Tag Archives: Joe Engel

Joe Engel, Baseball’s Promotion Genius Showed Nashville How It’s Done

These days major and minor league teams are known for fan giveaways; colleges have even picked up on the idea. Everything from “So-and-so Bobblehead Night”, “Cap Night”, “Warm-up Jacket Night”, “Bat Night”, and a plethora of other products have joined “Used Car Night”, “Cancer Awareness Night”, “Faith Night”, and many others.

These have become staple concepts, as teams attempt to out “-Night” each other, all to stimulate attendance and encourage fans to get behind their team, give to a charity, or just have fun. Giveaways and promotions did not begin with the new surge of minor league team popularity in the 1970s.

Chattanooga’s Joe Engel, owner of the Lookouts and ball park in which his team performed, is considered one of the greatest promoters of all time. Dubbed the “P. T. Barnum of the Bush Leagues”, he was honored by Minor League Baseball as “King of Baseball” for his service to the Game.[1]

Engel once raffled away a fully furnished house, signed 17-year-old female Jackie Mitchell to pitch in an exhibition game against the New York Yankees (she struck out Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig), and traded a player for a turkey (“The turkey was having a better year”).[2]

The promotions were a great draw, and when teams needed a boost in lagging attendance, Engel’s successes were often emulated.

The Nashville Vols had their share of promotions. “Money Night” on a hot August evening in 1953 went awry as three fans have ticket stubs bearing the lucky number. After a bit of a rhubarb ensued, only one is determined to be the proper series and the holder carries $800.30 from a pile of silver coins placed on the mound).

“Car Night” was held at Sulphur Dell between double header games in 1956, “Knot Hole Night” drew young fans to the ballpark (usually with a parent in tow), and businesses would give tickets away for “Esso Night” and “Jersey Farms Night”.

On July 21, 1954, Nashville lost to Atlanta, 4-2. Surprisingly, attendance is a low total of 624 fans; 252 were members of the “Knot Hole Gang”, meaning only 372 people paid for a ticket to the game.

Nashville acted quickly, deciding to promote the next day’s double header as “Tee shirt Night”, giving each youngster 6 to 12 who purchased an admission ticket a Vols tee shirt.

The promotion helped attract 2,620 for the July 22 double header with the Crackers. Atlanta won the opener 16-3, and the Vols won the second game 8-6 (both games took the same amount of time, two hours and seven minutes). The fans were treated to a couple of extra treats: Nashville’s Bob Lennon, in his quest to win the Southern Association’s triple crown, blasted home runs number 44 and 45, bring him within eight of tying the league record.

Lennon would end the season with 64 homers, a record never matched. Before that, however, he was honored with “Bob Lennon Night” on August 29, 1954. He was given an engraved black bat from Louisville Slugger and a trophy from league President Charley Hurth for his special season.

Fans received an 8 x 10 photo of Lennon.

The promotion attracted 5,419 fans, and was the best attended event that season since opening day. Lennon gave fans an added treat by smashing round-tripper number 56.

With more promoting being done than ever before, Nashville’s home attendance would still end the season at 89,470. It had not been that low since the year World War II ended: 89,470 in 1945.

But the next day after Nashville’s “T-shirt Night” at Sulphur Dell, Joe Engel was honored by his hometown with his own “Joe Engel Night” with a luncheon and buffet after the night’s game between his Lookouts and Birmingham.

And how did he plan on celebrating? He was going to hold another “Money Night”.

“I’m going to have one drawing for the women, another for the men, and the third for children under 16 years of age…Why not give each of them a chance? Besides, it’s not my money.”[3]

[1] “King of Baseball Award by Minor League Baseball,” Baseball-Almanac, http://www.baseball-almanac.com/awards/kingofbaseballaward.shtml, accessed July 22, 2017

[2] Steve Martini. “Joe Engel,” The Engel Foundation, http://www.engelfoundation.com/historical-importance/joe-engel/, accessed July 22, 2017.

[3] Raymond Johnson, “Chattanoogans Will Honor Joe Engel Today,” One Man’s Opinion column, Nashville Tennessean, July 23, 1954, p. 37

Sources

Baseball-reference.com

Nashville Tennessean

Newspapers.com

Paper of Record via Sabr.org

The Sporting News

© 2017 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

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Old Timers Always Come Through

CreedThursday night marked the 79th annual banquet held by Nashville’s Old Timers organization. Close to 600 folks poured into the Nashville Airport Marriott to hear guest speaker Hall of Famer and 1971 Cy Young Award winner Ferguson Jenkins. He did not disappoint, as his talk lasted 50 minutes and he lingered beyond the allotted time to sign baseballs, bats, jerseys, photos, and a myriad of items.

The Old Timers board of directors can pat themselves on the back for coming through once again.

Way back in 1999, former Cincinnati Reds third baseman Ray Knight was to have been speaker, but at the last minute had to cancel. The Old Timers board members hastily contacted Chattanooga’s Rick Honeycutt, minor league pitching instructor for the Los Angeles Dodgers, who accepted.

Hall of Famer Harmon Killebrew was our speaker in 2009, the first year I was president of Old Timers, and I was anxious to see him come through the airport concourse. That meant we would be hearing him that night (and what a great speaker he was) and my fears of his being a “no-show”, much like Ray Knight, were alleviated.

Not so in 1955. Nashville Tennessean sports writer Raymond Johnson was the president that year (he served from 1951-1956), and with the cancellation of the invited speaker had to move the date of the banquet. Scheduled for January 24, Lefty Gomez was to be banquet guest, but found out he had scheduled two other banquets for the same evening, one in Minneapolis and one in Manchester, New Hampshire.

Johnson found out only a day or two ahead of time, and immediately went to work to find a replacement. In his “One Man’s Opinion” column the day before the banquet, he listed the names of those contacted to fill in for Gomez:

The first person he contacted was Chattanooga Lookouts owner Joe Engel, who found out his boss, Washington Senators owner Clark Griffith, was coming for a visit in Winter Garden, Florida. Engel had to turn down Johnson’s offer.

Birmingham Barons general manager Eddie Glennon, who had spoken to the group two years prior, had a banquet commitment in Demopolis, Alabama for the same night and could not come.

Kerby Farrell, native Nashvillian and recently-named Minor League Manager of the Year at Indianapolis, could not speak as team owners had set up meetings for him all week in Indiana.

Shelby Peace, president of the KITTY League, felt he should stay at home with his wife who had suffered injuries in fall.

Whitlow Wyatt, manager of Southern Association champion Atlanta Crackers (he would soon be heading to the Philadelphia Phillies as a coach), declined. He was worried about the lack of rain and needed to remain at his farm near Buchanan, Georgia.

Jim Turner, a native of Antioch and pitching coach of the New York Yankees, felt he was not a good storyteller and declined Johnson’s invitation.

Larry Gilbert, beloved co-owner and general manager of the Nashville Vols, agreed to have a minor part in the festivities but hesitated due to his wife’s recent fall.

Johnson then contacted Joe Engel once again, and since Johnson was willing to change the banquet date, accepted. One of Chattanooga’s finest came through.

The banquet was held on February 3, and a crowd of 250 were there at the Maxwell House. Included in the guests were Bill McKechnie, Jr., director of the Cincinnati Reds farm system, new Nashville Vols manager Joe Schultz, current Vols players Bert Flammini and Bob Schultz, former major-leaguers Red Lucas, Johnny Beazley, Clydell Castleman, and Nashville mayor Ben West. Even Kerby Farrell was able to make the trip after all, too.

Johnson closed out his column with a sense of relief.

“And my Old Timers’ troubles ended, at least temporarily…So put your handkerchiefs back in your pockets, my friends.”

The Old Timers always come through.

Author’s note: Raymond Johnson’s “One Man’s Opinion” columns in the January 23, 1955 and February 4, 1955 of the Nashville Tennessean were the basis for this story.

©2017 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

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