Tag Archives: National Baseball Hall of Fame

Father’s Day, 2017: Remembering Dad and Harmon Killebrew

Our father, Virgil Nipper, was inducted into the Nashville Amateur Baseball Hall of Fame in 2008 at the 69th annual Old Timers banquet at the Millennium Maxwell House Hotel. It was a prestigious honor for dad, one that includes local greats W. A. Wright, Larry Cole, Joe Casey, and Bobby Reasonover, among many others.

Dad has always been friendly and jovial, but most certainly humbled by his award. His personality was at its best when talk turned to sports and baseball, and that night was one of the best. He had a way of reeling in others with his stories, but mostly from his honesty and humility.

The following year as president of Old Timers, I was able to greet our 2009 banquet speaker, Harmon Killebrew, at the airport. He and his wife Nita were congenial folks, very cordial, and they were looking forward to an extended visit with relatives in the area along with being available to our board members and guests at the banquet.

A prolific slugger who spent 22 years in the majors, Killebrew was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1984. At the time of his retirement, he was second only to Babe Ruth in American League home runs. I was humbled by his on-field accomplishments, but his graciousness soon put my awe to rest.

I explained the format of our banquet, and when the time came for him to make his address, he did not disappoint. He was a stirring guest, free with his stories, and he held the audience spellbound. To everyone’s surprise, he remained in the banquet hallafterwards and signed just about any memorabilia item brought to him. While our banquets usually end around 9:30 p.m., he stayed on for over an hour and fifteen minutes.

Before he made his way to his hotel room, I asked if he would mind meeting our board of directors for breakfast the following morning. He agreed.

I took the opportunity to seat him at the head of a table of around 14 in the hotel restaurant. Dad sat to his right (yes, I did it on purpose), and they talked and talked. Dad was in his element, and afterwards told me it what a great opportunity it was.

Almost a year and a half later, I made my annual pilgrimage to the Rickwood Classic, a Birmingham Barons ‘turn-back-the-clock’ game played once a year at Rickwood Field. Harmon was the featured guest that year, and would be throwing out the first pitch at the game, to be held on June 2. I was invited to attend an informal gathering at the Barons home park, the Hoover Met, the night before.

As a guest of the Friends of Rickwood, I arrived at the press box and watched others greet the affable Killebrew. Once everyone had said hello, I ambled up to him and reached out my hand.

“Harmon, I don’t know if you remember me or not. I’m Skip Nipper; we were proud to have you at our Old Timers banquet in Nashville last year.”

“Of course, I do. How’s your dad?”

I was literally stunned that a Hall of Famer, no matter how humble, no matter how famous, no matter how time had separated our banquet and breakfast in Nashville, would ask about dad.

But then, I knew another Hall of Famer who would have said and done the same thing.

Rest in peace, dad. And say hello to Harmon for me.

© 2017 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.


Filed under Biography, History, Opinion

Nashville’s Short-lived Affiliation with the Brooklyn Dodgers

Branch Rickey was known as a shrewd business manager, building a farm system within the St. Louis Cardinals organization beginning in the late 1920s. His skill in unifying teams under the Cardinals umbrella was the model for the growing minor leagues.

He purchased several minor league clubs on his own which would later give him greater control in the managing the entire structure of the classification system.

Under his front office tutelage the Cardinals won six National League championships and four World Series titles. After his final championship season in St. Louis in 1942, Rickey moved to the position of general manager with the Brooklyn Dodgers.

Before he assumed control of the Dodgers, Nashville had already been in Brooklyn’s minor league fold. Recent affiliation agreements with the New York Giants and Cincinnati Reds had been set aside in 1938 when Nashville and Brooklyn consolidated their farm clubs to match the success that Rickey had maintained in making the Cardinals one of the most successful baseball clubs of the 1930s.

brooklyn_dodgers_fbUnder the arrangement, Nashville’s close relationships with Pensacola, Tallahassee, and Fulton (Kentucky) clubs would join Brooklyn’s interests in Elmira (New York), Winston-Salem, Clinton (Iowa), Dayton, and Greenwood (Mississippi). Two additional clubs were to join in the agreement, giving the Dodgers a 10-team minor league affiliation.

The alliance was negotiated by Nashville manager Chuck Dressen (who would later become Dodgers manager), Vols owner Fay Murray and business manager Jimmy Hamilton, Brooklyn general manager Larry MacPhail and manager Burleigh Grimes.

Larry MacPhail was a former resident of Nashville where his son Lee MacPhail was born. Both MacPhails are in the National Baseball Hall of Fame, the only father-son members inducted into the shrine.

Dressen would be spending extended time in the Dodgers’ spring camp to evaluate talent and to assess the best available for Nashville from 250 players. Vols camp was to begin on March 10 in Tallahassee, while the Dodgers would train in Clearwater.

Nashville would finish in second place in the Southern Association for 1938 and MacPhail added Dressen to Leo Durocher’s staff in Brooklyn for the 1939 season. The move paved the way for Vols owner Fay Murray to offer Larry Gilbert the managerial position and an ownership stake in the Nashville club if he would leave New Orleans.

Gilbert left the Pelicans and promptly led Nashville to third place, a league playoff win, and the Southern Association’s representative in the Dixie Playoffs to face Ft. Worth.

The Dodgers-Vols agreement ended after 1940 and a Southern Association and Dixie Playoff win for the Vols. Nashville entered an association with the Chicago Cubs and continued to succeed under Larry Gilbert with additional league championships in 1941 and 1942 and Dixie Playoff championships in 1941, 1942, and 1948 before Gilbert retired.

Branch Rickey’s successful minor league venture paved the way for all major league clubs in the controlling of player development. Nashville’s foundation for successful seasons began with an agreement with the Dodgers that was modeled on Rickey’s formula.

© 2015 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

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A Baseball Museum for Nashville?

On more than one occasion I have visited the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York; every baseball fan should visit in one’s lifetime. Exhibit displays are excellent (rotated often), library and research opportunities abound, and the ambiance of the quaint village is rarely paralleled.

Hiking, boating, and golf are just a few outside opportunities available, too, and should your son be on a team playing in a tournament nearby, that’s even better. Doubleday Field and the Cooperstown Dreams baseball complex host amateur games for youngsters and adults, and there is a Fantasy Week offered for those who want to learn from former pros such as Ozzie Smith and Phil Niekro.

My visits have included traveling with business associates and friends, and once I visited alone to do research in the library at the tutelage of Tim Wiles, who recently left as Director of Research at the Hall of Fame to become Executive Director of Guilderland Public Library some 60 miles away. Tim was able to access files on Nashville baseball which help immensely in my ability to tell local baseball history more completely.

Even with Tim’s valued assistance, those files were pretty thin.

All of those things aside, I often wonder why the National Baseball Hall of Fame is even in Cooperstown? In 1939 it was determined by the Mills Commission that a century before, Abner Doubleday invented The Game in Phinney’s field in the village named after the family of author James Finnemore Cooper. I get that.

2DayCome to find out, Doubleday was nowhere near Phinney’s field at that time; he was at West Point where he had entered the United State Military Academy the previous year. Doubleday never claimed to be the father of baseball, although he did have a relative by the same name who lived in the area in the early 1800s.

To boot, Cooperstown only has about 2,000 residents, is 4 1/2 hours away from New York City, and is in the middle of nowhere except for the beautiful countryside.

Some may like it that way, but I’m guessing that the location is a detriment to mass visits. The village may not be able to cater to more than those who currently stop by for a tour of the museum, take advantage of the library, or visit another venue.

So, why is “Cooperstown” in Cooperstown?

In reality, the Hall of Fame and Museum is not going anywhere even if I were to remotely suggest that Nashville would make a better and more accommodating home.

The question is this: Would local citizens and visitors to Nashville support a baseball museum, even if it was about regional baseball history only?

For one, I think they would. Baseball was not born in Nashville, and southern baseball has roots in many communities below the Mason-Dixon Line. However, as Nashville continues to experience rapid growth and with visitor momentum continuing to accelerate, new venues of opportunity are needed.

And everyone loves baseball.

Can two Halls of Fame exist? Yes. In Kansas City there is the Negro League Baseball Museum, and in Birmingham construction is underway for another one to emphasize African-American participation in the illustrious history of the Negro Leagues.

Besides, our “Athens of the South” calls out not only to the many local colleges and universities, it really is a testament to our being a center of learning. Locally, the Country Music Hall of Fame, Songwriters Hall of Fame, Johnny Cash Museum are in full measure, with newly-announced George Jones and African-American Music museums on the horizon.

Wouldn’t a museum entrusted to the documents, images, oral and visual histories, and opportunity to view those traditions of yesteryear make sense, a repository of southern baseball history?

We have a new ballpark that will soon open near the site of beloved Sulphur Dell, which was once known as baseball’s oldest ballpark in existence. Games were played there as early as 1862. We have ownership and management of the Nashville Sounds who will be immortalizing a part of local history within the stadium, and a city whose leadership will allow for the same throughout the greenway outside the stadium.

The Old Timers Baseball Association of Nashville continues to promote baseball with scholarships, an annual award banquet, and monetary support to area ball fields and programs, too.

1DaySuccessful baseball programs at Vanderbilt, Lipscomb, Belmont, Trevecca, and nearby Cumberland are also a tribute to baseball roots in the area. Toss in local baseball  at the high school and youth league levels, and we can easily say “We know our baseball”.

19th Century baseball has taken a foothold, too; what began as a two-team league in Franklin and Nashville, in three short years the Tennessee Association of Vintage Base Ball has expanded in middle Tennessee to Knoxville and Chattanooga.

This great opportunity to provide a location for the study of baseball and to view its visual and oral merits, all within a day’s driving distance from much of the United States, should not be overlooked.

I am sure we had an Abner Doubleday in our town once, too.

© 2015 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

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Filed under Current, History, Negro League, Opinion, Research

Baseball Shrines

Sulphur Dell was the baseball home of not only the Nashville Vols, but also the Negro League Nashville Elite Giants, Black Vols, Stars, and Cubs. Major league teams played exhibition games there, too,  as they moved north from spring training. Amateur league and high school games were often played at the famous park, especially when it came to all star games and tournaments.baseball_resized

What is not so well known is the ballpark was used as a venue for other types of entertainment: professional wrestling matches, donkey races, concerts, and circuses. After baseball was gone, Sulphur Dell “the ballpark” became Sulphur Dell “the speedway” when it was turned into a racetrack for a few weeks in 1965.

To me, Sulphur Dell was a ballpark, so I don’t give much credit to other forms of entertainment that took up brief residence. Nashville Banner sports editor Fred Russell once wrote that the ballpark was even a tourist destination, as some visitors to Nashville just had take in the famous outfield and short right field fence.

I have been fortunate to visit baseball shrines around the country.  Off the top of my head, this is my list, limited to major league ballparks and special venues in no particular order.  Which ones have you been to, and which one was your favorite to visit?

  • Baseball Hall of Fame, Cooperstown
  • Field of Dreams movie site, Dyersville Iowa
  • Louisville Slugger Museum, Louisville
  • Wrigley Field, Chicago
  • US Cellular Ballpark, Chicago
  • Fenway Park, Boston
  • Yankee Stadium, New York City
  • Veterans Stadium, Philadelphia
  • Riverfront Stadium, Cincinnati
  • Great American Ballpark, Cincinnati
  • Reds Hall of Fame & Museum, Cincinnati
  • Sportsman Park, St. Louis
  • Busch Stadium I, St. Louis
  • Busch Stadium II, St. Louis
  • Three Rivers Stadium, Pittsburgh
  • Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, Atlanta
  • Turner Field, Atlanta
  • Royals Stadium, Kansas City
  • Negro League Baseball Museum, Kansas City
  • The Ballpark at Arlington
  • Texas Rangers Hall of Fame
  • Angels Stadium, Anaheim
  • Memorial Stadium, Baltimore
  • Astrodome, Houston
  • Chase Field, Phoenix


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