Tag Archives: Mobile

14th Annual Southern Association Conference at Rickwood Field

scan0001Yesterday, I attended the 14th annual Southern Association Conference in Birmingham, and want to take this time to encourage you to be a part of this event next year. The Rickwood Field SABR chapter put on quite a conference, led by David Brewer and Clarence Watkins; but the opportunity to visit Rickwood Field is great in itself – it is truly one of America’s historic ballparks.

To be able to hear presentations about baseball in the South, among friends in a casual setting, was great. To wax poetic: Baseball was literally “in the air”.  Attendees came from Mobile, Memphis, Nashville, Birmingham, Montgomery, and Atlanta; we heard presentations about baseball in Montgomery (and pitcher Roy “Goat” Walker), Selma, the Southern Association, and vintage player A. T. Pearsall, but sidebar conversations were ongoing beyond.

An added treat was lunch with former Montgomery Rebels player and minor league manager Ted Brazell. One could literally hear and feel the passion Ted has with his love of the game of baseball. It was inspiring.

More than anything, the friendships rekindled and friendships made were more than worth the trip. The date could change, but put the first Saturday of March, 2018 on your calendar. You won’t be disappointed.

© 2017 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

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Too Little, Too Late

Integration did not come to the Southern Association until a 1954 experiment by Atlanta Crackers owner Earl Mann, when Nat Peeples was inserted as a pinch hitter in the Crackers’ season opener in Mobile. A week later, he was sent down to Jacksonville after appearing in two games and coming to the plate four times.

Reportedly, Mann considered the same action the previous season with a different negro player who was playing in Jacksonville: Henry Aaron. For whatever reason, the future Hall of Famer was not selected and had an outstanding season with the South Atlantic League club.

There was no Southern Association rule that kept rosters segregated. But with teams in New Orleans (the franchise would cease to exist after 1959, replaced by Little Rock), Nashville, Memphis (replaced by Macon after 1960), Birmingham, Atlanta, Shreveport, Mobile, and Chattanooga, civil rights issues were just coming to the forefront of American culture, and integration never occurred.

However, a Birmingham city ordinance prohibited integrated games from taking place on city-owned fields, and Louisiana state law did not allow different races to participate in sporting events together.

One occurence brought attention to the situation: in August of 1960, after six years as the parent organization of the Nashville Volunteers, Cincinnati withdrew its affiliation. Without negro players, said Reds GM Gabe Paul, development of potential players could not properly take place.

In his August 30, 1960 Sports Showcase column, Nashville Tennessean sports writer F. M. Williams quotes Paul on the issue:

“Having a team in the farm system, at Double A level, where Negro players cannot perform creates a void that hinders the entire player development program, he says. Player development is expensive at best, and it becomes even more so when there is one link in the chain that does not help the best young players.”

Williams’ opening lines in his column predict a dim future for the trouble league, emphasizing a rule (unwritten or not) of segregation and acknowledging the tension in race relations:

“If Gabe Paul’s thinking is in line with that of other major league executives, time is running out on Double A baseball.

“Paul took a public stand against the Southern league’s policy of not using Negro players. This is the first time, to my knowledge, that any big league executive has used the racial issue to establish farm policy.

“Eventually it could lead to a Southern boycott.”

On August 31, the Tennessean published an Associated Press story that the American League announced plans to expand to 10 teams by 1962.[1] The National League had previously agreed to absorb up to four teams of the proposed Continental League, but followed suit with an announcement during the World Series that Houston and New York would become members of the league.[2]

nashville-tennessean-08-30-1960-gabe-paul-quote-cincinnati-reds-nashville-vols-08-29-1960If Gabe Paul knew of the plans, which certainly would change the course of developing players, it appears he did not let the directors of the Nashville club know.

Minnesota Twins* farm director Sherry Robertson offered an affiliation proposal to Vols general manager Bill Harbour on January 20, 1961. The agreement was ratified by Nashville board members on February 9.

Vice-President Lyndon Johnson was invited to throw out the first pitch at Sulphur Dell on April 8, and the Southern Association began its final season. Team owners did nothing to integrate the storied league, but waning attendance was the final culprit in its demise.

By season’s end, one of Williams’ predictions had come true, as time ran out on Double A baseball. Nashville drew only 64,450 for the entire season.

Attempts to revive the league went for naught, even though on October 31 a federal judge ruled that Birmingham, Alabama, laws against integrated playing fields were illegal, eliminating the last barrier against integration in the Southern Association.

On January 24, 1962, the Southern Association suspended operations “due to a lack of enough major league working agreements.”

*The original Washington Senators, now relocated to Minneapolis-St. Paul; a new expansion team was set in Washington as a replacement.

[1] Corrigan, Ed. Associated Press. “AL Votes to Expand to 10 Teams by ’62”. Nashville Tennessean, August 31, 1960

[2] McCue, Andy and Thompson, Eric. “Mis-Management 101: The American League Expansion for 1961”. Published in The National Pastime: Endless Seasons: Baseball in Southern California, 2011. Phoenix: Society for American Baseball Research, 42

SOURCES

baseball-reference.com

Nashville Tennessean

newspapers.com

Paper of Record

sabr.org

© 2016 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

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Hank Aaron’s Professional Debut Was in Sulphur Dell

Henry Aaron was inducted to the Hall of Fame in 1982 after a career that included 25 All-Star appearances, at least a .300 batting mark in 14 seasons, hitting 30 home runs 15 times, and winning three Gold Glove Awards.

Aaron1Most notably renown for becoming baseball’s home run king on April 8, 1974 in passing Babe Ruth with his 715th, Aaron would still have more than 3,000 hits should his total of 755 home runs be removed from his hit total.

“Hammerin’ Hank” captured the National League MVP Award in 1957, won the league’s batting title in 1956 and 1959, and appeared in the World Series in 1957, 1958, and 1969.

Born on February 5, 1934 in Mobile, Alabama, the 18-year-old, 5’11” 170-lb sensation began his march to baseball immortality as a member of the 1952 Negro American League Indianapolis Clowns. The team held spring training in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, then traveled to several cities to play exhibition games between Buffalo and Kansas City.

The Kansas City Monarchs, Chicago American Giants, Birmingham Black Barons, Memphis Red Sox, and Philadelphia Stars were the other teams in the six-team league. The Clowns did not schedule games in Indianapolis, playing all games in other cities, but opening day was scheduled for May 11, 1952 as a double header against the Philadelphia Stars.

In Nashville, at Sulphur Dell. It would be Hank Aaron’s first regular-season game as a professional.

The Memphis World heralded the “newcomer Henry Aaron, the sensational 16 [sic]-year-old, will open at short…”

Memphis World 05-06-1952 Indianapolis Clowns Philadephia Stars Hank Aaron Rookie Sulphur Dell

But the Nashville Tennessean made no mention of Aaron in articles previous to and after the two games:

Tennessean 05-10-1952 Henry Aaron Sulphur Dell Indianapolis Clowns Philadelphia Stars 05-11-1952Tennessean 05-11-1952 Henry Aaron Sulphur Dell Indianapolis Clowns Philadelphia Stars 05-11-1952Tennessean 05-12-1952 Henry Aaron Sulphur Dell Indianapolis Clowns Philadelphia Stars 05-11-1952

With no report of his batting or field totals on that day in the historic ballpark, one can only guess that he began a string of games that included strategic hits and powerful blows that lent to his successful career.

Exactly one month later, on June 11, Aaron was leading the Negro American League with a .483 batting average on 15 hits, 51 total bases, five home runs, six doubles, 28 runs, and 24 RBI. On that day he was purchased by the Boston Braves for $10,000 and his major league career was off and running.

Sent to Eau Claire (Class C – Northern League), he ended his first season in organized baseball with a .336 average. In his first full year in the minors at Jacksonville (Class A – South Atlantic League) in 1953, Hank slammed 22 home runs and had 208 hits leading to a batting average of .362. He earned a trip to spring training where he caught on with the Braves who had left Boston for Milwaukee.

On April 4, 1954, Hank returned to Nashville and had two doubles, scored twice and had two RBI in an 18-14 exhibition win over the Brooklyn Dodgers. At Sulphur Dell one year later against Brooklyn, he hit a home run and a single, driving in two runs in the Dodgers 10-8 win.

In Brooklyn’s 12-2 win the next year on April 9, he had a double and an RBI. It would be four years before Aaron returned to Sulphur Dell, this time against Cincinnati before 6,763 in a 6-3 win over the Reds when he had a single and scored a run.

Aaron’s four appearances in Nashville as a member of the Braves were preceded by a particular date on the baseball calendar, May 11, 1952, when Hammerin’ Hank marked his official professional debut in the infield dirt at Sulphur Dell.

© Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

Special thanks to fellow researcher, Mark Aubrey (oldknoxvillebaseball.blogspot.com)

References

Bryant, Howard. (2010). The Last Hero: A Life of Henry Aaron. New York, New York. Pantheon Books.

Vascellaro, Charlie. (2005). Hank Aaron: A Biography. Greenwood. Westport, Connecticut.

Online Sources

http://coe.k-state.edu/annex/nlbemuseum/history/players/aaron.html

http://www.baseball-reference.com

http://www.baseballhall.org

http://www.crossroadstofreedom.org

http://www.georgiaencyclopeia.org

http://www.newspapers.com

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Fast Track Through Nashville: Lefty Jim O’Toole

Jim O’Toole was signed by Cincinnati on December 23, 1957 for $50,000, paid over four years, coming off a 4-1 college season for the University of Wisconsin. He struck out 15 batters in three different games for the Badgers.

JO'TooleThat summer he played semi-pro baseball for Mitchell, South Dakota in the Basin League where he had an 8-1 won-lost record and 2.79 ERA[1]. With nine other clubs interested in his services, the large contract was an investment general manager Gabe Paul was willing to make. Averaging 12 strikeouts per game in the summer league might have had something to do with it, furthering the Reds’ intent on signing him.[2]

The son of a Chicago policeman, the 6’1” 195-lb. O’Toole’s high school did not field a baseball team, but he played in area amateur leagues and took up boxing.

His reputation began in his teens as he missed tossing no-hitters on three occasions where he allowed a hit in the final inning and once struck out 19.[3]

Assigned to Nashville after spring training, he immediately showed the Reds that he would be worthy of their confidence. With the letters “T-H-I-N-K” written on the fingers of his glove[4], on April 18, 1958 the 21-year-old shut out the Chattanooga Lookouts 1-0, allowing only four hits.

Four days later he struck out five but walked 10, gaining the win over Chattanooga as Nashville catcher Vic Comoli had a grand-slam home run in the first inning to lead the Vols to a 15-7 win over the Lookouts.

Jim won three of his first four decisions as a professional, but he continued to impress. On May 3, he nearly tossed the first no-hit, no-run game at Sulphur Dell in 42 years in a 14-0 route of Little Rock. With two outs in the ninth inning former St. Louis Cardinal Harry Elliott hits a single, and Ben Downs adds another before Jim retired Lou Heymans to end the game. O’Toole finishes with a two-hitter.

He earned his fifth win in six decisions on May 12. Throwing a five-hitter in an 8-2 win over Mobile, he broke one of manager Dick Sisler’s team rules by walking the opposing pitcher. Jim was fined $1.00 which was collected for the player’s party account.[5]

The warmer weather of June proved to be of Jim’s liking. On June 3 Nashville won over Little Rock 4-2 as the Vols scored three runs without hitting the ball out of the infield. Two walks, three singles and an error help break open a pitching duel between Nashville’s O’Toole and the Travelers’ Al Grunwald, with Jim improving his pitching record to 7-3 with the win.

On June 11 Nashville ends a six-game losing streak at Hartwell Field in Mobile as the left-hander blanked the Bears on six hits, 3-0.  It is O’Toole’s third shutout and ninth win of the season.

Not only did he shut out New Orleans on four hits on June 20, Jim slugged his first home run and was perfect at the plate in three appearances. The Vols beat the Pelicans 16-0 as he registered his fourth shutout of the season and eleventh victory.

He pitched fourteen innings on June 24 in leading the Vols over Memphis 3-2, the Chicks’ ninth loss in the ten games.  O’Toole raises his record to 12-3 with the victory, lowers his league-leading ERA to 2.07, and his twelve complete games, 106 strikeouts, and 152 innings also lead the Southern Association.

O’Toole was a unanimous selection to the leagues’ July 16 All Star game and was named the starter by All Star manager, Nashville’s Dick Sisler. Jim pitched the first two innings, gave up two hits, and was credited with the 4-0 victory over host Atlanta Crackers. Four days earlier he improved his record to 14-4 in a win over Atlanta, giving him a win over each team in the circuit. A six-hit win over Memphis on July 22 gave him victory number 15.

Jim added to his credentials in a mid-season poll of all Southern Association managers compiled by Nashville Banner sports editor, Fred Russell. O’Toole was voted number one major league prospect in the league, picked as one of the fastest pitchers, and surprisingly one of the fastest base runners.[6]

He became the league’s first 17-game winner of the season with a 4-3 win over New Orleans on August 5.

It was the only full season Jim spent in the minors. His totals for Nashville were impressive: 180 innings pitched in 35 games, 21 complete games, a 20-8 record and 2.44 ERA.

Called up to the parent Reds, he appeared in one game in Milwaukee. Starting against the Braves on September 26, O’Toole allowed one unearned run on four hits, striking out four and walking five in the Braves 2-1 win over Cincinnati.

He was selected to the AA and A All Star team by the National Association of Sports Writers, and was named the player in the minors who made the most rapid advancement toward major league status for the season. Jim was also selected to the Southern Association’s All Star team, and a unanimous choice of the loop’s top rookie at season’s end.

He would have a 10-year major league career, nine with the Reds and one with the Chicago White Sox. Never a 20-game winner, he made the National League All Star team in 1963, and had five consecutive seasons of 10 or more wins. Perhaps his best season came in 1964 when he was 17-7 with a 2.66 ERA.

In his first year of eligibility in 1970 O’Toole was inducted into the Reds Hall of Fame. Born on January 10, 1937, he passed away on December 26, 2015.

© 2015 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

[1]The Sporting News, January 1, 1958 p. 6

[2] Ibid., January 15, 1958, p. 16

[3] Ibid., June 11, 1958, p. 55

[4] Ibid., October 8, 1958, p. 10

[5] Ibid., May 21, 1958, p. 35

[6] Ibid., August 6, 1959, p. 36

Additional Sources

Retrosheet.org

Baseball-Reference.com

 

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It Happened on This Day: September 17

September 17, 1876 – The W. T. Linck’s of Nashville lose to the Memphis Reds 13-1 in Memphis’ Central Park before 1,000 spectators. The Reds had been organized on June 25th and posted a 28-5 record:

September 17, 1876 Box Score

September 17, 1885 – Nashville loses 4-1 to Augusta in the final game of the 1885 season, finishing the season with a 55-37 record:

09-17-1885 Final Game of Season

Sporting Life, 10-21-1885 Southern League Final Standings

September 17, 1910 – New Orleans and Nashville complete their game in 42 minutes as the Vols win over the Pelicans 6-3. No base on balls, sacrifice, or stolen base is recorded.  It is the last game of the 1910 season for both clubs as Nashville finishes in fifth place with a 64-76 record:

09-17-1910 42 minute game

Sporting Life, 10-01-1910 Southern League Final Standings

September 17, 1915 – Nashville takes the first game of the series with Mobile 8-3.  David Callahan, Howard Baker, and Floyd Farmer each have doubles for the Vols and Baker has a stolen base:

Sporting Life 10-02-1915 Nashville Mobile Box Score September 17, 1915

September 17, 1958 – After a trip to Cincinnati for meetings with Reds management, Nashville Vols general manager Bill McCarthy announces “there is no talk about the possibility Nashville not having a team next season”

Bill McCarthy_blog

© 2015 Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

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The Hitting Streaks of Nashville’s Johnny Bates and Mobile’s Harry Chozen

Hitting StreakOn July 29, 1945, Mobile catcher Harry Chozen lays down an unsuccessful sacrifice bunt[1], ending his consecutive-game hitting streak at 49. It was the 11th inning of a 13-inning affair in Mobile, and Chozen finishes the game 0-for-5[2].

The unlikely batting hero caught for the Cincinnati Reds on September 21, 1937 against Philadelphia Phillies pitcher Wayne LeMaster. After flying out to right, popping up to the first baseman in foul territory, and grounding out to first, Chozen hit a single in the bottom of the ninth inning for his only hit and only appearance in the major leagues. The Reds lost 10-1.

He played the next four years in the Eastern League for Albany and Williamsport, then in the Virginia League with Newport News before moving to Knoxville and Mobile in the Southern Association after World War II.

In surpassing Nashville’s Johnny Bates’ 45-game streak set in 1925, Chozen admitted that a broken bat was used for every hit of the streak.

“I broke my bat when I got my first hit of the streak on May 27 (in Memphis).” Chozen said. “I started to give it to my kid, but changed my mind and did a tack and tape job, and brother, it has paid dividends.”[4]

He even hit a home run with it, in his first time up on July 22. It was his 46th game of his stretch, breaking Bates’ record[5].

Some controversy surrounded Chozen’s feat. On July 6, after having hit safely in 33 consecutive games, he was issued a base on balls in his first time at the plate. Catching in the fourth inning, he was hit in the head by Chicks player Pete Thomassie on his follow-through swing. Unconscious, Chozen was removed from the game.

As there was no official plate appearance, Chozen’s streak continued for another 16 games before it ended.

When his streak was halted, he connected for a hit in his next eight games before being collared by New Orleans Pelicans pitcher Trader Horn on August 8. On the year his 103 hits came in 292 appearances for a .353 average. He played in 88 games that season, but was made a free agent at the end of the year according to the terms of his contract.

He signed with Memphis for 1946 before assuming the manager’s reins at Greenville in the Class C Cotton States League for 1947. One of his starting pitchers was Bob Kelley, who would pitch for Nashville in 1950-1951 and 1956. Chozen also played in 97 games that season.

He played and managed for the next four seasons at Miami Beach (Florida International League-C), Pine Bluff (Cotton States League-C) for two seasons, and Lake Charles (Gulf Coast League-B) before finishing his playing career in 1952 at Greenville once again.

Chozen passed away on September 16, 1994 in Houston, Texas at the age of 78.

Nashville’s Johnny Bates had set the previous league record by hitting in 45 consecutive games during the 1925 season. His personal run began with two hits against Atlanta on July 30, ending with two hits on the last day of his streak against Milt Steengraffe of Little Rock on September 16[6].

In 26 of those games he had only one hit to keep his pace intact. His 72 hits gave him a .370 average and he scored 44 runs during the streak. Bates ended the season with a .349 batting average[7].

Bates had played in the Southern Association previously with Mobile and Chattanooga, and for Rocky Mount (Virginia League-B). He spent three seasons at shortstop with Nashville before moving to Mobile at the end of the 1927 season.

Not much else is known about Bates, as his baseball record and personal history are incomplete. It is believed that he was born on August 21, 1882 at Steubenville, Ohio[8]; which, if true, would have him as a 43-year-old during his record-setting year.

But comparing his and Chozen’s records to Joe DiMaggio’s widely-known 56-game major league hitting streak places them in the top of the all-time list.

The Yankee Clipper’s personal best had been set in 1933 as a member of the San Francisco Seals in the Pacific Coast League (AAA) with 61 straight, and baseball’s record champion across both major and minor leagues was established by Joe Wilhoit in 1919 while playing for Wichita in the Class A Western League. The hitting streak records of all-time in the major and minor leagues[9]:

Joe Wilhoit                         Western League                             69           1919

Joe DiMaggio                    Pacific Coast League                      61           1933

Joe DiMaggio                    New York Yankees (AL)                56           1941

Román Mejías                   Big State League                              55            1954

Otto Pahlman                    Illinois–Indiana–Iowa League   50           1922

Jack Ness                            Pacific Coast League                       49           1915

Harry Chozen                     Southern League                             49           1945

Johnny Bates                     Southern League                              46           1925

Willie Keeler                      Baltimore Orioles (NL)                   45           1896-97*

Jamie McOwen                 California League                              45           2009

Pete Rose                           Cincinnati Reds (NL)                        44           1978

*Keeler had a hit on the last day of the 1896 season, then hit safely in the first 44 games of the 1897 season

Two special players, each with average careers, had one very special season of their lives, and their feats were never matched in the Southern Association.

© 2015 Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

[1]Wechsler, Bob (2008). Day by Day in Jewish History. Jersey City, New Jersey: KATV Publishing House.

[2] Anniston Star, July 30, 1945.

[3] Wilkes-Barre Record, July 27, 1945.

[4] Baseball Records, Southern Association from 1901-1945 Inclusive.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Russell, Fred; George Leonard (1950). Vol Feats: Records, History and Tales of the Nashville Club in the Southern Association 1901-1950. Nashville, Tennessee: Nashville Banner.

[7] SABR Baseball Biography Project, incomplete

Major and minor league statistical information retrieved from http://www.baseball-reference.com. Major league game details retrieved from http://www.retrosheet.org.

 

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