Tag Archives: Nashville Tennessean

The Fortitude, Honesty, and Respect of Controversial Umpire Bill Brockwell


Baseball umpires have a seemingly thankless job, and Bill Brockwell often faced the un-forgiveness of Nashville managers and players for three seasons beginning in 1950. The Tulsa native had umpired in the inaugural Sooner State League (Class D) in 1947[1] and West Texas-New Mexico League (Class C) in 1948[2]. He umpired in Texas’ Big State League (Class B) in 1949, including a 16-inning game pre-season game won by San Antonio of the Texas League (Class AA) over Austin[3].

Elevated to the Southern Association (Class AA), there were no notable conflicts during his rookie season of 1950. “Nemesis” may be too strong a word to describe him when he called games in which the Vols were participating, but at least the disdain for him did not begin until his second season in the league.

In the seventh inning against Birmingham at Sulphur Dell on May 31, 1951, Vols shortstop Daryl Spencer offered a few choice words to Brockwell as a commentary on the plate umpire’s ability to call balls and strikes. The ump quickly sent Spencer to the showers, but that was not the last time.

One week later, on June 5 in Birmingham, Spencer got the “heave-ho” again from Brockwell, this time for arguing on a missed force play that Daryl thought should have been an out. Spencer had now been thrown out of three games, and his adversary had tossed him twice.

In Chattanooga on July 29, Vols catcher Bob Brady was chased for complaining too long on a called ball thrown by Nashville ace Pete Mallory. That seems to have set another confrontation off against the game’s decision-maker. It appeared Barons left fielder Don Grate was hit by a batted ball while running from first to second which should have been an out, but none of the three umps called it, and the entire Vols dugout erupted towards Brockwell.[4]

No further clashes seem to have occurred, and when Charlie Hurth named his pre-season selection of umpires for the 1952 season, William “Bill” Brockwell was listed as a returning arbiter.[5] Once the season began, Brockwell did not get off to a great start in the eyes of the Nashville players and manager.

There were no issues in the first game, as Little Rock invaded Sulphur Dell for a two-day, three-game set beginning with the home opener on April 12. Nashville lost, 9-6.

The next day was a double header, scheduled to begin at 1:30 p.m. But the ire of Nashville sports writer Raymond Johnson rained down on the umpire crew when Brockwell called both games at 2:12 p.m. due to rain and the condition of the field. According to Johnson, the umpires’ decision was flawed.

“The field was already in bad shape,” Brockwell told me (Johnson) in the dressing room after his decision, “and the groundskeeper said it would take more than an hour to get the field playable. It gets dark awfully early in this park. We didn’t want to keep the spectators waiting and then not play…”[6]

Johnson chimed in on that reasoning.

“Brockwell and (Paul) Roy who insisted that he do most of the talking although he was not the umpire-in-chief, apparently didn’t know that the field had been covered with large tarpaulins until about an hour before the game time…”

The rain stopped about the time of the decision to not play, and thirty minutes later, the field was dry.

Johnson continued. “Action like this causes a sour taste in the spectators’ mouths.”[7]

On June 3, one of the strangest calls in Sulphur Dell history transpired, and it involved Brockwell’s indecisiveness. In the fifth inning, Nashville’s third baseman Rance Pless (with a .364 batting average at the end of the year, the 1952 league batting title would belong to Pless) lofts a fly ball over the outfield screen and Blackwell signals the ball is a home run.

After a protest by Birmingham manager Al Vincent that lasted 10 minutes, the umpire reversed his decision and calls Pless’ stroke a foul ball. The Vols eventually lose to the Barons, 6-5; had the homer stood, Nashville would have won.

If Nashville fans in attendance at the game were expecting Raymond Johnson’s wrath in the next day’s newspaper, they didn’t receive it. Johnson quoted Brockwell’s explanation.

“The more I weighed the facts, the more I was convinced that I should reverse myself. I went over to (Nashville manager Hugh) Poland and said: ‘Hugh, I know you are going to blow your top but I’m going to have to change my decision. That was a foul ball. I cannot give you two runs and be honest with myself. Deep down I know I was wrong on that call. I know it’s a jolt to you and to your ball players.’ He accepted my decision in a much more gentlemanly way than I had expected.”

Johnson backed up the honesty.

“As a result of Brockwell’s intestinal fortitude on this occasion, Poland has much more respect for Brockwell…I do, too…It takes real guts to change a decision that takes away two runs from the home club before 3600 home fans…”[8]

At that point, the umpire may have gained the confidence of Poland and Johnson, but that did not mean he would not make arguable calls.

In the June 22 game between Nashville and Mobile in the Vols’ home park, Bama Ray swung at a pitch and missed, but the ball hit him in the back of his head. Brockwell called it a foul ball. The next game, working the bases at Sulphur Dell, he did not see the Bears’ George Freese drop the ball thrown to him as Rance Pless advanced, and Brockwell called Pless out at third.

On July 12, when he ruled Vols catcher Rube Novotney had interfered with Memphis’ Ed McGhee’s bat, awarding first base to the Chicks right fielder, it was business as usual when Poland took up for his catcher. Surprisingly, no one was tossed out of the game.

The next day in the second game of a double header, Johnson was on Brockwell’s bad side once again, as Nashville’s favorite son, Buster Boguskie, was tossed for arguing against a safe call at second base.

“Umpire Brockwell booted another in his usual fashion[9],” Johnson wrote.

Then, in the fifth inning of the game of July 18, Brockwell ejected four Nashville Vols in their 10-3 loss in Chattanooga. Boguskie was sent packing again for arguing a strike decision, manager Hugh Poland was sent to the showers after continuing the debate, Johnny Liptak was chased for a comment as he passed Brockwell on his way to coach first base, and Ziggy Jasinski, who had taken Boguskie’s place at bat, was banished after making another remark that Brockwell did not like.  Out of infielders, Rube Novotney had to play second base.

Then, Novotney was tossed four days later for protesting a called third strike in a 7-2 loss to Atlanta in Nashville.

It appears there were no further conflicts the rest of the year, and when Brockwell was named to the umpiring crew for the Mobile-Atlanta first-round playoffs, his umpiring career was soon to be over. Perhaps he had enough of umpiring, or the salary was not enough to support a new family. He returned to his home town of Tulsa, Oklahoma, to take a sales position.[10]

At the time of his death, he and his wife Mary, whom he married on October 31, 1951, had seven children and had been married 63 years before his passing. They had nine grandchildren, and twin great-grandchildren. Mary passed away on October 12, 2014.[11]

Note: An obituary for Bill Brockwell  could not be located; Mary’s obituary mentions the years of marriage.

[1] “Umpires Retained,” Miami (Oklahoma) Daily News-Record, September 15, 1947, p. 8.

[2] “WT-NM Umpires Named; Brockwell, Odom Open Here,” Lubbock Avalanche-Journal, April 18, 1948, p. 13.

[3] “Baseball Marathon (Box Score)”, Austin American, April 3, 1949, p. 19.

[4] “Bama Ray Slams Out 2 Homers,” Nashville Tennessean, July 30, 1951, p. 11.

[5] “Charlie Hurth Names Umps,” Nashville Tennessean, March 16, 1952, p. 16

[6] Raymond Johnson, “One Man’s Opinion,” Nashville Tennessean, April 14, 1952, p. 15.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Johnson. June 5, 1952, p. 22.

[9] Johnson, July 14, 1952, p. 12.

[10] “Umpire Changes of Southern Association Made,” Clarion-Ledger (Jackson, Mississippi), February 25, 1953, p. 13.

[11] Obituary, Mary Harpole Brockwell, Santa Fe-New Mexican, November 2, 2014. http://www.legacy.com/obituaries/santafenewmexican/obituary.aspx?pid=173002024, accessed July 18, 2017.

Sources

Baseball-reference.com

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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Old Timers Always Come Through

CreedThursday night marked the 79th annual banquet held by Nashville’s Old Timers organization. Close to 600 folks poured into the Nashville Airport Marriott to hear guest speaker Hall of Famer and 1971 Cy Young Award winner Ferguson Jenkins. He did not disappoint, as his talk lasted 50 minutes and he lingered beyond the allotted time to sign baseballs, bats, jerseys, photos, and a myriad of items.

The Old Timers board of directors can pat themselves on the back for coming through once again.

Way back in 1999, former Cincinnati Reds third baseman Ray Knight was to have been speaker, but at the last minute had to cancel. The Old Timers board members hastily contacted Chattanooga’s Rick Honeycutt, minor league pitching instructor for the Los Angeles Dodgers, who accepted.

Hall of Famer Harmon Killebrew was our speaker in 2009, the first year I was president of Old Timers, and I was anxious to see him come through the airport concourse. That meant we would be hearing him that night (and what a great speaker he was) and my fears of his being a “no-show”, much like Ray Knight, were alleviated.

Not so in 1955. Nashville Tennessean sports writer Raymond Johnson was the president that year (he served from 1951-1956), and with the cancellation of the invited speaker had to move the date of the banquet. Scheduled for January 24, Lefty Gomez was to be banquet guest, but found out he had scheduled two other banquets for the same evening, one in Minneapolis and one in Manchester, New Hampshire.

Johnson found out only a day or two ahead of time, and immediately went to work to find a replacement. In his “One Man’s Opinion” column the day before the banquet, he listed the names of those contacted to fill in for Gomez:

The first person he contacted was Chattanooga Lookouts owner Joe Engel, who found out his boss, Washington Senators owner Clark Griffith, was coming for a visit in Winter Garden, Florida. Engel had to turn down Johnson’s offer.

Birmingham Barons general manager Eddie Glennon, who had spoken to the group two years prior, had a banquet commitment in Demopolis, Alabama for the same night and could not come.

Kerby Farrell, native Nashvillian and recently-named Minor League Manager of the Year at Indianapolis, could not speak as team owners had set up meetings for him all week in Indiana.

Shelby Peace, president of the KITTY League, felt he should stay at home with his wife who had suffered injuries in fall.

Whitlow Wyatt, manager of Southern Association champion Atlanta Crackers (he would soon be heading to the Philadelphia Phillies as a coach), declined. He was worried about the lack of rain and needed to remain at his farm near Buchanan, Georgia.

Jim Turner, a native of Antioch and pitching coach of the New York Yankees, felt he was not a good storyteller and declined Johnson’s invitation.

Larry Gilbert, beloved co-owner and general manager of the Nashville Vols, agreed to have a minor part in the festivities but hesitated due to his wife’s recent fall.

Johnson then contacted Joe Engel once again, and since Johnson was willing to change the banquet date, accepted. One of Chattanooga’s finest came through.

The banquet was held on February 3, and a crowd of 250 were there at the Maxwell House. Included in the guests were Bill McKechnie, Jr., director of the Cincinnati Reds farm system, new Nashville Vols manager Joe Schultz, current Vols players Bert Flammini and Bob Schultz, former major-leaguers Red Lucas, Johnny Beazley, Clydell Castleman, and Nashville mayor Ben West. Even Kerby Farrell was able to make the trip after all, too.

Johnson closed out his column with a sense of relief.

“And my Old Timers’ troubles ended, at least temporarily…So put your handkerchiefs back in your pockets, my friends.”

The Old Timers always come through.

Author’s note: Raymond Johnson’s “One Man’s Opinion” columns in the January 23, 1955 and February 4, 1955 of the Nashville Tennessean were the basis for this story.

©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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Ghosts of Sulphur Dell

The last week of the 1963 season was hardly going to be a great send-off for Nashville’s fabled ballpark. A 15-word sentence, seemingly an afterthought in an article about a player who had been sent to Tulsa of the Texas League, pronounced the beginning of the end.nashville-tennessean-09-01-1963-sulphur-dell

nashville-tennessean-09-08-1963-sulphur-dell-barney-ballard-article-apBut the oldest ballpark in existence was given special attention on September 8, 1963, when Associated Press sports writer Barney Ballard published his epitaph of Nashville’s Sulphur Dell. On that day the final professional game was scheduled for the quaint, quirky ballpark. Ballard’s prediction on fan attendance was true: 971 faithful people passed through the turnstiles. It was the lowest season attendance in the history of the ball club, as only 54,485 bothered to journey down to Sulphur Dell for the entire year.

The Vols won both games on that special Sunday, 6-3 and 2-1 over Lynchburg. But the spirit of the old ballpark seemed to want to hang on, to keep the saga alive, to give up one more home run down right, 262 feet from home plate.

And it happened.

The second game went into extra innings before the historic day ended with an appropriate feat, as Nashville outfielder Charlie Teuscher lifted a fly ball over the right field wall to end the game.

nashville-tennessean-09-09-1963-charlie-teuscher-final-hr-sulphur-dell-lynchburg-nashville-09-08-1963

Teuscher slapped three home runs in the two games, but his game-ending achievement also began the final demise of one of Baseball’s most beloved, cherished, and endearing ballparks of all time.

Relinquishing its hold on professional baseball in Nashville, the city took over management of the facility. Relegated to a final flurry of amateur softball and baseball games, wrestling matches, concerts, and the rodeo in 1964, the park was eventually shuttered after becoming a race track in 1965, and demolished in 1969.

It was soon after the final season that happy thoughts were stirred once again, resurrecting flashbacks of a better day, a better time, when things were different. Tennessean cartoonist Charles Bissell gave one final inscription to thoughts of Sulphur Dell.

nashville-tennessean-04-16-1964-sulphur-dell-bissell-ghosts

Bissell’s cartoon appealed to Mrs. Henry Justice, who penned a special memory in a letter to the editor a few weeks later. Reckon the ghosts are still there, after all?

nashville-tennessean-04-26-1964-sulphur-dell-ghosts-letter-to-the-editor-mrs-henry-justice

Sources

Nashville Tennessean

Newspapers.com

© 2016 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

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Sulphur Dell Circuses and Slugfests

In what must be one of baseball’s most productive offensive games ever in Sulphur Dell, Chattanooga outlasted Nashville 24-17 in the second game of a double header on Wednesday, June 12, 1946.

With the Shrine Circus scheduled for a five-day run at the historic ballpark the next week, sportswriter Raymond Johnson offered his view by comparing the wild game to circus shenanigans under the sub-heading “Vol-Lookout Gyrations Bring To Mind Shrine Circus”:

“…it is extremely doubtful if the circus will provide more amusing things than some of the comical and, at times, stupid play Those Vols, their rivals, and the umpires – let’s not forget them – have in the Dell this week.”[1]

Nashville won the first game that day by a score of 4-3, but the night cap was one for the record books.

Nashville Tennessean, 06-17-1946 Shrine Circus Sulphur Dell

Nashville and Southern Association rival Chattanooga set a league record for most hits in one game for both teams with 51 and tied a league record for runs scored in a game with 41. There were 109 official times at-bat, 29 left on base, 15 doubles, three home runs, and a total of 71 bases.[2]

What does not show up in the box score are other zany happenings.

Twenty-eight players, 12 Lookouts and 16 Vols, took part in the game. Nine pitchers, six Vols and three Lookouts, took his turn on the mound. There were four hit batsmen and nine errors.

In the first inning, Nashville’s Joe Stringfellow golfed a long home run out of the ballpark, and a few batters later second baseman Jim Shilling hit an infield popup which Lookouts third baseman Ray Goolsby, first baseman Jack Sanford, and pitcher Larry Brunke dropped between them. Shilling later pitched two innings for Nashville.

There was even a protest, although only rules interpretations can be protested, not judgement calls. In the fourth inning Chattanooga’s Hillis Layne hit a fly ball that hit the right field screen and dropped down to settle at the top of the wooden fence. Base umpire Lyn Dowdy ruled it a ground-rule double, but plate umpire Paul Blackard thought the ball had cleared the fence and gave the signal for a home run.

Nashville outfielders Stringfellow and Pete Thomassie convinced Blackard that the ball was clearly visible on top of the fence and the arbiter reversed his decision. The decision brought manager Bert Niehoff out of the Lookouts dugout to argue that the ball on the fence could have been one hit there during batting practice. After discussing the issue, both umpires ruled once again that, in fact, Hillis should be credited with a home run. Larry Gilbert protested the game at that point, to no avail.

A blowout game had happened in Atlanta’s Ponce De Leon ballpark a few seasons before, with similar results.

In a 26-13 win over the Crackers on August 18, 1943, every Nashville player collected at least one hit, scored at least one run, and all except Charlie Brewster knocked in at least one run[3].  Charlie Gilbert went to the plate eight times in the game, and the entire team totaled 58 plate appearances and 29 base hits.

First baseman Mel Hicks started the Vols scoring spree with a three-run homer in the first inning, and Ed Sauer added another four-bagger for two runs in the fifth. It was the 10th home run on the season for the pair. After three innings the Vols had scored 14 runs, then added five more in the fifth.

The Crackers made it interesting by scoring 11 runs in the final three innings, but by then Nashville increased their total with three more in the seventh and four in the ninth, which included a steal of home by third baseman Pete Elko for the final Vols tally.

Gritty Vols manager Larry Gilbert called on outfielder Calvin Chapman and catcher Walt Ringhofer to direct the ball club in his absence, flying from Atlanta to attend the wedding of team owner Fay Murray’s daughter Emily on that day.[4]

One of the highest scoring games in Vols history, the previous record had occurred two years prior in Chattanooga.

On the third day of the 1941 season in Chattanooga on April 13, Nashville won 25-1 by sending 19 batters to the plate in the seventh and final inning of the second game. Vols outfielder Oris Hockett hit a grand slam and catcher Marvin Felderman drove in three runs with a single to clear the bases, accounting for seven of the runs. With 15 runs in the frame, the Vols came within one of the league record for runs scored in an inning, set by Little Rock against Nashville on April 25, 1929.[5]

Big scores continued six days later on April 19 Nashville won 20-1 at Sulphur Dell, and the next day as the Vols pounded the Lookouts again 21-9.[6]

Rivalries between opponents created some of the most memorable games in Southern Association history, complete with all-time marks, record stats, and individual performances. The success of Nashville’s franchise during the 1940s includes noteworthy performances such as these.

[1] Johnson, Raymond. “One Man’s Opinion”. Nashville Tennessean, p. 40, June 14, 1946.

[2] Nashville Tennessean, April 13, 1946, p. 19

[3] Nashville Tennessean, August 19, 1943, p. 18

[4] The Sporting News, August 26, 1943, p. 19

[5] The Sporting News, April 24, 1941, p. 11

[6] Johnson, Raymond. “One Man’s Opinion”. Nashville Tennessean, p. 32, August 20, 1943.

Sources

baseball-reference.com

newspapers.com

paperofrecord.com

sabr.org

© 2016 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

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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

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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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Filed under History, Negro League, Research