Tag Archives: Montgomery

1904 Baseball Banter, Southern Style

Southern Association moguls met at the Peabody Hotel in Memphis on March 8, 1904 to discuss league matters, analyze the previous seasons attendance figures, and approve the season schedule for the year ahead. Those attending, and city represented, included M. J. Finn, Little Rock; Newt Fisher and J. M. Palmer, Nashville; Charles Frank, New Orleans; Lew Whistler and Caruthers Ewing, Memphis, Abner Powell, Atlanta; Coffee Jackson and Thomas O’Brien, Birmingham, James M. Foster and Robert E. Gilks, Shreveport; and Barry Holt and William Stickney, Montgomery.[1]

After approving league president and treasurer Judge W. M. Kavanaugh’s financial accounts, the group heard the executive committee’s report that confirmed the sound economic status of the organization. The report included a final tally of 627,602 fans who had attended games the previous season. Only four leagues (out of 21 across the nation[2]) had higher attendance: the National League, American League, American Association, and Eastern League.

The schedule was approved as drawn up by a special committee that had met in Memphis on January 22 and 23[3]. The 1904 playing calendar included 140 games, an additional 14 contests per club from 1903, and opening day would be held April 21.[4] There was some slight protest by Nashville’s Newt Fisher, as his club would host no holiday games, but “… utmost good feeling prevailed, and it was the consensus of opinion with baseball magnates and managers that the season soon to open would be the best and most prosperous in the history of Southern baseball.”[5]

But there was banter between sports writers. Newspapers often included articles of pre-season predictions, but those prognostications were not always about the teams in the newspaper’s own city; whether in jest or otherwise, there was often a quick retort from the newspaper of the offended city. With no claim by a particular sports writer, the Nashville Daily American published a story on March 10 that answered Birmingham’s razzing.

“The sage of Slagtown (see author’s note below), alias the baseball writer of the Birmingham Ledger who has a penchant for dealing out groggy dope, has bobbed up again as foolish and unmuzzled [sic] as ever. This time he comes forth with the bold bad delf (author’s note: abbreviation for deflection?) that New Orleans is “the strongest team in the league and Nashville about the weakest.” They ought to fix up a pension and a padded cell and keep them in readiness.

“The strangest thing of all is that nobody outside of Birmingham has ever figured the slag caters as being other than a tailender [sic]. The fact is, Birmingham is about the best team in the Southern League, except seven (there were eight teams in the league).

And then, it got a little personal.

“The Hams would be stars on the Red Onion Circuit, but they are useful by the Southern League principally to fill in and make up the necessary number of teams to keep the league going.”

When asked to respond, at first Nashville’s Fisher took the high road.

“What’s the use? It is actually wasting time to stop their howling. They do it every year before the season opens, and it takes about one swing around the circuit to get them quiet.”

But the even-tempered Fisher did not let the opportunity to further provoke the matter go totally to waste.

“Birmingham has not only had the pennant won every year before the league season opened, but has packed the flag away in camphor balls for the following season. Results are what count. We won the pennant twice and finished fifth the third time. I am not ashamed of this record. I would just like to ask the young man on the Ledger where the Birmingham team finished those three years. It was below Nashville each time.”[6]

At season’s end, Fisher could not boast about his club; Nashville finished in fifth place (second baseman Justin Bennett led the league with 166 hits, and pitcher Wiley Piatt led with 22 losses and 44 appearances)[7]. The nemesis of his team and the Nashville Tennessean, Birmingham, finished in fourth place. The Barons were two games ahead in the final standings. But for the fourth year the pennant remained on Tennessee soil as the Memphis Egyptians defended their 1903 title.

Otherwise, Fisher would not consider it a bad year. It had been reported he had cleared $10,000 profit on the ball club the previous year, and it was estimated that he would pocket $4,000 for the 1904 season.

It was a favorable year for the Southern Association, with Nashville, Birmingham, New Orleans, Memphis, and Atlanta all making money. Little Rock was reported to have shown a small profit, but things were less positive in Montgomery and Shreveport.[8] Even those clubs may have made some money.[9]

Soothed by profits of a successful season, the bosses of southern baseball saved their banter for another year of razzing.

© 2017 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

Author’s Note: ”Slagtown” is in reference to Birmingham’s steel-making industry. Beyond the outfield walls of West End Park, often called the “Slag Pile”, was a hill of slag, a by-product of making steel.[10]

[1] New Orleans Times-Democrat, March 9, 1904, p. 12.

[2] Atlanta Constitution, March 9, 1904, p. 2.

[3] New Orleans Times-Democrat, March 9, 1904, p. 12.

[4] Nashville American, March 9, 1904, p. 7.

[5] New Orleans Times-Democrat, March 9, 1904, p. 12.

[6] Nashville American, March 10, 1904, p. 7.

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

[8] Atlanta Constitution, September 19, 1904, p. 7.

[9] Ibid., September 26, 1904, p. 9.

[10] Watkins, Clarence (2010). Baseball in Birmingham. Charleston, South Carolina: Arcadia Publishing.

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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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Nashville Barons?

In the fall of 1961, attempts to continue the Southern Association were failing. Atlanta dropped out in hopes of becoming a major-league city, and Shreveport and Mobile decided not to remain in the league.

Birmingham was rumored to be moving its franchise to Montgomery, Huntsville, or Columbus, Georgia. Barons owner W. A. Belcher would not remain in Birmingham due to the enforcement by city officials prohibiting mixing of the races in athletic contests, even though the law has been ruled unconstitutional by a federal court.

If it was to continue, operating as a six-team loop became a real possibility. Not only was it difficult to navigate through the question of playing black players (in September the board of directors of Nashville had voted to include negroes beginning in 1962), finding major-league affiliations was another issue. Chattanooga (Philadelphia Phillies), Birmingham (Detroit Tigers), and Little Rock (Baltimore Orioles) had affiliations, but Nashville and Macon did not.

When Belcher decided to withdraw the Barons from the league, two cities were needed. It had been determined the Los Angeles Dodgers would attempt to place a team in Evansville, Indiana, and the Minnesota Twins would do the same in Columbus.

But the key was Nashville’s inability to round up a major-league club to supply financial support and players. The final discussion about survival in Nashville, a last-gasp solution, was for the Vols to take over the Barons-Tigers agreement.

raymond-johnsonNashville Tennessean sports writer Raymond Johnson was aware of the possibility on November 17. It came from a conversation he had at the Georgia Tech-Alabama football with Eddie Glennon, who had resigned as general manager of the Barons just a few days earlier.

“Here take this.” Glennon told Johnson. “You might need it.”

It was a roster of players that Detroit was going to supply to Birmingham for the 1962 season. It included: Stan Palys, George McCue, LeGrant Scott, Norman Manning, Bob Micelotta, Mike Cloutier, Bob Patrick, Rufus Anderson, John Ryan, Al Baker, Henry Duke, John Sullivan, Larry Koehl, Jerry Lock, Bob Humphreys, Jim Proctor, Willie Smith, Jim Stump, R. G. Smith, Gene Bacque, Bob Paffel, and Nashville native Jere Ray.

It is doubtful the Nashville Vols would have become the “Barons”, but it shows willing effort to keep the Southern going. Per Johnson, the assistance of Glennon and behind-the-scenes activity by Dick Butler, president of the Texas League, Sam Smith, head of the SALLY League, and Buzzy Bavasi of the Dodgers were instrumental in attempts to prolong the historic league.

The entire process became moot a few months later, as the decision to shut down came in January of 1962, ending Southern Association operations. In his column, Johnson described the recent troubles that led to downfall, an epitaph that could have been written on the league’s gravestone.

“Fire that destroyed Russwood Park took Memphis out…Sale of Pelican Stadium so a huge motel could be built at the site virtually eliminated baseball in New Orleans…Atlanta scribes got the idea the Georgia metropolis was too big for the Southern and they inoculated the fans so well that they forgot baseball was played in Ponce de Leon Park…They may not return for triple A ball, either…The fear of mixing black and white athletes caused Birmingham to withdraw.”

SOURCES

Johnson, Raymond. (1961, November 30). One Man’s Opinion Column: “Sadler Spins Like a Reel After Closing Tiger Deal”. Nashville Tennessean, p. 30.

Watkins, Clarence. Baseball in Birmingham. Charleston, South Carolina: Arcadia Publishing, 2010.

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

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The Up and Down Career of Gene Host

Eugene Earl Host was once one of the highest-rated mound prospects in the Detroit organization.  Born on January 1, 1933 in Leeper, Pennsylvania, the 5′ 11″, 190-pound hard-throwing left hander was signed as a 19-year-old free agent in 1952 by the Detroit Tigers.

Sent to Kingston of the Coastal Plains League in his first professional season, he was 26-7 with a 1.81 ERA and named to the league All Star team.

He spent the 1953 season with Montgomery in the South Atlantic League (A) where he was 10-13 with a 3.51 ERA and in 1954 bounced between three teams: Little Rock (Southern Association – AA), Wilkes-Barre (Eastern League – A), and Durham (Carolina League – B). His combined record was 7-7.

In 1955 he spent the entire season with Little Rock where he was 10-13 once again. In May he hit Chattanooga’s Lyle Luttrell with a pitch, breaking his jaw.

In 1956 he finished 13-15 with Charleston (American Association – AAA) before being called up to the Tigers where his contract with the major league club called for a salary of $4,200.

He pitched in one game for Detroit at Briggs Stadium on September 16, 1956 against Boston. Wearing number 19, he started the game and allowed four runs on nine hits in 4 2/3 innings. Two of those hits were home runs by Billy Klaus (in the 5th inning with one on and one out) and Jackie Jensen (also in the 5th inning, a solo shot with two out).

After a single by Jimmy Piersall and a walk to Norm Zauchin, manager Bucky Harris called on future Hall of Famer Jim Bunning to replace Host on the mound. Bunning won in relief, allowing one hit the rest of the way as the Tigers won 8-4.

On December Host was traded by the Tigers with Wayne Belardi, Ned Garver, Virgil Trucks and $20,000 to the Kansas City Athletics for Jack Crimian, Jim Finigan, Bill Harrington and Eddie Robinson.

Gene HostHost signed with Kansas City at a salary of $5,100 and appeared in 11 games for the Athletics in 1957, mostly in relief. His uniform number was 28. He started two games, at Comiskey Park on April 20 against the Chicago White Sox (his first game for Kansas City, no decision) and at Cleveland Stadium on May 10 against the Indians (his first loss of the season).

His second loss came on June 9 at home at Municipal Stadium. In relief of Tom Morgan with no one out and two on in the fifth inning Host retired the side with no outs. In the eighth he gave up a solo home run to Ted Lepcio. In the ninth inning Jimmy Piersall and Ted Williams hit home runs and Lepcio singled home Jackie Jensen. Boston won 8-4 as Kansas City’s offense gave no support to Host.

On June 14 at Kansas City versus the New York Yankees, Host came on in relief of Mickey McDermott. Facing Mickey Mantle with two out and Bobby Richardson on second, Mantle promptly homered. Finishing the game, Host allowed seven hits, three runs (all earned), and struck out one: Mantle in the ninth.

Host’s final game in the majors was on June 23 at Fenway Park in Boston where he allowed three runs on four hits in 1 1/3 innings.

Traded to Buffalo for Glenn Cox a few weeks later, Host pitched in three games for the Bisons before being obtained by the Denver Bears of the American Association in late July. Under the tutelage of manager Ralph Houk, Denver won their league title. Playing versus Buffalo in the Junior Series championships Host was removed from the 20-player limit but he shared in the players’ share of the winnings.

In September he was sent to Little Rock to end the season. He was 1-4 in five appearances for the Travelers before being assigned back to Buffalo for 1958.

Host never appeared for the Bisons, however, as he was purchased by Indianapolis (American Association – AAA) in April before the season began. Having made his home in Little Rock, he left the club for a week to return to Arkansas without explanation, then rejoined the team on April 24. In May the Indians sent him to San Antonio (Texas League – AA) who returned him to Buffalo in June.

Buffalo assigned him to Winona (Illinois-Indiana-Iowa League – Class B) but he refused to report and was placed on baseball’s suspended list.

Out of baseball in 1959, he returned the next season as a member of the Monterrey Sultans (Mexican League – AA) pitching staff. In the opening game he was the loser in a slugfest in Mexico City in front of 25,000 fans who saw the Reds win 13-8. His record with the Sultans was 2-5 as his ERA ballooned to 5.86.

Host was a member of the Nashville Vols in 1961, signed by the club in March. He appeared in 11 games, winning two and losing five. His first win came against Chattanooga on Monday, April 10 in the second game of the season as Nashville trounced the Lookouts 8-6. By May 3 Birmingham handed him his fourth consecutive defeat, but on May 7 he pitched brilliantly in a four-hit, 2-0 shutout as Nashville’s Gene Davis popped a two-run homer in the bottom of the ninth.

It was Host’s final win of his career. The May 31, 1961 edition of The Sporting News announced his release by Nashville.

Once his baseball career was over he became a bus driver for Continental Trailways, and in 1964 began working as a machinist at the Ford Motor Co. glass plant in Nashville. Host passed away August 20, 1998 at the age of 65 and was cremated.

© 2015 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

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