Tag Archives: Birmingham Barons

When a Home Run Isn’t

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sources

Baseball-reference.com

Newspapers.com

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

©2017 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

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Nashville Barons?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SOURCES

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

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

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

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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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Suffrage and Shropshire’s Baby

As voting rights for women gained steam in 1915, Nashville Vols club owner and president Clyde Shropshire supported the movement as he best knew how: he determined that the game between his ball club versus the Birmingham Barons on July 23 would be Suffrage Day at Sulphur Dell.

Sports writer Blinkey Horn made an announcement in a column “Vols and Barons Will Play on July 23 for Cause of Suffrage”:

Nashville Tennessean and Daily American 06-19-1915 Suffrage Game Vols Barons Sulphur Dell 07-23-1915

Shropshire’s generosity was to include $25 from his own funds for special prizes to players. The first player of either team to hit a home run would be awarded $10, and $5 each to the player with the first triple, run scored, and stolen base. He also announced that the movement would receive a portion of gate receipts.

Nashville Tennessean and Daily American 07-18-1915 Suffrage Game Vols Barons Sulphur Dell 07-23-1915

Mrs. George Dallas, vice-president of the Nashville Equal Suffrage League, headed up the day’s event. She had a special booth constructed outside the entrance to the ballpark for patrons to purchase tickets to the game. Grandstand box seats were decorated in suffrage colors, yellow and white, and ladies sold all sorts of concessions, “cigars, peanuts, lemonade, popcorn, and the various substances obtainable at a baseball game.” Ladies roamed the stadium to hand out flyers, explaining the reasons why the voting franchise should be extended to the fair sex. Nashville won over Birmingham 6-3, but there was no mention of the proceeds.

Perhaps as a gesture to Shropshire’s endorsements, his daughter was selected mascot of the game.

Nashville Tennessean and Daily American 07-24-1915 Suffrage Game Vols Barons Sulphur Dell 07-23-1915

The next season another game was planned in support of suffrage, once again with the full support of Shropshire. Designated as “Suffrage Day at Sulphur Dell” on August 21, 1916, yellow banners decorated the ballpark to commemorate “Votes for Women” and Nashville won over the New Orleans Pelicans 6-1. Ladies from the Equal Suffrage League sold tickets, soda pop, peanuts, and other concessions. Yellow sashes and streamers were part of the repeat celebration.

An addition to the event was the awarding of a cake to the ugliest and prettiest ball player, and one for the most popular fan. The cakes were on display in Nashville store windows in the days leading up to the game. The fund-raising endeavor was once more noted as successful.

nashville Tennessean and Daily American 08-22-1916 Nashville New OrleansSulphur Dell Suffrage Womens Voting Rights 08-21-1916

Repeated in 1917, the game was won by Nashville over New Orleans 5-3 but with no mention of the suffrage movement except for an article the previous week.

Nashville Tennessean and American 08-12-1917 Suffrage Game Nashville Sulphur Dell

Clyde Shropshire was a notable attorney in Nashville, held prominent positions on the board of several businesses, and was elected to the Tennessee State House of Representatives on November 3, 1914 as a Democrat. A staunch supporter of suffrage, prohibition, and tax equalization, he served as Speaker of the House 1917-1919.

nashville Tennessean and American 01-02-1917 Clyde Shropshire Nashville Speaker of the House

Sources

Nashville Tennessean

Nashville Tennessean and American

Newspapers.com

Paper of Record

Sabr.org

The Sporting News

Tennesseeencyclopedia.net

© 2016 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

 

 

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Walks, Unintentionally Speaking

Southern Association club directors passed a new rule in 1933 that startled the baseball world. It was intended to eliminate the intentional pass, especially those issued to power hitters. Fans wanted to see those players hit long homers and drive in runs.

A. H. Woodward

The rule was presented to league directors on November 17 by A. H. Woodward, owner of the Birmingham Barons. Credit for the new rule was given to Pat Linnehan of Birmingham, a local jeweler and baseball fan who had come up with the idea. Adopted by the league, the rule read:

In any inning of next year’s Southern Association games, after two outs have been made, if the pitcher delivers four consecutive balls to the batter, the batter shall be entitled to first base; and any and all base runners occupying bases shall be advanced two bases, except, in the event both second base and third bases are occupied, the runner on third base shall score and the runner on second shall advance to third.

When the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues held its 32nd annual meeting in Galveston, Texas a few days later, there were plenty of opinions expressed. Judge W. G. Bramham, who presided over the minor leagues, felt the league could do as it pleased but advised that national rules would have to be adhered to in the Dixie playoffs between the Southern and Texas Leagues.[1]

Some said there were ways to avoid the rule. In either of these situations, the runners on base would only take the normal advance:

  1. In realizing his control is not very good, the pitcher could hit the batter after three balls.
  2. The catcher could tip the hitter’s bat.
  3. The catcher could jump in front of the plate to catch the pitcher’s throw[2]

In the December 14, 1933 edition of The Sporting News, Woodward defended the rule.

“After 25 years in baseball, the two things that have griped me the most are: (1) Playing for rain; and (2) the intentional pass. I look upon the average American as the best sportsman in the world. I believe his sense of fair play is of the highest order. These two things are offensive to him. The intentional pass is the cue for the manager to come out of the dugout and thumb the batter to first base, thereby giving an active demonstration of the fact that he was afraid of him. The batter is given no chance. The playing for rain is the hoisting of the yellow flag.

“By and large, it seems to me that the time has come for some innovations in the game, and I sincerely trust that the new rule, as passed by the Southern Association, will be given a fair trial.”[3]

It is likely the rule was intended for a situation where there were no strikes on the batter. As written, a pitcher could have two strikes on the batter, then throw four balls wildly with no intent. Thus, the penalty would be enforced on unintentional walks.

Larry Gilbert, manager of the New Orleans Pelicans, agreed.

“I think the league officials really meant for the one strike clause to be in the new rule but neglected to write it in before adjourning.”[4]

League president John D. Martin soon announced the rule would be revised to include the one strike clause, but also would include an amendment that would keep the rule from being interpreted that two players could occupy the same base at the same time.[5]

At a meeting in New Orleans on February 12, 1934, the league directors modified the rule with the adoption of an amendment presented Gilbert. The amendment read:

If in any inning after two outs have been made the pitcher delivers four consecutive balls to the batter, or hits the batsman with a pitched ball, or if the batsman is interfered with by the catcher, before the pitcher throws at least one strike, the batter shall be entitled to first base and any and all base-runners occupying bases shall be advanced two bases except with a runner on first base, or runners on first and third, or when the bases are full, each base-runner shall be advanced only one base, and except that when second and third are both occupied by base-runners, only the runner on third shall score and the runner on second shall be advanced to third base.

After utilizing the rule during spring games, some of the owners soured on the novel decree. On April 14th Martin announced the intentional pass rule had been rescinded by the directors of the clubs 5-3 in a wire vote. Only Birmingham, Memphis, and New Orleans voted to keep the rule in place.

Birmingham’s Woodward suggested to Martin that the clubs consider giving the rule a two-week trial, and they agreed.

Once the trial period ended, five clubs asked for repeal and the rule was unanimously rescinded on May 3rd. League president John D. Martin announced the result after a poll of the clubs.

“…the rule will not be effective in today’s game(s), or in any subsequent games,” was Martin’s final say on the matter.

© 2016 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

[1] Galveston Daily News, November 18, 1933.

[2] The Sporting News, November 23, 1933.

[3] Woodward, A. H. “Make Way for Changes in the Game. The Sporting News, December 14, 1933.

[4] Galveston Daily News, November 18, 1933.

[5] The Sporting News, December 28, 1933.

A. H. Woodward Image courtesy Alabama Sports Hall of Fame

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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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Nashville Hosted Southern Association All Star Games

This week is Major League Baseball’s All Star week with festivities already underway in Cincinnati. The Summer Classic will be held on Tuesday, July 14th. Minor leagues have either held or will be holding their own All Star games, too.

The Southern Association All Star games were hosted by the city which was in first place on a certain day, often only a few days before the game was to be held. The league began the tradition in 1938. For example, by way of leading the league standings after games held on July 14th, Nashville hosted the 1957 All Star game at Sulphur Dell on July 17th.

The first event hosted by Nashville took place on July 8, 1940. The Southern Association All-Stars, with a 17-hit attack featuring home runs by Paul Richards and Rufe Hooks, defeated the Nashville Vols 6-1 at Sulphur Dell before a crowd of 5,500. Nashville’s Boots Poffenberger was the losing pitcher.

Three years later on July 9, 1943, Sulphur Dell was the venue for a second time as the Nashville Vols defeated the Southern Association All Stars, 3-2. Mel Hicks, Johnny Mihalic, and Whitey Platt of the home team garnered two hits apiece.

On July 20, 1948 Nashville hosted the Southern Association All Stars again at Sulphur Dell. Charlie Gilbert slammed a home run over the short right field fence in the twelfth inning to lead the Vols over the league’s stars 4-3.  A crowd of 9,147 was in attendance.

AllStarTicket1948 262

The next season on July 12, 1949 the league All Stars crushed their hosts 18-6 at Sulphur Dell before 11,442 fans.  Atlanta second baseman Davey Williams, already sold to the New York Giants, was five-for-five. Three of his hits were doubles as he scored four runs and participated in three double plays. Mobile’s George “Shotgun” Shuba slammed a three-run homer and Atlanta Crackers outfielder Lloyd Gearhart added a two-run home run.

Once again the Southern Association All Stars won over Nashville 7-6 on July 17, 1957. It was the first All Star game held at the home park of the second-place club at the time of the game, as the Vols had lost their first-place standing which earned them as host.

Before hosting rules or fan selection were implemented, choosing an All Star team was common place among sportswriters. Nashville’s Grantland Rice picked his own in August of 1910 for the Southern Association season when New Orleans would win that season’s pennant:

Catchers

Syd Smith, Atlanta

Rowdy Elliott, Birmingham

Pitchers

Harry Coveleski, Birmingham

Otto Hess, New Orleans

Frank Allen, Memphis

Tom Fisher, Atlanta

First Base

Bill Schwartz, Nashville

Second Base

Dutch Jordan, Atlanta

Shortstop

Steve Yerkes, Chattanooga

Third Base

Frank Manush, New Orleans

Left Field

Jud Daley, Montgomery

Center Field

Shoeless Joe Jackson, New Orleans

Right Field

Bobby Messenger, Birmingham

© Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

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