Tag Archives: New York

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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Nashville’s “Dutch” Dotterer (Or Was It Tommy?)

In 1931 on this day, November 11, Henry John “Dutch” Dotterer, a catcher for the Nashville Vols during the 1955 and 1957 seasons, was born in Syracuse, New York.

He began his professional career with Lockport, New York, of the PONY League in 1950, and played for two more seasons before military service. In 1953, in the first year of a two-year commitment to the U. S. Navy in Bainbridge, Maryland, he became friends with Willie Mays who was playing for the Ft. Eustis, Virginia, Army team.

Resuming his professional career, he split time between Memphis and Nashville in 1955, Dotterer batted only .221, but after a full season in Havana in 1956 Dotterer returned to Nashville for 1957. By May 1 he was hitting at a .391 clip and by July 10th he was seventh in the league at .319 and chosen for the Southern Association All Star team. Dotterer ended the season with a .303 batting average.

Sent to Seattle for 1958, he earned a late-season call to the Cincinnati Reds, appearing in four games. Dotterer had 339 plate appearances in five years in the majors including 22 with the expansion Senators. The Reds had traded him to the Kansas City Athletics but was not protected in the expansion draft and was selected by Washington.

With Washington in 1961, his last season in the majors, Topps mistakenly printed a photograph of his younger brother, Tom, with Dutch’s biographical and statistical information on his baseball card. Tommy never made it to the majors but played outfield and shortstop for Nashville in 1959.DDotter_FB

His father, Dutch Dotterer, Sr. was a long-time scout with the Cleveland Indians, New York Yankees, and Reds. Dotterer retired from baseball in 1961 after two years with Syracuse. He passed away on October 9, 1999 in his hometown at the age of 67.

© 2014 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

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“Steamboat” Johnson: Umpire of Power and Authority

SJohnson

Steamboat Johnson

Umpire Harry Samuel Johnson had a reputation among players that even his whisper was as loud as the sound of a steamboat’s whistle. “Steamboat” Johnson also became famous in the annals of the Southern Association as one of the most colorful characters to ever don umpire’s gear.

Born in Pottsville, Pennsylvania on March 26, 1880 where his father owned a saloon, the family soon relocated to Elmira, New York where Harry played first base for his school team. His family moved to Wilkinsburg, Pennsylvania after graduation and he continued to play and manage in the sandlots.

As co-owner and manager of a team in 1909, Harry realized that the umpires he had been hiring were less than adequate. He decided that he could do a better job and began umpiring games in the fall.

Being an umpire came naturally, as Harry was not only a student of the game but honored impartiality in his judgments while knowing the rules inside-and-out. No matter that his voice was boisterous; his quick interpretations and honest decisions gave him a reputation that helped him to earn the trust of managers and players.

After a season in Pittsburgh semi-pro leagues he was hired by the Ohio and Pennsylvania League for 1911 and his professional umpiring career was off and running.

Moving up to the Western League in 1912 and the Three-I League in 1913, he found himself in the National League during the 1914 season. He worked 54 games as an extra umpire.  Disappointed that he was not retained for the next season, Steamboat was not deterred and worked in the New York State League from 1915 – 1917.

After one season in the International League in 1918, he saw his first tenure in the Southern Association for two years in 1919 and 1920. It was during the 1919 season, working a game in Atlanta, where the sports editor of the Atlanta Georgian wrote,

“None of us know where John D. Martin (president of the Southern Association) got this Umpire Johnson, but he has a voice like a Mississippi River steamboat. From now he is ‘Steamboat’ Johnson to Atlantans.”

The South Atlantic League president W. W. Walsh asked Johnson to umpire in 1921, as the league was known for rough players who felt they could frighten all umpires. Successful in bringing stability to the umpire corps, Johnson had a clause in his contract that he could return to the Southern Association and his second tenure there lasted from 1922 – 1946.

In 1935 his book Standing the Gaff was published. It documented much of Johnson’s professional life for 25 years. Harry determined that he had umpired over 4,000 games and made 1,000,000 decisions. A chapter of umpiring questions and answers was a guide for his readers, and gives testament to his authority on the game he loved. He held power in his knowledge of the game and throughout his career he was often called on to speak to umpire organizations.

Once his book was published, Harry would hire youngsters to sell copies before games in the southern ballparks in which he was umpiring. If his game decisions were not popular with local fans, they would often throw his own book at him.

Harry would simply gather up the books around him and resell them before the next game.

Johnson was extremely proud that he had never used tobacco or alcohol, and fans recall that after the final out of the final game of the season he would turn to the crowd and say, “God bless you.”

Between 1947 through 1949 Johnson became supervisor of umpires in the Southern Association. In 1950 he opened an umpiring school which lasted for one season before falling ill. A resident of Memphis, Johnson died on February 20, 1951 at the age of 70.

© 2014 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

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