Tag Archives: Cincinnati Reds

Chuck Coles, 1958 Nashville Vols Hero

Charles Edward “Chuck” Coles was born on June 27, 1931 to Dorothy and Charles “Chalky” Coles in Fredericktown, Pennsylvania. He excelled at football, basketball, and baseball at Jefferson High School. His father had been a sandlot pitching ace in Greene County[1] and was a semi-pro player in the Middle-Atlantic League and managed in the local Big Ten baseball league. “Chalky” was inducted into the Big Ten Hall of Fame’s inaugural class in 1954.[2] Chuck played American Legion ball for his father’s Jefferson team, and enrolled at Waynesburg College. He was signed by Rex Bowen of the Brooklyn Dodgers before the 1950 season.

At Newport News (Piedmont League – Class B) to begin his professional career, Chuck had seven hits in 39 plate appearances before being sent to Valdosta of the Georgia-Florida League (Class – B). It was there he began to show the promise of being a solid hitter. Joining the club nearly a month after the season began, he had 30-game hitting streak at one point.[3] Finishing with a .355 batting average to go along with 14 home runs and 161 hits, he was named Georgia-Florida League Co-Rookie of the Year.[4] Back to Newport News for the entire 1951 season, his average tailed off to .299, but he impressed the Dodgers during spring training in 1952 and was sent to Mobile (Southern Association, Class – AA).

1952 with Mobile, on May 11 the 5’9”, 180-lb. outfielder had his streak of seven consecutive games of two or more hits halted when he was held to a single.[5]  He was selected to the Southern Association All Star game, Bears outfielders Bill Antonello and Bama Rowell[6]. Coles led off and played right field in the game at New Orleans, but had no hits in three turns at bat. He was one of three rookies from Mobile to play in the game, along with Norm Larker and Don Zimmer.

Mobile finished third in league standings with an 80-73 record, but in the SA playoffs, Coles had a key home run in Mobile’s 8-2 win over Atlanta to take a 3-2 margin over the regular season champions. In the final game of the series, Mobile won 3-2 as Coles knocked in two runs with a double.[7] In December, Coles notified Mobile club president John Toomey that he had been inducted into the armed services the previous month and was stationed at Fort Gordon, Georgia[8]. Coles served in the military in 1953 and 1954.

Back to baseball in 1955, he began the season with the Bears but in May was optioned by Mobile to Elmira.[9] Benched due to weak hitting on July 10, the next day he had a double and two triples, knocking in four runs in a 5-4 win over Johnstown.[10] He finished with a mediocre .278 batting average.

Sent to Pueblo of the Western League in 1956, he regained his hitting stroke and slammed 24 round-trippers during the season. He had two grand-slam home runs each against Sioux City and Des Moines. In 1957 he remained with Albuquerque for the entire year, and was selected to the Western League’s All Star team at the end of the season.[11] He hit .354 with 26 home runs and 120 RBI.

On March 10, 1958, Nashville purchased Coles’ contract outright from Albuquerque, and he reported to the Vols the next day at their spring training camp in Brooksville, Florida. Coles had been recommended to Vols general manager Bill McCarthy by Nick Cullop, who had managed him the for the first half of the previous season. Once Cincinnati farm director Bill McKechnie approved, the deal was made.

“Cullop told me that Coles would make an ideal Deller,” McCarthy said. “Apparently Cincinnati thinks he can help us, too.”[12]

Coles immediately made an impact. On April 23, 1958, he had two triples in successive innings in a 13-12 slugfest over Atlanta, [13] and by May20 had extended his hitting streak to 15.[14] The next day in the first game of a double header at Rickwood Field he extends it to 16 games, as he becomes only the second player in league history to hit three home runs (all three off Barons pitcher Ron Rozman) in a seven-inning game as the Vols beat Birmingham 8-3. In his last at-bat, Coles hits a single as he drives in seven of the eight Nashville tallies. In the nightcap, Barons pitcher Bob Bruce ended Coles 16-game hitting streak. But Coles had raised his batting average to .425.[15]

On June 6, Nashville’s fourth annual Knot Hole Night draws a crowd of 2,579 paid fans, with the club donating half of the proceeds to the Junior Chamber of Commerce-sponsored Knot Hole League baseball program.  But the evening is marred by an injury to Coles, who is hit in the head by a rock thrown from the stands. He was hitting .358 at the time, was not seriously hurt.

On July 1, he got Nashville’s only hit against Little Rock right-hander Bud Black as the Travelers beats. the Vols 3-0. A few weeks later his batting average had dropped to .333, but was selected to the 1958 Southern Association All Star Game.

In the annual event, he hits three-run home run off Atlanta’s Bob Giggie and later doubles to lead the All Stars win over Atlanta 4-0. Just six days prior, Coles had hit one off Giggie at Ponce de Leon ballpark, then had another off the same pitcher on Tuesday night. In total, Chuck hit four home runs off Crackers’ pitching, all but one off Giggie, then added the All Star homer to his feat. He had hit four-of-five home runs off the same pitcher.[16]

He ended with a .307 average with 107 RBI and 29 home runs, topping the league with 320 total bases. Called up by the Cincinnati, he made his big-league debut on September 19. Starting in left field against the Milwaukee Braves at Crosley Field, his first putout was on a fly ball by Vada Pinson for the third out in the second inning. In the Reds half of that inning, he struck out against right hander Carl Willey, who would be named National League Rookie of the Year for the season. In the fourth inning, the bespectacled Coles hit a double to drive in Smokey Burgess, collecting his first RBI in the majors.

Playing center field at Milwaukee’s County Stadium a week later, he gained his second (and last) major-league hit, a single in the fifth inning off Lew Burdette. Coles has the distinction of having played in five games for the Reds, all against the Braves; he wraps up his stint with a .82 batting average in 11 plate appearances.

Chuck played winter ball with Valencia, hitting two home runs in the game that clinched the pennant for his team. Beginning in 1959 with Havana (International League – Class AAA), in 30 games his batting average was a paltry .181 and he soon found himself back on the Nashville roster.

“We’re glad to have Chuck back,” general manager McCarthy said. “I talked with Dick (Nashville manager Dick Sisler) today and he was quite pleased. I don’t know where Dick will play him, but we can use a bat like Coles swings. We’re fortunate to get him. Havana has been getting a steady diet of left-handed pitching and wants to add some right-handed power.”[17] Coles never regained his batting ability. Used sparingly, he hitting .203 when on July 1, he was traded to Atlanta by Nashville for Ray Shearer. Coles was a visitor in the press box during the game that night against Memphis at Sulphur Dell.

“Maybe it’s all for the best,” he said. “I just couldn’t get going here. I have to play regularly. Maybe I’ll get to with Atlanta. I hate to leave Nashville, but it’s part of the game.”

It was an unusual trade. McCarthy’s negotiated deal with Atlanta owner Earl Mann meant both Coles and Shearer would return to the other club at season’s end, as both player’s contracts were owned by their parent organizations (Coles with Cincinnati, Shearer’s with Milwaukee).[18] It took some coaxing by Coles to Nashville’s new manager, Jim Turner. After a March 10 workout with the Vols, Turner was ready to give the former star a chance.

“I see no reason why he should not have five or six more good years left,” turner said. “It isn’t normal for a man of his age (29) to have two seasons like he did in 1957 and 1958 and then suddenly not be able to do a thing. I don’t believe he’s through.”[19]

coles-1960

Chuck Coles, Nashville manager Jim Turner, Cincinnati coach Jack Cassini at Spring Training in 1960

Chuck promptly led the Vols in spring training round-trippers with six. Once the season began, he joined Erv Joyner and Crawford Davidson in the outfield and he regained some of his hitting form. By September, he got on base 11 straight times on five hits and six bases-on-balls, then popped out to end the string, and at year’s end had hit 14 home runs, drove in 99 runs, and batted .290.

Surprisingly, he returned to Mobile to begin the 1961 season, but after 32 games and a .202 average, he was demoted to Charlotte (South Atlantic League, Class – A), a Minnesota Twins farm club. He hit .313 in 101 games, eight home runs and 47 RBI.

Remaining with the Hornets beginning in 1962, his manger was Spencer “Red” Robbins, who had managed Nashville the previous season. Used as an outfielder-first baseman at Charlotte, by late June he was leading the SALLY with a .369 batting average, and by June had increased his numbers to .376, six HR, and 22 RBI. But Robbins benched him when Ernie Oravetz reported from Syracuse (International League – Class A).

With 80 games under his belt, and a .305 average, on July 27 he was optioned to Wilson (Carolina League – Class B)[20]. The Tobs (short for Tobacconists) were in a pennant-chase and it was thought he would provide much-needed help at the plate. On August 1, Coles hit a home run with one on in the ninth inning to give Wilson a win over Winston-Salem, 3-1. The next day, he hit another homer against the Red Sox in a 6-0 win. here he finished the season by playing in 42 games. Wilson finished woefully 24 games out of first place, and as Coles’ average was only .243, it seemed he was near the end of his career.

1963 was last season, with Tidewater Tides in Carolina League. In 27 games hit .260, but his career had indeed ended. He finished after 12 minor league seasons with a .292 average, 176 home runs, and 357 RBI to go along with two RBI earned in his brief period with Cincinnati. Upon retirement, he became a millwright in Jefferson, Pennsylvania.

He passed away on January 25, 1996 in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina at the age of 64, and was buried in Greene County Memorial Park in Waynesburg, Pennsylvania. In 2009 was inducted posthumously into the Washington-Greene County Sports Hall of Fame[21].

© 2017 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

[1] The Evening Standard (Uniontown, Pennsylvania), July 6, 1956
[2] Von Benko, George. “Chuck Coles was another Jefferson baseball star”. Greene County Messenger. http://www.heraldstandard.com/gcm/sports/chuck-coles-was-another-jefferson-baseball-star/article_be836705-bdb6-5729-b73d-cd26583d5b6e.html. Retrieved January 25, 2017.
[3] The Sporting News, August 9, 1950, p. 20.
[4] Ibid., August 16, 1950, p. 22.
[5] Ibid., May 21, 1952, p. 29.
[6] Ibid., July 9, 1952, p. 43.
[7] Ibid., October 1, 1952, p. 46.
[8] Nashville Tennessean, December 10, 1952, p. 28.
[9] The Sporting News, May 18, 1955, p. 34.
[10] Ibid., p. 41.
[11] The Sporting News, September 25, 1957, p. 41.
[12] Nashville Tennessean, March 11, 1958, p. 19.
[13] The Sporting News, May 7, 1958, p. 37.
[14] Ibid., May 28, 1958, p. 35.
[15] Ibid., June 4, 1958, p. 31.
[16] Nashville Tennessean, July 17, 1958, p. 27.
[17] Ibid., May 21, 1959, p. 30.
[18] Ibid., October 16, 1959, p. 43.
[19] Nashville Tennessean, March 11, 1960, p. 24.
[20] The Sporting News, August 11, 1960, p. 41.
[21] Washington-Greene County Chapter Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Fame, http://www.wash-greenesportshall.org/2009/Coles.htm. Retrieved January 26, 2017.

Bibliography

Marazzi, Rich. Baseball Players of the 1950s: A Biographical Dictionary of All 1,560 Major Leaguers. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Co., 2004.

Nipper, Skip. Images of Baseball: Baseball in Nashville. Charleston, South Carolina: Arcadia Publishing, 2007.

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

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Vandy was a Vol

Johnny Vander Meer was born on November 2, 1914 to Dutch parents in Prospect, New Jersey, and grew up in Midland Park. Baseball became his love and he found the attention of a Cincinnati Reds scout, signing with Dayton (Class C – Mid-Atlantic League).[1] The next two seasons were spent in Scranton (Class A – NYPL) where he was 18-18.

In his first three years in the Cincinnati Reds farm system he developed arm trouble. In 1936 he was sent to Nashville to consult with Dr. Lee Jensen, a noted sports doctor who determined there was an issue with a muscle in Vander Meer’s back. After therapy and exercises, he was being counted on as a starter for the Vols.

vander-meerIn two-game exhibition series against the St. Louis Browns at Nashville’s Wilson Park, he was starting pitcher on April 7 and appeared as a reliever on April 8. In the first game, a cold and windy affair, after one out he issued walks to four consecutive batters to force in a run before being relieved by Johnny Intlekofer. The Browns won 3-1.

The next day he relieved Junie Barnes in the seventh. Only giving up one hit, Vander Meer gave up five runs in the eighth; for the game, he struck out four, walked five, and hit batter Harlond Clift before being relieved by Ray Davis. Johnny was the losing pitcher.

On April 21, he faced the Atlanta Crackers in his first start for the Vols, another cold affair that was eventually called due to darkness that ended in a 4-4 tie. Continuing to relieve for manager Lance Richbourg, on May 3 Vander Meer was given his second start, this time in Birmingham. He allowed two runs in five innings before being yanked for Red Ahearn.

In Nashville’s Sulphur Dell on May 9, Johnny started against New Orleans, but did not finish in the Vols 15-8 trouncing of the Pelicans. Having appeared in 31 innings in eight games but with no wins, he started against the Travelers in Little Rock on May 19, but did not last the inning after walking the first three batters he faced. He was the losing pitcher.

With 25 bases on balls in 32 innings, his arm control was beginning to show. By June 1 he was gone, sent to Durham (Class B, Piedmont League). Still under contract to Nashville, Vander Meer found his curve ball under the tutelage of manager Johnny Gooch, and won 19 games while losing only 6 with a 2.65 ERA.

Most impressive were his 272 strikeouts in 194 innings. He struck out 20 in one game, 19 and 18 in two others. “Vandy” was named The Sporting News Minor League Player of the Year for 1936.

Sold by the Vols to Cincinnati, he was invited to spring training and spent the season between the Reds where he was 3-4 with a 3.84 ERA, and Syracuse (Class AA – International League) where he was 5-11 with a 3.34 ERA.

He was an All Star for Cincinnati in 1938 and threw consecutive no-hitters, the only player to ever accomplish the feat. His first came against the Boston Bees on June 11 in Cincinnati and the second was accomplished against the Brooklyn Dodgers on June 15, the first night game ever played at Ebbets Field.

Four days later, on June 19 in Boston, he no-hit the Braves until one out in the fourth inning when Debs Garms hit a single. The streak ended at 21 1/3 innings, which included the batter Vander Meer retired in the game before his first no-hitter.[2]

Named The Sporting News Major League Player of the Year that season, Johnny was also named to the All Star team in 1939, 1942, and 1943.

His lifetime 119-121 record included 1,294 strikeouts, and he led the league in that category for three consecutive seasons; 1941 (202), 1942 (186), and 1943 (174).

Upon his release from the Cleveland Indians in 1951, he pitched in 24 games for Tulsa and won 11, losing 10. But on July 15, 1952, 14 years and one month after his record performance, he hurled a no-hitter in a Texas League game against Beaumont.

Oddly enough, Beaumont manager Harry Craft was centerfielder for the Reds and made the final putout in the second no-hitter by Vander Meer. The ball was hit by future Hall of Famer Leo Durocher of Brooklyn.

Upon retiring from active playing, he managed in the minors for 10 seasons where his teams won a total of 761 games and lost 719. Future major leaguers Jim Maloney, Vic Davalillo, Jack Baldschun, Lee May, Jim Wynn, Ed Kranepool, and Pete Rose played for “The Dutch Master”.

When his baseball career was over he worked for a brewing company and enjoyed fishing. Vander Meer passed away on October 6, 1997 in Tampa, Florida, and was buried with a baseball in his left hand.[3]

SOURCES

Ancestry.com

Baseball-reference.com

Nashville Tennessean

Newspapers.com

Retrosheet.org

Sabr.org

© 2016 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

 

[1] Johnson, James W. Johnny Vander Meer, SABR Baseball Biography Project. Retrieved from ww.sabr.org

[2] Goldstein, Richard. “Johnny Vander Meer, 82, No-Hit Master, Dies”, New York Times, October 7, 1997

[3] Johnson, James W. Ibid.

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One Day, Three Wins: Nashville’s 1895 Tripleheader

Rain interfered with Nashville’s home doubleheader with Little Rock on June 25, 1895, as the first game was postponed after three innings when field conditions were too poor to continue. Nashville was leading 2-1, but not enough innings had been played for it to have been a complete game.

George StallingsThe game scheduled for the next day, June 26, was the last visit Little Rock was to have made to Athletic Park for the remainder of the season, creating an unusual circumstance for completing the series. It was the home team’s prerogative to reschedule games, but when Seraphs manager George Stallings decided to play three games in one day to complete the series, the decision did not set well with the visiting team.

Sending word to the opposing club that the first of three games would take place at 10:30 AM, Little Rock’s manager, Richard Gorman, protested to Southern League President J. B. Nicklin that the Travelers should not have to play more than two games in one day. Nicklin did not exactly side with Gorman; he sent a telegram that the choice to play in three games was optional.

Even though Gorman refused to play the morning game, he and two of his players showed up anyway. At game time, umpire Ed Cline yelled “Play ball” and Nashville’s Eddie Daniels toed the rubber. With no batter at the plate, the Nashville pitcher threw three lazy curves to catcher Mike Trost. Cline turned to the 900 spectators and declared the game a 9-0 forfeit in favor of the Seraphs.

When play began in the second game, players from either side had to alternate the umpiring chores for the first three innings as Cline had misunderstood the starting time, set for 2:30 PM.

Nashville committed nine errors but the Seraphs won over Little Rock 17-7. Travelers pitchers Buttons Briggs and Jack Fifield allowed 18 hits, one a home run by Seraphs left fielder Frank Butler, but only seven of the runs were earned.

Sam Moran was the starting pitcher for Nashville. He had a 7-4 record the previous season when the team was known as the Tigers, and would end the season with a 22-12 record. He would become a member of the Pittsburgh Pirates pitching staff at year’s end.

In the middle game of this day, he pitched all nine innings in the two hours it took to lead his team to the win.

The third game of the day was ended after seven innings due to darkness with Nashville having the upper hand, 8-5. Moran was chosen starting pitcher in the final game by manager Stallings. Lackung the speed he possessed in the previous game, Moran gave up only eight hits and two walks as Nashville completed the trifecta.

Atlanta Constitution 06-28-1895 Three Games Triple Header Nashville Little Rock

Nashville remained in third place in the Southern League with the three wins with a 30-18 record, just behind second-place Atlanta (33-17) and league-leading Evansville (33-16). At seasons end, Atlanta secured the pennant with a one-game lead over Nashville. The season was not without problems, as Montgomery, Memphis, and Little Rock did not finish the year.

When the Travelers ball club disbanded in late July, Nashville acquired the contract of Richard Gorman.

Although rare, there are records of other tripleheaders being played. One was played five years earlier on Labor Day, September 1, 1890, between Brooklyn and visiting Pittsburgh. Unlike the Nashville-Little Rock series, all three games were played with no forfeit, with Brooklyn winning 10-9, 3-2, and 8-4.[1]

In 1896, three games were also played in one day. No reason is given, but the tripleheader was played on Labor Day in Baltimore on September 7. The visiting Louisville Colonels lost 4-3, 9-1, and 12-1 with the final game ending after eight innings due to darkness.[2]

Several years would pass before another tripleheader be played. The games were scheduled to determine third-place in the National League, and were the last games of the season. This time, on October 20, 1920, the Cincinnati Reds visited Pittsburgh and won 13-4 and 7-3 before losing 6-0 in a game shortened by darkness. Cincinnati had clinched third place with the first two wins, but the third game was played anyway.[3]

Three games played in one day gave Nashville an uncommon footnote in the history of baseball.

Sources

www.baseball-reference.com

www.newspapers.com

Nashville American

Atlanta Constitution

[1] Suehsdorf, A. D. “The Last Tripleheader”. SABR Research Journal, http://research.sabr.org/journals/last-tripleheader. Accessed June 20, 2016.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Willard, Jim. “Baseball’s last triple-header was certainly one for the record books. http://www.reporterherald.com/ci_19435586. November 30, 2011. Accessed June 16, 2016.

© 2016 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

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Hank Aaron’s Professional Debut Was in Sulphur Dell

Henry Aaron was inducted to the Hall of Fame in 1982 after a career that included 25 All-Star appearances, at least a .300 batting mark in 14 seasons, hitting 30 home runs 15 times, and winning three Gold Glove Awards.

Aaron1Most notably renown for becoming baseball’s home run king on April 8, 1974 in passing Babe Ruth with his 715th, Aaron would still have more than 3,000 hits should his total of 755 home runs be removed from his hit total.

“Hammerin’ Hank” captured the National League MVP Award in 1957, won the league’s batting title in 1956 and 1959, and appeared in the World Series in 1957, 1958, and 1969.

Born on February 5, 1934 in Mobile, Alabama, the 18-year-old, 5’11” 170-lb sensation began his march to baseball immortality as a member of the 1952 Negro American League Indianapolis Clowns. The team held spring training in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, then traveled to several cities to play exhibition games between Buffalo and Kansas City.

The Kansas City Monarchs, Chicago American Giants, Birmingham Black Barons, Memphis Red Sox, and Philadelphia Stars were the other teams in the six-team league. The Clowns did not schedule games in Indianapolis, playing all games in other cities, but opening day was scheduled for May 11, 1952 as a double header against the Philadelphia Stars.

In Nashville, at Sulphur Dell. It would be Hank Aaron’s first regular-season game as a professional.

The Memphis World heralded the “newcomer Henry Aaron, the sensational 16 [sic]-year-old, will open at short…”

Memphis World 05-06-1952 Indianapolis Clowns Philadephia Stars Hank Aaron Rookie Sulphur Dell

But the Nashville Tennessean made no mention of Aaron in articles previous to and after the two games:

Tennessean 05-10-1952 Henry Aaron Sulphur Dell Indianapolis Clowns Philadelphia Stars 05-11-1952Tennessean 05-11-1952 Henry Aaron Sulphur Dell Indianapolis Clowns Philadelphia Stars 05-11-1952Tennessean 05-12-1952 Henry Aaron Sulphur Dell Indianapolis Clowns Philadelphia Stars 05-11-1952

With no report of his batting or field totals on that day in the historic ballpark, one can only guess that he began a string of games that included strategic hits and powerful blows that lent to his successful career.

Exactly one month later, on June 11, Aaron was leading the Negro American League with a .483 batting average on 15 hits, 51 total bases, five home runs, six doubles, 28 runs, and 24 RBI. On that day he was purchased by the Boston Braves for $10,000 and his major league career was off and running.

Sent to Eau Claire (Class C – Northern League), he ended his first season in organized baseball with a .336 average. In his first full year in the minors at Jacksonville (Class A – South Atlantic League) in 1953, Hank slammed 22 home runs and had 208 hits leading to a batting average of .362. He earned a trip to spring training where he caught on with the Braves who had left Boston for Milwaukee.

On April 4, 1954, Hank returned to Nashville and had two doubles, scored twice and had two RBI in an 18-14 exhibition win over the Brooklyn Dodgers. At Sulphur Dell one year later against Brooklyn, he hit a home run and a single, driving in two runs in the Dodgers 10-8 win.

In Brooklyn’s 12-2 win the next year on April 9, he had a double and an RBI. It would be four years before Aaron returned to Sulphur Dell, this time against Cincinnati before 6,763 in a 6-3 win over the Reds when he had a single and scored a run.

Aaron’s four appearances in Nashville as a member of the Braves were preceded by a particular date on the baseball calendar, May 11, 1952, when Hammerin’ Hank marked his official professional debut in the infield dirt at Sulphur Dell.

© Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

Special thanks to fellow researcher, Mark Aubrey (oldknoxvillebaseball.blogspot.com)

References

Bryant, Howard. (2010). The Last Hero: A Life of Henry Aaron. New York, New York. Pantheon Books.

Vascellaro, Charlie. (2005). Hank Aaron: A Biography. Greenwood. Westport, Connecticut.

Online Sources

http://coe.k-state.edu/annex/nlbemuseum/history/players/aaron.html

http://www.baseball-reference.com

http://www.baseballhall.org

http://www.crossroadstofreedom.org

http://www.georgiaencyclopeia.org

http://www.newspapers.com

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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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Bye Bye SALLY, Hello Emptiness

GoodBye.fwThe last day of professional baseball at Sulphur Dell was September 8, 1963 as the Vols faced the Lynchburg White Sox in a double header.  Nashville outfielder Charlie Teuscher belted three home runs as Nashville won by scores of 6-3 and 2-1.

A total of 971 fans attended the two games that day, innocent witnesses to what would be the beginning of the end for Sulphur Dell.

Two years prior the Southern Association disbanded. Nashville had been a stalwart member of the league since its inception in 1900, fielding a team each year from 1901-1961. The legendary league silently refrained from allowing Negro players, and with integration on due course in the majors the Southern did not take a stand on reform.

Nashville experienced rapid attendance depletion between 1947 (when organized baseball was integrated) until 1960 when the death knell began to sound for the league. The rumblings of change were heard a few years before.

On August 29, 1960 Gabe Paul, Cincinnati vice-president and general manager, announced that the Reds six-year working agreement would not be renewed with Nashville.  His reason was quite clear.

“(The Southern Association) does not allow the use of Negro players.”

Nashville’s ownership and the directors of the Southern Association must not have heard quite clearly enough, as they continued another season under the same miserable whispers of the status quo.

The Minnesota Twins agreed to replace the Reds as major league affiliate for 1961, but that failed to revive the team or fan attendance as a mere 64,460 bothered to show up for the season. Diminishing upkeep on Sulphur Dell was taking its toll, too.

At a board meeting held in Charlotte in January of 1962 the directors announced that the league would officially suspend operations on February 15. There was to be no baseball in Nashville in 1962.

A resurrection took place in 1963, however, as the up and coming South Atlantic (SALLY) League accepted Chattanooga and Nashville as new franchises. The directors of Vols, Inc., a public corporation formed in 1959 to keep the club solvent, hired a new general manager and gave the ballpark a face lift.

Formerly a general manager with the Washington Senators, Ed Doherty was brought on board to revive the franchise. His hiring seemed to be just the thing the ball club needed as he salvaged a limited working agreement with the Los Angeles Angels.

The team was integrated, which was a remarkable feat. The SALLY league had no expressed rule against integration, and on the first day of the season on April 19 in Knoxville, Eddie Crawford stepped to the plate to become the first African-American to appear in a Vols uniform. Four batters later, Henry Mitchell would join Crawford as the second in that distinction. The squad included future major leaguers Aubrey Gatewood, Duke Sims, and Marv Staehle.

Even though season ticket sales were the worst in the history of the club, Doherty predicted a crowd of 7,000 for Nashville’s opening day, and on April 25 a Sulphur Dell home crowd of 7,987 saw the Macon Peaches win over the Vols 15-4. It was the largest turnout for opening day since 1948.

Success was fleeting, as interest waned once again and by season’s end the team had drawn less than 53,000. Nearly 15% of season attendance had viewed the first game of the home season.

And the team was not very good, finishing with a record of 53-86 and in last place 27 ½ games behind the pennant-winning Macon Peaches.

With three home runs on the final day of pro ball at Sulphur Dell Charlie Teuscher may have brought visions of towering home runs by Bob Lennon, Charlie Gilbert, Chuck Workman, and Jay Partridge. But a week later and with a deficit of almost $22,000 for the season, the directors of Vols, Inc. surrendered their South Atlantic League franchise. There was no dissenting vote.

Board chairman Jack Norman assigned a committee to look into the feasibility of retaining Sulphur Dell, but it was the last hurrah for the famous park. Amateur baseball was played at Sulphur Dell in 1964, and in 1965 it became a speedway before being converted into an automobile tow-in lot for Metro Nashville.

The storied ballpark was demolished in 1969, leaving the recollections of fans and players to honor the historic hallowed grounds of Sulphur Dell.

© 2015 Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

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The Hitting Streaks of Nashville’s Johnny Bates and Mobile’s Harry Chozen

Hitting StreakOn July 29, 1945, Mobile catcher Harry Chozen lays down an unsuccessful sacrifice bunt[1], ending his consecutive-game hitting streak at 49. It was the 11th inning of a 13-inning affair in Mobile, and Chozen finishes the game 0-for-5[2].

The unlikely batting hero caught for the Cincinnati Reds on September 21, 1937 against Philadelphia Phillies pitcher Wayne LeMaster. After flying out to right, popping up to the first baseman in foul territory, and grounding out to first, Chozen hit a single in the bottom of the ninth inning for his only hit and only appearance in the major leagues. The Reds lost 10-1.

He played the next four years in the Eastern League for Albany and Williamsport, then in the Virginia League with Newport News before moving to Knoxville and Mobile in the Southern Association after World War II.

In surpassing Nashville’s Johnny Bates’ 45-game streak set in 1925, Chozen admitted that a broken bat was used for every hit of the streak.

“I broke my bat when I got my first hit of the streak on May 27 (in Memphis).” Chozen said. “I started to give it to my kid, but changed my mind and did a tack and tape job, and brother, it has paid dividends.”[4]

He even hit a home run with it, in his first time up on July 22. It was his 46th game of his stretch, breaking Bates’ record[5].

Some controversy surrounded Chozen’s feat. On July 6, after having hit safely in 33 consecutive games, he was issued a base on balls in his first time at the plate. Catching in the fourth inning, he was hit in the head by Chicks player Pete Thomassie on his follow-through swing. Unconscious, Chozen was removed from the game.

As there was no official plate appearance, Chozen’s streak continued for another 16 games before it ended.

When his streak was halted, he connected for a hit in his next eight games before being collared by New Orleans Pelicans pitcher Trader Horn on August 8. On the year his 103 hits came in 292 appearances for a .353 average. He played in 88 games that season, but was made a free agent at the end of the year according to the terms of his contract.

He signed with Memphis for 1946 before assuming the manager’s reins at Greenville in the Class C Cotton States League for 1947. One of his starting pitchers was Bob Kelley, who would pitch for Nashville in 1950-1951 and 1956. Chozen also played in 97 games that season.

He played and managed for the next four seasons at Miami Beach (Florida International League-C), Pine Bluff (Cotton States League-C) for two seasons, and Lake Charles (Gulf Coast League-B) before finishing his playing career in 1952 at Greenville once again.

Chozen passed away on September 16, 1994 in Houston, Texas at the age of 78.

Nashville’s Johnny Bates had set the previous league record by hitting in 45 consecutive games during the 1925 season. His personal run began with two hits against Atlanta on July 30, ending with two hits on the last day of his streak against Milt Steengraffe of Little Rock on September 16[6].

In 26 of those games he had only one hit to keep his pace intact. His 72 hits gave him a .370 average and he scored 44 runs during the streak. Bates ended the season with a .349 batting average[7].

Bates had played in the Southern Association previously with Mobile and Chattanooga, and for Rocky Mount (Virginia League-B). He spent three seasons at shortstop with Nashville before moving to Mobile at the end of the 1927 season.

Not much else is known about Bates, as his baseball record and personal history are incomplete. It is believed that he was born on August 21, 1882 at Steubenville, Ohio[8]; which, if true, would have him as a 43-year-old during his record-setting year.

But comparing his and Chozen’s records to Joe DiMaggio’s widely-known 56-game major league hitting streak places them in the top of the all-time list.

The Yankee Clipper’s personal best had been set in 1933 as a member of the San Francisco Seals in the Pacific Coast League (AAA) with 61 straight, and baseball’s record champion across both major and minor leagues was established by Joe Wilhoit in 1919 while playing for Wichita in the Class A Western League. The hitting streak records of all-time in the major and minor leagues[9]:

Joe Wilhoit                         Western League                             69           1919

Joe DiMaggio                    Pacific Coast League                      61           1933

Joe DiMaggio                    New York Yankees (AL)                56           1941

Román Mejías                   Big State League                              55            1954

Otto Pahlman                    Illinois–Indiana–Iowa League   50           1922

Jack Ness                            Pacific Coast League                       49           1915

Harry Chozen                     Southern League                             49           1945

Johnny Bates                     Southern League                              46           1925

Willie Keeler                      Baltimore Orioles (NL)                   45           1896-97*

Jamie McOwen                 California League                              45           2009

Pete Rose                           Cincinnati Reds (NL)                        44           1978

*Keeler had a hit on the last day of the 1896 season, then hit safely in the first 44 games of the 1897 season

Two special players, each with average careers, had one very special season of their lives, and their feats were never matched in the Southern Association.

© 2015 Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

[1]Wechsler, Bob (2008). Day by Day in Jewish History. Jersey City, New Jersey: KATV Publishing House.

[2] Anniston Star, July 30, 1945.

[3] Wilkes-Barre Record, July 27, 1945.

[4] Baseball Records, Southern Association from 1901-1945 Inclusive.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Russell, Fred; George Leonard (1950). Vol Feats: Records, History and Tales of the Nashville Club in the Southern Association 1901-1950. Nashville, Tennessee: Nashville Banner.

[7] SABR Baseball Biography Project, incomplete

Major and minor league statistical information retrieved from http://www.baseball-reference.com. Major league game details retrieved from http://www.retrosheet.org.

 

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