Tag Archives: Hall of Fame

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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Pete Rose and a Baseball Stain

One of my great memories as a father is having played catch with my kids. One particular day my youngest son Chris wanted to throw and went to his room to get a baseball. He was playing in Little League and was a strong, hard throwing left-hander. His throws could more aptly be called “scorchers” instead of “tosses”.

As we separated about 40 feet from each other, he hummed his first pitch to me but it took a couple of hops (“worm burners” my dad used to call them) and went under my reach. I turned and retrieved the ball and took a look at the grass stain on it. It had an autograph on it.

grass stained baseball“Pete Rose” was clearly legible as the grass stain had not perpetrated the autograph. Pete’s signature was clear as a bell.

I said, “Chris, you brought a ball that has Pete Rose’s autograph. Don’t you want to hold on to it?” He shrugged, as it was more important that we have a ball to catch than not.

I examined the ball for more autographs, and found another: “Bill Boner”. The Nashville mayor’s signature was not as legible since a green smear came over the “er”.

A decision had to be made. Do I rescue the icon of baseball lovers everywhere by stopping our backyard encounter with the National Pastime, or do I continue to play catch?

Impatient during the delay, Chris finally yelled, “C’mon dad, throw it!” Our throwing to each other continued.

In 1987 Greer Stadium hosted a two-game exhibition series between the Montreal Expos and the Cincinnati Reds, the parent club of the Nashville Sounds. As my uncle Walter Nipper was a member of the ownership group of the Nashville club, he invited my dad, me, and my children onto the field to watch batting practice and shake hands with players.

Uncle Nip gave each of my boys a baseball to collect autographs. My oldest son Doug was able to get the signatures of a couple of the Reds players, most notably Barry Larkin (who would be named to the Hall of Fame in 2012) and Chris had to settle for Pete Rose and the mayor (I specifically remember Chris asking Ron Dibble to sign his ball, but Dibble told him “no”, that Chris didn’t even know who he was).

All this leads me to yesterday’s announcement that evidence had been found that Pete Rose had gambled on baseball games (including his own team, the Cincinnati Reds) while he was a player. Since then mainstream media, radio talk shows, and social medial posts have been rampant both critically and in support of Rose’s potential reinstatement to Baseball by MLB commissioner Rob Manfred. I have bantered back and forth with Facebook friends today, and here is my take on it.

Is Rose eligible for reinstatement because he finally confessed?

No. He knew the rule. It’s Rule 21 under the heading “Misconduct”, instituted for good reason: to keep players from taking payouts to affect the outcome of a game and ruining the nature of The Game. Rose knew the rule but chose to ignore it.

Many people compare Rose’s gambling issue to the Chicago Black Sox scandal (which lead to Rule 21), but there was no such rule in 1919 when the Black Sox scandal occurred. Chicago player Joe Jackson, who was banned from baseball in 1921 by commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis, was a great player who Babe Ruth patterned his hitting stance on. Jackson often has been mentioned in the same sequences of support as for Rose.

Another contention questions whether Rose’s actions are as bad as PED users including Barry Bonds, Alex Rodriquez, Ryan Braun and others, along with questions of the character of Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth, and Mickey Mantle.

Really? Aren’t these entirely different sets of circumstances?

To put anything into one’s body to enhance athletic performance has long been considered “against the rules”. No matter that former MLB commissioner Bud Selig took so long to address the issue (remember, Sosa and McGwire were swatting long home runs, and lots of them, while “juiced”), the PED issue became a distraction and subsequent steroid use has been banned.

That banishment has left many fans with a bad taste in their mouth, including me. I see no reason to include known steroid-users from Hall of Fame selection. And the argument that other moral issues should keep outstanding players out of Cooperstown should hold no bearing, either, if there was no rule against it.

Otherwise, does Joe Jackson get tossed into the A-Rod, Ryan Braun, etc. category?

When Cobb and Ruth were playing there was no National Baseball Hall of Fame and I doubt they were too worried about what people thought of their lives beyond the ball field. When Mantle was playing, he thought he was going to die at a young age and did some things that may have been morally wrong but I don’t believe were against baseball rules.

Even if Rose were to be reinstated, which he won’t, he will never be elected to the Hall of Fame. That conversation, his appeals, and consideration for anything but being a proven liar over and over, should end.

Hall of Fame selection is an honor. A great player? Yes. Charlie Hustle? You bet. But according to the rules for voting on players by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America for Hall of Fame membership, there is one glaring rule that can never be overlooked:

5. Voting: Voting shall be based upon the player’s record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played.

I suppose three out of six ain’t bad.

Pete does not need the money that Hall of Fame membership brings. He makes plenty of money right now signing baseballs and memorabilia. Let him ponder his own flaws that will keep him from Hall of Fame selection forever.

If he can only be honest with himself.

© 2015 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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From My Bookshelf: “The Greatest Game Ever Played in Dixie”

Dixie coverWith the descriptive sub-title of “The NASHVILLE VOLS, Their 1908 SEASON, and the CHAMPIONSHIP GAME“, John A. Simpson’s book (2007, McFarland & Company, Inc. Jefferson, North Carolina & London) gives a true account of an especially historic game at the end of an especially historic season.

It did not take nearly eight years from when first published for me to read this book nor review it. Actually, I found it to be such an amazing account from first reading that I reread it, finishing it again a few days ago.

Since I thirst for anything about Nashville baseball, I could not help myself. Now it’s time for me to tell you what I think about it.

The title of the book comes from a description by Nashville Tennessean sports writer Grantland Rice about the last game of the 1908 season, played for the Southern Association championship between the Nashville Vols and New Orleans Pelicans at the Vols’ home field, Athletic Park.

Simpson’s research of Nashville baseball in the early 20th Century comes through in great detail, as he writes of events leading up to this final game. His ability to set the stage for the season, then ending with specific line scores, playing careers of the ballplayers, and a final argument about Nashville player Jake Daubert’s Hall of Fame credentials summarize his wonderful volume.

John takes his reader from explicit reasons for Nashville’s involvement in professional baseball from its roots, with an early description  of the ballpark which would also become known as Sulphur Dell in 1908 (once again, named by Rice in a sports article and immortalized in prose), to the detail surrounding the game.

The game itself is described by inning-by-inning as players come to bat, pitchers’ throw their pitches, and umpires make their calls. The fans number over 10,000 according to Rice, and they jeer and cheer and boo and hiss, giving atmosphere to the challenge of the competing teams attempting to win that last game and earn the right to the pennant.

Well-respected Nashville manager “Berny” Bill Bernhard assembled a special team for the season, including speedy Harry “Deerfoot” Bay, Wiseman, and Daubert to complement pitchers Hub Purdue, Vedder Sitton, Win Kellum, George Hunter, and Johnny Duggan. Bernhard gets in the action from time-to-time, too, and proves a valiant leader and mentor in the championship drive.

Gathering information and data from a myriad of sources has allowed Simpson to accurately detail players’ families, attitudes, and idiosyncrasies even up until each one’s death. In the end, the chapter named “Life After Baseball” helps Simpson’s readers command a deeper understanding of what happens when players’ careers are finished and how they deal with being away from The Game.

He summarizes each players’ life from an objective genealogy and statistics perspective, but also gives compassion to those whose life does not necessarily end in happiness. Players’ careers are also indexed by year and by team, so one can easily see how Nashville was often one of many stops in the move up or down the baseball ladder.

Included is a familiar relationship that he gained through the Julius “Doc” Wiseman family in Cincinnati, who opened their homes and family albums to John. This incredible opportunity is not taken lightly by the author and once again offers a compassionate look at Wiseman’s remarkable career inside and outside of baseball.

Wiseman was revered by his teammates and his fans, as his playing career ended having played for 11 seasons with Nashville.

Limited images do not deter the storytelling of early Nashville baseball or detract from the detail within the chapters. He weaves an important story in great respect; to take it all in, one needs only to accept this book as a history book, and a fine one it is for others who thirst a deeper understanding.

The legacy of Nashville and southern baseball is told in this wonderful book. I have read it twice, I have referred to it a hundred times, and I highly recommend it.

 © 2015 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

 

 

 

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Birth of the Elites

On March 26, 1920, Nashville’s Thomas T. Wilson and seven others took a bold step that set in motion the establishment of a Negro League team in Wilson’s home town.

With the assistance of investors T. Clay Moore, J. B. Boyd, Marshall Garrett, Walter Phillips, W. H. Pettis, J. L. Overton, and R. H. Tabor a corporation was chartered with the State of Tennessee named “Nashville Negro Baseball Association and Amusement Company”, “for the purpose “of organizing base ball clubs and encouraging the art of playing the game of baseball according to high and honorable standards and of encouraging the establishment of a league of clubs in different section(s) of the state; and also of furnishing such amusements as usually accompanying base ball games and entertainments. Said corporation to be located in Nashville, Tennessee, and shall have an authorized capital stock of $5,000.00”.

133052a_lgWilson had become owner of the local semi-pro team, the Standard Giants, which had been founded in 1907 as a member of the Capital City League by J. W. White, C. B. Reaves, and W. G. Sublett.

These organizations were the predecessors to what would become the Nashville Elite (pronounced ‘ee-light’) Giants. Ever the entrepreneur, Wilson dropped “Standard” from his team’s name in 1921, substituted it with “Elite”, and sought membership in the Negro National League. He built his own 8,000-seat ballpark in Nashville in 1928 and the team played in the Negro Southern League until 1930.

Granted membership in the Negro National  League Wilson signed Satchel Paige for his drawing power, but Wilson moved his club to Cleveland and renamed them the Cubs for one season before returning to Nashville. Eventually he would move club to Cleveland, Columbus, Washington, D. C., and finally to Baltimore.

Wilson would serve as president of the Negro National League from 1938-1946.

The illustrious history of the Elite Giants includes players from Nashville: Henry Kimbro, Jim Zapp, Sydney Bunch, Clinton “Butch” McCord, Jim “Junior” Gilliam. Sam Bankhead and Hall of Famer Ray Dandridge spent time with the Nashville club.

That same history beckons us to honor all those who played “The Game”. Tom Wilson’s dream for Negro League baseball evolved from a Nashville vision to a national treasure. Ninety-five years ago today, March 20, 1920, was a key date in that vision.

Hail to you, Tom T. Wilson, a visionary for the ages.

© 2015 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

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From Sulphur Dell to World Series Hero: Dusty Rhodes

Quick, name the Most Valuable Player of the 1954 World Series. Yes, that one, the one in which Willie Mays makes that miracle catch and throw.

It is late in Game One of the 1954 World Series.  Played at the cavernous Polo Grounds in New York, Cleveland Indians first baseman Vic Wertz crushes a fly ball to deep centerfield.

There is one out in the eighth inning, the score is tied 2-2, and with two runners on base the drive is certainly going to send in two runs, and possibly three, as Giants centerfielder Willie Mays turns towards the wall to make a play.

Mays makes an over-the-shoulder catch that not only robs Wertz of an extra-base hit, but Mays’ unbelievable throw to the infield sends the runners scurrying back to their bases. Cleveland’s Larry Doby is able to tag up and move to third, but Al Rosen holds up at first base. The next batter is walked, but the Giants are able to get two more outs without allowing a run.

The score remains tied into the bottom of the tenth when Mays walks and steals second, Hank Thompson is walked intentionally, and with one out Giants manager Leo Durocher sends in a pinch hitter for Monte Irvin. James Lamar “Dusty” Rhodes steps up to the plate and wallops a three-run homer off future Hall of Fame pitcher Bob Lemon to lead New York to a 5-2 win.

The next day Rhodes pinch hits for Irvin again and delivers a single to drive in Mays. Remaining in the game to play left field, Rhodes hits a home run off of Early Wynn, another future Hall of Famer, to help ensure the win in Game Two as the Giants beat Cleveland 3-1.

The Series moved to the Indians Municipal Stadium for Game Three. With the Giants ahead 1-0 in the third inning, once again Durocher calls on Rhodes to pinch hit for Irvin. With the bases load he delivers a single that scores Don Mueller and Willie Mays and adding to the Giants lead 3-1. Staying in and playing left field, Rhodes is intentionally walked in the fourth inning with New York ahead by a score of 4-0. He strikes out in his last two plate appearances but the Giants win 6-2 and take a 3-0 lead in the Series.

Rhodes does not play in Game Four, as the Giants quickly take a 7-0 lead and win by a final score of 7-4. Dusty RhodesEven though the Indians had won a record 111 games to capture the American League pennant, the Giants take the series in four games. The Giants are 1954 World Champions!

For the Series Rhodes stats total a .667 batting average, two homers and seven RBIs.

“The Catch” becomes one of the most memorable events in all of baseball history; we’ve seen it over-and-over in film and pictures. One sportswriter said, “It would have been a home run in any other park, including Yellowstone.”

So the answer is Willie Mays, right? Well, no. There was no official World Series MVP until 1955 when the Brooklyn Dodgers’ Johnny Podres won the award.

But in the mind of Giants fans everywhere, it was Rhodes. And there is a Nashville connection.

The 6-ft., 178-pound left-handed hitter had played five seasons with Chicago Cubs minor league affiliates. At the end of the 1951 season the Nashville baseball club purchased Rhodes from the Rock Hill, South Carolina club of the Tri-State League.

A line-drive pull hitter, Rhodes would fit well in Nashville’s lineup. Taking advantage of the short right-field “dump” at Sulphur Dell, Rhodes delivered, too.  After 82 games the 25-year-old led the Southern Association in batting with a .357 average. His 114 hits included 14 homers, 4 triples, and 27 doubles with 62 RBIs and 64 runs.

He was purchased for $25,000 by the Giants and reported to the major league team in Cincinnati on July 13 and his non-descript seven-year major league career began. Used primarily as a pinch hitter for Monte Irvin, his statistics were not impressive.

The 1954 post season was a different story.

© 2014 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

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Ernie Banks: Remembering Sulphur Dell

During Hall of Famer Ernie Banks’ recent visit to Nashville, he recalled playing at Sulphur Dell for the Kansas City Monarchs. Banks was on the Negro League team during the 1950 and 1953 seasons (he served in the military during 1951-1952).

“Do you remember the date?” I asked him.

“I believe it would have been 1953, but I can’t tell you what month. I do remember hitting a fly ball up on the hill in right field,” he responded.

Knowing that it would not have been entirely unusual for there to be an announcement about a Negro League game in one of Nashville’s mainstream newspapers, previous research told me that it would be unusual for the game to have been reported in the sports section.

Nor would there be a chance of a box score or any other information to have been printed.

“I’d like to find a box score or some other reference to the game”, I said. “Any thing you could remember about playing here would be helpful.”

I did not want Banks to think he was being interrogated, but experience told me that it might be helpful if he could remember which team was the Monarchs’ opponent for the game.

“Do you remember what team you were playing?” I asked.

Banks thought for a moment, looking straight at me as if he was really wanting to remember any clue he had about the game.

“I believe we were playing the Indianapolis Clowns,” he said. “If you find anything, let me know.”

Hoping I could find some reference to Ernie Banks playing with the Monarchs in Nashville, another research quest was added to my list. Perhaps some reference to a Monarchs game at Sulphur Dell could be found.

I found it. At least, I believe I did. After searching various resources I found a reference to the Kansas City Monarchs playing the Indianapolis Clowns in Nashville. It is only a small write-up and line score of a Negro League game played on August 7 – Banks is not mentioned – but nevertheless there it was. It is from the Kansas City Times, August 8, 1953:

Kansas City Times, August 8, 1953

Often it only takes a tidbit of information (and a little bit of diligence, too) to find that hidden gem. To me, it is about connecting our present to our past, and any tip, hint, or clue whets my appetite for helping to make that connection.

Since Ernie Banks recalled that the Monarchs played the Clowns, it made the difference. I hope to contact him and with the information in the article and perhaps it will produce new memories about his visit to Nashville’s Sulphur Dell.

© 2014 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

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