Tag Archives: Buster Boguskie

The Fortitude, Honesty, and Respect of Controversial Umpire Bill Brockwell


Baseball umpires have a seemingly thankless job, and Bill Brockwell often faced the un-forgiveness of Nashville managers and players for three seasons beginning in 1950. The Tulsa native had umpired in the inaugural Sooner State League (Class D) in 1947[1] and West Texas-New Mexico League (Class C) in 1948[2]. He umpired in Texas’ Big State League (Class B) in 1949, including a 16-inning game pre-season game won by San Antonio of the Texas League (Class AA) over Austin[3].

Elevated to the Southern Association (Class AA), there were no notable conflicts during his rookie season of 1950. “Nemesis” may be too strong a word to describe him when he called games in which the Vols were participating, but at least the disdain for him did not begin until his second season in the league.

In the seventh inning against Birmingham at Sulphur Dell on May 31, 1951, Vols shortstop Daryl Spencer offered a few choice words to Brockwell as a commentary on the plate umpire’s ability to call balls and strikes. The ump quickly sent Spencer to the showers, but that was not the last time.

One week later, on June 5 in Birmingham, Spencer got the “heave-ho” again from Brockwell, this time for arguing on a missed force play that Daryl thought should have been an out. Spencer had now been thrown out of three games, and his adversary had tossed him twice.

In Chattanooga on July 29, Vols catcher Bob Brady was chased for complaining too long on a called ball thrown by Nashville ace Pete Mallory. That seems to have set another confrontation off against the game’s decision-maker. It appeared Barons left fielder Don Grate was hit by a batted ball while running from first to second which should have been an out, but none of the three umps called it, and the entire Vols dugout erupted towards Brockwell.[4]

No further clashes seem to have occurred, and when Charlie Hurth named his pre-season selection of umpires for the 1952 season, William “Bill” Brockwell was listed as a returning arbiter.[5] Once the season began, Brockwell did not get off to a great start in the eyes of the Nashville players and manager.

There were no issues in the first game, as Little Rock invaded Sulphur Dell for a two-day, three-game set beginning with the home opener on April 12. Nashville lost, 9-6.

The next day was a double header, scheduled to begin at 1:30 p.m. But the ire of Nashville sports writer Raymond Johnson rained down on the umpire crew when Brockwell called both games at 2:12 p.m. due to rain and the condition of the field. According to Johnson, the umpires’ decision was flawed.

“The field was already in bad shape,” Brockwell told me (Johnson) in the dressing room after his decision, “and the groundskeeper said it would take more than an hour to get the field playable. It gets dark awfully early in this park. We didn’t want to keep the spectators waiting and then not play…”[6]

Johnson chimed in on that reasoning.

“Brockwell and (Paul) Roy who insisted that he do most of the talking although he was not the umpire-in-chief, apparently didn’t know that the field had been covered with large tarpaulins until about an hour before the game time…”

The rain stopped about the time of the decision to not play, and thirty minutes later, the field was dry.

Johnson continued. “Action like this causes a sour taste in the spectators’ mouths.”[7]

On June 3, one of the strangest calls in Sulphur Dell history transpired, and it involved Brockwell’s indecisiveness. In the fifth inning, Nashville’s third baseman Rance Pless (with a .364 batting average at the end of the year, the 1952 league batting title would belong to Pless) lofts a fly ball over the outfield screen and Blackwell signals the ball is a home run.

After a protest by Birmingham manager Al Vincent that lasted 10 minutes, the umpire reversed his decision and calls Pless’ stroke a foul ball. The Vols eventually lose to the Barons, 6-5; had the homer stood, Nashville would have won.

If Nashville fans in attendance at the game were expecting Raymond Johnson’s wrath in the next day’s newspaper, they didn’t receive it. Johnson quoted Brockwell’s explanation.

“The more I weighed the facts, the more I was convinced that I should reverse myself. I went over to (Nashville manager Hugh) Poland and said: ‘Hugh, I know you are going to blow your top but I’m going to have to change my decision. That was a foul ball. I cannot give you two runs and be honest with myself. Deep down I know I was wrong on that call. I know it’s a jolt to you and to your ball players.’ He accepted my decision in a much more gentlemanly way than I had expected.”

Johnson backed up the honesty.

“As a result of Brockwell’s intestinal fortitude on this occasion, Poland has much more respect for Brockwell…I do, too…It takes real guts to change a decision that takes away two runs from the home club before 3600 home fans…”[8]

At that point, the umpire may have gained the confidence of Poland and Johnson, but that did not mean he would not make arguable calls.

In the June 22 game between Nashville and Mobile in the Vols’ home park, Bama Ray swung at a pitch and missed, but the ball hit him in the back of his head. Brockwell called it a foul ball. The next game, working the bases at Sulphur Dell, he did not see the Bears’ George Freese drop the ball thrown to him as Rance Pless advanced, and Brockwell called Pless out at third.

On July 12, when he ruled Vols catcher Rube Novotney had interfered with Memphis’ Ed McGhee’s bat, awarding first base to the Chicks right fielder, it was business as usual when Poland took up for his catcher. Surprisingly, no one was tossed out of the game.

The next day in the second game of a double header, Johnson was on Brockwell’s bad side once again, as Nashville’s favorite son, Buster Boguskie, was tossed for arguing against a safe call at second base.

“Umpire Brockwell booted another in his usual fashion[9],” Johnson wrote.

Then, in the fifth inning of the game of July 18, Brockwell ejected four Nashville Vols in their 10-3 loss in Chattanooga. Boguskie was sent packing again for arguing a strike decision, manager Hugh Poland was sent to the showers after continuing the debate, Johnny Liptak was chased for a comment as he passed Brockwell on his way to coach first base, and Ziggy Jasinski, who had taken Boguskie’s place at bat, was banished after making another remark that Brockwell did not like.  Out of infielders, Rube Novotney had to play second base.

Then, Novotney was tossed four days later for protesting a called third strike in a 7-2 loss to Atlanta in Nashville.

It appears there were no further conflicts the rest of the year, and when Brockwell was named to the umpiring crew for the Mobile-Atlanta first-round playoffs, his umpiring career was soon to be over. Perhaps he had enough of umpiring, or the salary was not enough to support a new family. He returned to his home town of Tulsa, Oklahoma, to take a sales position.[10]

At the time of his death, he and his wife Mary, whom he married on October 31, 1951, had seven children and had been married 63 years before his passing. They had nine grandchildren, and twin great-grandchildren. Mary passed away on October 12, 2014.[11]

Note: An obituary for Bill Brockwell  could not be located; Mary’s obituary mentions the years of marriage.

[1] “Umpires Retained,” Miami (Oklahoma) Daily News-Record, September 15, 1947, p. 8.

[2] “WT-NM Umpires Named; Brockwell, Odom Open Here,” Lubbock Avalanche-Journal, April 18, 1948, p. 13.

[3] “Baseball Marathon (Box Score)”, Austin American, April 3, 1949, p. 19.

[4] “Bama Ray Slams Out 2 Homers,” Nashville Tennessean, July 30, 1951, p. 11.

[5] “Charlie Hurth Names Umps,” Nashville Tennessean, March 16, 1952, p. 16

[6] Raymond Johnson, “One Man’s Opinion,” Nashville Tennessean, April 14, 1952, p. 15.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Johnson. June 5, 1952, p. 22.

[9] Johnson, July 14, 1952, p. 12.

[10] “Umpire Changes of Southern Association Made,” Clarion-Ledger (Jackson, Mississippi), February 25, 1953, p. 13.

[11] Obituary, Mary Harpole Brockwell, Santa Fe-New Mexican, November 2, 2014. http://www.legacy.com/obituaries/santafenewmexican/obituary.aspx?pid=173002024, accessed July 18, 2017.

Sources

Baseball-reference.com

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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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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It Happened On This Day in Nashville Baseball: April 24 – April 27

BaseballinNashvilleApril 24, 1885 – Nashville loses to Macon 13-4 as the Americans give up a wild pitch and three passed balls

April 24, 1897 – From today’s edition of the Nashville Banner:

“The Nashville fans will have a chance of securing a line on the players which will represent the city in the Central League next Monday, when they meet Vanderbilt at Athletic Park. It will be the first game of the local team, and the playing of Manager Work’s men will be closely watched. Vanderbilt has a fast team this season, and they promise to prove quite troublesome to the professionals. 

“Building Inspector Henry Klein has examined the repairs done on the stands, and he now pronounces them able to hold as many people as can be crowded into the space without the least danger. The old bleachers on the east side have been torn away and in their place will be erected a large number of seats such as are used in curcuses <sic>.” 

April 24, 1956 – Nashville general manager Bill McCarthy announces there will be incentives for various slugging feats during the season:  a steak dinner awarded for each home run, $25 for hitting a sign in right field, a set of tires for any drive going through a hole in a tire on another advertiser’s sign and another $25 for clearing a sign in left field

April 25, 1916 – With an Opening Day crowd of 7,000 in attendance at Sulphur Dell, Nashville falls to Chattanooga 3-0 on only three hits

April 25, 1948 – At Mobile, Buster Boguskie of Nashville and the Bears’ George Shuba are ejected for scuffling at second base after Shuba’s hard slide in an attempt to break up a double play.  As the two were rolling in the infield dirt, Mobile’s Stubby Greer, who had been at second, runs home. When Nashville coach George Hennessey protests umpire Red McCutcheon’s decision to count the run, Hennessey is tossed

April 25, 1952 – The start of today’s game in Nashville is delayed by twelve minutes due to the belated appearance of umpires Walt Welaj and Andy Mitchell, explaining they “were rubbing up baseballs”.  Nashville strands 17 runners and loses to Atlanta 8-6

April 25, 1958 – Nashville southpaw pitcher Gene Hayden is hit in the head when a line drive by Birmingham’s Don Griffin ricochets off his glove and knocks him to the ground.  The unconscious Hayden is transported to Baptist Hospital to undergo tests

April 26, 1897 – Nashville’s new entry in the Central League wins over Vanderbilt 7-4 at Athletic Park.

April 26, 1951 – In trouncing Chattanooga 14-4, eleven of Nashville’s seventeen hits are for extra bases.  Rube Novotney leads the charge with a triple, two doubles, and a single for the Vols

April 26, 1952 – Nashville manager Hugh Poland is ejected from his first game during an argument with umpire Andy Mitchell

April 26, 1978 – The Nashville Sounds play their first home game, a 12–4 victory, against the Savannah Braves in front of a sellout crowd of 8,156 fans

April 27, 1910 – Judge John Morrow passes away at his Nashville home at the age of 59. Morrow was a former president of the Southern League

April 27, 1956 – Nashville pitcher Rick Botelho goes 6-for-6 and hits two homers driving in eight runs to lead Nashville to a 23-6 slaughter of Mobile. The win halts a nine-game losing streak for the Vols

April 27, 1957 – Southpaw Jerry Davis of Nashville, attempting to win his third consecutive game, loses to Birmingham 4-3 on Dolph Camilli’s grand slam in the eighth inning

© 2015 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

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12th Annual Southern Association Conference at Birmingham’s Rickwood Field

Rickwood Field, Birmingham’s historic ballpark, is preserved through the efforts of the Friends of Rickwood and maintains Rickwood, built in 1910 as home to the Barons and used by the Negro League Birmingham Black Barons.

Over 200 amateur games are still played there, and each year the AA Southern League’s Barons host a regular season turn-back-the-clock contest dubbed the “Rickwood Classic”; this year’s game will be played on Wednesday, May 27th, as the Barons host the Jacksonville Suns at 12:30 PM. Former New York Mets star Darryl Strawberry will be the featured guest.

2015 ProgramA visit to Rickwood should be on every baseball fan’s list of places to visit. The ballpark hails a time when Sunday doubleheaders were played in the sweltering heat and future major leaguers hoped to move up the ranks to the majors. Each time I visit I think of what it must have been like for Nashville Vols Buster Boguskie, Lance Richbourg, Tom Rogers, Phil Weintraub, Bill Rodda, Boots Poffenberger, and Babe Barna to have played there. And how proud they’d be that it is still there.

It is such an iconic picture of baseball’s past that Rickwood has been used for commercials and movies.

The movie about Jackie Robinson, “42” utilized the ballpark during filming.

Like baseball? Like history? Like the history of southern baseball? Then you’ll need to remember this for the future: the Friends of Rickwood group sponsors an annual conference dedicated to the history of the Southern League (1885-1899) and Southern Association (1901-1961). It is a gathering of historians, writers, fans, and players who are interested in sharing their research, stories, and memorabilia.

The 12th Annual Southern Association Conference was held this past Saturday on March 7 after an informal gathering the evening before.

P1011126What took place? Well, the usual shaking of hands, pats on the backs, and hugs from friendships gained over previous conferences. But that’s not all.

The 28 attendees were treated to presentations on the birth of the Southern League (1884-1885); a perspective on Atlanta’s Henry W. Grady, an integral leader in the formation of the 19th Century league; an image of the 1885 Nashville Americans; a summary of a new book on the horizon about the Negro Southern League; and images and film about the Birmingham Barons.

P1011127Of particular interest to me was film presented by Birmingham and Memphis historian Clarence “Skip” Watkins which included color footage of a game between the Memphis Chicks and Nashville Vols. In color. Wow.

During the all-day event, we were treated to viewings of memorabilia collections and discussions about the old ballparks, teams, and what the future holds for southern professional baseball.

David Brewer, director of Friends of Rickwood, and Watkins came up with the idea in 2003, and the program has been ongoing since that time. The setting has changed from time-to-time, too: Chattanooga, Atlanta, and Nashville have hosted the conference and there may be opportunity to be in New Orleans in 2016.

P1011129Which leads me back to my original questions: if you are interested, you cannot go wrong. New Orleans or Birmingham, the Rickwood Classic or just a visit to the grand old ballpark in Birmingham. If you get your chance, take it in.

You can always ride with me.

 © 2015 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

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The Nashville Vols Era: Did You Have a Favorite?

Most Nashville Vols memories written to me and posted on the “I remember…” page of sulphurdell.com were from the 1950s and early 1960s. Very few are from the 1940s, as fans from that era have either passed away or had no internet or email access. Those who did write to me usually had a favorite player or two, and the memories of those players are vivid.Vol_Player

Here are a few that I have received over the years. Take a look and see which players you remember:

“I remember players like second baseman Buster Boguskie; shortstop Hal Quick; catchers Smokey Burgess, Carl Sawatski, Rube Walker, and Roy Easterwood; right fielder Charley Workman; center fielders Charley Gilbert and Carmen Mauro; left fielders Elwood “Footsie” Grantham and Johnny Krukman; pitchers Pete Mallory, Ben Wade, Hal Jeffcoat and Bobo Holloman (but for the life of me I can’t remember who played 1st and 3rd during those times).” – Don Duke, Cadiz, Kentucky

“Once shortstop Bobby Durnbaugh turned on an inside pitch and hit a woman sitting behind third base. Bob Lennon had an exaggerated swing to hit pop flies over the right field wall. George Schmees played the right field dump like no one else.” – Glenn H. Griffin, Pelham, Alabama

“I remember Chico Alvarez in left one night, catching a drive while flat on his back on that bank. My memory of the ‘Dell’ is mainly about the Jay Hook-Jim O’Toole-Jim Maloney-Johnny Edwards era, all of whom had fair-to-good major league careers.” – Tony Bosworth, Nashville, Tennessee

“Our favorite players over time were John Mihalic, Buster Boguskie, Les Fleming, Tookie and Charlie Gilbert (along with their father/manager Larry Gilbert) and Carl Sawatski; high on the list was Hal Jeffcoat.” – Bill Dunaway, Huntsville, Alabama

“I remember the night that I believe it was Tookie Gilbert that hit it over the fence almost dead center field. It hit a bus in the street and came back in the park and he only got a triple!” – Richard Ramsey, Winter Haven, Florida

“…George Schmees, Eric Rodin, Buster Boguskie, Hugh Poland, and Larry Munson.” – Larry Neuhoff, San Diego, California

“I remember my parents took me to Sulphur Dell each year in the mid- to late- 50’s and maybe a few times in the early 60’s. The names that come to mind are Tommy Brown at third base, Bobby Durnbuagh at shortstop, Larry Taylor at second base, Haven Schmidt, and of course, the right fielder who roamed the “Dump” and his name was George Schmees. I always enjoyed going to the Dell and listening to Dick Shively and later Larry Munson do the play by play on the radio.” – Teddy Ray, Fayetteville, Tennessee

In those days fans seemed to take a deep personal interest in hometown team heroes. Who was your favorite?

© 2014 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

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Double Play Quartet

The Philadelphia Athletics hold the all-time record for turning double plays in a season with 217 in 1949.  Equally impressive, the 1952 Nashville Vols infield set a Southern Association record of 202 double plays for a season.

Although the team finished in sixth place with a 73-79 record, 13 games behind the pennant-winning Chattanooga Lookouts, the stalwart infield consisted of four players who made their mark on the defensive side:

RANCE PLESS.  In 1952 third baseman Pless led the Southern Association with 196 hits and a .364 batting average.  He returned to the league in 1960, playing a total of 85 games with Birmingham and Little Rock after a brief appearance in the majors with the Kansas City Athletics in 1956.Ziggy

FRANK “ZIGGY” JASINSKI.  In his only season with the Nashville Vols Jasinski played shortstop in 120 games and batted .259 for the season.

JIM MARSHALL.  This future major league manager was the first baseman during the 1952 Vols season.  Batting .296 and slamming 24 home runs, he knocked in 98 runs and had 38 triples.  He also led the team in total bases with 287. Marshall went on to manage the Chicago Cubs and Oakland Athletics and later became a scout.

HAROLD “BUSTER” BOGUSKIE.  In 1952 Boguskie anchored second base. His best year at the plate came in 1951 when he batted .322 for the season, and in 1952 hit for a .255 average.

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Sulphur Dell and Dads

3rd_base_view_262

Image Courtesy Metropolitan Nashville/Davidson County Archives

When www.sulphurdell.com went online in 2002, people started writing in to tell of their memories of the ballpark. Since then I try to post all memories to the “I remember…” page on the website.

The most often-related experience is regarding fathers or grand-fathers taking children and grandchildren to see a game. Our father and grandfather took my brother and me to games at Sulphur Dell when we were youngsters, so I can relate. Here are a few favorites:

“My dad used t0 take me to watch the Vols play the Memphis Chicks, Chattanooga Lookouts, (and was the Atlanta team the “Crackers”?).  One night the game went very late, and we had to leave before it was over.  As we walked down the sidewalk outside the right field fence, I heard the crack of the bat as the game-winning home run was hit.  Then the ball hit in the middle of the street RIGHT NEXT TO WHERE WE WERE WALKING!  My dad took off after it and brought me back the game winner!!

You just don’t see ’em like that anymore:  Sulphur Dells And Dads… “

–Bruce Whitaker, Houston Texas

“I remember as a boy going with my dad “Dub Allen” who many know loved the game of baseball.  I always knew when we were getting close to the stadium by the strong smell of those livestock barns (y’all know the smell!)…walking down those side streets and alleys after we had parked the car. While walking and stepping over railroad tracks I would see that large white gas tank; as a kid that tank really looked big!  Once we walked into the stadium, we always sat out in the right field section sort of behind first base…my dad seemed to know everybody and it would take us an hour to walk back to the car due to all the chit-chat with friends.

“The last day I was with my dad before he passed away in the summer of 2000 we drove to the site of Sulphur Dell.  What made me want to pull into the parking lot was when he saw the old Atlantic Ice house that stood behind right field.  He had just told me that he once got a ball out of the gutter there when he was a kid.  I could tell he was excited to see the old site of Sulphur Dell, so I pulled into the State parking lot and stopped about where I figured the pitcher’s mound was.  He said he had many great memories as a child himself as a part-time bat boy and as a spectator.  I told him I can sit here and look around and see the old field.  I could sort of see the old infield in my mind, the noise, and I even seemed to begin smelling that old cigar and pipe smell.”

–Mike Allen, Donelson, Tennessee

“I remember my dad took me there from the time I was barely able to talk. I remember our having many good times, and that time together gave us a bond that I will not ever forget. Daddy used to say to folks that I was “his boy.” I loved sports, especially baseball, so much that if I could have pursued my career of choice, I would have become a sports announcer.”

–Janie Woodruff McIntyre

“I remember as a young boy riding the bus to Sulphur Dell with my Dad who loved baseball better that anything. One of the greatest thrills I had was going to the press box with Mr. (Raymond) Johnson of the Nashville Banner, and looking out at my dad sitting on the third base side. I can still hear my dad screaming at the umpires when a call went against the “Vols” – he always called them “Blind Toms”. I also can remember when they used to slide the doors back after the seventh inning stretch and people would come running in to catch the final innings. My Dad passed away in 1963 and had he lived, he would have been heartbroken to see the “Old Ball Park” closed.”

–Jim Cain, Nashville, Tennessee

“I remember as a little girl my father, Buster Boguskie, playing at the Dell. I remember, Willie White, the trainer, carrying me around the park and telling everyone I was his “God-child”. I remember the smell of hot dogs and popcorn, the railroad tracks out front, playing with the turn-style when you first came in and waiting in the car after the game for my dad. I wish I could go back to that time and be able to go through the park just one more time. Wouldn’t it be great if it were still standing!”

–Gail Boguskie Wilson, Goodlettsville, Tennessee

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