Tag Archives: Pete Thomassie

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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The Hitting Streaks of Nashville’s Johnny Bates and Mobile’s Harry Chozen

Hitting StreakOn July 29, 1945, Mobile catcher Harry Chozen lays down an unsuccessful sacrifice bunt[1], ending his consecutive-game hitting streak at 49. It was the 11th inning of a 13-inning affair in Mobile, and Chozen finishes the game 0-for-5[2].

The unlikely batting hero caught for the Cincinnati Reds on September 21, 1937 against Philadelphia Phillies pitcher Wayne LeMaster. After flying out to right, popping up to the first baseman in foul territory, and grounding out to first, Chozen hit a single in the bottom of the ninth inning for his only hit and only appearance in the major leagues. The Reds lost 10-1.

He played the next four years in the Eastern League for Albany and Williamsport, then in the Virginia League with Newport News before moving to Knoxville and Mobile in the Southern Association after World War II.

In surpassing Nashville’s Johnny Bates’ 45-game streak set in 1925, Chozen admitted that a broken bat was used for every hit of the streak.

“I broke my bat when I got my first hit of the streak on May 27 (in Memphis).” Chozen said. “I started to give it to my kid, but changed my mind and did a tack and tape job, and brother, it has paid dividends.”[4]

He even hit a home run with it, in his first time up on July 22. It was his 46th game of his stretch, breaking Bates’ record[5].

Some controversy surrounded Chozen’s feat. On July 6, after having hit safely in 33 consecutive games, he was issued a base on balls in his first time at the plate. Catching in the fourth inning, he was hit in the head by Chicks player Pete Thomassie on his follow-through swing. Unconscious, Chozen was removed from the game.

As there was no official plate appearance, Chozen’s streak continued for another 16 games before it ended.

When his streak was halted, he connected for a hit in his next eight games before being collared by New Orleans Pelicans pitcher Trader Horn on August 8. On the year his 103 hits came in 292 appearances for a .353 average. He played in 88 games that season, but was made a free agent at the end of the year according to the terms of his contract.

He signed with Memphis for 1946 before assuming the manager’s reins at Greenville in the Class C Cotton States League for 1947. One of his starting pitchers was Bob Kelley, who would pitch for Nashville in 1950-1951 and 1956. Chozen also played in 97 games that season.

He played and managed for the next four seasons at Miami Beach (Florida International League-C), Pine Bluff (Cotton States League-C) for two seasons, and Lake Charles (Gulf Coast League-B) before finishing his playing career in 1952 at Greenville once again.

Chozen passed away on September 16, 1994 in Houston, Texas at the age of 78.

Nashville’s Johnny Bates had set the previous league record by hitting in 45 consecutive games during the 1925 season. His personal run began with two hits against Atlanta on July 30, ending with two hits on the last day of his streak against Milt Steengraffe of Little Rock on September 16[6].

In 26 of those games he had only one hit to keep his pace intact. His 72 hits gave him a .370 average and he scored 44 runs during the streak. Bates ended the season with a .349 batting average[7].

Bates had played in the Southern Association previously with Mobile and Chattanooga, and for Rocky Mount (Virginia League-B). He spent three seasons at shortstop with Nashville before moving to Mobile at the end of the 1927 season.

Not much else is known about Bates, as his baseball record and personal history are incomplete. It is believed that he was born on August 21, 1882 at Steubenville, Ohio[8]; which, if true, would have him as a 43-year-old during his record-setting year.

But comparing his and Chozen’s records to Joe DiMaggio’s widely-known 56-game major league hitting streak places them in the top of the all-time list.

The Yankee Clipper’s personal best had been set in 1933 as a member of the San Francisco Seals in the Pacific Coast League (AAA) with 61 straight, and baseball’s record champion across both major and minor leagues was established by Joe Wilhoit in 1919 while playing for Wichita in the Class A Western League. The hitting streak records of all-time in the major and minor leagues[9]:

Joe Wilhoit                         Western League                             69           1919

Joe DiMaggio                    Pacific Coast League                      61           1933

Joe DiMaggio                    New York Yankees (AL)                56           1941

Román Mejías                   Big State League                              55            1954

Otto Pahlman                    Illinois–Indiana–Iowa League   50           1922

Jack Ness                            Pacific Coast League                       49           1915

Harry Chozen                     Southern League                             49           1945

Johnny Bates                     Southern League                              46           1925

Willie Keeler                      Baltimore Orioles (NL)                   45           1896-97*

Jamie McOwen                 California League                              45           2009

Pete Rose                           Cincinnati Reds (NL)                        44           1978

*Keeler had a hit on the last day of the 1896 season, then hit safely in the first 44 games of the 1897 season

Two special players, each with average careers, had one very special season of their lives, and their feats were never matched in the Southern Association.

© 2015 Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

[1]Wechsler, Bob (2008). Day by Day in Jewish History. Jersey City, New Jersey: KATV Publishing House.

[2] Anniston Star, July 30, 1945.

[3] Wilkes-Barre Record, July 27, 1945.

[4] Baseball Records, Southern Association from 1901-1945 Inclusive.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Russell, Fred; George Leonard (1950). Vol Feats: Records, History and Tales of the Nashville Club in the Southern Association 1901-1950. Nashville, Tennessee: Nashville Banner.

[7] SABR Baseball Biography Project, incomplete

Major and minor league statistical information retrieved from http://www.baseball-reference.com. Major league game details retrieved from http://www.retrosheet.org.

 

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