Tag Archives: Knoxville Smokies

Jinxed Nashville Outfielder, Ed McBee

Edwin “Ed” McBee joined Larry Gilbert’s Nashville Vols on April 4, 1944 in Bowling Green, Kentucky, for spring training. Listed as an infielder, Gilbert’s immediate need was for more outfielders and he was pleased when McBee let it be known that he had roamed the outfield for Leaksville (North Carolina) in the Class-D Bi-State League during 1942[1].

It was McBee’s first season as a professional, but he hit for an anemic .243 average for the Triplets. The 6’1” right hander was only 19 years old in his rookie season, playing for a team which was named for three towns: Leaksville, Spray, and Draper (Eden, North Carolina, was formed in 1967 by consolidation of the existing towns.)

As a 16-year-old, the Gaffney, South Carolina native played semi-pro ball, and later for a local American Legion team. After his single season at Leaksville, he was classified 4-F due to an ear ailment in his call up to military duty in 1943 and was sent to Niagara Falls, New York. Unmarried, he worked in a defense plant.[2]

Soon after joining the Vols, the jury was still out on his abilities. Sports writer Raymond Johnson gave his opinion about the “gangling South Carolina flychaser”.

“He takes a good riffle at the ball and has got a good, free swing that is right down Gilbert’s alley. On his performance in these early sessions he will come in for a lot of consideration. Of course he yet must prove his ability, for he has not demonstrated his speed or how he handles a fly ball.”[3]

By mid-April, Ed was looking better at the plate and was nearly a cinch to make the regular-season roster. In the first exhibition game, played against Ft. Campbell on April 15, a screaming liner hit him on the foot while he was trying to make a play, resulting in an injury that hobbled him for the remainder of the game. The setback was not expected to keep him out of the lineup, however, and it appeared that he had continued making progress.

On opening night at Sulphur Dell against Chattanooga on Friday, April 28, Ed was in the starting lineup. He had solidified his position by hitting one over the fence during the Vols first batting practice after concluding their pre-season schedule.

Batting in the fifth position, he stuck out once in four plate appearances and had two putouts in centerfield, with no errors. 6,793 were on hand to view his Southern Association debut. On April 30 against the Lookouts, he had three hits including a double that drove in two runs in the first inning and a single that drove in another run in the fifth.

After five games, he was batting .305 on seven hits in 23 appearances, with 6 RBI. On May 7 in Chattanooga at Engle Stadium, he had another productive night. His three hits included his first home run and a double.

In a peculiar game on May 11 against Knoxville at Sulphur Dell, not only was the game delayed due to the late arrival of the Smokies train, the ballpark lights went out when a power transformer blew out during the third inning. Adding injury to insult, Ed was hit in the face from a foul tip off his own bat in the seventh inning and suffered a double fracture of his nose. Attempting to bunt when hit, he was carried from the field unconscious.

McBee’s batting average had dropped to .273, although he had scored 10 runs, had 11 RBI, and mastered centerfield defensively. Gilbert was hoping to have him back in the lineup in New Orleans by May 22, as the club left him behind to begin a road trip on May 15. Parker Garner, a 6’7”, 240-pound pitcher, as used by the Vols skipper to play centerfield in the absence of McBee.

Ed returned to the starting lineup in New Orleans, batting in his familiar fifth-spot, and promptly scoring two runs after a single and walk to help his club win 8-2. The next night he had two hits, and in a double header split with the Pelicans added three more.

In fourth place on May 26 and returning to Sulphur Dell to begin a series with Birmingham, Larry Gilbert shuffled his lineup and moved Ed to left field. The move was no problem for McBee, as he handled three chances flawlessly in the Vols’ win over the Barons, 5-0. With a single in the game, he increased his batting average to .300.

He slammed his second home run on June 1, his first at Sulphur Dell, with two men aboard and a 3-2 Vols lead over New Orleans in the sixth inning. Nashville went on to win 14-2 and moved into a tie with Memphis for second place in the standings.

But a few days later, it seemed Gilbert had lost confidence in McBee; but he was not alone.  Raymond Johnson laid out the problem in his June 5, 1944 “One Man’s Opinion” column.

“The failure of the outfielders – Ed McBee, Jimmy Reggio, Moses King and Bob Garner – to come through with base hits with ducks on the pond has been most distressing to the veteran Vol skipper. Time and again they have strolled to the plate with pals on the pillows and failed to produce a base hit. Quite often an easy grounder or a pop fly has been the extent of their efforts. And a few times double plays have resulted.”[4]

In that evening’s game against Atlanta, things turned from bad to worse. In the first inning, McBee let the Crackers’ Nig Lipscomb single get away from him which resulted in the first run for Atlanta. Nashville lost by a 6-5 score. On June 7 in Atlanta, Ed fumbled Ed Ivy’s single in the first game of a double header, allowing the runner to advance to second base and score on the next Crackers’ hit. The Vols lost, 5-0, and lost the night cap 3-2, giving Nashville their fifth and sixth losses in a row. McBee had three hits in the two games, including a double.

In the first game in Memphis on June 13, Ed could not hold a drive by the Chicks’ Pete Gray*, leading to an unearned run; Gilbert felt McBee had blown the game for his club[5]. The Vols ended up losing another double header, 2-1 and 3-0. Nashville dropped to sixth place in the standings with a 20-24 record, 7 ½ games behind Memphis.

Jimmy Reggio and Moses King would survive the season with Nashville, but Bob Garner and McBee would not. Ed was sold to the Portsmouth Cubs of the Class-B Piedmont League by Larry Gilbert on June 15. In 35 games for Nashville, Ed had 39 hits on 138 plate appearances for a .283 average. His hits included eight doubles and two home runs.

There is no report that McBee continued his career in Portsmouth. 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.

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

Edwin Dupree McBee was born on July 12, 1923, in Fairmont Spa, South Carolina, to Thomas J. McBee, a cotton mill worker, and his wife Corrie. Ed passed away in New Port Richey, Florida, on February 12, 2005.

*Gray would be named Southern Association Most Valuable Player

© 2017 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

Sources

ancestry.com

baseball-reference.com

edennc.us

newspapers.com

southernassociationbaseball.com

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

[1] F. M. Williams, “Gilbert Grinned Over Him,” Nashville Tennessean, April 5, 1944: 12.

[2] “Big Carolinian Ed McBee Looks Good for Vols,” Nashville Tennessean, April 8, 1944: 5.

[3] Raymond Johnson, “Ed McBee and Ernie Balser Draw Railbirds’ Attention in Workout,” Nashville Tennessean, April 7, 1944: 30.

[4] Johnson, “Vols Need Punch; 51 Left Stranded in Pel Series,” Nashville Tennessean, June 5, 1944: 8.

[5] Johnson, “Vols Get Lift, Too,” Nashville Tennessean, August 29, 1944: 9.

Leave a comment

Filed under Biography, History, Research

Vol Dutch Prather’s 23 Home Runs Leads the League

Born on July 7, 1906 in Branch, Arkansas, Murl Argus “Dutch” Prather was a first baseman for Nashville in 1933 and a portion of the 1934 season. Purchased by the Vols in 1932 after hitting 19 homers and batting .303 for St. Joseph of the Class A Western League, he was sent to Hazleton, Pennsylvania the next year and led the Class C New York-Penn League with 104 RBI on 17 home runs and a .301 average.

He made the Nashville club in 1933, but his adeptness in covering the first base bag, not his hitting, was the basis for his call up to the Southern Association. Blinkey Horn, Nashville Tennessean sports writer, opined about the six-foot tall, 200-lb. first sacker.

“Dutch Prather with a great pair of hands is excellent on ground balls and thrown balls. (K)nows where to toss the leather and is unexcelled on the infield in defense ability.”[1]

Murl Dutch Prather

Dutch Prather

Hitting three home runs in the first nine games, his .362 average helped solidify his position on the Vols club. By May 8 he was stuck on three homers and his batting average had dropped to .281, but on May 18 Dutch had knocked two more over the fence. He hit his ninth home run of the season against Atlanta on May 22, helping the Vols win 5-2.

By mid-June he had improved to 13 round-trippers and a batting average of .311.

On August 1 against the Birmingham Barons and playing at Sulphur Dell, he socked his 20th home run of the season off lefty Abe White. Suffering a two-week slump at the plate in the weeks ahead, on August 17 Dutch hit a dribbler to start a rally in Nashville’s 7-0 win over New Orleans and at that point seemed to have regained his touch at the plate.

On September 8, Dutch hit his 23rd and final home run, a golf-shot over the right field fence off Knoxville Smokies pitcher Guy Green. Prather finished the season with a .279 batting average on 145 hits.

His 23 home runs lead the Southern Association, giving Nashville six consecutive seasons of leading the league in that category:

1928 Dick Wade 24
1929 Jim Poole 33
1930 Jim Poole 50
1931 Moose Clabaugh 23
1932 Stanley Keyes 35
1933 Dutch Prather 23

New York Giants manager Bill Terry was so impressed with Prather’s work during the 1933 season, he told local sports writer Horn that he would take Dutch to spring training the next year.

“I intend to take two Nashville players – (Clydell) Castleman and Prather – to spring camp with me. If Prather looks good enough to keep, I will send Joe Malay to Nashville…”[2]

But Horn was not so certain. In his From Bunker to Bleacher column on January 15, Horn expected Prather to be back in the Vols fold once the season began.

“For he has a batting fault – he is always off stride when he hits. Yet he is never off stride when fielding a ball at first base.”[3]

To make the World Series Champion Giants, Prather would have to do two things: impress manager Bill Terry and knock the regular first baseman out of a job: Terry himself, who had hit .322.

In spring training Terry ultimately chose George Grantham as his understudy, and Prather joined Nashville’s spring training headquarters in Dothan, Alabama on Marcy 25[4] in time to watch newcomer Charley Baron hold down first base in a 5-1 Vols loss to the Minneapolis Millers.

The next day he was in charge of the Vols Yannigans (author’s note: scrubs, often rookies or younger players) in an inter-squad game where he made his presence known to not only Nashville manager Chuck Dressen, but his heir-apparent Charley Baron. Although the regulars won 6-5 and Baron had a home run, Prather made a sensational grab of one of Baron’s liners and hit a score-tying three run home run in the seventh inning. Both Baron and Prather were 2-4 and errorless at first.[5]

Dressen must have been happy to have had Dutch back in the lineup, as Baron was sent to Jacksonville, Texas, the Giants’ Class C club in the West Dixie League (Baron would return to Nashville for five games in 1938 as a Brooklyn Dodgers farmhand).

Securing his spot on the team, Prather hit a single off pitcher Johnny Allen’s shin in the first of two exhibition games at Sulphur Dell against the New York Yankees. On April 7 Nashville won 5-4, and in a 6-5 win over the major league club the next day, Dutch slammed a three-run home run off Russell Van Atta to stake the Vols to a 5-0 lead in the first inning.

Babe Ruth, not to be outdone by the Vols slugger, hit a massive home run of his own in the seventh inning.[6]

On April 17 before an opening day crowd of 13,000 in Atlanta, Dutch hit a long home run using Charley Dressen’s bat in Nashville’s 6-4 victory[7]. Prather faced a home run drought until April 29 when he had two against the Chattanooga Lookouts, then followed with another one the next night in Birmingham.

Against Birmingham on May 2, Prather socked two homers and Lance Richbourg, still suffering from the effects of sciatic rheumatism, hits one; all three came in the same inning. Dutch increased his batting average to .333 with six home runs, 12 hits, and 19 RBI.

With a league-leading team average of .312 (Phil Weintraub’s .392 led the loop and Richbourg’s .331 was good enough for seventh place), the slumping Prather became expendable.

With only seven home runs and a 2.95 batting average, on July 14 he was sold to Dallas (Class A- Texas League) only a few hours after being hit by a pitch from Clarence Struss of Little Rock earlier that day[8].  His spring training nemesis Charley Baron, batting .344 for Jacksonville, was called up to take his place.

The injury broke a bone on the middle finger of Prather’s right hand, but the Dallas club was willing to take a chance on him as it was thought he would be out of action for three weeks. However, he played in only 20 games to end the season, batting a paltry .176 with 12 hits and no home runs.

Over the next 15 years he would bounce between Class D, C, B, A, A1, and AAA clubs with varying degrees of success. In 1936 for Omaha/Rock Island (Class A, Western League) he hit 22 home runs and was named Most Valuable Player in the Western League by The Sporting News.[9] He was the only player to play in every game for the Robin Hoods/Islanders.

He briefly served in the Army Air Corps in 1937 and was limited to 103 games with Sacramento (Class AA, Pacific Coast League). In 1939 he spent a portion of the season with the Quebec Provincial League team from Trois-Rivieres, Quebec, Canada.

In 1940 Pampa (Class D – West Texas-New Mexico League), Texas, he hit a personal best 27 round-trippers. When “The Story of Minor League Baseball” was published by the National Association in 1952, Prather’s feat of 167 RBI was mentioned.[10]

He managed Pampa the next season and also Tyler (Class C – East Texas League) in 1946. Two future Nashville Vols players, Jim Kirby and Poco Taitt, were members of his team in Tyler.

He led Pauls Valley in 1948, and the Seminole and Shawnee Clubs in 1951, all teams in the Class D, Sooner State League.

Dutch retired as an active player and became an umpire in the West Texas-New Mexico League in 1953. He umpired in the Evangeline League in 1955-1956, California League in 1957, and the Sooner State League in 1957.

Prather died on March 13th, 1967 in Ada, Oklahoma, and was buried in McGee Cemetery in Stratford, Oklahoma.[11]

© 2016 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

Sources

baseball-reference.com

nebaseballhistory.com

newspapers.com

southernassociationbaseball.com

Notes

[1] Nashville Tennessean, April 23, 1933

[2] Ibid., December 9, 1933

[3] Ibid., January 15, 1934

[4] Ibid., March 26, 1934

[5] Ibid., March 27, 1934

[6] Ibid., April 9, 1934

[7] Ibid., April 18, 1934

[8] Ibid., April 15, 1934

[9] The Sporting News, November 19, 1936

[10] Arkansas Baseball Encyclopedia

[11] Prather’s FindaGrave.com

Leave a comment

Filed under Biography, History, Research

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.

1 Comment

Filed under History, Research

What’s In a (Nick)Name?

Over the years baseball cities have had nicknames for their teams. Fans have enjoyed rooting for more than just “the Nashvilles”, for example; to have a team name that has a connection to a city helped to build loyalty and has given newspapers a reason for added creativity to sports writing.

OLS_V_FINALNashville’s baseball team had no official team name until Grantland Rice held a contest in the Nashville Tennessean and “Volunteers” won out, far out-distancing the other two options: the Rocks and the Lime-Rocks. Nineteenth century teams had been known as the Americans, Blues, Seraphs, and Tigers.

When the Southern Association was formed in 1901, newspaper accounts refer to Nashville’s team was simply the Nashville Baseball Club. When Grantland Rice announced that “Volunteers” had won out as the official name, he wrote,

“The days of The Fishermen, The Finnites, The Boosters, The Dobbers, etc., are over…”.

Newt Fisher, Mike Finn, and Johnny Dobbs had been early managers and reporters used the managers last name with “ers” added as a connection of the team to the city’s fans.

Here is a partial list of team nicknames during the history of the Southern Association between 1901 through 1961, based on several references to team names:

ATLANTA: Firemen (1902); Crackers (1903-61)

BIRMINGHAM: Barons (1901-61); Coal Barons (1902?)

CHATTANOOGA: Lookouts (01-02, 10-61)

KNOXVILLE: Smokies (1932-44)

LITTLE ROCK: Travelers (1901-09, 15-58, 60-61)

MACON: Peaches (1961)

MEMPHIS: Egyptians (1901-07); Frankfurters (1902 – Manager was Charles Frank); Turtles (1908-11); Chickasaws/Chicks (1912-60)

MOBILE: Sea Gulls (1908-17); Bears (1918-31, 44-61)

MONTGOMERY: Black Sox (1903); Senators (1904-08); Climbers (1909-10); Billikens (1911, 14); Rebels (1912-13, 43, 56)

NASHVILLE: Volunteers (1901-03); Gray Sox (1902?); Volunteers/Vols (04-61)

NEW ORLEANS Pelicans (1901-59)

SELMA: Christians (1901)

SHREVEPORT: Giants (1901, 03); Pirates (1902, 04-07); Sports (1959-61)

© 2014 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

Leave a comment

Filed under History, Research, Vintage