Tag Archives: Chattanooga Lookouts

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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Sulphur Dell Circuses and Slugfests

In what must be one of baseball’s most productive offensive games ever in Sulphur Dell, Chattanooga outlasted Nashville 24-17 in the second game of a double header on Wednesday, June 12, 1946.

With the Shrine Circus scheduled for a five-day run at the historic ballpark the next week, sportswriter Raymond Johnson offered his view by comparing the wild game to circus shenanigans under the sub-heading “Vol-Lookout Gyrations Bring To Mind Shrine Circus”:

“…it is extremely doubtful if the circus will provide more amusing things than some of the comical and, at times, stupid play Those Vols, their rivals, and the umpires – let’s not forget them – have in the Dell this week.”[1]

Nashville won the first game that day by a score of 4-3, but the night cap was one for the record books.

Nashville Tennessean, 06-17-1946 Shrine Circus Sulphur Dell

Nashville and Southern Association rival Chattanooga set a league record for most hits in one game for both teams with 51 and tied a league record for runs scored in a game with 41. There were 109 official times at-bat, 29 left on base, 15 doubles, three home runs, and a total of 71 bases.[2]

What does not show up in the box score are other zany happenings.

Twenty-eight players, 12 Lookouts and 16 Vols, took part in the game. Nine pitchers, six Vols and three Lookouts, took his turn on the mound. There were four hit batsmen and nine errors.

In the first inning, Nashville’s Joe Stringfellow golfed a long home run out of the ballpark, and a few batters later second baseman Jim Shilling hit an infield popup which Lookouts third baseman Ray Goolsby, first baseman Jack Sanford, and pitcher Larry Brunke dropped between them. Shilling later pitched two innings for Nashville.

There was even a protest, although only rules interpretations can be protested, not judgement calls. In the fourth inning Chattanooga’s Hillis Layne hit a fly ball that hit the right field screen and dropped down to settle at the top of the wooden fence. Base umpire Lyn Dowdy ruled it a ground-rule double, but plate umpire Paul Blackard thought the ball had cleared the fence and gave the signal for a home run.

Nashville outfielders Stringfellow and Pete Thomassie convinced Blackard that the ball was clearly visible on top of the fence and the arbiter reversed his decision. The decision brought manager Bert Niehoff out of the Lookouts dugout to argue that the ball on the fence could have been one hit there during batting practice. After discussing the issue, both umpires ruled once again that, in fact, Hillis should be credited with a home run. Larry Gilbert protested the game at that point, to no avail.

A blowout game had happened in Atlanta’s Ponce De Leon ballpark a few seasons before, with similar results.

In a 26-13 win over the Crackers on August 18, 1943, every Nashville player collected at least one hit, scored at least one run, and all except Charlie Brewster knocked in at least one run[3].  Charlie Gilbert went to the plate eight times in the game, and the entire team totaled 58 plate appearances and 29 base hits.

First baseman Mel Hicks started the Vols scoring spree with a three-run homer in the first inning, and Ed Sauer added another four-bagger for two runs in the fifth. It was the 10th home run on the season for the pair. After three innings the Vols had scored 14 runs, then added five more in the fifth.

The Crackers made it interesting by scoring 11 runs in the final three innings, but by then Nashville increased their total with three more in the seventh and four in the ninth, which included a steal of home by third baseman Pete Elko for the final Vols tally.

Gritty Vols manager Larry Gilbert called on outfielder Calvin Chapman and catcher Walt Ringhofer to direct the ball club in his absence, flying from Atlanta to attend the wedding of team owner Fay Murray’s daughter Emily on that day.[4]

One of the highest scoring games in Vols history, the previous record had occurred two years prior in Chattanooga.

On the third day of the 1941 season in Chattanooga on April 13, Nashville won 25-1 by sending 19 batters to the plate in the seventh and final inning of the second game. Vols outfielder Oris Hockett hit a grand slam and catcher Marvin Felderman drove in three runs with a single to clear the bases, accounting for seven of the runs. With 15 runs in the frame, the Vols came within one of the league record for runs scored in an inning, set by Little Rock against Nashville on April 25, 1929.[5]

Big scores continued six days later on April 19 Nashville won 20-1 at Sulphur Dell, and the next day as the Vols pounded the Lookouts again 21-9.[6]

Rivalries between opponents created some of the most memorable games in Southern Association history, complete with all-time marks, record stats, and individual performances. The success of Nashville’s franchise during the 1940s includes noteworthy performances such as these.

[1] Johnson, Raymond. “One Man’s Opinion”. Nashville Tennessean, p. 40, June 14, 1946.

[2] Nashville Tennessean, April 13, 1946, p. 19

[3] Nashville Tennessean, August 19, 1943, p. 18

[4] The Sporting News, August 26, 1943, p. 19

[5] The Sporting News, April 24, 1941, p. 11

[6] Johnson, Raymond. “One Man’s Opinion”. Nashville Tennessean, p. 32, August 20, 1943.

Sources

baseball-reference.com

newspapers.com

paperofrecord.com

sabr.org

© 2016 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

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Perfection at Sulphur Dell

Tom Rogers pitched a perfect game for Nashville on July 11, 1916, as the Vols won over Chattanooga at Sulphur Dell 2-0. The hard-throwing right-hander from Sparta, Tennessee who resided in nearby Gallatin and was known as the “Gallatin Gunner”, “Sumner County Scythe”,and “Shotgun”, struck out four in the game that took only one hour and 25 minutes to complete.

The feat had been accomplished only two times before in baseball’s modern era, by Cy Young on May 5, 1904, when the Boston Americans defeated the visiting Philadelphia Athletics, and by Addie Joss of the Cleveland Naps over the Chicago White Sox 1-0 on October 2, 1908.

Nashville Tennessean and American 07-12-1916 Tom Rogers Perfect GameOutfielders Billy Lee and Gus Williams aided in securing Rogers’ feat. Lee ran down a smash by the Lookouts Joe Harris in right-center in the second inning, even though he stumbled as he made the play. Lee held on to the ball and the crowd applauded their approval.

Williams performed a similar play by running down a seventh-inning Jake Pitler drive that was heading down the left field line. The left fielder nabbed the ball just before crashing into the fence near the negro bleachers.

Both pitchers held his opponent hitless for six innings. In the seventh inning, Vols second baseman Tom Sheehan managed his clubs lone hit against Chattanooga’s Jim “Lefty’ Allen. It began a rally of two runs as Howard Baker sacrificed Sheehan to second, and Sheehan taking third on an outfield error that was hit by Gus Williams.

Sheehan scored on a Dick Kauffman bunt that was not fielded cleanly by Allen, and Williams followed him home on a squeeze play that was performed flawlessly by Art Kores.

Nashville was not able to generate additional hits, and Allen finished with a one-hitter while Rogers completed his perfect game.

The previous season on August 15, 1915, Rogers had thrown a complete game, 15-inning shutout in allowing only three hits as Nashville won over visiting Little Rock 1-0. He ended the season with a 14-19 record in 293 innings pitched.

He continued his resolute performance in 1916. Rogers had shut out the Atlanta Crackers in his previous start before his unspoiled performance, giving him 18 straight innings without allowing a run. It was not until July 23 when Little Rock scores in the seventh inning that the first run was given up by him after 43 scoreless innings.

Tom RogersRogers would finish the season with a 24-12 pitching record in 317 innings as Nashville would secure its fourth Southern Association pennant.

A tragedy had occurred one month before Rogers joined the history books. On June 18, 1916 Rogers hit Mobile third baseman Johnny Dodge with a pitch in the seventh inning the game, striking him in the face. Dodge had lunged into the pitch to catch the ball before it curved, and although the injury was not considered to be serious at first, Dodge was hospitalized as a precaution.

The next day he dies from the injury. Teammates on the 1915 Nashville team, Rogers was distraught over his friend’s death, and Rogers continued to carry the tragedy with him until his own passing in Nashville in 1936 after 14 seasons of professional baseball.

His perfect game entrenched himself into the annals of Sulphur Dell history, as it is the only such accomplishment in the history of the ballpark.

Sources

baseball-reference.com

Nashville Tennessean and Daily American

newspapers.com

© 2016 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

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Jimmy Wasdell’s Breakout Game

Not necessarily known as a power hitter, Nashville’s Jimmy Wasdell had a special game at Sulphur Dell on May 27, 1936 that proved otherwise. Facing Little Rock’s big 6’4”, 210 lb. right-hander Joe Mulligan and reliever Charlie Burgess, Wasdell had three hits and drove in seven runs to lead the Vols to a 12-5 win over the Travelers.

Nashville Tennessean 05-28-1936 Nashville Little Rock Box Score 05-27-1936Appearing in only his twelfth game in a Nashville uniform, 20-year-old Wasdell raised his batting average from .289 to .320, increased his RBI totals from eight to 15, and slammed his first home run of the season, a grand slam. He scored three runs and added two doubles to complete his evening’s feat.

Third baseman Jimmy Outlaw added two singles as submarine thrower Byron Speece won his 10th game of the season by holding Little Rock to one hit in the first six innings before allowing two additional hits in the last three frames. Tiring in the late innings, his teammates secured his victory by scoring 12 runs in the first two-thirds of the game when “Lord Byron” was at his best.

With the win, the Nashville club held second place with a 26-17 record, 7 ½ games behind front-runner and defending champion Atlanta.

Wasdell was holding down the first sack as the seventh Vols player to play the position on the young season. Raised in Cleveland and signed by the hometown club, Jimmy had been a pitcher in the local sandlots. Sent to Zanesville (Class C – Middle Atlantic League) as an outfielder he led the club in hitting (.357), doubles (54), and home runs (19).

Moved to Minneapolis (Class A – American Association) to begin the 1936 season, he was moved to the outfield when he could not beat out Millers first baseman Joe Hauser. On May 14 Wasdell was sent to Nashville to provide stability at first base and add an additional left-handed hitter in manager Lance Richbourg’s lineup.

Jimmy started but was hitless on May 15, then secured his first hit the next day against Memphis’ Sol Carter, scoring a run in the process.  Over the course of nearly two weeks, Wasdell would average one hit per game until his breakout event.

But on June 26, a pitch thrown by Chattanooga Lookouts lefty Dick Lanahan caught Wasdell square on the chin, breaking his jaw. At the time Jimmy had been hitting at a .339 pace, and had socked 8 homers as the Vols chased the Atlanta Crackers in the standings.

Out for better than two weeks, upon his return he maintained his hitting and fielding but teammates thought he never recovered his power hitting after the injury.

Nashville ended the year seven games behind first-place Atlanta, who topped the loop with a 94-59 regular season record. The Vols garnered second-place at 86-65. Appearing in 88 games, Wasdell’s season average would stand at .336 on 107 hits, 22 doubles, and 12 home runs.

In the off-season, Wasdell would be traded to Chattanooga, a Washington Senators farm club, where he batted .319. Appearing in 32 games for the Senators near the end of the 1937 season, he jumped between the majors and minors over the course of the next 15 seasons and would play for Washington, Brooklyn, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia Cleveland before retiring in 1949.

On a special night in a game played at Sulphur Dell on May 27, 1936, Wasdell broke out of a slump and thumped Little Rock pitching to jumpstart his special season for Nashville.

© 2016 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

Sources

baseball-reference.com

newspapers.com

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Nashville’s Larry Gilbert and Six Seasons of Glory 1939-1944

Before Gilbert

Nashville had been the winner of four Southern Association pennants in the first 16 years of the league’s existence: 1901, 1902, 1908, and 1916. It would be a long drought, over two decades long, before another championship would occur.

Murray-HamiltonFay Murray and Jimmy Hamilton purchased the club in 1931. From 1931 – 1938 the team finished second three times with an overall record of 686 -674. Nashville finished in second place in the Southern Association for 1938 and Brooklyn Dodgers general manager Larry MacPhail added Vols manager Chuck Dressen to Leo Durocher’s staff for the 1939 season.

The move paved the way for Vols owner Fay Murray to offer Larry Gilbert the managerial position and an ownership stake in the Nashville club if he would leave New Orleans. In 18 seasons Gilbert’s teams had won 1,392 and lost 1,035 (.574).

1939: The Coup

Larry_Gilbert_LetterDuring negotiations in Montgomery, Alabama on November 4, 1938 Larry Gilbert, veteran manager of New Orleans, was promised that if he would leave the Pelicans and his hometown, he would be given one-half share of the Nashville club. Full reign of daily operations would be his at a salary of $10,000. On November 8 owner Fay Murray announced that Gilbert was the new Nashville Vols manager. Jimmy Hamilton’s share of the Vols had been purchased by Murray to make possible the deal offered to Gilbert. On November 9, Gilbert began his first day on the job.

In his first season he lead Nashville to third place behind Chattanooga and Memphis. First baseman Bert Haas won the batting title (.365). Nashville became the Southern Association’s representative in the Dixie Playoffs by defeating Atlanta four games to three in the playoffs, and in the Dixie Series, Ft. Worth won over Nashville four games to three.

1940: Dream Season

On March 2 Baron “Boots” Poffenberger was purchased by Nashville from the Brooklyn Dodgers. Proving his eye for talent, Larry Gilbert took a chance on the bad boy pitcher who once had been suspended. No manager really knew how to handle him, but in 1940, Poffenberger would lead the league with a 26-9 record; no pitcher equaled his win total in the history of the Southern Association.

Gilbert knew how to handle him.

With the weather around 39 degrees, the Vols took a 6-0 lead and coast to a 12-8 opening day victory on April 12 over the Atlanta Crackers before a Sulphur Dell crowd of 8,206 chilly fans. The team never fell out of first place the entire season, and the starting lineup remained intact throughout the season with only two roster changes to the pitching staff in mid-season.

Nashville_Vols_1940_2Nashville finished the season with a 101-47 (.682) record as Arnold Moser lead the league in hits (216), Bob Boken and Gus Dugas tied with 118 RBI, Dugas has 22 home runs, and Ace Adams strikes out 122. For the second year in a row, seven starters hit over .300.

In the first round of the playoffs Nashville shut out Chattanooga three games to none, and on September 10, Nashville pitcher George Jeffcoat struck out seven consecutive Lookouts on his way to tallying a league record of eighteen.

Trouncing Atlanta four games to two to take the Southern Association Shaughnessy Playoffs title, Nashville won its first Dixie Series over Texas League champion Houston four games to one.

1941: Tragedy, Loss, and Victory

The laurels that surrounded the previous season changed to apprehension at the beginning of 1941, as beloved team owner Fay Murray passed away on March 4 just before spring training. Manager Gilbert faced a completely revamped lineup and injuries to key players Gus Dugas, Les Fleming, and John Mihalic during the season.

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.

1941_SeasonPassA multitude of rainouts resulted in an unkind twin-bill schedule to end the season. The brutal series of double-headers began on August 17 and ended on September 7. Fourteen double-headers were played during the last twenty-two days of the regular season, including seven twin-tilts in a row. Nashville won 18 games during the spree.

Gilbert piloted his charges to a second-place regular-season finish at 83-70 (.542), 15 ½ games behind Atlanta as Les Fleming lead the league with a .414 season batting average. Oris Hockett at .359 and Tommy Tatum at .347 finish second and third; only two starters hit below .300.

Nashville won the Southern Association Shaughnessy Playoffs by beating the New Orleans Pelicans three games to one, and ousted 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. The Vols’ pitching staff had three complete games, with only one reliever being used the entire series. It was the Vols’ second straight Dixie title.

1942: Three for Three

In the first inning of the second game of a double-header in Knoxville on April 19, the first nine Nashville batters each got on base with a hit, a walk, or an error, The same nine scored in succession: Roy Marion, Jim Shilling, Legrant Scott, Gus Dugas, Charley English, Charley Workman, Mickey Kreitner, Johnny Mihalic, and Dutch McCall pulled off the exploit.

Nashville_Vols_1942On August 17 Nashville scored ten runs in the first inning before the Lookouts can retire a batter. Final score: Nashville 21, Chattanooga 6. Three Vols batter each has 5 hits: Charley Workman, Charles Brewster, and Roy Marion.

Nashville ended the year four-and-a-half games behind first-place Little Rock. Charlie Workman lead the league in home runs with 29, and Charlie English in hits (201), RBI (139), doubles (50), and batting average (.341) as George Jeffcoat lead in strikeouts with 146.

Winning over Birmingham three games to one in the first round, the Vols upended Little Rock four to none to take the playoffs. In the Dixie Series, Nashville won over the Texas League champion Shreveport Sports in six games. It was Nashville’s third consecutive Dixie Series title, the only team in the title series history to accomplish the feat.

1943: Back in First Place

CGilbert_FBCharlie Gilbert returned to Nashville to play for his father once again in 1943. He had played on his father’s first Nashville team in 1939 and would later return to the Vols again in 1948.

In a 26-13 win over Atlanta on August 18, every Nashville player in the game got at least one hit, scored at least one run, and all except Charles Brewster knocked in at least one run. Charlie Gilbert batted eight times in the game as the entire team totaled 58 plate appearances and 29 base hits.

With a split-season format, Nashville finished atop the standings in the first half (75-49). In the second half the Vols finished second (34-29) with an overall record of 83-55 (.601), best in the league. Only one starter hit below .300 as Ed Sauer won the batting title (.368) and pitcher Mack Stewart lead in pitching percentage (18-5, .783).

With a 12-hit barrage on September 13, the Vols roughed up four Pelicans pitchers to win the Southern Association championship in New Orleans, 7-0. A crowd of 6,437 attended the game, including 1,975 military personnel. The series ended 4 games to 1.

With World War II raging in Europe and the Pacific, there is no Dixie Series for the first time in 24 years.

1944: The Last of Six Straight

1944On March 3, Charles Fred “Red” Lucas, sold to the New York Giants in 1922 by the Vols, returned to Nashville as pitcher, pinch-hitter, and coach. It would be key to success of the team as the experienced Lucas would become Larry Gilbert’s chief assistant during the season.

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.

Mel Hicks lead the league in home runs with 16, pitcher Boyd Teplar lead in winning percentage (12-2, .857) and strikeouts with 147. Seven starters batted over .300.

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

The Larry Gilbert Legend

On September 8, 1948, in his final game as manager, Gilbert was honored for 25 years as a manager in the Southern Association. 6,509 fans gathered at Sulphur Dell as Gilbert was awarded a Chrysler New Yorker, a television set, and 12-place silver setting.  Friends and dignitaries attending the event included Commissioner A. B. Chandler, George M. Trautman, president of the National Association, and Southern Association president Charlie Hurth, calling testament to Gilbert’s reputation among his baseball brethren.

By winning win one more regular season championship in 1948 with a 95-58 (.621) record, Gilbert’s tutelage in Nashville would include league titles in 1940, 1943, 1948, 1949, and 1953. Dixie Playoff titles were won in 1940, 1941, 1942, and 1949.

He finished with a 736 – 592 (.554) career record with Nashville. Overall he was 2,128-1,627 (.567) in 25 seasons. Gilbert maintained ownership in the Nashville Vols until 1955 when in May he sold his share of the club and moved back to New Orleans. He passed away February 17, 1965 and was buried in Greenwood Cemetery in New Orleans.

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 in 2001.

© Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

Resources:
ancestry.com
baseball-reference.com
Davidson County/Metro Nashville Archives
newspapers.com
southernassociationbaseball.com
The Sporting News
Tennessean
Wright, Marshall D. The Southern Association in Baseball, 1885-1961. Jefferson, NC, United States: McFarland & Co. 2002.

Author’s note: Nashville’s Larry Gilbert and Six Seasons of Glory, 1939-1944 was presented at the 13th Annual Southern Association Conference at Rickwood Field on March 5, 2016. Special thanks goes to Rickwood Field Executive Director David Brewer, Clarence Watkins and the Friends of Rickwood. Additional thanks to Bill Traughber, Derby Gisclair, and Tony Roberts.

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Fast Track Through Nashville: Lefty Jim O’Toole

Jim O’Toole was signed by Cincinnati on December 23, 1957 for $50,000, paid over four years, coming off a 4-1 college season for the University of Wisconsin. He struck out 15 batters in three different games for the Badgers.

JO'TooleThat summer he played semi-pro baseball for Mitchell, South Dakota in the Basin League where he had an 8-1 won-lost record and 2.79 ERA[1]. With nine other clubs interested in his services, the large contract was an investment general manager Gabe Paul was willing to make. Averaging 12 strikeouts per game in the summer league might have had something to do with it, furthering the Reds’ intent on signing him.[2]

The son of a Chicago policeman, the 6’1” 195-lb. O’Toole’s high school did not field a baseball team, but he played in area amateur leagues and took up boxing.

His reputation began in his teens as he missed tossing no-hitters on three occasions where he allowed a hit in the final inning and once struck out 19.[3]

Assigned to Nashville after spring training, he immediately showed the Reds that he would be worthy of their confidence. With the letters “T-H-I-N-K” written on the fingers of his glove[4], on April 18, 1958 the 21-year-old shut out the Chattanooga Lookouts 1-0, allowing only four hits.

Four days later he struck out five but walked 10, gaining the win over Chattanooga as Nashville catcher Vic Comoli had a grand-slam home run in the first inning to lead the Vols to a 15-7 win over the Lookouts.

Jim won three of his first four decisions as a professional, but he continued to impress. On May 3, he nearly tossed the first no-hit, no-run game at Sulphur Dell in 42 years in a 14-0 route of Little Rock. With two outs in the ninth inning former St. Louis Cardinal Harry Elliott hits a single, and Ben Downs adds another before Jim retired Lou Heymans to end the game. O’Toole finishes with a two-hitter.

He earned his fifth win in six decisions on May 12. Throwing a five-hitter in an 8-2 win over Mobile, he broke one of manager Dick Sisler’s team rules by walking the opposing pitcher. Jim was fined $1.00 which was collected for the player’s party account.[5]

The warmer weather of June proved to be of Jim’s liking. On June 3 Nashville won over Little Rock 4-2 as the Vols scored three runs without hitting the ball out of the infield. Two walks, three singles and an error help break open a pitching duel between Nashville’s O’Toole and the Travelers’ Al Grunwald, with Jim improving his pitching record to 7-3 with the win.

On June 11 Nashville ends a six-game losing streak at Hartwell Field in Mobile as the left-hander blanked the Bears on six hits, 3-0.  It is O’Toole’s third shutout and ninth win of the season.

Not only did he shut out New Orleans on four hits on June 20, Jim slugged his first home run and was perfect at the plate in three appearances. The Vols beat the Pelicans 16-0 as he registered his fourth shutout of the season and eleventh victory.

He pitched fourteen innings on June 24 in leading the Vols over Memphis 3-2, the Chicks’ ninth loss in the ten games.  O’Toole raises his record to 12-3 with the victory, lowers his league-leading ERA to 2.07, and his twelve complete games, 106 strikeouts, and 152 innings also lead the Southern Association.

O’Toole was a unanimous selection to the leagues’ July 16 All Star game and was named the starter by All Star manager, Nashville’s Dick Sisler. Jim pitched the first two innings, gave up two hits, and was credited with the 4-0 victory over host Atlanta Crackers. Four days earlier he improved his record to 14-4 in a win over Atlanta, giving him a win over each team in the circuit. A six-hit win over Memphis on July 22 gave him victory number 15.

Jim added to his credentials in a mid-season poll of all Southern Association managers compiled by Nashville Banner sports editor, Fred Russell. O’Toole was voted number one major league prospect in the league, picked as one of the fastest pitchers, and surprisingly one of the fastest base runners.[6]

He became the league’s first 17-game winner of the season with a 4-3 win over New Orleans on August 5.

It was the only full season Jim spent in the minors. His totals for Nashville were impressive: 180 innings pitched in 35 games, 21 complete games, a 20-8 record and 2.44 ERA.

Called up to the parent Reds, he appeared in one game in Milwaukee. Starting against the Braves on September 26, O’Toole allowed one unearned run on four hits, striking out four and walking five in the Braves 2-1 win over Cincinnati.

He was selected to the AA and A All Star team by the National Association of Sports Writers, and was named the player in the minors who made the most rapid advancement toward major league status for the season. Jim was also selected to the Southern Association’s All Star team, and a unanimous choice of the loop’s top rookie at season’s end.

He would have a 10-year major league career, nine with the Reds and one with the Chicago White Sox. Never a 20-game winner, he made the National League All Star team in 1963, and had five consecutive seasons of 10 or more wins. Perhaps his best season came in 1964 when he was 17-7 with a 2.66 ERA.

In his first year of eligibility in 1970 O’Toole was inducted into the Reds Hall of Fame. Born on January 10, 1937, he passed away on December 26, 2015.

© 2015 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

[1]The Sporting News, January 1, 1958 p. 6

[2] Ibid., January 15, 1958, p. 16

[3] Ibid., June 11, 1958, p. 55

[4] Ibid., October 8, 1958, p. 10

[5] Ibid., May 21, 1958, p. 35

[6] Ibid., August 6, 1959, p. 36

Additional Sources

Retrosheet.org

Baseball-Reference.com

 

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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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