Tag Archives: St. Louis Cardinals

Fast Track Through Nashville: Lefty Jim O’Toole

Jim O’Toole was signed by Cincinnati on December 23, 1957 for $50,000, paid over four years, coming off a 4-1 college season for the University of Wisconsin. He struck out 15 batters in three different games for the Badgers.

JO'TooleThat summer he played semi-pro baseball for Mitchell, South Dakota in the Basin League where he had an 8-1 won-lost record and 2.79 ERA[1]. With nine other clubs interested in his services, the large contract was an investment general manager Gabe Paul was willing to make. Averaging 12 strikeouts per game in the summer league might have had something to do with it, furthering the Reds’ intent on signing him.[2]

The son of a Chicago policeman, the 6’1” 195-lb. O’Toole’s high school did not field a baseball team, but he played in area amateur leagues and took up boxing.

His reputation began in his teens as he missed tossing no-hitters on three occasions where he allowed a hit in the final inning and once struck out 19.[3]

Assigned to Nashville after spring training, he immediately showed the Reds that he would be worthy of their confidence. With the letters “T-H-I-N-K” written on the fingers of his glove[4], on April 18, 1958 the 21-year-old shut out the Chattanooga Lookouts 1-0, allowing only four hits.

Four days later he struck out five but walked 10, gaining the win over Chattanooga as Nashville catcher Vic Comoli had a grand-slam home run in the first inning to lead the Vols to a 15-7 win over the Lookouts.

Jim won three of his first four decisions as a professional, but he continued to impress. On May 3, he nearly tossed the first no-hit, no-run game at Sulphur Dell in 42 years in a 14-0 route of Little Rock. With two outs in the ninth inning former St. Louis Cardinal Harry Elliott hits a single, and Ben Downs adds another before Jim retired Lou Heymans to end the game. O’Toole finishes with a two-hitter.

He earned his fifth win in six decisions on May 12. Throwing a five-hitter in an 8-2 win over Mobile, he broke one of manager Dick Sisler’s team rules by walking the opposing pitcher. Jim was fined $1.00 which was collected for the player’s party account.[5]

The warmer weather of June proved to be of Jim’s liking. On June 3 Nashville won over Little Rock 4-2 as the Vols scored three runs without hitting the ball out of the infield. Two walks, three singles and an error help break open a pitching duel between Nashville’s O’Toole and the Travelers’ Al Grunwald, with Jim improving his pitching record to 7-3 with the win.

On June 11 Nashville ends a six-game losing streak at Hartwell Field in Mobile as the left-hander blanked the Bears on six hits, 3-0.  It is O’Toole’s third shutout and ninth win of the season.

Not only did he shut out New Orleans on four hits on June 20, Jim slugged his first home run and was perfect at the plate in three appearances. The Vols beat the Pelicans 16-0 as he registered his fourth shutout of the season and eleventh victory.

He pitched fourteen innings on June 24 in leading the Vols over Memphis 3-2, the Chicks’ ninth loss in the ten games.  O’Toole raises his record to 12-3 with the victory, lowers his league-leading ERA to 2.07, and his twelve complete games, 106 strikeouts, and 152 innings also lead the Southern Association.

O’Toole was a unanimous selection to the leagues’ July 16 All Star game and was named the starter by All Star manager, Nashville’s Dick Sisler. Jim pitched the first two innings, gave up two hits, and was credited with the 4-0 victory over host Atlanta Crackers. Four days earlier he improved his record to 14-4 in a win over Atlanta, giving him a win over each team in the circuit. A six-hit win over Memphis on July 22 gave him victory number 15.

Jim added to his credentials in a mid-season poll of all Southern Association managers compiled by Nashville Banner sports editor, Fred Russell. O’Toole was voted number one major league prospect in the league, picked as one of the fastest pitchers, and surprisingly one of the fastest base runners.[6]

He became the league’s first 17-game winner of the season with a 4-3 win over New Orleans on August 5.

It was the only full season Jim spent in the minors. His totals for Nashville were impressive: 180 innings pitched in 35 games, 21 complete games, a 20-8 record and 2.44 ERA.

Called up to the parent Reds, he appeared in one game in Milwaukee. Starting against the Braves on September 26, O’Toole allowed one unearned run on four hits, striking out four and walking five in the Braves 2-1 win over Cincinnati.

He was selected to the AA and A All Star team by the National Association of Sports Writers, and was named the player in the minors who made the most rapid advancement toward major league status for the season. Jim was also selected to the Southern Association’s All Star team, and a unanimous choice of the loop’s top rookie at season’s end.

He would have a 10-year major league career, nine with the Reds and one with the Chicago White Sox. Never a 20-game winner, he made the National League All Star team in 1963, and had five consecutive seasons of 10 or more wins. Perhaps his best season came in 1964 when he was 17-7 with a 2.66 ERA.

In his first year of eligibility in 1970 O’Toole was inducted into the Reds Hall of Fame. Born on January 10, 1937, he passed away on December 26, 2015.

© 2015 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

[1]The Sporting News, January 1, 1958 p. 6

[2] Ibid., January 15, 1958, p. 16

[3] Ibid., June 11, 1958, p. 55

[4] Ibid., October 8, 1958, p. 10

[5] Ibid., May 21, 1958, p. 35

[6] Ibid., August 6, 1959, p. 36

Additional Sources

Retrosheet.org

Baseball-Reference.com

 

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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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It Happened on This Day in Nashville: April 7

This day holds a special place in the history of Nashville baseball, and includes exhibitions between the hometown Vols and various major league clubs, a regret from baseball’s iconic Babe Ruth, and a rare perfect game:

April 7, 1904
Nashville and Boston of the National League meet at Athletic Park as the major leaguers win 8-3.

April 7, 1925
The Chicago White Sox win over the Nashville Vols 12-6. It is the 16th consecutive spring training game for the major league club in as many days.

April 7, 1927
The 65th General Assembly of Tennessee adjourns early to see Babe Ruth and the New York Yankees play the St. Louis Cardinals at Sulphur Dell. A resolution had been adopted to invite Ruth to address the Senate, but he sent word that it would be impossible for him to appear because of a lack of time.  The Cardinals beat the Yankees 10-8 in a rematch of the 1926 World Series clubs.

April 7, 1934
Charles Dressen’s Vols wins against the New York Yankees 5-4 in a game at Sulphur Dell. Before a crowd of 3,000, the Yankees are stymied by the pitching of Hal Stafford, who relieved in the 5th inning and allows only four hits through the last five innings, striking out five.

James P. Dawson, New York Times reporter, describes Sulphur Dell’s unique feature as “the right field here is cut out of a hill and is terraced, making it necessary for a fly-chaser to combine hill-climbing ability with speed and accuracy in fielding the ball“. Dawson also reports that Babe Ruth “almost broke one of his legs catching (Bill) Rodda’s fly on the climb in the first. The Babe slipped and stumbled but climbed on and came up with the ball“. Ruth is two for four, as is Lou Gehrig.

April 7, 1953
Mickey Mantle hits a 420-foot two-run double in the seventh inning as the New York Yankees beat the hometown Vols 9-1 before 2,693 fans. Louis Effrat, reporting in The New York Times, quotes one Yankee player as describing playing in Sulphur Dell as “It’s like playing in a telephone booth“, and quoted Casey Stengel, New York manager, recalling that in 1912 when he was playing with Montgomery in a game at Sulphur Dell, “I dragged the ball and it went over the right-field fence for a homer“.Turner_1953

Yankee pitching coach Jim Turner, a native of Nashville, is honored at home plate before the game by Governor Frank G. Clement who appointed Turner a Tennessee Colonel on the Governor’s staff.

April 7, 1957
The Cincinnati Reds defeat Washington 9-7 before 5,842 fans after the Nats lose a 5-0 lead. Joe Nuxhall, Hal Jeffcoat and Raul Sanchez pitch for the Reds, while Roy Sievers belts a triple and homer, driving in three runs. Herb Plews and Pete Runnels get two hits each for Washington.

April 7, 2003
Right-hander John Wasdin pitches the first perfect game in Nashville Sounds history in his first start of the season against the Albuquerque Isotopes.  The 4–0 win is only the second nine-inning perfect game in PCL history.

In ten days a new era begins: April 17th is Opening Night for the Nashville Sounds at new First Tennessee Park near the site of famous Sulphur Dell!

© 2015 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

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Grantland Rice Named “Sulphur Dell” On This Day

From humble beginnings as Nashville’s city park, even P. T. Barnum pitched his city of tents on the grounds of Sulphur Spring Bottom in November of 1872. Throughout its history the proximity of this lovely piece of ground was not so beautiful after late-winter’s rainfalls filled the low-lying basin.

Escalating interest in the game of “base ball” led to the formation of Nashville’s first professional team to play in the inaugural Southern League season in 1885. The grounds at Athletic Park were often in such poor condition that games were postponed, moved to another ball field at Peabody or Vanderbilt, or cancelled.

The African-American community took to the emerging National Game and cheered on their local favorites. As early as June of 1907 the semi-professional Nashville Standard Giants played at Athletic Park; renamed the Negro League Nashville Elite Giants in 1920, Sulphur Dell was often the home playing field for the team.

Grantland_RiceIn his sports column published in the Nashville Tennessean on this day, January 14, 1908, Grantland Rice referred to the local ballpark as “Sulphur Spring Dell”. In later years Nashville Banner sports editor Fred Russell intimated that Rice couldn’t find anything to rhyme with “Sulphur Spring Bottom”, as the area had been known, thus the new moniker for Nashville’s baseball home.

In subsequent columns Rice shortened the name to “Sulphur Dell”, and fans and players adopted it when referring to their beloved ballpark. When Grantland Rice first typed out the words “Sulphur Dell”, how could he have known that time would etch the name into the minds of baseball folk, casual fans, players and sportswriters across the country.

After the 1926 season ended new ownership of the Southern Association’s Nashville Volunteers decided to turn the ballpark around so fans would not be squinting in the afternoon sun. One of the visitors to the new “turned around” Sulphur Dell was player-manager Casey Stengel and his Toledo Mud Hens; Stengel hit a triple in the exhibition game against Nashville.

A few weeks later on April 7, the 65th General Assembly of Tennessee adjourned early to see Babe Ruth and the New York Yankees play the St. Louis Cardinals at Sulphur Dell. The two teams had faced each other in the past World Series with the Cardinals winning four games to three.

A resolution had been adopted to invite Ruth to address the Senate the morning of the game, but he sent word that it would be impossible for him to appear because of a lack of time. Undoubtedly the Legislature had time and observed the Cardinals beat the Yankees that day 10-8.

The first night game was played at Sulphur Dell on May 18, 1931 as the Vols lost to Mobile 8-1.

On April 12, 1932 attendance was 14,502; with seating capacity of 8,000 in the grandstands the outfield was lined off with rope to accommodate the crowd. It was the largest crowd to see a game at Sulphur Dell.

After arriving from Memphis by team bus at 4 PM on May 8, 1946 the Racine Belles checked into the Noel Hotel then made their way to Sulphur Dell to play against the Muskegon Lassies. The Belles won 8-5.

On opening day April 17, 1951, Nashville’s Sulphur Dell celebrated 24 years of service to local citizens with a new look that included a remodeled façade, new turnstiles, brick walls, wider exits and other improvements.  Unchanged were the “dumps” in the outfield and the short right field fence.

The last professional baseball game was played at Sulphur Dell on September 8, 1963, as the Vols of the South Atlantic League faced Lynchburg in a double header.  Nashville outfielder Charlie Teuscher belted three home runs as the Vols won over Lynchburg 6-3 and 2-1.

It was the last hurrah of the famous park. Amateur baseball was played at Sulphur Dell in 1964 and in 1965 it was turned into a speedway. After becoming a tow-in lot for Metro Nashville, Sulphur Dell was demolished in 1969.

Today’s recollections of great players, games, and teams honor the memory of the hallowed grounds of Sulphur Dell thanks to the “Dean of American Sportswriters”, Grantland Rice.

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Old/New Construction at Sulphur Dell (We’re Talking 1927)

In local baseball circles, I can attest to the fact that conversations are all about the new First Tennessee Park being built for the Nashville Sounds. Outside of those circles there is probably plenty of talk on the subject, too.

With an April 2015 opening planned, and construction at the site well on its way, there is but a smattering of talk about potential delays. But that was not the case in 1927, when old Sulphur Dell was turned around.

But why turn around a ballpark? It’s a little hard to put one’s finger on the real reason.

Some say that without lights (the first major league night game would not happen until 1935) the late afternoon sun was always in the batter’s face since the ballpark was facing the southwest. To make it easier on the home team, the park was relocated so the batter’s back was to the State Capitol. Problem eliminated.

Another reason for the reconfigured ballpark: new ownership. On October 1, 1926 four owners took over the Nashville Baseball Club and split 535 shares of stock:

Rogers Caldwell, a local horse breeder

J. H. “Jack” Whaley, co-publisher of Southern Lumberman, a regional publication

Stanley P. Horn, also co-publisher of Southern Lumberman

Jimmy Hamilton, manager of the Nashville Vols since 1923. In 1925 he had purchased the Raleigh club in the Piedmont League

With a season attendance of 178,000 in 1925, the team had generated $80,000 in profit. There is no published profit amount of 1926, but even with attendance down to 135,000 the reported amount was still “five figures” and ownership was lucrative.

The first week of December the new owners announced a new steel & concrete structure would be built – a little unusual, with two of the owners producing a publication about the wood industry in the southeast – and the new ballpark was expected to be one of the best ballpark facilities in baseball for its size.

J. B. Hanson Co. was awarded the construction contract. The architect was Marr & Holman.

Perhaps the new owners wanted to show local fans how committed they were to advancing the prestige of Nashville. They certainly allowed Jimmy Hamilton free reign on signing new players. He was a personal friend of Connie Mack, Wilbert Robinson, Ty Cobb, and other major league managers and sought their advice in bringing in a team built for the new ballpark.

While attending baseball’s winter meetings the past December, Hamilton scheduled major league squads to play in Nashville as they left their spring training locations, heading north to begin the regular season.

Then it happened, as it had happened nearly every other spring: the first week of January, rains poured and grounds were flooded under 16 feet of water, delaying progress of construction for three weeks.

In February, the contractor was offered a bonus of $5,000.00 to complete the structure for the March exhibition season. Spring exhibitions against big-league teams were important money-makers, and three construction shifts were utilized to speed the process. During this period, the Nashville Vols practiced at Vanderbilt’s baseball field and played a few games against the Commodores.

Was construction completed in time? You be the judge: the image below has a date of March 24, 1927. The first game was played on March 25 against the Minneapolis Millers of the American Association. The Millers won 5-3 and Minneapolis right-fielder Dick Loftus hit the first home run in the new park.

Tennessee State Archives Image

Tennessee State Archives Image

The following day, Toledo visited Sulphur Dell and Casey Stengel hit a triple for the Mud Hens.

Additional games took place over the next weeks. On April 2, the Milwaukee Brewers of the American Association came to town and the Cincinnati Reds played on April 3 and 4th. The team that would become known as “Murderers Row”, the New York Yankees, visited on April 7 and lost 10-8 to the 1926 World Series champion St. Louis Cardinals.

Nashville Vols fans celebrated the new ballpark on Opening Day, April 12 with an attendance of 7,536. Season attendance would finish at 176,000, a few thousand less than two years previous. For comparison’s sake, Sulphur Dell would have a record season attendance of 270,000 in 1948, manager Larry Gilbert’s final season.

With the quirky, colorful contour of Sulphur Dell’s confines, the ballpark became a storied home to the Nashville Vols and for a time, the Negro League’s Nashville Elite Giants.

© 2014 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

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Two Months in Nashville: Gene Davis

Born in 1934, Gene Davis played amateur baseball for the Jacksonville, Florida Post 9 Generals, one of the premier American Legion programs in the United States.  A third baseman, it was there he garnered attention from scouts for his playing abilities and in 1953 was offered a professional contract with the St. Louis Cardinals.

Upon signing his first contract at the age of 19, Davis was assigned by the parent club to play for Albany, the Cardinals’ Class D entry in the Georgia-Florida League.  It was the beginning of Gene’s minor league career that would last for nine seasons.

In his first professional game with Albany, Davis was hitless at the plate.  Undaunted, he proved his worth by hitting safely in his next 20 games until his streak was halted in a game against Waycross.  On May 19 Davis collected four hits as his team set a single-game Georgia-Florida League record for runs (21) and hits (23).

The 6’ 1”, 185 lb. Davis had minor league stops in Hamilton (PONY), Lynchburg (Piedmont), Peoria (I-I-I), Sioux City (Western), and Winston-Salem (Carolina), all in the Cardinals’ organization.  His best season was in 1954 at Hamilton (Ontario, Canada), where he built a .345 batting average on 173 hits, 62 extra-base hits with 12 home runs, and 270 total bases.

While playing with Hamilton on May 5th against Bradford, Davis’ first inning pop-up bunt was caught by pitcher Dave Zebley who tossed the ball to second base to double up the runner.  The subsequent throw to first caught another runner for the third out and secured the PONY League’s first triple play of the 1953 season.

On May 11, 1954, Gene’s lone hit was enough to break up a no-hit bid by Corning pitcher Bobby Adubato.

With Peoria in 1956, teammates Bob Bauer and Gene Davis both hit home runs in the seventh inning of game on July 15 to defeat Cedar Rapids.  Together again the next season with Winston-Salem, Davis and Bauer duplicated their feat by each socking a home run on June 21, 1957 against the High Point-Thomasville Hi-Toms.

After signing with Washington (AL) after the 1957 season, Davis was assigned to Charlotte (South Atlantic), playing there for two full seasons while splitting 1960 between Charlotte and Wilson (Carolina).

Davis’ debut on South Atlantic League soil got off to a terrific start.  On April 13, 1959 in Charleston, Davis had four hits in five plate appearances with three runs batted in to pace Charlotte to a 12-6 win in front of 2,727 chilly fans on Opening Night.  A few days later on April 17, right fielder Gene slammed two home runs to provide the margin of victory in Charlotte’s 10-9 win over Jacksonville.

A freak single by Davis on May 28 spoiled Asheville pitcher Jack Taylor’s attempt at a no-hitter.  His rap to the mound in the fifth inning struck the pitching rubber and shot into the air.  Before third baseman Don Le John could grab the ball and throw to first base, Davis had safely crossed the bag.  It was the only hit Taylor gave up in winning over Charlotte 4-0.

Davis was named to the 1959 All Star team which faced the Gastonia Pirates in the South Atlantic League All Star Game at Charlotte on July 21.  The 10-inning affair, won by the SALLY All Stars 8-7 with an attendance of 3,593 fans, had originally been scheduled for July 20 but was delayed until the next evening due to rain.

In 1961, the Senators moved to Minneapolis and became the Minnesota Twins, signing a minor league agreement with Nashville of the Southern Association as the Twins’ Class AA affiliate.  Gene joined the Vols as an outfielder and to play third base, his original position when signed by the Cardinals.

On Opening Day in Nashville, April 8th, Vice-President Lyndon Johnson was on hand to throw out the ceremonial first pitch with 5,224 Sulphur Dell fans in attendance.  Senators Estes Kefauver and Albert Gore also attended the game.

Davis did not start, but batted as a pinch hitter for relief pitcher Leverette Spencer in the sixth inning, and reached first base on an error but was promptly lifted for pinch-runner Bill Felker.  Nashville lost the game, 5-3.

In the first game of a double header against Macon at Sulphur Dell on May 7, Macon southpaw Jim Bailey nearly tossed a no-hitter but Nashville ended up winning 2-0 despite Bailey’s gem.  A small crowd of 1,277 watched as Bailey held the Vols hitless for 8 and two-thirds innings before Nashville’s clean-up hitter Joe Christian slapped a curveball just beyond the reach of Macon second baseman George Holder to spoil the no-hit bid.

Still hopeful for a Macon win, Bailey’s efforts were further shattered when Gene poked a waist-high curve for a 280-foot home run over Nashville’s famous right-field fence to seal the 2-0 win for the home team.  Lefty Gene Host got the win by allowing only four hits against the Peaches.

SouAssnBallAlthough Davis had been a consistent mid-teens home run hitter, his statistics had never measured up to his year in Hamilton and during his later seasons his batting average remained close to his minor league career average of .283.

The May 31, 1961 issue of The Sporting News listed under the heading “Deals of the Week” that Gene Davis had been released by Nashville, along with pitchers Gene Host and Al Johnston.

During his two-month stint with the Vols, Davis appeared in 25 games, had 13 hits (including four doubles and two home runs) and a .228 batting average before being released.  At age 27, it was his last professional season.

© 2014 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

Sources

Baseball-Reference.com.

The Sporting News, May 20, 1953, 35.

The Sporting News, May 27, 1953, 36.

The Sporting News, May 19, 1954, 36. 

The Sporting News, September 1, 1954, 11.

The Sporting News, July 25, 1956, 40.

The Sporting News, May 1, 1957, 39.

The Sporting News, April 22, 1959, 30.

The Sporting News, April 29, 1959, 37.

The Sporting News, June 10, 1959, 51.

The Sporting News, July 22, 1959, 40.

The Sporting News, April 19, 1961, 31.

The Sporting News, May 17, 1961, 31.

The Sporting News, May 31, 1961, 37.

Wright, Marshall.  The Southern Association in Baseball 1885-1961.  Jefferson, North Carolina, and London:  McFarland & Company, 2002

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