Tag Archives: Hugh Poland

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Johnson chimed in on that reasoning.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Johnson backed up the honesty.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[7] Ibid.

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

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

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

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

Sources

Baseball-reference.com

Nashville Tennessean

Newspapers.com

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

© 2017 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

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Two Wins in One Day: George Heller’s Nashville Debut

Pitcher George Heller accomplished a remarkable feat for the Nashville Vols in 1952, one that has rarely taken place; he won two games in one day. It has been accomplished 10 times in the American League and 35 times in the National League and last occurred in the major leagues on August 28, 1926 by Cleveland pitcher Dutch Levsen.

Difficult to establish how many times it may have happened in the minors, Heller did it on June 1, 1952, his debut in a Nashville uniform.

His journey began in spring training. On March 17, after two hours of batting practice, manager Hugh Poland sent his Nashville charges up against Minneapolis as part of a long spring training session in Melbourne, Florida. Not expecting mid-season form out of his pitching corps, Clyde Stevens and Roy Pardue turned in impressive performances, shutting out the Millers and not allowing a single hit in the six-inning game.

Each one tossed three innings, Stevens exhibiting excellent control and a sneaky fastball that had helped him to a 12-9 record with Jacksonville the previous season, and Pardue’s fastball allowed only two balls to be hit out of the infield. He was a product of Nashville’s North High School, and it was his first performance as a pro.[1]

The Vols rapped out four hits, scored two runs, and won over the AAA American Association club, 2-0, and far outshadowed 24-year-old lefty George Heller who pitched the last two innings against Nashville.

Born in Honesdale, Pennsylvania on July 27, 1927, Heller had seven minor league seasons under his belt when he began spring training in 1952. To begin his professional career, George played three seasons in the lowest classifications of the minor leagues: Salisbury (North Carolina State League – Class D) in 1945, Hornell, New York (Pennsylvania-Ohio-New York League – Class D), and Carbondale, Pennsylvania (North Atlantic League – Class D).

In 1948 with Vandergrift, Pennsylvania (Middle Atlantic League – Class D) he had his best year: 20 wins against four losses, and a 2.75 ERA for the Pioneers, a Philadelphia Phillies farm club. Signed by the New York Giants after his productive season, he was sent to Jacksonville (South Atlantic League -Class A), where he was 6-6 and appeared in 46 games and earned another promotion.

Jersey City (International League – Class AAA) was one of two minor league affiliates at the highest level of classification (the other was Minneapolis), and George appeared 33 games for them in 1950, starting five games and completing two. His ERA was 3.36 for the season, but he had allowed only 60 hits in 67 innings and gave up less than one walk per inning with a total of 52.

When the parent Giants moved their affiliation to Ottawa (International League – Class AAA), George moved to the Canadian club. Hugh Poland, a former player and scout for the Giants, had managed Sioux City (Western League – Class A) in 1950, but had become the Ottawa manager for 1951. Heller was 4-7 with an inflated 4.45 ERA for Poland.

On May 29, 1952, George joined the Vols from Minneapolis, where he had not seen much action in the early season,[2] pitching in only eight games for a total of seven innings. Poland had become Nashville’s manager, and needed help in his pitching roster as the team was laboring in sixth place in Southern Association standings with a 23-25 record.

Heller immediately made an impact, earning a pair of victories on his first day in a Vols uniform. On June 1, scheduled to make his first start in the first game of a double header in Chattanooga, George pitched five innings, allowing eight hits and three runs while striking out one. He was lifted for pinch hitter John Kropf in the sixth inning with the bases loaded and down 3-2, and Kropf sailed one over the Engle Stadium wall for a grand-slam home run.

Awarded his first win, George was called on again by Poland in the second game. Sailing along with a Vols lead 8-3 in the fourth inning of the nightcap, reliever Pete Modica had been roughed up by Lookouts hitters by giving up seven hits and four runs in 2 2/3 innings after replacing starter Jim Atchley. John Uber gave up one hit in relief before Heller entered the game in the sixth inning with tying runs on base. He struck out sluggers Roy Hawes and Don Grate to quell the rally. In the seventh and final inning, Heller was lifted for a pinch runner and Dick Adair closed out the game.

Since Atchely had not gone five innings as starter, and Heller’s relief work was more effective than others, the score keeper gave Atchley the win.[3]

Two games, two wins, all on one day.

It is a remarkable feat that was more common in the early days of baseball. On September 9, 1876, Candy Cummings (who is credited with being the first to master the curveball), accomplished the feat for the National League’s Hartford Dark Blues against Cincinnati in the first scheduled double header in the history of the league.[4]

For Heller, it was his highlight of the year, as his season began to slide downhill. On June 11 in Mobile, Heller had to leave the game due to heat exhaustion. He lost his third game of the season on June 15 in the second game of a double header as the first five Atlanta Crackers he faced rapped out five hits and four runs.

Facing Mobile in Sulphur Dell on June 22, he walked six men in less than two innings and was replaced. In nine games with Nashville, he was 3-1 but had allowed 31 hits in 25 innings and given up 16 runs.[5] On June 25 he was knocked out of the box by Little Rock, but on June 28 he rebounded at Sulphur Dell with a complete game shutout of the Travelers, 7-0.

He lost his second game of the season in New Orleans on July 1, as his throwing error on Pelicans first baseman Dale Long’s ground ball began a rally for the opposing team. The Pels scored five unearned runs, six in all, and Heller was sent to the showers.

The Travelers were unmerciful to him on July 6 in Little Rock when he allowed four runs on four hits in the first inning. He was promptly pulled from the game. Over the course of the next few weeks he had a few spot starts and was ineffective in relief.

On July 31, Nashville general manager announced he had recalled pitcher Fred Sherkel from the Jacksonville, and Heller was sent to the Tars in exchange.[6] In 22 games George had pitched 64 innings, allowed 81 hits and 54 runs.

If there was any saving grace for him, it was because he and his wife had made their home in Jacksonville. He managed to recover his form by allowing only three earned runs in 41 innings, leading to a 4-1 record to close out the season before playing Winter Ball in Venezuela.[7]

George pitched for Sioux City in 1953 (4-8, 4.12 ERA) and was back with Jacksonville in 1954 (4-5, 2.64 ERA). In one final effort to remain a professional ballplayer, he pitched in 12 games and won one for Albany (Eastern League – Class A) before being released[8] and retiring. His lifetime record was 77-55 in 11 minor league seasons. His older brother James also pitched in the minor leagues, twice winning 20 games in his career.

He became an Industrial Engineer in his hometown, and in 1964 moved his family to Texas, then to Ardmore, Oklahoma. Heller passed away there on June 28, 2008 and is buried in Hillcrest Memorial Park in Ardmore.[9]

© 2017 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

Note: The image of George Heller is taken from his obituary at Find-a-grave.com and is attributed to Sharon Rhoades

 

Sources

Baseball-almanac.com

Baseball-reference.org

Find-a-grave.com

Newspapers.com

Retrosheet.org

Sabr.org

[1] Russ Melvin, “Pardue Shines in Vols-Miller Practice Game,” Nashville Tennessean, March 18, 1952: 18.

[2] Melvin, “Dick Adair Hurls 2-Hit Shutout, Vols Split,” Nashville Tennessean, May 28, 1952: 21.

[3] Melvin, “Heller Winner as Vols Climb 7-5, 8-7,” Nashville Tennessean, June 2, 1952: 14.

[4] David Fleitz. Candy Cummings, SABR Bio Project, (https://sabr.org/bioproj/person/99fabe5f) accessed June 1, 2017.

[5] “Vols—Day-by-Day,” Nashville Tennessean, June 25, 1952: 19.

[6] Melvin, “Ragged Vols Recall Sherkel From Tars,” Nashville Tennessean, August 1, 1952: 41.

[7] Raymond Johnson, “One Man’s Opinion,” Nashville Tennessean, December 18, 1952: 37.

[8] “Albany Club Acquires First Sacker,” The Timers Record (Troy, New York), June 9, 1955: 47.

[9] George Heller Obituary, http://www.thedeadballera.com/Obits/MinorLeaguers/Obits_H/Heller.George.Obit001.html, accessed June 1, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© 2015 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

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The Nashville Vols Era: Did You Have a Favorite?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© 2014 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

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Managing the Nashville Baseball Club, 1901-1961

JT1960

Jim Turner

Nashville joined seven cities as a member of the Southern Association when it was formed beginning with the 1901 season. Newt Fisher was instrumental in bringing professional baseball back to his hometown as a team organizer, owner, and manager. Fisher led his team to the first two Southern Association championships.

Here is a list of Nashville managers during the league’s existence, from 1901 through 1961:

1901 – 1904   Newt Fisher

1905 – 1906   Mike Finn

1907                  Johnny Dobbs

1908 – 1910   Bill Bernhard

1911 – 1915     Bill Schwartz

1916 – 1920    Roy Ellam

1921                   Hub Perdue

1922                   Larry Doyle

1923 – 1928   Jimmy Hamilton

1928 – 1930   Clarence Rowland

1931 – 1932    Joe Klugman

1933 – 1934    Charles Dressen

1934 – 1937     Lance Richbourg

1935                   Frank Brazill

1935                   Johnny Butler

1938                  Charles Dressen

1939 – 1948    Larry Gilbert

1949                   Rollie Hemsley

1950 – 1951    Don Osborne

1952 – 1954    Hugh Poland

1955                   Joe Schultz

1956                   Ernie White

1957 – 1959    Dick Sisler

1960                   Jim Turner

1961                    Spencer Robbins

Larry Gilbert’s Vols won four regular season championships (1940-1943-1944-1948), Newt Fisher won two (1901-1902), and Bill Bernhard (1908), Roy Ellam (1916), and Rollie Hemlsey (1949) won one each.

© 2013 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

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