseballs and memorabilia. Let him ponder his own flaws that will keep him from Hall of Fame selection forever.

If he can only be honest with himself.

© 2015 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

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It Happened on This Day in Nashville: April 8

Another special day in the history of Nashville baseball is April 8. The New York Yankees, New York Giants, Brooklyn Dodgers, Milwaukee Braves, Cincinnati Reds, and Cleveland Indians all appear at Sulphur Dell on this day through the years, and Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig play at the historic park:

April 8, 1901
Nashville is scheduled to play Vanderbilt in their first exhibition game before the Southern League season begins. It will be the first of three games with Vanderbilt, followed by games versus Suwanee <sic>, Cumberland and Jake Benes’ St. Louis team.

April 8, 1915
Nashville Vols lose to the National League New York Giants by a score of 4-2 in an exhibition game at Sulphur Dell.

April 8, 1934
Before a crowd of 5,000, the Vols beat Joe McCarthy’s New York Yankees 6-5 for the second straight day. James P. Dawson reports the game for The New York Times, saying that two home runs at Sulphur Dell “cleared the high fence and a 30-foot wire extension on the abbreviated mountain in right field“. Babe Ruth goes two for three, Lou Gehrig is one for two, and Bill Dickey is hitless in five at-bats.

April 8, 1946
Today’s exhibition game at Sulphur Dell between the New York Yankees and Brooklyn Dodgers is cancelled due to morning rains and a downpour which comes 45 minutes before today’s scheduled start. The outlook for the game called for 7,500 fans to turn out as all reserved seats were sold out, and 4,000 fans are turned away.

April 8, 1953
During an exhibition game at Sulphur Dell, Giants rookie Daryl Spencer is hit in the face by a pitch from Cleveland Indians hurler Mike Garcia.

April 8, 1956
The Brooklyn Dodgers win over the Milwaukee Braves 12-2 before an overflow crowd of 11, 933. Gil Hodges hits a home run and the Dodgers collect a total of 17 hits in the win. Del Rice, catching for the Braves, lifts a high fly over the right-center-field wall for a homer.

April 8, 1958
Jay Hook, bonus baby right-hander signed out of Northwestern University by the Cincinnati Reds, is assigned to Nashville.

April 8, 1960
Nashville’s Sulphur Dell hosts an exhibition game between the Milwaukee Braves and the Cincinnati Reds.

Reds Braves ticket_FB

© 2015 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

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