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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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When a Home Run Isn’t

Consider the plight of poor Bill Bribeck, first baseman of the 1923 Bloomington (Illinois) Bloomers of the Three-I (Illinois, Indiana, Iowa) League. He hit 11 home runs that season, but owns the odd distinction of hitting another six home runs in consecutive games with none going into the score book.

Bloomington’s ball field had a short left field fence, 275 feet from home plate, and on the day after team management erected a five-foot screen on top of it, Bribeck hit a ball near the top of the screen which fell in for a double. A day earlier, it would have been a home run.

In the first inning of the next day’s game, Bill hit a ball that cleared that same left field fence. But the game was rained out in the third inning, negating his second consecutive four-bagger.

He smacked another one out of the park in the third inning on the third day, but as he rounded third base, he missed the bag. The other team noticed, and so did the umpire, and he was called out. With a runner on base on day four he slugged one over the fence, but the runner failed to run in fear of the ball being caught. Bill passed him and was automatically called out.

In game five he hit another home run, but had batted out-of-turn, and his feat was annulled.

shes-outta-here-no-shes-not-fwThe final installment of his misfortune came on the sixth day of an extra-inning affair. It was getting dark, but in the top of the 15th the umpires thought the game would be able to finish. The visitors scored seven runs to take the lead, but with two aboard in the home half Bribick thumped a three-run homer.

His manager, fearing the Bloomers would not be able to pull the game out before complete darkness, began to stall until the umpire finally called the game. The score reverted to the previous inning, a 14-inning tie game. Hard-luck Bill lost his home run, the sixth time on six consecutive days one of his round-trippers was erased.

Similarly, only on a single occasion, one of the Nashville Vols favorite sons suffered the same fate.

Harold “Tookie” Gilbert had all the tools: a good hitter with power, a skillful left-handed first baseman, and youngest son of a baseball family. His father, Larry, played on the 1914 “Miracle” Braves, and became a legend as player-manager of the New Orleans Pelicans and co-owner and manager of the Nashville ball club. Two other sons, Charley and Larry, Jr. had successes of their own in baseball.

Playing for Nashville in 1949 with his father now general manager, Tookie batted .334 and socked 33 home runs, and the next season would find himself on the roster of the New York Giants. But on July 28, 1949 in Nashville’s famous Sulphur Dell, the ballpark that was oddly-shaped with a short right field wall that sat on a hill 22 ½ feet above the playing surface, he lost a home run due to poor judgement by the umpires.

Against Birmingham in the dimly-lit setting, Tookie’s blast off righty Jim McDonald easily cleared the right-center field wall. Center fielder Norm Koney stopped when he saw the ball go over.

But the ball came back onto the field. It had hit a city bus parked outside, rebounded back into the ballpark, and when the three umpires consulted, ruled it a triple.

Seven home runs, each with the same results: Not.

Sources

Baseball-reference.com

Newspapers.com

Author’s note: Much of Bill Bribeck’s story comes from Raymond Johnson’s “One Man’s Opinion” column in the January 22, 1943 edition of the Nashville Tennessean, in which Johnson refers to the original story from the January 1943 edition of Baseball Digest. Also, according to baseball-reference.com Bribeck’s name is “Walter J.”, with no mention of “Bill”.

©2017 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

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Nashville Plays Two

It had been a remarkable year for Larry Gilbert’s Nashville Vols in 1940. Everything had fallen into place: the three regular outfielders batted no less than .336, the starting lineup remained intact during the entire season, pitcher Cletus “Boots” Poffenberger stayed out of trouble enough to lead the league with a 26-9 record, and the Vols won their first game of the season to remain at the top of the league standings the entire year.

Nashville captured the Southern Association regular-season pennant over second-place Atlanta by 9 ½ games and finished 101-47.

Breezing through the league playoffs by shutting out Chattanooga three games to none and trouncing Atlanta four games to two to take the Southern Association Shaughnessy Playoffs title, Nashville won the Dixie Series by thumping Texas League champion Houston four games to one.

In 2001 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. It had been a dream season.

1941_SeasonPassThe laurels that surrounded the previous season changed to apprehension at the beginning of 1941, as beloved team owner Fay Murray passed away just before spring training. Manager Gilbert was soon facing a completely revamped lineup, and injuries to key players Gus Dugas, Les Fleming, and John Mihalic created doubt for repeated success. Adding to the disorder, pitcher “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.

On July 27 at a Sunday double-header versus Chattanooga a ceremony was held honoring Gilbert as “Outstanding Minor League Manager” of 1940 by The Sporting News. Gilbert addressed the fans by saying, “but for injuries to some of our key players this season, I feel confident that we would have been up there battling Atlanta for the pennant”. As the season headed into August, Nashville was in second-place a full 16 games behind league-leading Atlanta.

It was still going to be another outstanding year for Larry Gilbert and the Vols, but included in the year’s turmoil was a multitude of rain outs that resulted in an unkind twin-bill schedule to end the season. It came close to the baseball record for consecutive double-headers played set by Boston (NL) in 1928 with nine.

The brutal series of double-headers began on August 17 and ended on September 7 at season’s end. Fourteen double-headers were played during the last twenty-two days of the regular season, including seven twin-tilts in a row:

Date Location Opponent Scores update

Gilbert had the mettle to pilot his charges to hang on to their second-place regular-season finish, as Les Fleming led the league with a .414 season batting average and Oris Hockett (.359) and Tommy Tatum (.347) finished second and third.

Nashville won the Southern Association Shaughnessy Playoffs by beating the New Orleans Pelicans three-games-to-one, and ousted the 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. It was the Vols’ second straight Dixie title and perhaps Larry Gilbert’s most valiant effort.

© 2015 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

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