Tag Archives: Minneapolis Millers

Two Wins in One Day: George Heller’s Nashville Debut

Pitcher George Heller accomplished a remarkable feat for the Nashville Vols in 1952, one that has rarely taken place; he won two games in one day. It has been accomplished 10 times in the American League and 35 times in the National League and last occurred in the major leagues on August 28, 1926 by Cleveland pitcher Dutch Levsen.

Difficult to establish how many times it may have happened in the minors, Heller did it on June 1, 1952, his debut in a Nashville uniform.

His journey began in spring training. On March 17, after two hours of batting practice, manager Hugh Poland sent his Nashville charges up against Minneapolis as part of a long spring training session in Melbourne, Florida. Not expecting mid-season form out of his pitching corps, Clyde Stevens and Roy Pardue turned in impressive performances, shutting out the Millers and not allowing a single hit in the six-inning game.

Each one tossed three innings, Stevens exhibiting excellent control and a sneaky fastball that had helped him to a 12-9 record with Jacksonville the previous season, and Pardue’s fastball allowed only two balls to be hit out of the infield. He was a product of Nashville’s North High School, and it was his first performance as a pro.[1]

The Vols rapped out four hits, scored two runs, and won over the AAA American Association club, 2-0, and far outshadowed 24-year-old lefty George Heller who pitched the last two innings against Nashville.

Born in Honesdale, Pennsylvania on July 27, 1927, Heller had seven minor league seasons under his belt when he began spring training in 1952. To begin his professional career, George played three seasons in the lowest classifications of the minor leagues: Salisbury (North Carolina State League – Class D) in 1945, Hornell, New York (Pennsylvania-Ohio-New York League – Class D), and Carbondale, Pennsylvania (North Atlantic League – Class D).

In 1948 with Vandergrift, Pennsylvania (Middle Atlantic League – Class D) he had his best year: 20 wins against four losses, and a 2.75 ERA for the Pioneers, a Philadelphia Phillies farm club. Signed by the New York Giants after his productive season, he was sent to Jacksonville (South Atlantic League -Class A), where he was 6-6 and appeared in 46 games and earned another promotion.

Jersey City (International League – Class AAA) was one of two minor league affiliates at the highest level of classification (the other was Minneapolis), and George appeared 33 games for them in 1950, starting five games and completing two. His ERA was 3.36 for the season, but he had allowed only 60 hits in 67 innings and gave up less than one walk per inning with a total of 52.

When the parent Giants moved their affiliation to Ottawa (International League – Class AAA), George moved to the Canadian club. Hugh Poland, a former player and scout for the Giants, had managed Sioux City (Western League – Class A) in 1950, but had become the Ottawa manager for 1951. Heller was 4-7 with an inflated 4.45 ERA for Poland.

On May 29, 1952, George joined the Vols from Minneapolis, where he had not seen much action in the early season,[2] pitching in only eight games for a total of seven innings. Poland had become Nashville’s manager, and needed help in his pitching roster as the team was laboring in sixth place in Southern Association standings with a 23-25 record.

Heller immediately made an impact, earning a pair of victories on his first day in a Vols uniform. On June 1, scheduled to make his first start in the first game of a double header in Chattanooga, George pitched five innings, allowing eight hits and three runs while striking out one. He was lifted for pinch hitter John Kropf in the sixth inning with the bases loaded and down 3-2, and Kropf sailed one over the Engle Stadium wall for a grand-slam home run.

Awarded his first win, George was called on again by Poland in the second game. Sailing along with a Vols lead 8-3 in the fourth inning of the nightcap, reliever Pete Modica had been roughed up by Lookouts hitters by giving up seven hits and four runs in 2 2/3 innings after replacing starter Jim Atchley. John Uber gave up one hit in relief before Heller entered the game in the sixth inning with tying runs on base. He struck out sluggers Roy Hawes and Don Grate to quell the rally. In the seventh and final inning, Heller was lifted for a pinch runner and Dick Adair closed out the game.

Since Atchely had not gone five innings as starter, and Heller’s relief work was more effective than others, the score keeper gave Atchley the win.[3]

Two games, two wins, all on one day.

It is a remarkable feat that was more common in the early days of baseball. On September 9, 1876, Candy Cummings (who is credited with being the first to master the curveball), accomplished the feat for the National League’s Hartford Dark Blues against Cincinnati in the first scheduled double header in the history of the league.[4]

For Heller, it was his highlight of the year, as his season began to slide downhill. On June 11 in Mobile, Heller had to leave the game due to heat exhaustion. He lost his third game of the season on June 15 in the second game of a double header as the first five Atlanta Crackers he faced rapped out five hits and four runs.

Facing Mobile in Sulphur Dell on June 22, he walked six men in less than two innings and was replaced. In nine games with Nashville, he was 3-1 but had allowed 31 hits in 25 innings and given up 16 runs.[5] On June 25 he was knocked out of the box by Little Rock, but on June 28 he rebounded at Sulphur Dell with a complete game shutout of the Travelers, 7-0.

He lost his second game of the season in New Orleans on July 1, as his throwing error on Pelicans first baseman Dale Long’s ground ball began a rally for the opposing team. The Pels scored five unearned runs, six in all, and Heller was sent to the showers.

The Travelers were unmerciful to him on July 6 in Little Rock when he allowed four runs on four hits in the first inning. He was promptly pulled from the game. Over the course of the next few weeks he had a few spot starts and was ineffective in relief.

On July 31, Nashville general manager announced he had recalled pitcher Fred Sherkel from the Jacksonville, and Heller was sent to the Tars in exchange.[6] In 22 games George had pitched 64 innings, allowed 81 hits and 54 runs.

If there was any saving grace for him, it was because he and his wife had made their home in Jacksonville. He managed to recover his form by allowing only three earned runs in 41 innings, leading to a 4-1 record to close out the season before playing Winter Ball in Venezuela.[7]

George pitched for Sioux City in 1953 (4-8, 4.12 ERA) and was back with Jacksonville in 1954 (4-5, 2.64 ERA). In one final effort to remain a professional ballplayer, he pitched in 12 games and won one for Albany (Eastern League – Class A) before being released[8] and retiring. His lifetime record was 77-55 in 11 minor league seasons. His older brother James also pitched in the minor leagues, twice winning 20 games in his career.

He became an Industrial Engineer in his hometown, and in 1964 moved his family to Texas, then to Ardmore, Oklahoma. Heller passed away there on June 28, 2008 and is buried in Hillcrest Memorial Park in Ardmore.[9]

© 2017 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

Note: The image of George Heller is taken from his obituary at Find-a-grave.com and is attributed to Sharon Rhoades

 

Sources

Baseball-almanac.com

Baseball-reference.org

Find-a-grave.com

Newspapers.com

Retrosheet.org

Sabr.org

[1] Russ Melvin, “Pardue Shines in Vols-Miller Practice Game,” Nashville Tennessean, March 18, 1952: 18.

[2] Melvin, “Dick Adair Hurls 2-Hit Shutout, Vols Split,” Nashville Tennessean, May 28, 1952: 21.

[3] Melvin, “Heller Winner as Vols Climb 7-5, 8-7,” Nashville Tennessean, June 2, 1952: 14.

[4] David Fleitz. Candy Cummings, SABR Bio Project, (https://sabr.org/bioproj/person/99fabe5f) accessed June 1, 2017.

[5] “Vols—Day-by-Day,” Nashville Tennessean, June 25, 1952: 19.

[6] Melvin, “Ragged Vols Recall Sherkel From Tars,” Nashville Tennessean, August 1, 1952: 41.

[7] Raymond Johnson, “One Man’s Opinion,” Nashville Tennessean, December 18, 1952: 37.

[8] “Albany Club Acquires First Sacker,” The Timers Record (Troy, New York), June 9, 1955: 47.

[9] George Heller Obituary, http://www.thedeadballera.com/Obits/MinorLeaguers/Obits_H/Heller.George.Obit001.html, accessed June 1, 2017

1 Comment

Filed under Biography, History, Research

Early Modifications to Sulphur Dell

Nashville’s famous ball field began as Athletic Park in an area known as Sulphur Spring Bottom, where a grandstand was built in 1885 as a home for the Nashville Americans in the professional Southern League:

1SD

The stadium layout remained the same through 1908, when the ballpark was renamed Sulphur Dell. Upgrades to the bleachers and an expanded grandstand took place (street names where changed to numbered streets in 1904):

2SD

The most radical change occurred in 1927 when the wooden grandstand was demolished and a new steel-and-concrete structure was erected. However, it had been determined that the ballpark would be turned around so that batters would no longer face the sun to the southwest:

3SD

Although the 1927 home opener was a few weeks away, on March 25th the first contest was held in the new ‘turned-around’ Sulphur Dell, an exhibition game played between the Nashville Vols and Minneapolis Millers.

Sulphur Dell remained the same configuration until 1963 when it was longer used as a ballpark, and was demolished in 1969.

Images Courtesy Tennessee State Library & Archives (Note: Images not to scale)

Reference  http://nashvillehistory.blogspot.com by Debie Oeser Cox

© 2015 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

Leave a comment

Filed under History, Research, Vintage

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.

Leave a comment

Filed under Current, History, Research, Vintage

A Short Season At The Nashville Helm

Frank Brazill was Nashville player-manager for the first half of the 1935 Southern Association season, playing first base in 45 games and hitting for a .288 average before being replaced by Johnny Butler as Vols manager for the remainder of the season.  Brazill had been named manager in November of 1934, but was replaced on June 10 as the team was mired in fifth place.

Although there was some disagreement with Vols player Johnny Gooch, there appeared to be no real dissension on the ball club under Brazill’s tutelage. His team was not performing to the expectations of Nashville owner Ted Murray and general manager Jimmy Hamilton.  Murray was also  a part-owner of the Minneapolis Millers and sent Brazill to the American Association club as a utility infielder, coach, and scout to finish the year.Frank-Brazil

The rest of Frank Brazill’s career had been notable. A member of the Pacific Coast League Hall of Fame, Brazill had previously played in the PCL for seven years for the Portland Beavers, Seattle Indians, Los Angeles Angels, and Mission Reds.  He hit over .300 each season and during one four-year span averaged 25 home runs a season.  Mostly a scatter-armed third baseman, Brazill led the league in errors in 1926.

At the age of 24 he was named manager of Portland on July 29, 1924 to finish the season and continuing to play.  His team compiled a record of 40-45. After retiring as a player, he served as a scout for the New York Giants, and left that position in 1942 to become manager of Portland once again, finishing the season with a 67-110 record.

Joining Memphis in the Southern Association in 1929, Brazill had 24 doubles, 11 triples, 16 home runs, and hit for a .342 average. Brazill played first- and second base and also the outfield during six seasons with the Chicks. In between his stints at the helm of Portland, Brazill managed Nashville, Greenwood in the East Dixie and Cotton States Leagues, Fort Smith in the Western Association, and returned to Memphis as manager for one season in 1939.

Able to hit for power and average, he only appeared in 72 games in 1921 and 1922 for the Philadelphia Athletics, probably due to his weak fielding.  Brazill was also a fiery hot-head who often argued with umpires and fought with other players.

Born in Scranton, Pennsylvania on August 11, 1899, his first professional season was in 1918 at Cumberland, Maryland in the Blue Ridge League, four hours from his home.

Brazill passed away on November 3, 1976 in Oakland, California.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

The “Dell”, Turned Around

Known as Athletic Park in Sulphur Springs Bottom up until 1908, every visiting team despised having to play on a field that resembled a “drained-out washtub”.  But that was not all: the configuration of Sulphur Dell was such that batters had to face the pitcher and look into the sun.

1927 Construction

Courtesy Tennessee State Library and Archives

At the end of the 1926 season, it was determined that the ballpark would be turned around so that the afternoon sun would not come into play for hitters.  Of course, it would now create a challenge for outfielders who would have to manage balls hit into the air, but it was less of a crisis.

Over the winter ballpark construction consisted of tearing down the existing wooden grandstand, but a new state-of-the-art steel-and-concrete structure would take its place.  Built to hold 7,500 fans, the construction was barely finished when the team came home to play exhibition games before the beginning of the regular season.

The first game in the newly-turned-around Sulphur Dell was an exhibition game played against the Minneapolis Millers of the American Association on March 25, 1927.  The Millers won 5-3 in the game that lasted 2 hours and 5 minutes.

Dick Loftus, right fielder for the Millers, hit the first home run in the new configuration.  Blinky Horn, sportswriter for the Nashville Tennessean, referred to right field as the “right center dump” in his account of the game the next day, calling attention to not only the unusual design of the ball park but acknowledging the smell that the nearby city dump offered to the lingering odor in the air.

On April 1st John Black, pinch-hitting for the pitcher in the fourth inning of an exhibition game versus the Milwaukee Brewers, hit a home run to become the first Nashville player to hit one over the fence in the new Sulphur Dell.  Horn wrote that the ball “cleared the wall beyond the old Fourth Avenue entrance to the bleachers.”

After additional exhibition games were played, the Nashville Vols returned to Sulphur Dell for the opening game of the 1927 Southern Association against the Atlanta Crackers. With the Vols losing 10-2, Atlanta’s George “Mule” Haas became the first player to hit a home run during the regular season in the new layout, a first-inning shot followed by a fourth-inning blast by Walter Gilbert, also of the Crackers. Attendance was announced at 7,535 fans.

Colorful, quirky Sulphur Dell’s reputation was just beginning to build.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized