Tag Archives: Birmingham Barons

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sources

Nashville Tennessean

newspapers.com

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

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

© 2017 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

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Larry Taylor, Jerry Davis Lead Vols; Homage Paid to Dead Umpire on Friday the 13th

Friday the 13th proved to be lucky for the Vols and one fan, but a dark curtain hung over the festivities as homage was paid to a league umpire between games of the Nashville-Atlanta double header on July 13, 1956.

It was “Car Night” at Sulphur Dell, and Nashville won both games by identical 4-3 scores. But before the second game began, the crowd stood for a moment of silence in memory of umpire Grady Holcombe, who it was learned had died earlier in the day from injuries in an automobile accident a month prior. Holcombe was riding in a car with other umpires on June 5 en route from Chattanooga to New Orleans with the accident occurred.

Larry Taylor

Vols pitcher Jerry Davis, the only lefty in the Southern Association to have two wins over the Crackers this season, allowed six hits in the opener. Even though Nashville left 16 men on base in the second game, it was second baseman Larry Taylor who became the hero in the closing game. With two out and the score tied 3-3 in the bottom of the ninth, Taylor hit the right field wall with a smash that drove in the winning run.

Nashville’s two wins moved the club into second place in league standings, 3 ½ games behind Birmingham, who will be hosting next week’s All-Star game. The opening win halted a Vols five-game losing streak.

Between games, Bobby Durnbaugh received a trophy from local businessman Harold Shyer in honor of the infielder being named “Most Popular Vol” for June. Cincinnati Reds farm director Bill McKechnie, Jr. is on hand for the two seven-inning games. The lucky fan was Charles Smothers, selected as winner of the car given by the Nashville ball club.

Sources

Baseball-reference.com

Nashville Tennessean

Newspapers.com

© 2017 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

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Eight Nashville Vols Named 1957 All Stars

Through the July 10, 1957 game at Birmingham, a 10-2 loss to the Barons at Rickwood Field, Nashville Vols pitcher Bob Kelly leads the Southern Association with a 2.75 ERA. Kelly’s record for the season includes 16 wins against 5 losses in 22 appearances, with 115 strikeouts in 157 innings pitched.

Nashville outfielder Stan Palys leads in batting with a .391 average, outfielder Don Nicholas is second at .359, while player-manager Dick Sisler is hitting .344 and catcher Dutch Dotterer is at .319. All five have been chosen to the league’s All Star team and are joined by Vols pitcher Jerry Davis, outfielder George Schmees, and utility man Harvey Zernia.

© 2017 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

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Father’s Day, 2017: Remembering Dad and Harmon Killebrew

Our father, Virgil Nipper, was inducted into the Nashville Amateur Baseball Hall of Fame in 2008 at the 69th annual Old Timers banquet at the Millennium Maxwell House Hotel. It was a prestigious honor for dad, one that includes local greats W. A. Wright, Larry Cole, Joe Casey, and Bobby Reasonover, among many others.

Dad has always been friendly and jovial, but most certainly humbled by his award. His personality was at its best when talk turned to sports and baseball, and that night was one of the best. He had a way of reeling in others with his stories, but mostly from his honesty and humility.

The following year as president of Old Timers, I was able to greet our 2009 banquet speaker, Harmon Killebrew, at the airport. He and his wife Nita were congenial folks, very cordial, and they were looking forward to an extended visit with relatives in the area along with being available to our board members and guests at the banquet.

A prolific slugger who spent 22 years in the majors, Killebrew was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1984. At the time of his retirement, he was second only to Babe Ruth in American League home runs. I was humbled by his on-field accomplishments, but his graciousness soon put my awe to rest.

I explained the format of our banquet, and when the time came for him to make his address, he did not disappoint. He was a stirring guest, free with his stories, and he held the audience spellbound. To everyone’s surprise, he remained in the banquet hallafterwards and signed just about any memorabilia item brought to him. While our banquets usually end around 9:30 p.m., he stayed on for over an hour and fifteen minutes.

Before he made his way to his hotel room, I asked if he would mind meeting our board of directors for breakfast the following morning. He agreed.

I took the opportunity to seat him at the head of a table of around 14 in the hotel restaurant. Dad sat to his right (yes, I did it on purpose), and they talked and talked. Dad was in his element, and afterwards told me it what a great opportunity it was.

Almost a year and a half later, I made my annual pilgrimage to the Rickwood Classic, a Birmingham Barons ‘turn-back-the-clock’ game played once a year at Rickwood Field. Harmon was the featured guest that year, and would be throwing out the first pitch at the game, to be held on June 2. I was invited to attend an informal gathering at the Barons home park, the Hoover Met, the night before.

As a guest of the Friends of Rickwood, I arrived at the press box and watched others greet the affable Killebrew. Once everyone had said hello, I ambled up to him and reached out my hand.

“Harmon, I don’t know if you remember me or not. I’m Skip Nipper; we were proud to have you at our Old Timers banquet in Nashville last year.”

“Of course, I do. How’s your dad?”

I was literally stunned that a Hall of Famer, no matter how humble, no matter how famous, no matter how time had separated our banquet and breakfast in Nashville, would ask about dad.

But then, I knew another Hall of Famer who would have said and done the same thing.

Rest in peace, dad. And say hello to Harmon for me.

© 2017 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

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Jinxed Nashville Outfielder, Ed McBee

Edwin “Ed” McBee joined Larry Gilbert’s Nashville Vols on April 4, 1944 in Bowling Green, Kentucky, for spring training. Listed as an infielder, Gilbert’s immediate need was for more outfielders and he was pleased when McBee let it be known that he had roamed the outfield for Leaksville (North Carolina) in the Class-D Bi-State League during 1942[1].

It was McBee’s first season as a professional, but he hit for an anemic .243 average for the Triplets. The 6’1” right hander was only 19 years old in his rookie season, playing for a team which was named for three towns: Leaksville, Spray, and Draper (Eden, North Carolina, was formed in 1967 by consolidation of the existing towns.)

As a 16-year-old, the Gaffney, South Carolina native played semi-pro ball, and later for a local American Legion team. After his single season at Leaksville, he was classified 4-F due to an ear ailment in his call up to military duty in 1943 and was sent to Niagara Falls, New York. Unmarried, he worked in a defense plant.[2]

Soon after joining the Vols, the jury was still out on his abilities. Sports writer Raymond Johnson gave his opinion about the “gangling South Carolina flychaser”.

“He takes a good riffle at the ball and has got a good, free swing that is right down Gilbert’s alley. On his performance in these early sessions he will come in for a lot of consideration. Of course he yet must prove his ability, for he has not demonstrated his speed or how he handles a fly ball.”[3]

By mid-April, Ed was looking better at the plate and was nearly a cinch to make the regular-season roster. In the first exhibition game, played against Ft. Campbell on April 15, a screaming liner hit him on the foot while he was trying to make a play, resulting in an injury that hobbled him for the remainder of the game. The setback was not expected to keep him out of the lineup, however, and it appeared that he had continued making progress.

On opening night at Sulphur Dell against Chattanooga on Friday, April 28, Ed was in the starting lineup. He had solidified his position by hitting one over the fence during the Vols first batting practice after concluding their pre-season schedule.

Batting in the fifth position, he stuck out once in four plate appearances and had two putouts in centerfield, with no errors. 6,793 were on hand to view his Southern Association debut. On April 30 against the Lookouts, he had three hits including a double that drove in two runs in the first inning and a single that drove in another run in the fifth.

After five games, he was batting .305 on seven hits in 23 appearances, with 6 RBI. On May 7 in Chattanooga at Engle Stadium, he had another productive night. His three hits included his first home run and a double.

In a peculiar game on May 11 against Knoxville at Sulphur Dell, not only was the game delayed due to the late arrival of the Smokies train, the ballpark lights went out when a power transformer blew out during the third inning. Adding injury to insult, Ed was hit in the face from a foul tip off his own bat in the seventh inning and suffered a double fracture of his nose. Attempting to bunt when hit, he was carried from the field unconscious.

McBee’s batting average had dropped to .273, although he had scored 10 runs, had 11 RBI, and mastered centerfield defensively. Gilbert was hoping to have him back in the lineup in New Orleans by May 22, as the club left him behind to begin a road trip on May 15. Parker Garner, a 6’7”, 240-pound pitcher, as used by the Vols skipper to play centerfield in the absence of McBee.

Ed returned to the starting lineup in New Orleans, batting in his familiar fifth-spot, and promptly scoring two runs after a single and walk to help his club win 8-2. The next night he had two hits, and in a double header split with the Pelicans added three more.

In fourth place on May 26 and returning to Sulphur Dell to begin a series with Birmingham, Larry Gilbert shuffled his lineup and moved Ed to left field. The move was no problem for McBee, as he handled three chances flawlessly in the Vols’ win over the Barons, 5-0. With a single in the game, he increased his batting average to .300.

He slammed his second home run on June 1, his first at Sulphur Dell, with two men aboard and a 3-2 Vols lead over New Orleans in the sixth inning. Nashville went on to win 14-2 and moved into a tie with Memphis for second place in the standings.

But a few days later, it seemed Gilbert had lost confidence in McBee; but he was not alone.  Raymond Johnson laid out the problem in his June 5, 1944 “One Man’s Opinion” column.

“The failure of the outfielders – Ed McBee, Jimmy Reggio, Moses King and Bob Garner – to come through with base hits with ducks on the pond has been most distressing to the veteran Vol skipper. Time and again they have strolled to the plate with pals on the pillows and failed to produce a base hit. Quite often an easy grounder or a pop fly has been the extent of their efforts. And a few times double plays have resulted.”[4]

In that evening’s game against Atlanta, things turned from bad to worse. In the first inning, McBee let the Crackers’ Nig Lipscomb single get away from him which resulted in the first run for Atlanta. Nashville lost by a 6-5 score. On June 7 in Atlanta, Ed fumbled Ed Ivy’s single in the first game of a double header, allowing the runner to advance to second base and score on the next Crackers’ hit. The Vols lost, 5-0, and lost the night cap 3-2, giving Nashville their fifth and sixth losses in a row. McBee had three hits in the two games, including a double.

In the first game in Memphis on June 13, Ed could not hold a drive by the Chicks’ Pete Gray*, leading to an unearned run; Gilbert felt McBee had blown the game for his club[5]. The Vols ended up losing another double header, 2-1 and 3-0. Nashville dropped to sixth place in the standings with a 20-24 record, 7 ½ games behind Memphis.

Jimmy Reggio and Moses King would survive the season with Nashville, but Bob Garner and McBee would not. Ed was sold to the Portsmouth Cubs of the Class-B Piedmont League by Larry Gilbert on June 15. In 35 games for Nashville, Ed had 39 hits on 138 plate appearances for a .283 average. His hits included eight doubles and two home runs.

There is no report that McBee continued his career in Portsmouth. 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.

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

Edwin Dupree McBee was born on July 12, 1923, in Fairmont Spa, South Carolina, to Thomas J. McBee, a cotton mill worker, and his wife Corrie. Ed passed away in New Port Richey, Florida, on February 12, 2005.

*Gray would be named Southern Association Most Valuable Player

© 2017 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

Sources

ancestry.com

baseball-reference.com

edennc.us

newspapers.com

southernassociationbaseball.com

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

[1] F. M. Williams, “Gilbert Grinned Over Him,” Nashville Tennessean, April 5, 1944: 12.

[2] “Big Carolinian Ed McBee Looks Good for Vols,” Nashville Tennessean, April 8, 1944: 5.

[3] Raymond Johnson, “Ed McBee and Ernie Balser Draw Railbirds’ Attention in Workout,” Nashville Tennessean, April 7, 1944: 30.

[4] Johnson, “Vols Need Punch; 51 Left Stranded in Pel Series,” Nashville Tennessean, June 5, 1944: 8.

[5] Johnson, “Vols Get Lift, Too,” Nashville Tennessean, August 29, 1944: 9.

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Babe Ruth, Explained

This image of me with one of my idols takes a little explaining, but I need to set the timeline in order.

The oldest existing ballpark in America, Rickwood Field, is in Birmingham, Alabama. Recently closed for repairs and scheduled to re-open in 2018, it has been in use by colleges and amateur teams for ages. The Birmingham Black Barons hosted Negro League games at Rickwood for many years.

Built in 1910, the first game hosted by the Birmingham Barons was on August 18 of that year. The Barons have called two newer ballparks as home field since leaving Rickwood after the 1987 season: Hoover Met and Regions Field. But there has been one game each season that allows players and fans another chance to visit the grandest ballpark in the South in all her glory.

Every year since 1995 the Barons have hosted a Southern League rival in a “Turn Back the Clock” game known as the Rickwood Classic.

“The Friends of Rickwood saved Rickwood Field from the wrecking ball way back in 1992[1],” states Gerald Watkins, Chairman of the organization on the group’s website. Over $2 million has been raised by the group to maintain “America’s Oldest Baseball Park”; but often, funds fall short of their intent as the ballpark has aged to a cautious degree.

Due to structural repairs at Rickwood, the 2017 Classic will be relocated to the Barons home ballpark, Regions Field in downtown Birmingham.[2] The game will be played on May 31, against the Chattanooga Lookouts.

“Rickwood Field is a significant part of the history of Birmingham and of baseball. We are thankful that we found the problem areas and can work to get them repaired and restored for the next generation of baseball fans,” says Mayor William Bell.[3]

I have attended many Classics since 2002, having made friendships with many Birmingham baseball “brothers” through the annual Southern Association conference held each March. It is a treat to visit the ballpark, rekindle our love for the beloved league and share research, photos, and documents. Having the conference and the Classic at a venue such as Rickwood is an added treat.

In 2010, I rekindled a friendship with Hall of Fame member Harmon Killebrew at that year’s Classic. I had met him in 2009 at our Old Timers Baseball Association banquet. He was a delightful guest, dynamite speaker, and even made friends with my dad, Virgil Nipper, at breakfast the next morning.

I was not surprised, in fact, when he saw me at the Classic that hot summer June day, when the first thing he said after we exchanged pleasantries was, “How’s your dad?”

Another Hall of Famer in attendance that day was Babe Ruth. Not really “The Babe”, but a near stand-in double for him. His name is Steve Folven. I had to look twice, as the similarity is quite stunning, although this Babe is several inches shorter than the Sultan of Swat, who stood 6’2”. The snapshot that was taken of us shows the difference: I am 6’0”.

Steve has a website, http://www.ImBabeRuth.com, where he can be booked for events, and where he states that his long-term goal is to be the honored guest at Yankee Stadium. Ironically, he grew up within a few blocks of Boston’s Fenway Park, and was born six weeks before Babe Ruth passed away on August 16, 1948.

One of the first events he attended was in 2005, at a Las Vegas minor league game at Cashman Field, but he also threw out the first ball at a Red Sox vs. Yankees fan charity softball game in May, 2007. He has attended card shows, dinners, and galas, and was even the honored guest at a Bar Mitzvah. He has returned to Birmingham on various occasions.

My day with Steven was a memorable one, planted in my love for the Yankees and “The Babe” himself. I cherish the photograph, the memories, and the joy that baseball has brought to me through my Birmingham “baseball buddies” and Rickwood Field. Thanks, Steven.

© 2017 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

[1] “The Rickwood Classic,” http://rickwoodclassic.com/, retrieved May 10, 2017.

[2] “May 31 Game Against Chattanooga To Be Played At 7:05 p.m.,” https://www.milb.com/barons/news/may-31-details/c-227071942/t-196093346, retrieved May 10, 2017

[3] “The Rickwood Classic.”

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When a Home Run Isn’t

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sources

Baseball-reference.com

Newspapers.com

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

©2017 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

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