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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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Nashville’s Larry Gilbert and Six Seasons of Glory 1939-1944

Before Gilbert

Nashville had been the winner of four Southern Association pennants in the first 16 years of the league’s existence: 1901, 1902, 1908, and 1916. It would be a long drought, over two decades long, before another championship would occur.

Murray-HamiltonFay Murray and Jimmy Hamilton purchased the club in 1931. From 1931 – 1938 the team finished second three times with an overall record of 686 -674. Nashville finished in second place in the Southern Association for 1938 and Brooklyn Dodgers general manager Larry MacPhail added Vols manager Chuck Dressen to Leo Durocher’s staff 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. In 18 seasons Gilbert’s teams had won 1,392 and lost 1,035 (.574).

1939: The Coup

Larry_Gilbert_LetterDuring negotiations in Montgomery, Alabama on November 4, 1938 Larry Gilbert, veteran manager of New Orleans, was promised that if he would leave the Pelicans and his hometown, he would be given one-half share of the Nashville club. Full reign of daily operations would be his at a salary of $10,000. On November 8 owner Fay Murray announced that Gilbert was the new Nashville Vols manager. Jimmy Hamilton’s share of the Vols had been purchased by Murray to make possible the deal offered to Gilbert. On November 9, Gilbert began his first day on the job.

In his first season he lead Nashville to third place behind Chattanooga and Memphis. First baseman Bert Haas won the batting title (.365). Nashville became the Southern Association’s representative in the Dixie Playoffs by defeating Atlanta four games to three in the playoffs, and in the Dixie Series, Ft. Worth won over Nashville four games to three.

1940: Dream Season

On March 2 Baron “Boots” Poffenberger was purchased by Nashville from the Brooklyn Dodgers. Proving his eye for talent, Larry Gilbert took a chance on the bad boy pitcher who once had been suspended. No manager really knew how to handle him, but in 1940, Poffenberger would lead the league with a 26-9 record; no pitcher equaled his win total in the history of the Southern Association.

Gilbert knew how to handle him.

With the weather around 39 degrees, the Vols took a 6-0 lead and coast to a 12-8 opening day victory on April 12 over the Atlanta Crackers before a Sulphur Dell crowd of 8,206 chilly fans. The team never fell out of first place the entire season, and the starting lineup remained intact throughout the season with only two roster changes to the pitching staff in mid-season.

Nashville_Vols_1940_2Nashville finished the season with a 101-47 (.682) record as Arnold Moser lead the league in hits (216), Bob Boken and Gus Dugas tied with 118 RBI, Dugas has 22 home runs, and Ace Adams strikes out 122. For the second year in a row, seven starters hit over .300.

In the first round of the playoffs Nashville shut out Chattanooga three games to none, and on September 10, Nashville pitcher George Jeffcoat struck out seven consecutive Lookouts on his way to tallying a league record of eighteen.

Trouncing Atlanta four games to two to take the Southern Association Shaughnessy Playoffs title, Nashville won its first Dixie Series over Texas League champion Houston four games to one.

1941: Tragedy, Loss, and Victory

The laurels that surrounded the previous season changed to apprehension at the beginning of 1941, as beloved team owner Fay Murray passed away on March 4 just before spring training. Manager Gilbert faced a completely revamped lineup and injuries to key players Gus Dugas, Les Fleming, and John Mihalic during the season.

Boots Poffenberger was suspended by the league for throwing a ball at an umpire on June 24, and in August personal tragedy occurred for Larry Gilbert in the death of one of his sons, Larry Gilbert, Jr.

1941_SeasonPassA multitude of rainouts resulted in an unkind twin-bill schedule to end the season. The brutal series of double-headers began on August 17 and ended on September 7. Fourteen double-headers were played during the last twenty-two days of the regular season, including seven twin-tilts in a row. Nashville won 18 games during the spree.

Gilbert piloted his charges to a second-place regular-season finish at 83-70 (.542), 15 ½ games behind Atlanta as Les Fleming lead the league with a .414 season batting average. Oris Hockett at .359 and Tommy Tatum at .347 finish second and third; only two starters hit below .300.

Nashville won the Southern Association Shaughnessy Playoffs by beating the New Orleans Pelicans three games to one, and ousted regular season champion Atlanta Crackers four games to three. In the Dixie Series, Nashville had little trouble taking the Texas League champion Dallas Rebels in four straight games. The Vols’ pitching staff had three complete games, with only one reliever being used the entire series. It was the Vols’ second straight Dixie title.

1942: Three for Three

In the first inning of the second game of a double-header in Knoxville on April 19, the first nine Nashville batters each got on base with a hit, a walk, or an error, The same nine scored in succession: Roy Marion, Jim Shilling, Legrant Scott, Gus Dugas, Charley English, Charley Workman, Mickey Kreitner, Johnny Mihalic, and Dutch McCall pulled off the exploit.

Nashville_Vols_1942On August 17 Nashville scored ten runs in the first inning before the Lookouts can retire a batter. Final score: Nashville 21, Chattanooga 6. Three Vols batter each has 5 hits: Charley Workman, Charles Brewster, and Roy Marion.

Nashville ended the year four-and-a-half games behind first-place Little Rock. Charlie Workman lead the league in home runs with 29, and Charlie English in hits (201), RBI (139), doubles (50), and batting average (.341) as George Jeffcoat lead in strikeouts with 146.

Winning over Birmingham three games to one in the first round, the Vols upended Little Rock four to none to take the playoffs. In the Dixie Series, Nashville won over the Texas League champion Shreveport Sports in six games. It was Nashville’s third consecutive Dixie Series title, the only team in the title series history to accomplish the feat.

1943: Back in First Place

CGilbert_FBCharlie Gilbert returned to Nashville to play for his father once again in 1943. He had played on his father’s first Nashville team in 1939 and would later return to the Vols again in 1948.

In a 26-13 win over Atlanta on August 18, every Nashville player in the game got at least one hit, scored at least one run, and all except Charles Brewster knocked in at least one run. Charlie Gilbert batted eight times in the game as the entire team totaled 58 plate appearances and 29 base hits.

With a split-season format, Nashville finished atop the standings in the first half (75-49). In the second half the Vols finished second (34-29) with an overall record of 83-55 (.601), best in the league. Only one starter hit below .300 as Ed Sauer won the batting title (.368) and pitcher Mack Stewart lead in pitching percentage (18-5, .783).

With a 12-hit barrage on September 13, the Vols roughed up four Pelicans pitchers to win the Southern Association championship in New Orleans, 7-0. A crowd of 6,437 attended the game, including 1,975 military personnel. The series ended 4 games to 1.

With World War II raging in Europe and the Pacific, there is no Dixie Series for the first time in 24 years.

1944: The Last of Six Straight

1944On March 3, Charles Fred “Red” Lucas, sold to the New York Giants in 1922 by the Vols, returned to Nashville as pitcher, pinch-hitter, and coach. It would be key to success of the team as the experienced Lucas would become Larry Gilbert’s chief assistant during the season.

In the second year of a split-season, Nashville finished 32-36 in the first half, and 47-25 (79-61 combined), taking the second half crown on the last day of the season.

Mel Hicks lead the league in home runs with 16, pitcher Boyd Teplar lead in winning percentage (12-2, .857) and strikeouts with 147. Seven starters batted over .300.

In the seventh game of the Southern Association playoffs, Nashville won over Memphis 11-10 for the championship.

The Larry Gilbert Legend

On September 8, 1948, in his final game as manager, Gilbert was honored for 25 years as a manager in the Southern Association. 6,509 fans gathered at Sulphur Dell as Gilbert was awarded a Chrysler New Yorker, a television set, and 12-place silver setting.  Friends and dignitaries attending the event included Commissioner A. B. Chandler, George M. Trautman, president of the National Association, and Southern Association president Charlie Hurth, calling testament to Gilbert’s reputation among his baseball brethren.

By winning win one more regular season championship in 1948 with a 95-58 (.621) record, Gilbert’s tutelage in Nashville would include league titles in 1940, 1943, 1948, 1949, and 1953. Dixie Playoff titles were won in 1940, 1941, 1942, and 1949.

He finished with a 736 – 592 (.554) career record with Nashville. Overall he was 2,128-1,627 (.567) in 25 seasons. Gilbert maintained ownership in the Nashville Vols until 1955 when in May he sold his share of the club and moved back to New Orleans. He passed away February 17, 1965 and was buried in Greenwood Cemetery in New Orleans.

The 1940 team was honored as the 47th best minor league team of all time in celebration of the 100th season of Minor League Baseball in 2001.

© Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

Resources:
ancestry.com
baseball-reference.com
Davidson County/Metro Nashville Archives
newspapers.com
southernassociationbaseball.com
The Sporting News
Tennessean
Wright, Marshall D. The Southern Association in Baseball, 1885-1961. Jefferson, NC, United States: McFarland & Co. 2002.

Author’s note: Nashville’s Larry Gilbert and Six Seasons of Glory, 1939-1944 was presented at the 13th Annual Southern Association Conference at Rickwood Field on March 5, 2016. Special thanks goes to Rickwood Field Executive Director David Brewer, Clarence Watkins and the Friends of Rickwood. Additional thanks to Bill Traughber, Derby Gisclair, and Tony Roberts.

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Nashville’s Jim Turner: Player, Coach, Manager, Fan

Born in August 6, 1903 in Antioch, Tennessee, James “Jim” Riley Turner began his journey in baseball in March of 1922. Trying out for the hometown Nashville Vols as a catcher in the presence of manager Larry Doyle, pitcher Red Lucas, outfielder Mike Burke, and third baseman Hap Morse, Turner was told “come back next year”. He spent the rest of the year playing semipro ball in the Nashville area.

Turner’s brother Bryant was usually the pitcher on their teams, and when Bryant failed to show up for a game for Nolensville, Jim pitched the game and struck out 18 Gladeville batters. He was a pitcher from that time on. One of the spectators told Little Rock manager Kid Elberfeld about Turner and on the team’s next visit to Nashville Little Rock signed him to a contract for $175 a month.

In March Little Rock sent Turner to Paris, Tennessee in the Kitty League where he played in 1923 and 1924. He won 14 games the first year and 16 games the next. Sent to Winston-Salem in 1925, for the next five seasons Turner had stops in Greensboro, Portsmouth, Norfolk, Selma, and back to Greensboro. During the winter of 1929-1930, Turner was sold to Hollywood in the Pacific Coast League where he played for three seasons. He spent four seasons in Indianapolis winning 18 games in 1936.

He had spent 14 years in the minor leagues before his break into major league ball when he was sold to the Boston Braves. As a 32-year-old rookie in 1937, Turner won 20 games, had a National League-best ERA of 2.38, led the league in shutouts with five and complete games with 24. The next season he was selected to the 1938 National League All Star team. Two years later he pitched in the 1940 World Series for the Cincinnati Reds. In 1942 he spent part of the season in Newark after having been sent to the New York Yankees where he ended his playing career at 41 years of age in 1945.

He signed to manage Beaumont in the Texas League in 1946 where his team finished fifth with a record of 70-83. In Portland the next two seasons, he finished third and fifth, winning 97 and losing 89 in 1947 and winning 89 and losing 99 in 1948. When Casey Stengel was named manager of the Yankees, Turner became pitching coach in 1949.

During his 11-year tenure with the Yankees, he developed the pitchers who led the Yanks to nine pennants and seven world championships.

Jim Turner Banner ProfileIn 1960, “Milkman Jim” (a nickname given to him because he always returned to the family farm during the off-season) returned to Nashville as general manager and field manager of the Nashville Vols. In the winter of 1958, a campaign had been initiated to organize a group to take over the financially-distressed Nashville Vols. Led by civic leaders Herschel Greer, Dr. Cleo Miller, country music star Eddie Arnold, Vols, Inc. was formed and shares in the new venture were sold at $5.00 per share. Nashville had been led on the field by manager Dick Sisler during the previous three seasons, but attendance at the gate had begun to dwindle. In 1959 the team lost only $2,300.00, but in a move that was enormously popular in Music City, Jim Turner was offered the reins of the ball club not only to improve the performance of the team on the field, but also to improve paid attendance.

The decision to attain Turner almost did not happen. “It was necessary to act quickly to get Jim Turner,” said Vols, Inc. board member Jack Norman told the Nashville Tennessean, “Jim has had several attractive offers. One particularly was pressing closely. It was therefore necessary to make an immediate decision.” Turner never divulged the offers that he had received.

With full control of the team, Turner managed the Cincinnati Reds-affiliate Vols with a roster that include catcher Johnny Edwards, utility man Rod Kanehl, and pitchers Jim Maloney and Jack Baldschun.  Turner’s 1960 Vols team finished sixth in the Southern Association, with 71 wins and 82 losses. The crowds continued to decline throughout the season, and Turner resigned at the end of the year.  He returned to the majors with assignments by the Reds that included becoming pitching coach in 1961 until his retirement in 1973.

Returning to Nashville, he continued to attend local college and amateur games, and was a season ticket holder with the Nashville Sounds with their inception in 1978 until his passing on November 29, 1998.

© 2015 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

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The Gilbert Coup

Charlie & Larry Gilbert 1

Charlie and Larry Gilbert

When Nashville owner Fay Murray signed Larry Gilbert to become manager of the Vols in November of 1938, Gilbert reportedly became one-half owner of the club.  It is unclear whether Gilbert’s share of ownership was purchased by him or given as part of his deal to lure him from his hometown of New Orleans.

What is known is that his son Charlie would sign with Nashville, too, but would not become property of the club. When Charlie was signed by the Brooklyn Dodgers for $20,000.00, he kept the entire amount without Nashville being paid any portion of the transaction.

Larry Gilbert had played, managed, or worked in the front office of the Pelicans for 22 years. For Murray to secure the services of Gilbert to run his club was a major coup, one that would pay off with four consecutive Southern Association playoff championships in Gilbert’s first four years at the helm.

His team also won the 1940, 1941, and 1942 Dixie Playoffs, a championship series between the winner of the Southern Association and Texas League playoff champs.

Sadly, Fay Murray had passed away in March of 1941.

Gilbert continued to manage until his final championship in 1948.  He had considered retiring as early as 1944 but had a change of heart and announced that he would manage from the dugout in a suit and not a uniform.  He would be turning over third base coaching duties to Red Lucas.

In 1955 Gilbert sold his interest in Nashville and returned to his hometown of New Orleans, where he had maintained a residence.  He passed away in 1965.

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