Tag Archives: Old Timers

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.

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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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Baseball Celebration, Baseball Chatter

Baseball has been a slice of America since its beginning. It has created rivalries among cities, towns, and states, and has also brought schools, teammates, and families together. Attending a game brings a peace to everyday life where fans can chat about home, discuss batting averages, and enjoy the progress of raw talent while admiring the decline of an All-Star and maybe a future Hall of Famer.

It is a participation game. It calls for players at nine positions on the field, and a supporting cast of relievers, utility fielders, and sometimes designated hitters. Playing the game creates situations that call for quick thinking, strong arms, and lively bats.

It is also a game to be watched. Fans see athletic skills, managerial prowess, and disappointing losses at the ballpark. “The Game” is perfect in its imperfections through errors, wild pitches, and strikeouts.

The solace of a ballpark, of concrete and steel and of wood splinters and bleachers, overlooks the stage of green and brown where players paint their masterpieces of sweat and of tears.

Celebrating those moments are as important as studying the past, reliving historical traditions, and hoping for continuation of moments once experienced by previous generations.

Tomorrow night at the Millennium Maxwell House in Nashville the Old Timers Baseball Association of Nashville will give area baseball fans a chance to celebrate once again. It will be the 76th annual banquet for the Old Timers, an organization which has as its creed a testament to all things “Baseball”:

“To enjoy fellowship with baseball enthusiasts and to honor and support the great game of baseball at all levels.”

HearFormer professional baseball players will be attending including Bobby Richardson who was MVP of the 1960 World Series as second baseman for the New York Yankees, amateur players will be honored, twenty high school seniors will receive scholarship awards, Gerald Montgomery will be honored as the latest selection for Nashville’s Amateur Baseball Hall of Fame, and Dennis Birdwell will be given his “Mr. Baseball” award.

But that’s not all. The baseball chatter at each table will be there for all to hear. Lean in and listen. The stories are vital to those telling and vital those who hear them.

Those “slices of America” are important in the celebration of “The Game”, too.

© 2014 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

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The Pride of Nashville: R.A.Dickey

R.A.

A product of Nashville’s Montgomery Bell Academy and the University of Tennessee, major league pitcher R. A. Dickey was the banquet speaker at the 69th annual Old Timers banquet in 2007 where he related his experiences on the field and called attention to his life’s faith journey.

“For me, it’s not about an All-America award or other accolades, it’s about my experiences,” said Dickey.  “Sometimes you are not as bad as you feel nor are you as good as you might think you are.  It is more important to have a purpose, be it in faith or in baseball, but in all things to have joy in it.

“I try to glean wisdom from a game and apply it to my life.”

R. A. was the 18th player taken in the 1996 draft, the first-round pick of the Texas Rangers, and was prepared to sign a contract with the team.  The signing was to have taken place before a Rangers home game in Arlington, Texas, where Dickey was set to throw out the first ball.

Just before finalizing the contract, his agent informed him that Rangers general manager Doug Melvin was backing off of the $900,000 signing bonus that had been agreed to.

During a routine physical examination it had been discovered that a tendon was missing in his throwing arm, and Melvin was not sure that he wanted to sign Dickey at all.  After being named Freshman of the Year by Baseball Digest during his first full season at the University of Tennessee and collecting a bronze medal at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, the news regarding his arm caught him off-guard.

Dickey’s choices were to return to the Knoxville and rejoin the baseball team or continue to pursue a professional career, but on the eve of stepping back on the UT campus he was told that the Rangers were still interested.  However, the signing bonus would be reduced to $75,000. Dickey signed with the Rangers on September 12 and his professional career began.

“One cannot predict what is going to happen.  Often we may need to make adjustments,” said Dickey.

Little did he know how many turns his career would take.

The 6’2″, 215-lb. right-hander spent time in the minor leagues with Oklahoma, Frisco, Charlotte, and Tulsa.  For 2007 he signed a AAA contract with the Milwaukee, where ironically Doug Melvin was the general manager. Dickey joined the Brewers affiliate Nashville Sounds and finished 13-6.

Having recently turned to mastering the knuckleball, Dickey told the banquet attendees, “Be ready to re-invent yourself.”

His knuckleball – combined with his persistence – worked. With the Seattle Mariners for 2008 and Minnesota Twins in 2009, R. A. signed with the New York Mets in 2010 and threw a one-hit shutout against the Philadelphia Phillies on August 13, 2010. His ERA for the season was 2.84. Agreeing to a two-year contract with the Mets beginning in 2011, his record 8-13 but his ERA was a respectable 3.28.

R. A. had a dream season in 2012, setting a New York Mets record for consecutive scoreless innings (44 1/3), led the National League in starts (33), innings pitched (233 2/3), and strikeouts (230). Named to the National League All Star team, he finished the year with a 2.73 ERA.

Named winner of the prestigious 2012 National League Cy Young Award, he became the first knuckleballer in the history of Major League Baseball to capture the award.

Dickey was traded to the Toronto Blue Jays for the 2013 season where he finished 14-13 and won the pitcher’s American League Gold Glove Award.

R. A. will be speaking at Lipscomb University’s “Forehand & Friends” event Wednesday, January 8th at 11:30 in the Hall of Fame Room of Allen Arena.  Cost is $10 including lunch.  RSVP via email paul.nance@lipscomb.edu.

© 2014 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

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