Tag Archives: Jimmy Hamilton

Vols, Inc.: New Ownership to Save Nashville Baseball, Part 1

At 11:30 A.M. on January 20, 1959, in local attorney Jack Norman’s law office, Ted Murray turned over the Nashville Vols and Sulphur Dell to a newly-formed, publicly-held corporation. Murray, son of Fay Murray who first purchased the ball club along with Jimmy Hamilton in 1931, was paid $200,000.00 in exchange for his debt-free assets, including Nashville’s Southern Association franchise.[1]

Ted had acquired his stock in the team when his father died suddenly on March 4, 1941. Now the younger Murray was forced to sell for financial reasons. “I simply don’t have the money to operate the club any longer,” he told Nashville Tennessean sports writer F. M. Williams.[2]

It was an historic day in the timeline for this storied franchise. But how, and why, did it come to this? What events led to the near demise of the club? Wasn’t the city considered one of the keys to Southern Association stability? Hadn’t Sulphur Dell become an iconic ballpark, given its name by beloved sports writer Grantland Rice yet despised by visiting right-hand hitting outfielders?

In the days ahead, read more about the events that lead up to the sale of the Nashville ball club.

Note: This Nashville baseball history was presented on Saturday, March 3, 2018 at the 15th annual Southern Association Conference at Rickwood Field in Birmingham, Alabama.

© 2018 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

[1] Raymond Johnson, “Vols Change Hands Today,” Nashville Tennessean, January 20, 1959, 11.

[2] F. W. Williams, “Vol Owner Transfer Hinges on Stock Sale,” Nashville Tennessean, November 1, 1958, 13

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

Before Gilbert

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

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

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

1939: The Coup

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

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

1940: Dream Season

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

Gilbert knew how to handle him.

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

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

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

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

1941: Tragedy, Loss, and Victory

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

Boots Poffenberger was suspended by the league for throwing a ball at an umpire on June 24, and in August personal tragedy occurred for Larry Gilbert in the death of one of his sons, Larry Gilbert, Jr.

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

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

Nashville won the Southern Association Shaughnessy Playoffs by beating the New Orleans Pelicans three games to one, and ousted regular season champion Atlanta Crackers four games to three. In the Dixie Series, Nashville had little trouble taking the Texas League champion Dallas Rebels in four straight games. The Vols’ pitching staff had three complete games, with only one reliever being used the entire series. It was the Vols’ second straight Dixie title.

1942: Three for Three

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

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

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

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

1943: Back in First Place

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

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

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

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

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

1944: The Last of Six Straight

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

In the second year of a split-season, Nashville finished 32-36 in the first half, and 47-25 (79-61 combined), taking the second half crown on the last day of the season.

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

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

The Larry Gilbert Legend

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

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

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

The 1940 team was honored as the 47th best minor league team of all time in celebration of the 100th season of Minor League Baseball in 2001.

© Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

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

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

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Nashville’s Short-lived Affiliation with the Brooklyn Dodgers

Branch Rickey was known as a shrewd business manager, building a farm system within the St. Louis Cardinals organization beginning in the late 1920s. His skill in unifying teams under the Cardinals umbrella was the model for the growing minor leagues.

He purchased several minor league clubs on his own which would later give him greater control in the managing the entire structure of the classification system.

Under his front office tutelage the Cardinals won six National League championships and four World Series titles. After his final championship season in St. Louis in 1942, Rickey moved to the position of general manager with the Brooklyn Dodgers.

Before he assumed control of the Dodgers, Nashville had already been in Brooklyn’s minor league fold. Recent affiliation agreements with the New York Giants and Cincinnati Reds had been set aside in 1938 when Nashville and Brooklyn consolidated their farm clubs to match the success that Rickey had maintained in making the Cardinals one of the most successful baseball clubs of the 1930s.

brooklyn_dodgers_fbUnder the arrangement, Nashville’s close relationships with Pensacola, Tallahassee, and Fulton (Kentucky) clubs would join Brooklyn’s interests in Elmira (New York), Winston-Salem, Clinton (Iowa), Dayton, and Greenwood (Mississippi). Two additional clubs were to join in the agreement, giving the Dodgers a 10-team minor league affiliation.

The alliance was negotiated by Nashville manager Chuck Dressen (who would later become Dodgers manager), Vols owner Fay Murray and business manager Jimmy Hamilton, Brooklyn general manager Larry MacPhail and manager Burleigh Grimes.

Larry MacPhail was a former resident of Nashville where his son Lee MacPhail was born. Both MacPhails are in the National Baseball Hall of Fame, the only father-son members inducted into the shrine.

Dressen would be spending extended time in the Dodgers’ spring camp to evaluate talent and to assess the best available for Nashville from 250 players. Vols camp was to begin on March 10 in Tallahassee, while the Dodgers would train in Clearwater.

Nashville would finish in second place in the Southern Association for 1938 and MacPhail added Dressen to Leo Durocher’s staff in Brooklyn for the 1939 season. The move paved the way for Vols owner Fay Murray to offer Larry Gilbert the managerial position and an ownership stake in the Nashville club if he would leave New Orleans.

Gilbert left the Pelicans and promptly led Nashville to third place, a league playoff win, and the Southern Association’s representative in the Dixie Playoffs to face Ft. Worth.

The Dodgers-Vols agreement ended after 1940 and a Southern Association and Dixie Playoff win for the Vols. Nashville entered an association with the Chicago Cubs and continued to succeed under Larry Gilbert with additional league championships in 1941 and 1942 and Dixie Playoff championships in 1941, 1942, and 1948 before Gilbert retired.

Branch Rickey’s successful minor league venture paved the way for all major league clubs in the controlling of player development. Nashville’s foundation for successful seasons began with an agreement with the Dodgers that was modeled on Rickey’s formula.

© 2015 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

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Larry Gilbert and New Championships for Nashville

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

It took the arrival of Larry Gilbert in the fall of 1938 as field manager, general manager, and one-half ownership for Nashville to renew the success of earlier years.

On November 8, 1938, owner Fay Murray announced that Larry Gilbert, veteran manager of the New Orleans Pelicans, was the new Nashville Vols manager succeeding Charlie Dressen, who resigned after signing to become a coach of the Brooklyn Dodgers. During negotiations in Montgomery, Alabama on November 4 Gilbert had been promised that if he would leave his hometown of New Orleans, full reign of daily operations of the Nashville club would belong to him.

Murray and Jimmy Hamilton had purchased the club in 1931 and according The Sporting News November 17, 1938 edition, it was Hamilton’s share that was purchased by Murray to make possible the deal offered to Gilbert:

Gilbert1

Hamilton, who had managed the club between 1923 and 1928 (with no higher than a third-place finish once in 1925) did not seem too upset about the change in ownership:

Gilbert2

On November 9, Gilbert began his first day on the job in putting his team together for the 1939 season:

Gilbert3

Two of Larry’s sons would play for him in Nashville: Charlie and Tookie. A third son, Larry, Jr., passed away in 1941. Gilbert would remain as field manager through 1948, moving to the front office full-time.

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

Gilbert maintained ownership in the Nashville Vols until 1955 when he sold his shares and moved back to New Orleans. He passed away February 17, 1965 and is buried in Greenwood Cemetery in his home town.

During the Gilbert tutelage Nashville would rack up league titles in 1940, 1943, 1948, 1949, and 1953. Dixie Playoff titles, a best-four-of-seven championship series between the Southern Association and Texas League champions, were won in 1940, 1941, 1942, and 1949.

© 2014 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

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Old/New Construction at Sulphur Dell (We’re Talking 1927)

In local baseball circles, I can attest to the fact that conversations are all about the new First Tennessee Park being built for the Nashville Sounds. Outside of those circles there is probably plenty of talk on the subject, too.

With an April 2015 opening planned, and construction at the site well on its way, there is but a smattering of talk about potential delays. But that was not the case in 1927, when old Sulphur Dell was turned around.

But why turn around a ballpark? It’s a little hard to put one’s finger on the real reason.

Some say that without lights (the first major league night game would not happen until 1935) the late afternoon sun was always in the batter’s face since the ballpark was facing the southwest. To make it easier on the home team, the park was relocated so the batter’s back was to the State Capitol. Problem eliminated.

Another reason for the reconfigured ballpark: new ownership. On October 1, 1926 four owners took over the Nashville Baseball Club and split 535 shares of stock:

Rogers Caldwell, a local horse breeder

J. H. “Jack” Whaley, co-publisher of Southern Lumberman, a regional publication

Stanley P. Horn, also co-publisher of Southern Lumberman

Jimmy Hamilton, manager of the Nashville Vols since 1923. In 1925 he had purchased the Raleigh club in the Piedmont League

With a season attendance of 178,000 in 1925, the team had generated $80,000 in profit. There is no published profit amount of 1926, but even with attendance down to 135,000 the reported amount was still “five figures” and ownership was lucrative.

The first week of December the new owners announced a new steel & concrete structure would be built – a little unusual, with two of the owners producing a publication about the wood industry in the southeast – and the new ballpark was expected to be one of the best ballpark facilities in baseball for its size.

J. B. Hanson Co. was awarded the construction contract. The architect was Marr & Holman.

Perhaps the new owners wanted to show local fans how committed they were to advancing the prestige of Nashville. They certainly allowed Jimmy Hamilton free reign on signing new players. He was a personal friend of Connie Mack, Wilbert Robinson, Ty Cobb, and other major league managers and sought their advice in bringing in a team built for the new ballpark.

While attending baseball’s winter meetings the past December, Hamilton scheduled major league squads to play in Nashville as they left their spring training locations, heading north to begin the regular season.

Then it happened, as it had happened nearly every other spring: the first week of January, rains poured and grounds were flooded under 16 feet of water, delaying progress of construction for three weeks.

In February, the contractor was offered a bonus of $5,000.00 to complete the structure for the March exhibition season. Spring exhibitions against big-league teams were important money-makers, and three construction shifts were utilized to speed the process. During this period, the Nashville Vols practiced at Vanderbilt’s baseball field and played a few games against the Commodores.

Was construction completed in time? You be the judge: the image below has a date of March 24, 1927. The first game was played on March 25 against the Minneapolis Millers of the American Association. The Millers won 5-3 and Minneapolis right-fielder Dick Loftus hit the first home run in the new park.

Tennessee State Archives Image

Tennessee State Archives Image

The following day, Toledo visited Sulphur Dell and Casey Stengel hit a triple for the Mud Hens.

Additional games took place over the next weeks. On April 2, the Milwaukee Brewers of the American Association came to town and the Cincinnati Reds played on April 3 and 4th. The team that would become known as “Murderers Row”, the New York Yankees, visited on April 7 and lost 10-8 to the 1926 World Series champion St. Louis Cardinals.

Nashville Vols fans celebrated the new ballpark on Opening Day, April 12 with an attendance of 7,536. Season attendance would finish at 176,000, a few thousand less than two years previous. For comparison’s sake, Sulphur Dell would have a record season attendance of 270,000 in 1948, manager Larry Gilbert’s final season.

With the quirky, colorful contour of Sulphur Dell’s confines, the ballpark became a storied home to the Nashville Vols and for a time, the Negro League’s Nashville Elite Giants.

© 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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