Tag Archives: Ted Murray

Vols, Inc.: New Ownership to Save Nashville Baseball, Part 5

Meanwhile, the October 30 edition of the Nashville Tennessean reported that the board of governors of the Nashville Chamber of Commerce had unanimously given its stamp of approval to the new venture.

The resolution closed with “…we hereby give our hearty approval to the efforts of the civic leadership identified with the present movement to assure the continuation of professional baseball for Nashville.”[12]

Murray met with the committee on October 31 to sign documents that would allow for the organization to seek a charter with the Tennessee Secretary of State. It was necessary for the owner to appear before the committee and sign papers believed necessary by attorney Norman before the citizens could proceed with the stock selling plan.

Should the effort fail to raise the goal of $250,000, Murray would continue to own Sulphur Dell and the fixtures, and the league franchise. That it would spell doom for professional baseball in Nashville. Norman expressed that all shares of stock will be sold “within 30 days” but members of the committee thought it would take less time; some of them said less than ten.[12]

Headquarters for the stock sale was the baseball office at Sulphur Dell, with the office being staffed from 9 until 5 each day, Monday through Friday. Someone will be there from 9 until noon on Saturdays.

Six banks agreed to handle sale of the stock, Commerce Union, First American National, Nashville Bank and Trust, Third National, Citizens Savings and Trust, and Broadway National, as did six savings and loan associations, Fidelity Federal, First Federal, Home Federal, Security Federal, Southern Federal, Volunteer Federal, and five mortgage loan companies, First Mortgage, Guaranty Mortgage, Kimbrough-Phillips, Lovell and Malone, and Murphree Mortgage agreed to handle sale of stock.[13]

This is Part 5 of the ongoing story. Read more about the events that led to the sale of the Nashville ball club in 1959 in the next installment.

Note: This Nashville baseball history was presented on Saturday, March 3, 2018 at the 15th annual Southern Association Conference at Rickwood Field in Birmingham, Alabama.

© 2018 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

Sources

newspapers.com

[11] “C of C Praises Vols Purchase,” Nashville Tennessean, October 30, 1958, 45.

[12] Williams, 13.

[13] F. M. Williams, “Vol Owner Transfer Hinges on Stock Sale,” Nashville Tennessean, November 1, 1958, 11.

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Vols, Inc.: New Ownership to Save Nashville Baseball, Part 4

A 90-minute organizational meeting to form a new corporation was held on October 27, 1958, by eight men with an interest in securing the team from Ted Murray. Jack Norman headed the meeting, and included Joe Carr, Harold L. Shyer, Eddy Arnold, R. L. “Bob” Coarsey, Dr. Cleo Miller, Joe Sadler, and Herschel Greer. Vols general manager Bill McCarthy and manager Dick Sisler also attended.

Sisler had just completed his second season as manager of the Vols. He led the ball club to a third-place finish in 1957 with an 83-69 record but had fallen to 76-78 and fifth place in 1958, a season which had Jay Hook (13-14, 3.70 ERA) and Jim O’Toole (20-8, 2.44 ERA) on the roster.

It was not a time to make leadership changes even though attendance had fallen by 60,000 from 152,000 to 92,000. McCarthy and Sisler were well-liked in the community and could be counted on to produce ticket sales.

To help ensure that Nashville was still a viable option for Cincinnati and their minor league system, it was McCarthy and Sisler who made a trip to Cincinnati for four-day meetings with Reds management, and on September 17, 1958 McCarthy declared, “No, there is no talk about the possibility Nashville not having a baseball team next season”.[9]

It was in that meeting for thoughts on how to buy out Murray that an idea was hatched to form a new company. If fifty thousand shares of stock could be sold at $5.00 each, $250,000.00 would be raised.

“There will be no stock speculation or fees paid to anyone to sell the stock,” said Norman. “There will be no fees for lawyers or anyone. The $200,000 will be paid to Murray for the real estate and the assets of the ball club and the $50,000 will be used for operating expenses.” .[10]

“Vols, Inc.” was suggested as the name of the new corporation.

This is Part 4 of the ongoing story. Read more about the events that led to the sale of the Nashville ball club in 1959 in the next installment.

Note: This Nashville baseball history was presented on Saturday, March 3, 2018 at the 15th annual Southern Association Conference at Rickwood Field in Birmingham, Alabama.

© 2018 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

Sources

newspapers.com

Wright, Marshall D. (2002) “The Southern Association in Baseball, 1885-1961. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Co., Inc.

[9] F. M. Williams, “Vols’ Sisler, McCarthy Encouraged After Red Talks on 1959 Prospects,” Nashville Tennessean, September 18, 1958, 23.

[10] “Baseball Corporation to Sell Shares for $5,” Nashville Tennessean, October 29, 1958, 17.

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Vols, Inc.: New Ownership to Save Nashville Baseball, Part 3

In September Gilbert had announced that the Vols were ending their three-year working agreement with the New York Giants, and had signed a working agreement with the Cincinnati Reds beginning with the 1955 season.

“I told Ted last fall I wanted to get out,” Larry said via long distance phone yesterday. “Gertie (Mrs. Gilbert) has had a bad hip since early in the fall and now she has a broken ankle. She needs me to be with her. I haven’t been feeling too good, either.”[5]

That was only part of the reason.  On May 21, 1955 Gilbert sells out for $125,000.00 and Murray owns the Vols lock, stock, and barrel[6]. It ends a relationship from November of 1938, when his grandfather Fay Murray brought Gilbert to Nashville and named him manager, general manager, and vice president, giving him ½ share in the team.

Gilbert’s last day with the club is set for June 1, when he will move to his lakefront estate in New Orleans.[7] As part of the Reds affiliation, his son Charlie is not retained as assistant general manager. The younger Gilbert played for Nashville under his father in 1939, 1943, and 1948, and had joined him in management of the club after his playing career.

At the suggestion of Cincinnati GM Gabe Paul, Columbia Reds (South Atlantic League – Class A) general manager Bill McCarthy will take over the same position in Nashville.

According to sports writer F. M. Williams, Ted never cared for owning the Nashville club. “If memory serves me correctly, he was in Sulphur Dell only three times last year, yet he drew a salary of five figures, not out of the ball club but out of the concessions.”[8]

Now Ted finds himself in dire straits. But saving the ball club from dying was a priority for several like-minded civic leaders had the same idea.

This is Part 3 of the ongoing story. Read more about the events that led to the sale of the Nashville ball club in 1959 in the next installment.

Note: This Nashville baseball history was presented on Saturday, March 3, 2018 at the 15th annual Southern Association Conference at Rickwood Field in Birmingham, Alabama.

© 2018 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

Sources

baseball-reference.com

newspapers.com

[5] Johnson, “Owner Change,” Nashville Tennessean, January 23, 1955, 29.

[6] Murray Buys Gilbert’s Half,” Nashville Tennessean, May 22, 1955, 29.

[7] Johnson, May 22, 1955, 29.

[8] Ibid.

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Vols, Inc.: New Ownership to Save Nashville Baseball, Part 2

A similar transaction nearly took place four years earlier. On January 14, 1955, an agreement was signed by Murray, along with business partner Larry Gilbert, to sell to a syndicate represented by Fred C. Rule, president of F. C. Rule Construction, and headed up by J. D. Jackson. Reportedly, the plan of the syndicate was to demolish the grandstand and sell the property for business purposes. A new location was to be sought to build a new ballpark, and even though the syndicate had no plans to move the franchise, it was reported that Knoxville, Tampa, and Jacksonville were anxious to obtain the franchise.

“We want a modern baseball plant,” Rule stated yesterday. “We want one that will seat something like 10,000. We believe a new park would be the best think we could do for baseball.”[3]

On January 22, 1955, co-owners Murray and Larry Gilbert confirmed that they faced the loss of their franchise. The last year for the club to show a profit was 1950; in 1948, the best year for Nashville attendance with 269,843, was the last year Gilbert was manager. At the end of that season, another syndicate tried to buy, and he refused. Now Gilbert is desperate to sell his half-interest in the club and retire full-time to his native town of New Orleans.

All this after Nashville Vols outfielder Bob Lennon won the Southern Association triple crown with 64 home runs, hit for a .354 average, and knocked in 161 runs. But only 89,470 fans attended the games at Sulphur Dell that season, a decrease of 50,000.

This is Part 2 of the ongoing story. Read more about the events that led to the sale of the Nashville ball club in 1959 in the next installment.

Note: This Nashville baseball history was presented on Saturday, March 3, 2018 at the 15th annual Southern Association Conference at Rickwood Field in Birmingham, Alabama.

© 2018 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

[3] Raymond Johnson, “One Man’s Opinion – Baseball Business Brisk Despite City’s Winter Weather,” Nashville Tennessean, January 25, 1955, 16.

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Vols, Inc.: New Ownership to Save Nashville Baseball, Part 1

At 11:30 A.M. on January 20, 1959, in local attorney Jack Norman’s law office, Ted Murray turned over the Nashville Vols and Sulphur Dell to a newly-formed, publicly-held corporation. Murray, son of Fay Murray who first purchased the ball club along with Jimmy Hamilton in 1931, was paid $200,000.00 in exchange for his debt-free assets, including Nashville’s Southern Association franchise.[1]

Ted had acquired his stock in the team when his father died suddenly on March 4, 1941. Now the younger Murray was forced to sell for financial reasons. “I simply don’t have the money to operate the club any longer,” he told Nashville Tennessean sports writer F. M. Williams.[2]

It was an historic day in the timeline for this storied franchise. But how, and why, did it come to this? What events led to the near demise of the club? Wasn’t the city considered one of the keys to Southern Association stability? Hadn’t Sulphur Dell become an iconic ballpark, given its name by beloved sports writer Grantland Rice yet despised by visiting right-hand hitting outfielders?

In the days ahead, read more about the events that lead up to the sale of the Nashville ball club.

Note: This Nashville baseball history was presented on Saturday, March 3, 2018 at the 15th annual Southern Association Conference at Rickwood Field in Birmingham, Alabama.

© 2018 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

[1] Raymond Johnson, “Vols Change Hands Today,” Nashville Tennessean, January 20, 1959, 11.

[2] F. W. Williams, “Vol Owner Transfer Hinges on Stock Sale,” Nashville Tennessean, November 1, 1958, 13

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Nashville Attendance and the Ebb, Flow of Minor League Baseball

On September 8, 1963, only 971 fans attended a double header between Nashville and Lynchburg at Sulphur Dell. It would be the final professional games played at the historic ballpark.

The end had been foretold by attendance numbers for several years. The Vols’ best year at the turnstiles had been in 1948, when 269,893 watched Nashville play, but the numbers never came close again until the death of the club. In 1954, the last of a three-year affiliation with the New York Giants, the total was 89,470. That was the year when Nashville slugger Bob Lennon hammered 64 home runs, but even that achievement was not enough to drive fans to the ballpark.

Nashville was not alone.

Fan support dwindled across the entire country during the decline of minor league baseball in the 1950s. By 1960, there were 22 minor leagues; in 1950 there had been 58.[1]

In his book, Leveling the Playing Field, Paul C. Weiler puts it in perspective.

“In the late 1940s there were more than 450 minor league teams drawing more than 40 million fans to their game – a team average of 90,000 a season. Then television arrive in American homes, drastically reducing the demand for minor league baseball. By the late 1950s attendance had plummeted to around 15 million, where it remained for the next 20 years.”[2]

The issue was such a concern to Nashville Vols co-owner Larry Gilbert that he sold his 50% ownership to his partner, Ted Murray. Soon in debt with the ball club, Murray looked for buyers, too, and in 1958 area civic leaders banded together to form Vols, Inc., a publicly-held company with intent to purchase the Vols from Murray.

Try as they may, in subsequent years fans did not show up, leading to the demise of the franchise after that fateful double header in 1963. The club drew 52,812 for their final year.

Even before World War II, when attendance waned after a sensational 1940 season. Nashville led the league from opening day, won the Southern Association regular season and playoffs pennants, then won the Dixie Series against the Houston Buffaloes. Attendance stood at 138,602 even though war was looming.

During the war years, attendance remained respectable:

1941      97,282

1942      96,934

1943      76,570

1944      146,945

In 1945, turnout was 83,014; an honorable figure as soldiers were returning home.

Sports writer Raymond Johnson, in his “One Man’s Opinion” column in the Nashville Tennessean, often addressed the issue. He could see the decline coming, and in 1952 gave his view of the matter for that season’s crowds.

“Unless the fans turn out in larger numbers when Those Vols return home Friday than they have been averaging this season, Nashville will finish last in league attendance for the first time since 1931…That was the last time Nashville finished in the cellar and the season when Those Vols set their all-time losing record of 102 games.”[3]

Baseball devotees stepped up somewhat; attendance figures ended at 113,193 for 1952.

But Johnson compared the waning appearance of fans to 1931, when totals were only 67,338. The club won only 51 games that season. He understood that fans liked to see winning baseball.

“That was the first season for night baseball in Nashville…But even the uniqueness of nocturnal ball failed to lure the fans out to see a ball club that was as interesting to watch as two black cats fighting on a moonless night.”[4]

Night baseball did not bring out fans. Neither did Bob Lennon’s remarkable home run season. Even Nashville’s unbelievable 1940 season did not relate to more fans in the seats. The 1948 season record attendance mark at Sulphur Dell occurred in Larry Gilbert’s final season as manager, then only fell to 238,034 in a Rollie Hemsley-led Vols repeat championship performance.

From then on, the challenge was a changing America: inventive television productions, expanding highways, and automobiles being produced instead of tanks.

The revival of baseball began in the late 1970s. Larry Schmittou was instrumental in bringing professional baseball back to Nashville after a 15-year drought, and was part of that revitalization.

Weiler tells how significant the interest was across the country.

“Then came the resurgence in interest in minor league (as well as major league) baseball among baby boom families who did not feel like staying home every night to watch television. By the late 1990s total minor league attendance had reached 35 million, an average of about 200,000 a season for each of the nearly 175 teams.”[5]

2016 regular season attendance for 160 teams in 14 minor leagues (including only teams affiliated with major league baseball) was just over 37 million.[6] That averages to just over 3,000 fans per game. Nashville Sounds attendance at First Tennessee Park was 504,060 in 2016[7].

Raymond Johnson, Larry Gilbert, Ted Murray, and the 4,876 stock holders of Vols, Inc. would have been happy with those numbers.

© 2017 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

Sources

Newspapers.com

Paper of Record

Sabr.org

Notes

[1] Ian Kahanowitz. “A Brief History of The Minor League’s Reluctance to Integrate (Part 3),” 27outsbaseball.com, http://www.27outsbaseball.com/uncategorized/a-brief-history-of-the-minor-leagues-reluctance-to-integrate-part-3/, accessed August 10, 2017.

[2] Weiler, Paul C. (2009) Leveling the Playing Field. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

[3] Raymond Johnson. “Vols Last in Attendance First Time in 21 Years,” One Man’s Opinion column, Nashville Tennessean, August 26, 1952, 15.

[4] Johnson.

[5] Weiber.

[6] Graham Knight. “Minor League Baseball Attendance in 2016,” Baseballpilgrimages.com, http://www.baseballpilgrimages.com/attendance/minor-leagues-2016.html, accessed August 10, 2017.

[7] “Pacific Coast League: Attendance,” milb.com, http://www.milb.com/milb/stats/stats.jsp?y=2016&t=l_att&lid=112&sid=l112, accessed August 10, 2017.

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Nashville’s Larry Gilbert: Baseball Honors A Legend

Metro Archives Photo

On Sunday afternoon, July 27, 1941, Larry Gilbert was honored as Sporting News “1940 Minor League Manager of the Year” before his team’s double header against Chattanooga at Sulphur Dell in Nashville.

It was the second ceremony of the year honoring Gilbert, the first having been held May 7, recognizing him for his 25 years in the Southern Association[1]. He was given various gifts, including a gold lifetime pass by league president Trammell Scott, a silver set from Vols team owner Ted Murray and treasurer Jack Flanagan, and his players presented him with a silver service.[2]

Gilbert began his career in local sandlots of his hometown of New Orleans, Louisiana, but found his way to the majors as a member of the famous “Miracle Braves” of 1914, which had a 26-40 record in July but managed to win the National League pennant by winning 68 of its next 87 games[3]. Gilbert was a seldom-used outfielder and appeared in 72 games, hitting .268. His only appearance in the World Series was as a pinch hitter,  drawing a walk from  Philadelphia Athletics ace Bill James.

As a 23-year-old the next season, Larry was used very little and batted a paltry .151. His career would resume in Toronto (International League – Class AA) and Kansas City (American Association – Class AA) before he joined New Orleans (Southern Association – Class A). He would remain there for nine years, becoming manager of the club in 1923, leading the club to the league pennant that season, and remained there through 1938 (he moved to the front office in 1932, but returned to the dugout in 1933).

When Nashville owner Fay Murray was looking for a manager after the 1938 season, he convinced Larry to become part-owner, general manager, and manager of the Vols. He remained as field leader through 1948, moving to the front office until 1955, when he sold his shares in the club.

Larry Gilbert’s rise to fame as the best manager in the minor leagues culminated in 1940, when his Nashville ball club led the Southern Association from opening day until the end of the season. His team won 101 games with a combined batting average of .311, pitcher Boots Poffenberger won 26 games, and reliever Ace Adams struck out 122 rival batters.

In the league playoffs, the Vols eliminated Chattanooga, three games to none, and won the playoff championship against Atlanta by winning four games to two for the Crackers, sending Nashville to the Dixie Playoffs to face Texas League champion. They polished off the Houston Buffaloes in five games, ending a remarkable season. That club was selected as the 47th best minor league of all time in 2001 in celebration of Minor League baseball’s 100th anniversary[4].

His two-year record at Nashville was 186-115, and included a Southern Association regular-season pennant, two playoff championships, and one Dixie Series title. He had previously led New Orleans to four pennants, two playoff championships, and two Dixie Series crowns.

On September 8, 1948, in his final game as manager, Gilbert was honored once again, this time for 25 years as a manager in the Southern Association, beginning with his first entering the league in 1923.  6,509 Nashville fans, Baseball Commissioner A. B. Chandler, George M. Trautman, president of the National Association, and Southern Association president Charlie Hurth, were there to bestow recognition to Larry Gilbert, the most successful manager in the history of the Southern Association.

With eight league championships, including six consecutive titles with Nashville between 1939-1944, his final record as manager for the Vols and New Orleans was 2,128 – 1,627. It was an impressive record for an equally impressive manager.

From the honors bestowed upon him, it was easy to tell that Baseball loved Larry Gilbert.

To view Gilbert’s entire managerial record, click here: http://www.southernassociationbaseball.com/managers/larrygilbert.php

Sources 

Baseball-reference.com

Newspapers.com

Paper of Record 

Retrosheet.org

Sabr.org

Southernassociationbaseball.com

© 2017 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

[1] Raymond Johnson. “Fourth Celebration Due,” One Man’s Opinion column, Nashville Tennessean, July 28, 1941, 8.

[2] Sporting News, May 15, 1941, 12.

[3] “1914 The Miracle Braves”, http://www.thisgreatgame.com/1914-baseball-history.html, accessed July 27, 2017.

[4] Bill Weiss & Marshall Wright, “Top 100 Teams: 47. 1940 Nashville Vols,” http://www.milb.com/milb/history/top100.jsp?idx=47, July 27, 2017

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