Tag Archives: Bob Lennon

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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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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Boguskie: Most Popular Nashville Vols Player Ever?

Sulphur Dell played host to many teams, mostly the Nashville Vols but also the Negro League Nashville Elite Giants, Nashville Cubs, and Nashville Stars. With games played there through 1963, fans are bound to have a favorite player or two.

In January of 2014 I wrote a blog entry that asked the hypothetical question, “The Nashville Vols Era: Did You Have a Favorite?” which led me to add an unscientific poll on http://www.sulphurdell.com with no parameters other than listing a few of my own. Buster Boguskie, Buddy Gilbert, Bobby Durnbaugh, Jack Harshman, Jim O’Toole, and Jim Maloney are the players that I receive the most questions about, so they were added to the poll but there was also an option for “write-ins” by clicking on the “Other” selection.

The poll ended at 7 PM tonight, and it’s time to share the results:

poll2

The overwhelming selection is Buster Boguskie. Always a fan favorite, Boguskie played for Nashville from 1947 through 1954 and due to his longevity and popularity was often called “The Mayor of Sulphur Dell”. Read a previous blog entry about Boguskie by clicking here.

A few observations about the poll:

I should have been more specific in asking the question about player popularity. “Who was your favorite player you ever saw play at Sulphur Dell?” would have disqualified some of the entries received. Hall of Famers Waite Hoyt and Kiki Cuyler played for the Vols in the 1920s and it is doubtful that anyone still living would have seen them play. The same goes for Boots Poffenberger (1940, 1941), Frank Duncan (1942), and probably Hal Jeffcoat (1946, 1947), and Butch McCord (Nashville Cubs 1947).

However, legitimate players named included Chico Alvarez, George Schmees, Bob Lennon, and Earl Averill, Jr.

Soon there will be a new poll to select players, owners, managers, coaches and others to a Sulphur Dell Hall of Fame. Be looking for it, and be sure to vote for your favorite. This poll will have selections by decade beginning in the 19th Century and will include a short biography to aid in learning about each nominee.

In the meantime, congratulations to the spirit of Buster Boguskie and his selection as “fan favorite”!

© 2015 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

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The Decline of 1954

Poor attendance at Sulphur Dell began to plague the Nashville Vols in 1954, the third year of a three-year affiliation with the New York Giants. The team was well-stocked with power hitting slugger Bob Lennon (64 home runs, 210 hits, 161 runs batted in)  and steady first baseman Larry DiPippo (.298, 132 hits, 20 homers), but the pitching staff would have only one starter to finish the season with a winning record, Joe Margoneri (14-10).

Buster Boguskie would play 50 games at second base, 17 at shortstop, and 24 games at third as manager Hugh Poland attempted to find the infield combination that set a record for double plays in a season with 202 just two years prior.

Nothing was going right at the gate, either. After eighteen home games attendance was 21,626, compared to 23,762 in 1953. It was a downward trend that would continue throughout the season. Minor league baseball would suffer the worst overall attendance since 1945.

Mini-BallAs a way of boosting attendance, at the June 3, 1954 game at Sulphur Dell, the Nashville baseball club gave away 1,000 miniature baseballs; 700 of those ‘small balls’ bore the signatures of major league players, and 300 of them had the autographs of Vols players.

Through June 3rd, Nashville was in fifth place with a 20-24 record, 8 ½ games behind Atlanta.

A few days later in the June 8, 1954 edition of the Birmingham Post-Herald, sports editor Naylor Stone wrote that Knoxville will replace Nashville in the Southern Association in 1955. Stone stated that the deal was done and Knoxville was assured a berth in the league even “before it erected its new $500,000 Municipal Stadium.”

“This season Knoxville re-enterd the Class B Tri-State League with the understanding it would be released from Tri-State territory if a Southern Association franchise became available,” Stone wrote.

Knoxville had been a member of the Southern between 1932 and 1944 when the franchise was given to Mobile.

On June 11, 1954, Nashville club general manager and vice-president Larry Gilbert declared that rumors of the team being sold to Knoxville interests for $200,000 were untrue, stating that should the club be sold a Nashville investor would be the first consideration. He further stated that any sale would be a package deal to include the team and ballpark.

Nashville would end the 1954 season with a total attendance tally of 89,470 fans. On January 22, 1955 Ted Murray and Larry Gilbert, co-owners of Nashville, confirmed that they faced the loss of their franchise that the city had held since the league was organized in 1901. A 30-day option for the purchase of Sulphur Dell, the city’s ball park, had been obtained from them by a syndicate in Nashville.

Reportedly, the plan of the syndicate was to sell the property for business purposes and demolish the grandstand. It was rumored that interested parties in Knoxville, Tampa, and Jacksonville were anxious to obtain the franchise.

None of those things materialized, although Gilbert sold his interest in the club and moved back to New Orleans where he had maintained a home.

The decline of the Nashville franchise, however, would continue until 1961 when the Southern Association closed up shop. A new franchise was resurrected for one season in 1963 in the South Atlantic (SALLY) League, but the attempt was fruitless and Nashville had no professional baseball for fifteen years when the Nashville Sounds were formed for the 1978 season.

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