Tag Archives: The Sporting News

Vandy was a Vol

Johnny Vander Meer was born on November 2, 1914 to Dutch parents in Prospect, New Jersey, and grew up in Midland Park. Baseball became his love and he found the attention of a Cincinnati Reds scout, signing with Dayton (Class C – Mid-Atlantic League).[1] The next two seasons were spent in Scranton (Class A – NYPL) where he was 18-18.

In his first three years in the Cincinnati Reds farm system he developed arm trouble. In 1936 he was sent to Nashville to consult with Dr. Lee Jensen, a noted sports doctor who determined there was an issue with a muscle in Vander Meer’s back. After therapy and exercises, he was being counted on as a starter for the Vols.

vander-meerIn two-game exhibition series against the St. Louis Browns at Nashville’s Wilson Park, he was starting pitcher on April 7 and appeared as a reliever on April 8. In the first game, a cold and windy affair, after one out he issued walks to four consecutive batters to force in a run before being relieved by Johnny Intlekofer. The Browns won 3-1.

The next day he relieved Junie Barnes in the seventh. Only giving up one hit, Vander Meer gave up five runs in the eighth; for the game, he struck out four, walked five, and hit batter Harlond Clift before being relieved by Ray Davis. Johnny was the losing pitcher.

On April 21, he faced the Atlanta Crackers in his first start for the Vols, another cold affair that was eventually called due to darkness that ended in a 4-4 tie. Continuing to relieve for manager Lance Richbourg, on May 3 Vander Meer was given his second start, this time in Birmingham. He allowed two runs in five innings before being yanked for Red Ahearn.

In Nashville’s Sulphur Dell on May 9, Johnny started against New Orleans, but did not finish in the Vols 15-8 trouncing of the Pelicans. Having appeared in 31 innings in eight games but with no wins, he started against the Travelers in Little Rock on May 19, but did not last the inning after walking the first three batters he faced. He was the losing pitcher.

With 25 bases on balls in 32 innings, his arm control was beginning to show. By June 1 he was gone, sent to Durham (Class B, Piedmont League). Still under contract to Nashville, Vander Meer found his curve ball under the tutelage of manager Johnny Gooch, and won 19 games while losing only 6 with a 2.65 ERA.

Most impressive were his 272 strikeouts in 194 innings. He struck out 20 in one game, 19 and 18 in two others. “Vandy” was named The Sporting News Minor League Player of the Year for 1936.

Sold by the Vols to Cincinnati, he was invited to spring training and spent the season between the Reds where he was 3-4 with a 3.84 ERA, and Syracuse (Class AA – International League) where he was 5-11 with a 3.34 ERA.

He was an All Star for Cincinnati in 1938 and threw consecutive no-hitters, the only player to ever accomplish the feat. His first came against the Boston Bees on June 11 in Cincinnati and the second was accomplished against the Brooklyn Dodgers on June 15, the first night game ever played at Ebbets Field.

Four days later, on June 19 in Boston, he no-hit the Braves until one out in the fourth inning when Debs Garms hit a single. The streak ended at 21 1/3 innings, which included the batter Vander Meer retired in the game before his first no-hitter.[2]

Named The Sporting News Major League Player of the Year that season, Johnny was also named to the All Star team in 1939, 1942, and 1943.

His lifetime 119-121 record included 1,294 strikeouts, and he led the league in that category for three consecutive seasons; 1941 (202), 1942 (186), and 1943 (174).

Upon his release from the Cleveland Indians in 1951, he pitched in 24 games for Tulsa and won 11, losing 10. But on July 15, 1952, 14 years and one month after his record performance, he hurled a no-hitter in a Texas League game against Beaumont.

Oddly enough, Beaumont manager Harry Craft was centerfielder for the Reds and made the final putout in the second no-hitter by Vander Meer. The ball was hit by future Hall of Famer Leo Durocher of Brooklyn.

Upon retiring from active playing, he managed in the minors for 10 seasons where his teams won a total of 761 games and lost 719. Future major leaguers Jim Maloney, Vic Davalillo, Jack Baldschun, Lee May, Jim Wynn, Ed Kranepool, and Pete Rose played for “The Dutch Master”.

When his baseball career was over he worked for a brewing company and enjoyed fishing. Vander Meer passed away on October 6, 1997 in Tampa, Florida, and was buried with a baseball in his left hand.[3]

SOURCES

Ancestry.com

Baseball-reference.com

Nashville Tennessean

Newspapers.com

Retrosheet.org

Sabr.org

© 2016 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

 

[1] Johnson, James W. Johnny Vander Meer, SABR Baseball Biography Project. Retrieved from ww.sabr.org

[2] Goldstein, Richard. “Johnny Vander Meer, 82, No-Hit Master, Dies”, New York Times, October 7, 1997

[3] Johnson, James W. Ibid.

Leave a comment

Filed under Biography, History, Research

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.

3 Comments

Filed under History, Research

Walks, Unintentionally Speaking

Southern Association club directors passed a new rule in 1933 that startled the baseball world. It was intended to eliminate the intentional pass, especially those issued to power hitters. Fans wanted to see those players hit long homers and drive in runs.

A. H. Woodward

The rule was presented to league directors on November 17 by A. H. Woodward, owner of the Birmingham Barons. Credit for the new rule was given to Pat Linnehan of Birmingham, a local jeweler and baseball fan who had come up with the idea. Adopted by the league, the rule read:

In any inning of next year’s Southern Association games, after two outs have been made, if the pitcher delivers four consecutive balls to the batter, the batter shall be entitled to first base; and any and all base runners occupying bases shall be advanced two bases, except, in the event both second base and third bases are occupied, the runner on third base shall score and the runner on second shall advance to third.

When the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues held its 32nd annual meeting in Galveston, Texas a few days later, there were plenty of opinions expressed. Judge W. G. Bramham, who presided over the minor leagues, felt the league could do as it pleased but advised that national rules would have to be adhered to in the Dixie playoffs between the Southern and Texas Leagues.[1]

Some said there were ways to avoid the rule. In either of these situations, the runners on base would only take the normal advance:

  1. In realizing his control is not very good, the pitcher could hit the batter after three balls.
  2. The catcher could tip the hitter’s bat.
  3. The catcher could jump in front of the plate to catch the pitcher’s throw[2]

In the December 14, 1933 edition of The Sporting News, Woodward defended the rule.

“After 25 years in baseball, the two things that have griped me the most are: (1) Playing for rain; and (2) the intentional pass. I look upon the average American as the best sportsman in the world. I believe his sense of fair play is of the highest order. These two things are offensive to him. The intentional pass is the cue for the manager to come out of the dugout and thumb the batter to first base, thereby giving an active demonstration of the fact that he was afraid of him. The batter is given no chance. The playing for rain is the hoisting of the yellow flag.

“By and large, it seems to me that the time has come for some innovations in the game, and I sincerely trust that the new rule, as passed by the Southern Association, will be given a fair trial.”[3]

It is likely the rule was intended for a situation where there were no strikes on the batter. As written, a pitcher could have two strikes on the batter, then throw four balls wildly with no intent. Thus, the penalty would be enforced on unintentional walks.

Larry Gilbert, manager of the New Orleans Pelicans, agreed.

“I think the league officials really meant for the one strike clause to be in the new rule but neglected to write it in before adjourning.”[4]

League president John D. Martin soon announced the rule would be revised to include the one strike clause, but also would include an amendment that would keep the rule from being interpreted that two players could occupy the same base at the same time.[5]

At a meeting in New Orleans on February 12, 1934, the league directors modified the rule with the adoption of an amendment presented Gilbert. The amendment read:

If in any inning after two outs have been made the pitcher delivers four consecutive balls to the batter, or hits the batsman with a pitched ball, or if the batsman is interfered with by the catcher, before the pitcher throws at least one strike, the batter shall be entitled to first base and any and all base-runners occupying bases shall be advanced two bases except with a runner on first base, or runners on first and third, or when the bases are full, each base-runner shall be advanced only one base, and except that when second and third are both occupied by base-runners, only the runner on third shall score and the runner on second shall be advanced to third base.

After utilizing the rule during spring games, some of the owners soured on the novel decree. On April 14th Martin announced the intentional pass rule had been rescinded by the directors of the clubs 5-3 in a wire vote. Only Birmingham, Memphis, and New Orleans voted to keep the rule in place.

Birmingham’s Woodward suggested to Martin that the clubs consider giving the rule a two-week trial, and they agreed.

Once the trial period ended, five clubs asked for repeal and the rule was unanimously rescinded on May 3rd. League president John D. Martin announced the result after a poll of the clubs.

“…the rule will not be effective in today’s game(s), or in any subsequent games,” was Martin’s final say on the matter.

© 2016 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

[1] Galveston Daily News, November 18, 1933.

[2] The Sporting News, November 23, 1933.

[3] Woodward, A. H. “Make Way for Changes in the Game. The Sporting News, December 14, 1933.

[4] Galveston Daily News, November 18, 1933.

[5] The Sporting News, December 28, 1933.

A. H. Woodward Image courtesy Alabama Sports Hall of Fame

Leave a comment

Filed under History, Research

Nashville Plays Two

It had been a remarkable year for Larry Gilbert’s Nashville Vols in 1940. Everything had fallen into place: the three regular outfielders batted no less than .336, the starting lineup remained intact during the entire season, pitcher Cletus “Boots” Poffenberger stayed out of trouble enough to lead the league with a 26-9 record, and the Vols won their first game of the season to remain at the top of the league standings the entire year.

Nashville captured the Southern Association regular-season pennant over second-place Atlanta by 9 ½ games and finished 101-47.

Breezing through the league playoffs by shutting out Chattanooga three games to none and trouncing Atlanta four games to two to take the Southern Association Shaughnessy Playoffs title, Nashville won the Dixie Series by thumping Texas League champion Houston four games to one.

In 2001 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. It had been a dream season.

1941_SeasonPassThe laurels that surrounded the previous season changed to apprehension at the beginning of 1941, as beloved team owner Fay Murray passed away just before spring training. Manager Gilbert was soon facing a completely revamped lineup, and injuries to key players Gus Dugas, Les Fleming, and John Mihalic created doubt for repeated success. Adding to the disorder, pitcher “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.

On July 27 at a Sunday double-header versus Chattanooga a ceremony was held honoring Gilbert as “Outstanding Minor League Manager” of 1940 by The Sporting News. Gilbert addressed the fans by saying, “but for injuries to some of our key players this season, I feel confident that we would have been up there battling Atlanta for the pennant”. As the season headed into August, Nashville was in second-place a full 16 games behind league-leading Atlanta.

It was still going to be another outstanding year for Larry Gilbert and the Vols, but included in the year’s turmoil was a multitude of rain outs that resulted in an unkind twin-bill schedule to end the season. It came close to the baseball record for consecutive double-headers played set by Boston (NL) in 1928 with nine.

The brutal series of double-headers began on August 17 and ended on September 7 at season’s end. Fourteen double-headers were played during the last twenty-two days of the regular season, including seven twin-tilts in a row:

Date Location Opponent Scores update

Gilbert had the mettle to pilot his charges to hang on to their second-place regular-season finish, as Les Fleming led the league with a .414 season batting average and Oris Hockett (.359) and Tommy Tatum (.347) finished second and third.

Nashville won the Southern Association Shaughnessy Playoffs by beating the New Orleans Pelicans three-games-to-one, and ousted the 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. It was the Vols’ second straight Dixie title and perhaps Larry Gilbert’s most valiant effort.

© 2015 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

1 Comment

Filed under History, Research

The Demise of a League: Fred Russell Explains

The demise of the Southern Association at the end of the 1961 season brought an end to one of the longest running leagues at the time. League president George M. Trautman faced the press in January of 1962 with painful words.

“I don’t like to be sentimental at a time like this. But it is tough to preside over a session that marks the exodus of a league as old and respected as the Southern.”

It was not unexpected. Total attendance across all minor leagues had dropped from 41,900,000 at the peak in 1949 to 10,900,000 in 1961, a 75% drop in only 12 years.

Fans picked up the pace near the end of World War II, but slowed rapidly as the new decade began. Nashville’s drop from 228,034 in 1949 to 64,460 in 1961 is telling in itself. That’s a 72% decline.

So where did the fans go? Nashville’s demise ran about even as other cities, and by 1961 two stalwart cities of the league, Atlanta and New Orleans, had already dropped out.

Russell-FBOnce again, we turn to dependable Fred Russell, sports editor of the Nashville Banner and contributor to The Sporting News. He wrote a series of articles that the national sports journal published between March 28 and April 11, 1962. In it, he explained the reasons given by those “in the know.”

It would be easy to surmise that the main reasons for declining visits to ballparks were television, air conditioning, and automobiles were the culprits. I have done that before. But is that really why?

Well, yes, and then some.

Russell begins his explanation by asking his readers a few questions in “Why Did Southern Go Under” in the March 28, 1962 edition of The Sporting News:

“Who killed the Southern? What killed the venerable league, referred to just a couple of years ago as the most stable in the minor league orbit? Could it have been avoided?

“Or was it inevitable?”

Adding to the banter of dissatisfied Southern Association members who questioned the leadership of the league, including owners who have used their long-term power to solve short-range problems, Russell gives a list of reasons:

“Apathetic fans, rising opportunity of outdoor participative sports (particularly boating), bowling’s boom, major league baseball telecasts, television itself, air-conditioning comfort, slower games, poorer teams, indifference of major league officials to a quickly deteriorating situation, too much dependence on the majors, inability to meet competition, refusal to accept Negro players (until too late), football’s gradual encroachment on the sports fan’s late-summer attention, unaggressive leadership, etc.”

There you have it. It was more than one, or two, or three things. It is striking that there was so much dissension, but one does not lose sight of explanations that could be used today in criticism of everything that is wrong with baseball.

However, Russell goes one step beyond.

“My own belief is that the biggest single reason for declining interest in minor league baseball is the lack of any continuing identity between clubs from one year to the next.

“It used to be you would attach yourself to some favorite. He might stay with your home-town club for several years, and with him, maybe a bunch of other players you felt close to. It was fun to watch their progress when they advanced to the big leagues.”

There you have it. Russell was warning owners and fans alike that things had changed, not for the better, and without teams having players that the fans could relate to it washed out the reason for loving one’s team.

In 1972 Curt Flood challenged the rule that allowed Major League Baseball to have antitrust exemptions regarding player contracts. Flood passed away in 1997 and did not live long enough to know legislation was passed in 1997 and 1998 that gave major league players antitrust protection.

Although Organized Baseball rebounded from early free-agent signing, multi-year contracts have kept players with the same team for longer periods than just a few years. The trade-off in most cases has been exorbitant salaries.

At the time of the Southern’s passing it was not known that Nashville and other cities would make valiant efforts to resurrect their teams. But the damage had been done, and after attempts to bring the glory days of minor league baseball back it would be 15 years or more for some cities to succeed.

Fred Russell explained the complications of baseball’s struggles and brought light to questions about minor league baseball of the day. This beloved sports writing sage had the answers then.

Funny thing, how wise he was about those same questions today.

© 2015 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

Note: The Tennessean’s Nine-inning (part) series in conjunction with the Nashville Sounds’ new ballpark opening continues daily and may be viewed by clicking here: “Coming home to Sulphur Dell“.

Leave a comment

Filed under Current, History, Opinion, Research, Vintage

Fred Russell: Night Games or Day Games?

FRussell_FBPerhaps no sports writer had more insight to pass on to his readers than Nashville’s Fred Russell. The beloved journalist had a following who believed him, who relied on him for the inside story and insight that went beyond the box score and stats.

On more than one occasion the sports editor of the Nashville Banner ponders the future of baseball. In the 1950s and ’60s he would sorrowfully describe the fall of minor league’s baseball franchises. Ultimately he would lament the loss of the Southern Association after the 1961 season; two years later, the beloved Nashville Vols would disappear, too. And he would name the reasons (more to come).

It was a different story two decades earlier when night games were rapidly replacing  those being called in the afternoon. Nashville had seen attendance boom from 99,615 in 1932, 113,292 in 1934, to 138,602 in 1940 before the United States entered the fray across the oceans.

By 1942 the country was fully at war. But Russell felt there was more money flowing than for any period since the Great Depression.

Quoted in the January 15, 1942 edition of The Sporting News, the prudent scribe said, “There’s more employment. Factories are running night shifts. Many men are looking for afternoon recreation. We still have the 40-hour week in most occupations. That means plenty of time for relaxation.

Night baseball had been added to minor league team’s schedules, and there was some conversation about reducing the number of them while the country was fighting overseas. Russell seems to struggle with his reasoning for day games or night games.

He had sensed a new interest with positive results. As more games were played at night, fans depended on radio broadcasts when they could not get to the ballpark. He felt that fact alone gained interest from a new fan: women.

Lights had been added to Sulphur Dell in 1931 and the first regular season night game on May 18 drew approximately 7,000 fans to the contest against Mobile. Nashville lost 8-1.

But as he names reasons for playing games after dark, he questions whether there may be day games again.

Suppose night baseball is banned in the Southern Association and other leagues this summer, and they only play in the afternoons. Will enough people come to the parks to enable clubs to make expenses?

And with the rationing of automobiles and tires, there’ll be fewer motor trips, less partying, more of the old forms of amusement.

Maybe day baseball in the minors is gone. I’m not saying it isn’t. But remember the railroads – ten years ago. Did anyone forsee the booming business of 1941 and 1942, with not an idle car in the yards and freight trains a half-mile long?

“Of course, the war is mainly responsible. And that’s what I am getting around to, the matter of whether the war may be responsible for some other comebacks. In particular, day baseball.”

At the end of 1942 season attendance stood at 96,934, so there must be some truth to the reasons the Russell listed about what people were able to do. In 1944, with hopes that the war would soon be over, attendance skyrocketed to 146,945.

Russell’s thoughts from both sides of the day or night question only helped to prove that either way, he had it figured.

© 2015 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

Note: The Tennessean’s Nine-inning (part) series in conjunction with the Nashville Sounds’ new ballpark opening continues daily and may be viewed by clicking here: “Coming home to Sulphur Dell“.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under History, Research