Tag Archives: Lou Gehrig

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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Lucky Number 17 for Nashville’s Bob Kelly

In 1976, Atlanta Braves owner Ted Turner encouraged some of his players to use a nickname on the back of their jerseys, above the number. One of them was pitcher Andy Messersmith, who wore number 17, and Turner had “Channel” added. The problem was, that was the cable television station owned by the media mastermind, and commissioner Bowie Kuhn put a stop to it (Messersmith chose “Bluto” instead).[1]

The first team to wear numbers on the back of their uniforms were the New York Yankees on June 30, 1929. Numbers were chosen based on the players’ batting position, and that’s why Babe Ruth wore number 3 and Lou Gehrig 4. Other teams followed suit; the Cleveland Indians were next a few weeks later. By 1931 all teams had begun the standard we know today, although numbers were chosen for a variety of reasons, not according to batting order.[2]

Researching Nashville Vols player numbers according to game program lineups has been a fun project. My friend Tony Roberts has been doing in for several years, and we have each been creating a database to keep up. Any time  we can get our hands on a score card, we go into “check the numbers” mode.

It is interesting to find that a player who started the season with one number may not have held on to that same number throughout the year. For example, if a player was out for a few games or went on the DL (disabled list), upon his return he may have found that a teammate liked that number a little better, and chose to wear the returning player’s jersey; especially if that new jersey was the worn when a special home run was hit or a great play was made.

One of the most peculiar changes in number was by Vols pitcher Bob Kelly for his game on July 20, 1957. After failing to gain his 17th win in three consecutive starts, he switched his jersey number from 16 to 17.

Kelly struggled through 11 innings, but the Vols took the win 7-6 over Chattanooga, breaking Nashville’s losing streak at 5 games, the Lookouts winning streak at 6, and giving Kelly his desired win number 17.

One change made in the game did not hinder his effort: he was forced to remove his undershirt in the third inning, as Lookouts manager Cal Ermer protested to umpires that it was too loose, and hampered his player’s vision at the plate.

Let’s give Kelly his win based on a new jersey number and not for having to remove his baseball undershirt.

By the way, having previously pitched for the Chicago Cubs (1951-1953) and Cincinnati Reds (1953), he would lead the Southern Association with a 24-11 record in 1957. He would return to the majors with Cincinnati and Cleveland in 1958 before retiring.

Note: Are players superstitious? Neither Tony nor I have found a Nashville player to have worn number 13.

[1] Paul Lukas. “Where the jerseys have no name,” http://www.espn.com/espn/page2/story?page=lukas/041202, accessed July 20, 2017.

[2] David Hill. “Yankees History: Yankees First Team to Number Uniforms,” http://www.foxsports.com/mlb/story/yankees-history-yankees-first-team-to-number-uniforms-012217, accessed July 20, 2017.

Sources

Baseball-reference.com

Nashville Banner

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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Famous Teams, Stars Played Exhibitions at Sulphur Dell on April 4

Major-league ball clubs, training in the southern part of the United States, scheduled exhibition games as they made their way homeward, primarily against minor-league clubs. April 4 was a popular date for such games in Nashville as the teams worked their way toward opening day. Often, the starting lineup consisted of the most famous stars against the hometown team.

In 1906, the Chicago Americans defeated Nashville 6-2 in a game that took 1 hour and 40 minutes. The game was played at Peabody Field due to the wet conditions at Athletic Park. Known as the “hitless wonders”, the White Sox would go on to win the pennant despite having the lowest batting average in the league, then becoming World Series champions by winning four-games-to-two over the Chicago Cubs.

In 1915, the Chicago Cubs defeated the Nashville Vols 7-4 at Sulphur Dell. Cy Williams hits two home runs and the Cubs score three runs in the ninth for the win. Cubs short stop Bob Fisher and brother of former Nashville owner/manager/player, was born in Nashville.

The World Champions New York Yankees paid a visit to Nashville in 1928, falling to the Vols 11-10. Ed Pipgras, brother to the Yankees’ George Pipgras, tossed the last three innings and was the winning pitcher for the Vols. One of his strikeout victims was Babe Ruth, who had a home run in the first inning. Lou Gehrig and Leo Durocher each had a double. The star of the game was Nashville right fielder Wally Hood, who hit a double and home run along with three singles. He was 5-for-5, had a sacrifice fly, drove in two, and scored three runs.

Ruth and the Yankees returned to Sulphur Dell in 1933. With two home runs, New York shut out the Vols, 13-0. Nashville had 23 assists, and only one runner made it to third base. 2,500 fans were in attendance.

In 1942, only 3,500 attend the game at Sulphur Dell as the New York Yankees route the hometown Vols, 10-1. Nashville can muster only six hits, while the Yankees collect a total of 15, including a three-run homer by Don Pulford. Charley English hits a home run in the bottom of the fourth inning off Lefty Gomez for the only run for the host team. The next day, the Yankees win again by a 11-6 score with a barrage of 18 hits as 8,000 fans witness the contest.

In a three-hour, six-minute game played before 12,006 fans in 1954, the Milwaukee Braves defeat the Brooklyn Dodgers, 18-14.  Nine ground-rule doubles are called on balls hit among those seated on the outfield hills. Carl Furillo smacks a grand-slam, and George “Shotgun” Shuba, Duke Snider, and Ed Mathews each hit homers. Roy Campanella pinch-hits and works the last inning behind the plate as Junior Gilliam anchors third and Jackie Robinson plays first.

Two years later, only seven days after Sulphur Dell is under fourteen feet of water, Eddie Mathews hits three home runs to lead the Milwaukee Braves over the Brooklyn Dodgers 10-8. Mathews’ first homer off Don Newcombe is a 340-foot drive over the left field wall. Tom Lasorda relieves in the 9th inning for the Dodgers. Sandy Amoros has two home runs and Hank Aaron also has a homer as Johnny Logan has two doubles and a triple. The Dodgers will go on to win the 1956 National League pennant with a one-game lead over the Braves.

Nashville fans had many opportunites to see baseball’s best and brightest at famous Sulphur Dell.

© 2017 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

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Nashville’s Slugging Combinations

In 1927 Babe Ruth hit a remarkable 60 home runs for the New York Yankees. Lou Gehrig had 47, and for many years their two-man total of 107 was the benchmark for home runs by two team mates.

In 1961 Roger Maris of the Yankees hit 61 for the season, breaking Ruth’s single-season record, and Mickey Mantle hit 54 to give the duo a total of 115. The Maris-Mantle record still stands.

In comparison, when Barry Bonds hit his record-breaking 73 homers in the 2007 season, team mate Rich Aurilia’s 37 round-trippers gave them a total of 110.

Nashville had a few tandem sluggers, too. In 1930 first baseman Jim Poole slugged 50 home runs and second baseman Jay Partridge added 40 to set a Southern Association record of 90. Two years later Moose Clabaugh and Stan Keyes combined for 67 but fell far short of the Poole-Partridge tally.

Workman_GilbertBut in 1948 Charlie Workman and Charlie Gilbert hit 96 home runs combined; Workman had 52 and Gilbert added 44. It was an especially notable feat in that the entire club hit only 60 the previous season.

The pair had previously played for Nashville with very little home run success. Gilbert roamed the outfield hills for his manager-father Larry Gilbert in 1939 and 1943 and had 21 total. Workman played for the senior Gilbert in 1941 and 1942. His production increased from 11 to 29 those two seasons, but both players especially found the Sulphur Dell fences to their liking during 1948.

In 1949 two new sluggers appeared on the scene and immediately chased the record of the previous season. Catcher-outfielder Carl Sawatski, with 45, and outfielder Herman “Babe” Barna with 42 gave the Nashville club an added season of slugging success with 87 combined.

The Southern Association record for home runs by one player came in 1954 when Nashville’s Bob Lennon hit 64. Nearly reaching the 1932 combined record of Clabaugh and Keyes all by himself, the second place slugger for the Vols was Larry DiPippo who had 20. His and Lennon’s output totaled 84.

Taking the comparison one step further, the major league record of 165 home runs by four players on the same team in a single season is the 1961 New York Yankees: Maris with 61, Mantle with 54, Bill Skowron with 28, and Yogi Berra with 22.

Next is 147 by the 2001 San Francisco Giants: Barry Bonds with 73, Rich Aurilia with 37, Jeff Kent with 22, and Marvin Benard with 15.

Nashville had two teams with impressive homer stats that are not too far off from those major league totals; both the 1948 and 1949 club tallied 129:

Home Runs by 4

In both of those seasons the quadruplets hit for a combined .351 average and led Nashville to Southern Association pennants. Those feats were never accomplished again; even with Bob Lennon’s excellent record-setting season, the 1954 team tied for seventh place:

Home Runs by 4 1954

In the history of Nashville baseball, none could match the slugging combinations of 1948 and 1949.

© 2015 Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

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It Happened on This Day in Nashville: April 8

Another special day in the history of Nashville baseball is April 8. The New York Yankees, New York Giants, Brooklyn Dodgers, Milwaukee Braves, Cincinnati Reds, and Cleveland Indians all appear at Sulphur Dell on this day through the years, and Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig play at the historic park:

April 8, 1901
Nashville is scheduled to play Vanderbilt in their first exhibition game before the Southern League season begins. It will be the first of three games with Vanderbilt, followed by games versus Suwanee <sic>, Cumberland and Jake Benes’ St. Louis team.

April 8, 1915
Nashville Vols lose to the National League New York Giants by a score of 4-2 in an exhibition game at Sulphur Dell.

April 8, 1934
Before a crowd of 5,000, the Vols beat Joe McCarthy’s New York Yankees 6-5 for the second straight day. James P. Dawson reports the game for The New York Times, saying that two home runs at Sulphur Dell “cleared the high fence and a 30-foot wire extension on the abbreviated mountain in right field“. Babe Ruth goes two for three, Lou Gehrig is one for two, and Bill Dickey is hitless in five at-bats.

April 8, 1946
Today’s exhibition game at Sulphur Dell between the New York Yankees and Brooklyn Dodgers is cancelled due to morning rains and a downpour which comes 45 minutes before today’s scheduled start. The outlook for the game called for 7,500 fans to turn out as all reserved seats were sold out, and 4,000 fans are turned away.

April 8, 1953
During an exhibition game at Sulphur Dell, Giants rookie Daryl Spencer is hit in the face by a pitch from Cleveland Indians hurler Mike Garcia.

April 8, 1956
The Brooklyn Dodgers win over the Milwaukee Braves 12-2 before an overflow crowd of 11, 933. Gil Hodges hits a home run and the Dodgers collect a total of 17 hits in the win. Del Rice, catching for the Braves, lifts a high fly over the right-center-field wall for a homer.

April 8, 1958
Jay Hook, bonus baby right-hander signed out of Northwestern University by the Cincinnati Reds, is assigned to Nashville.

April 8, 1960
Nashville’s Sulphur Dell hosts an exhibition game between the Milwaukee Braves and the Cincinnati Reds.

Reds Braves ticket_FB

© 2015 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

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It Happened on This Day in Nashville: April 7

This day holds a special place in the history of Nashville baseball, and includes exhibitions between the hometown Vols and various major league clubs, a regret from baseball’s iconic Babe Ruth, and a rare perfect game:

April 7, 1904
Nashville and Boston of the National League meet at Athletic Park as the major leaguers win 8-3.

April 7, 1925
The Chicago White Sox win over the Nashville Vols 12-6. It is the 16th consecutive spring training game for the major league club in as many days.

April 7, 1927
The 65th General Assembly of Tennessee adjourns early to see Babe Ruth and the New York Yankees play the St. Louis Cardinals at Sulphur Dell. A resolution had been adopted to invite Ruth to address the Senate, but he sent word that it would be impossible for him to appear because of a lack of time.  The Cardinals beat the Yankees 10-8 in a rematch of the 1926 World Series clubs.

April 7, 1934
Charles Dressen’s Vols wins against the New York Yankees 5-4 in a game at Sulphur Dell. Before a crowd of 3,000, the Yankees are stymied by the pitching of Hal Stafford, who relieved in the 5th inning and allows only four hits through the last five innings, striking out five.

James P. Dawson, New York Times reporter, describes Sulphur Dell’s unique feature as “the right field here is cut out of a hill and is terraced, making it necessary for a fly-chaser to combine hill-climbing ability with speed and accuracy in fielding the ball“. Dawson also reports that Babe Ruth “almost broke one of his legs catching (Bill) Rodda’s fly on the climb in the first. The Babe slipped and stumbled but climbed on and came up with the ball“. Ruth is two for four, as is Lou Gehrig.

April 7, 1953
Mickey Mantle hits a 420-foot two-run double in the seventh inning as the New York Yankees beat the hometown Vols 9-1 before 2,693 fans. Louis Effrat, reporting in The New York Times, quotes one Yankee player as describing playing in Sulphur Dell as “It’s like playing in a telephone booth“, and quoted Casey Stengel, New York manager, recalling that in 1912 when he was playing with Montgomery in a game at Sulphur Dell, “I dragged the ball and it went over the right-field fence for a homer“.Turner_1953

Yankee pitching coach Jim Turner, a native of Nashville, is honored at home plate before the game by Governor Frank G. Clement who appointed Turner a Tennessee Colonel on the Governor’s staff.

April 7, 1957
The Cincinnati Reds defeat Washington 9-7 before 5,842 fans after the Nats lose a 5-0 lead. Joe Nuxhall, Hal Jeffcoat and Raul Sanchez pitch for the Reds, while Roy Sievers belts a triple and homer, driving in three runs. Herb Plews and Pete Runnels get two hits each for Washington.

April 7, 2003
Right-hander John Wasdin pitches the first perfect game in Nashville Sounds history in his first start of the season against the Albuquerque Isotopes.  The 4–0 win is only the second nine-inning perfect game in PCL history.

In ten days a new era begins: April 17th is Opening Night for the Nashville Sounds at new First Tennessee Park near the site of famous Sulphur Dell!

© 2015 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

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Do You Have a “Most Memorable” Baseball Moment Like Butch McCord?

I am in possession of a questionnaire filled out by my friend Clinton “Butch” McCord. Butch was a wonderful source for baseball history. Not only did he know everything there was to know about players and history in the Negro Leagues, he knew about everything “baseball”. He was a wealth of knowledge during our Saturday morning conversations.

The questions, and Butch’s answers:

1. Favorite team and year? Baltimore Elite Giants 1949, Denver Bears 1954 (Western League), Victoria Rosebuds 1959 (Texas League)

2. Your favorite city or stadium to play? Columbus Jets Stadium 1956

3. Who had the biggest influence on your career? Lou Gehrig and local persons in Nashville

4. Who were the greatest players in the Negro Leagues? There were too many: 1. Paige 2. Gibson 3. Leonard 4. Oscar Charleston 5. Mays

5. How would Reggie Jackson have compared to those players? He would have done well. He had the personality. He should have been a Yankee all of his career. He was a natural Yankee

6. Your most memorable moment in baseball? 1. Getting a triple off Satchel Paige at 16-years-old 2. Winning two Silver Gloves 3. Second year in organized ball they had a night for me (Harry Carey came to honor me) 4. I had too many to settle for one

God bless him, this is Butch at his best. He was proud of his race, proud of his accomplishments, proud that he had made it through the slings and arrows of integrated baseball.Butch

To me, the most telling answer of this questionnaire is “local persons in Nashville”. Butch passed away in 2011, so we can’t ask him who those persons were. I think they were his father, his wife Christine, Elite Giants owner Tom Wilson, and fellow Negro Leaguer Henry Kimbro.

Getting a triple off of Satchel Paige at the age of 16 is no easy feat, either. But the second most telling answer to me?

“I had too many to settle for one”.

For previous posts about Butch McCord:

https://262downright.wordpress.com/2013/09/22/butch/

https://262downright.wordpress.com/2013/10/29/missing-memories/

https://262downright.wordpress.com/2013/10/05/squinting/

© 2014 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

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