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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.

In 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 theNashville 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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Arguably the most famous baseball team in the history of Nashville sports, the 1940 Nashville Volunteers were voted the 47th best minor league team of all time in the 100th celebration of Minor League baseball in 2001. Its heroic bad-boy pitcher, who finished the season in spectacular fashion with a 26-9 record, is celebrated by author Austin Gisriel in Boots Poffenberger: Hurler, Hero, Hell-Raiser (2014, Summer Game Books), .

With the huge advantage of sorting through scrapbooks kept by Boots’ first wife Jo and made available by Poffenberger’s grandson Jeremy Knode, Gisriel thoroughly examines the life of one of baseball’s unruly children.

And this journey of Poffenberger’s life in baseball, even with his garish attitude, is a pleasurable one.

Gisriel describes the portly pitcher in easy fashion, allowing the reader a view into those well-kept scrapbooks. He thoroughly details Poffenberger’s life from his home town of Williamsport, Maryland through sandlot ball, military service, and ultimately professional baseball and retirement.

Having been declared ineligible after his antics perturb both the Detroit Tigers and Brooklyn Dodgers management, Boots’ three-season foray into his major league career ends. Nashville manager Larry Gilbert takes a chance on the affable Poffenberger, purchasing him from the Dodgers in March of 1940, when no one else would have him:

“The Vols were skippered by Larry Gilbert, who had become part owner of the club after managing New Orleans for 15 seasons.There, Gilbert developed a reputation as an effective handler of eccentrics, flakes, and trouble-makers…”

Poffenberger’s success culminates in Nashville. It was then and there that he found his best success with one of the best minor league teams of all time.

“Boot(s) Poffenberger, of course, lead the league in wins with 26 becoming the first Volunteer hurler to notch at least 25 in a season. Boots appeared in 37 games and remarkably, received a decision in all but two of them. His .743 win percentage was first in the league.”

At an end-of-season banquet held at a local supper club for the 1940 team, Nashville Banner sportswriter Fred Russell sings Boots’ praises for what he had meant to the team:

“I mean it with the utmost sincerity when I say that Poffenberger’s reputation is unfair to him, and, as this season has proved, he has been the victim of major league operators’ and managers’ own deficiencies in what should be a prime requisite of their job – handling men.

Model boy? No. Bad actor? I have known ten dozen ball players who were bigger problems than Poffenberger.”

But seven months removed from the glowing tribute given by Russell, the wrapping comes off of the package. Already facing questions about his drinking habits and game preparation, on June 25, 1941 Poffenberger is suspended for 90 days by League president Trammel Scott after throwing at umpire Ed “Dutch” Hoffman in the fifth inning of the previous night’s game. And Larry Gilbert, the well-respected molder of disorderly baseball men, gives up on him:

“I’m through with him”, Gilbert was quoted as saying in the Nashville papers the next day. “He won’t pitch for Nashville anymore.”

His time in Nashville parallels every aspect of Poffenberger’s baseball career. Boots Poffenberger: Hurler, Hero, Hell-Raiser is a quality description of this up-and-down life. This account finds tempo in Boots’ visit to the major leagues and ends in some humility in his failings. Boots had become lost in baseball lore until Gisriel brings him out of his slide to obscurity.

I recommend adding it to one’s Nashville’s baseball and southern history library.

Disclaimer: Austin Gisriel provided a copy of his book in exchange for a Nashville/Sulphur Dell cap. That exchange had no influence on this review.

 © 2015 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

 
 
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Nashville’s on-again, off-again love affair with the Southern League collapsed after the 1895 season, a year which saw George Stallings lead the Nashville Seraphs to a second place finish with a record of 69-38. Financial instability of teams from various cities, including Nashville, led to the league reorganizing once more in 1896. Six teams comprised the league but by mid-season Birmingham and Atlanta had dropped out; New Orleans, Montgomery, Mobile, and Columbus remained until August.

With the Southern in disarray as Memphis had no park in which to play and Atlanta having been accepted into the Southeastern League, only Columbus and Birmingham were committed to playing in the Southern League for a new season. It did not happen, although the league would re-organize for 1898 and 1899 but  would fail to complete the season either year.

On January 18, 1897, a new Central League was organized at the Acme Hotel in Evansville and five cities were repesented: Terre Haute, Nashville, Cairo, Evansville, and Washington (Indiana) agree to membership. It was determined to withhold the Washington membership until representatives from Memphis and Little Rock (who were expected at the meeting but failed to attend) could be contacted.

Although the complete lineup of cities was not determined, the organizers knew from experience with failed ball clubs just what they thought was needed to complete the season. For example, it was agreed that the player salary limit should be fixed at $900 and a $300 fee was assessed to clubs for membership with one-half due at the next league meeting and the remainder due one month later.

Controlling player salary limits were a driving force for organizing a new league but travel expenses were the main reason due to the proximity of all cities which had been proposed as members. Membership fees were to keep the league solvent for a complete season.

Gabe Simons of Evansville was elected President-Secretary-Treasurer of the Central League. Billy Works, manager of the Nashville team, was named Vice-President.

Works had become anxious to place a Nashville team in either of two proposed leagues, the Central or Interstate League. George Stallings and Charley Frank of Memphis assisted him in his quest. An Interstate League had been proposed by Works to have Nashville, Knoxville, Jackson, Memphis, Chattanooga and Little Rock as members. In a letter from Charley Frank to George Stallings, Little Rock, Memphis, Clarksville, Evansville, Paducah, Cairo, Henderson, Terre Haute, Fort Wayne, Springfield (Illinois) and Nashville were selected as potential cities in the Central League.

However, on February 12 representatives from Nashville, Terre Haute, Washington, Evansville, Paducah, and Cairo met in Evansville to finalize plans for the Central. Uniforms were even selected for each team: Evansville, cadet blue, white trimmings; Terre Haute, gray and blue; Paducah, old gold and maroon; Washington, brown and red; Cairo, gray and black; and Nashville, blue and maroon.

At a meeting on February 27 Washington was admitted to the Central League over Terre Haute’s opposition, claiming that Washington is too small a city to support a team. At that meeting the league adopted the Reach baseball.

On April 28 Evansville won over Nashville, named the Centennials, 3-2 in the opening game of the 1897 Central League season for both clubs. Approximately 500 fans were on hand at Athletic Park.

The financially sound (or so it seemed) Central League was up and running.

It was reported on June 1 by league president Simons that Washington (pop. 18,000) was averaging 700 at each home game, including Sunday games; Paducah (pop. 20,000) was averaging 800 patrons, while Cairo, Terre Haute, and Evansville were drawing “even more”. There was no mention of Nashville’s attendance but it should be noted that it was the only city not allowing Sunday games.

On June 3 Nashville dropped out of the league with no explanation. The team traveled to Cairo to continue its schedule in hopes that the team would be transferred to Decatur, Illinois. A week later the team was transferred to Henderson, Indiana.

The board of directors accepted the resignation of Central League president Gabe Simons on June 28th as Simons was hoping to take over management of the Evansville club and no longer wanted to shoulder the responsibility and “annoyances” of the League office. Mr. F. C. Winter of Washington was named president of the Central. By mid-July Evansville was without financial backing or a manager as Simons failed in his bid to take over the club.

On July 20 the Central League seasons collapses. After the disbandment of the Washington club, the other teams decide it is not worthwhile to continue as all teams are in financial arrears due to so many Sunday games having been rained out.

With another noble attempt to entrench Nashville into the world of professional baseball, it would be four years before Nashville’s Newt Fisher would be instrumental in forming the Southern Association of Baseball Clubs with his hometown as a member in 1901. That attempt would last: the Southern Association disbanded in 1961 and Nashville remained a member during the league’s entire existence.

© 2015 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

 
 
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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.

In 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.

 © 2015 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

 
 
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January 4, 1899 – John Sneed’s death is announced in Jackson, Tennessee. A member of Nashville’s first professional baseball club, the Americans of the newly-formed Southern League, he was a utility player who also pitched. Sneed also played for the Memphis Grays, Memphis Browns, and New Orleans Pelicans in the Southern League. He was born in Shelby County near Memphis in 1861

January 5, 1908 – Bill Bernhard(t) is named as manager of the Nashville Baseball Club. “Strawberry Bill” had pitched for the Philadelphia Phillies and Cleveland Indians beginning in 1899, retiring at the end of the 1907 season with a major league record of 116 -81. Bernhard will manage Nashville for three seasons while continuing to pitch. Leaving the Vols after the 1910 season, he would move to Memphis and manage there from 1911 to 1913 and return to active pitching in Salt Lake City in 1914 and Chattanooga in 1915. After being out of baseball for two years he will return to Salt Lake City as manager in 1916, retiring from pro ball in 1917

January 6, 1897 – Today is the birthday of Byron “By” Speece. The right-handed submariner was 85-60 for Nashville from 1932-1938. He had previously pitched for Washington and Cleveland in the American League in 1924-26 and the Philadelphia Phillies in 1930. After his stint with the Vols Speece moved to the Pacific Coast League, pitching for Portland and Seattle from 1940-1946

January 7, 1882 – Heinie Berger, pitcher for Nashville in 1914 (20-17) and 1915 (12-7), is born in LaSalle, Illinois. After his 1915 season with the Vols, Berger retired from baseball. The 5’9” right hander had previously pitched for Cleveland in the American League from 1907-1910 where Berger had a cumulative major league record of 32-29 with a 2.60 ERA. On September 16, 1907 Berger tossed a one-hitter against the New York Highlanders

January 8, 1914 – Judge A. B. Neil awards a temporary injunction to Nashville manager Bill Schwartz that prevents club president W. G. Hirsig from voting certain sharts of stock at the Nashville Baseball Club stockholders meeting called for January 13.  The 26 shares in question are said to be in the name of W. B. Lee, a prominent Nashville specialist, and had been voted by Hirsig in previous meetings.  Schwartz claims to hold Dr. Lee’s written proxy to vote the shares at the meeting

January 9, 1938 – Larry Gilbert, who will be leaving tomorrow with his wife and youngest son Tookie for Nashville to take over his new duties as manager of the Vols, is given a going-away party at his home in New Orleans.  Over 100 family member and friends visited and presented the Gilberts with a variety of gifts

January 10, 1947 – Tom Wilson, owner of the Baltimore Elite Giants formerly located in Nashville, is ousted as president of the Negro National League. Wilson had held the post since 1938

© 2015 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

 
 
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James (Jim) Ralph Poole earned his first appearance in the big leagues after four seasons with Portland of the Pacific Coast League where he had slugged 107 home runs. In two of those years, 1923 and 1924, Poole had 65 home runs (he led the PCL with 38 in 1923), batted .346, and drove in 265 runs[1], so his reputation as a slugger was strong.

In his major league debut at the age of 29 in Philadelphia’s season opener at Shibe Park on April 14, 1925 against the Boston Red Sox, he popped out to third in his first at-bat in the second inning, but after a fifth-inning walk finished with a homer and two singles as the A’s won 9-8 in 10 innings.

Poole played first base and outfield for the Athletics in 1925, 1926, and 1927, but his minor league career spanned 26 years. “Easy” had a minor league average of .316 but hit .364 on 215 hits and won the home run title with 50 as a first baseman with the Nashville Vols in 1930.

On June 14 of that season Poole hit three home runs, a double, and a single against Mobile to set a new league record with 15 total bases. Teammate Jay Partridge hit 40 round trippers during 1930, and together they set a Southern Association for most home runs by two players on a club with 90. The record would stand until September 6, 1948 when Nashville’s Charlie Gilbert (49) and Chuck Workman (41) tied it (by seasons end the 1948 duo would end up with 94 between them for the new league record).

At Reading of the International League in 1931 Poole batted .306, had a .499 slugging percentage, hit 24 home runs (third in the league), scored 100 runs and drove in 126. The team finished in last place.[2]

Jim never found the same power again. In 1932 he bounced between three teams in the International League before finishing the season at Harrisburg in the New York-Pennsylvania League. The next season he was at Class B Winston-Salem in the Piedmont League and he never moved out of D League ball for the rest of his career.

He continued playing and managing through the 1961 season, although he retired as a player in 1947. His batboy for the Moultrie Packers in the Georgia-Florida (Class D) League in 1947 said Poole was the most superstitious person he ever knew.

“In addition to managing, he was the third-base coach. Once, early in the season he picked up a ballpark peanut on his way from the dugout to the third base coach’s box. He put it in his rear pocket. We won three or four games in a row, but when we lost one, he threw away the peanut. He said that he had used up all the luck.”[3]

In 16 seasons as a manager, mostly with Class D teams, he took the reins in the North Carolina, Bi-State, Appalachian, George-Florida, Western Carolina, and Mountain States League. In 1961 as Western Carolina League teams in Forest City, Hickory, and Gastonia withdrew, Poole became general manager and field manager of the Belmont club. It was a dire season that saw only a little over 10,000 fans attend 50 home games. Poole, who knew many people in baseball, asked his friends within the San Francisco Giants to supply player development funds and even players to the struggling franchise. Poole eventually resigned before the end of the season and the team finished with a 39-61 won-lost record.[4]It was Poole’s last season in Organized Baseball.

Born in Taylorsville, North Carolina, on May 12, 1895, Poole passed away of a heart attack at the age of 79 in Hickory, North Carolina, on January 2, 1975. He was buried at Linney’s Grove Baptist Cemetery in Hiddenite, Alexander County.

© 2015 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

Sources

Ancestry.com

Baseball-Reference.com

Retrosheet.org

Notes

[1] Neyer, Rob. Rob Neyer’s Big Book of Baseball Legends: The Truth, the Lies, and Everything Else

[2] Selko, Jamie. Minor League All-Star Teams, 1922-1962: Rosters, Statistics and Commentary

[3] Ellington, Eugene E. “Duke”. What’s a Country Boy Like Me Doing in a Place Like This?

[4] Buhite, Russell D. The Continental League: A Personal History

 
 
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When I first spoke with Michael  Thurmon two years ago, he was involved in the forming of a local vintage baseball league. He did not hold back his enthusiasm in explaining the foundation of the new venture: mid-19th Century rules would be in play.

He even invited me to participate, but it took just one practice for me to come to grips with my no longer having “baseball legs”. I decided to become an observer and not a participant, but I became one of many who hardly knew what was in store for Michael’s vision.

I had seen the Vintage Game played in 2007 while attending my first SABR(Society for American Baseball Research) convention in St. Louis. The game was an exhibition played in a park along the Mississippi River. Impressed at first glance, as the game proceeded I became even more impressed by the caliber of play, the comradery between the participants, and the dedication exhibited by the members of each team.

Like me, Michael first viewed the vintage game being played in St. Louis in 2007, different field, different teams.

“It was a game between the St. Louis Perfectos and the something-or-another somebodies. My brother had read about it and so we took my niece to see a game. It was almost majestic-like.

“We walked up a little hill and there were all these bearded guys wearing funny uniforms and not wearing gloves and they were playing base ball! I was in love.”

Born in Dyersburg, Michael is a Product Manager/Business Systems Analyst for a healthcare software company. He and his wife Kelly live in Nashville with their daughter Alex along with a dog and cat. He credits Kelly for her support in his love of baseball.

His introduction to baseball came from his grandfather who had a pitcher’s mound and home plate in his backyard and often took Michael to local ball fields for countless hours of batting and fielding practice. Besides, the local community college’s baseball field was next to the Thurmon home and he could watch all the games he wanted.

His next influence came from a friendship based on a mutual interest: the Vintage Game.

“In the fall of 2012, I met Trapper Haskins. He had played vintage base ball in Michigan and we decided to give it one more shot at starting a league. Thankfully, it happened! We had a lot of blank stares at first, but we have hit a good cadence now and most people have at least heard about what we are doing.”

In handing the 2015 reins of Commissioner to Trapper, a member of the Franklin Farriers, the journey will continue in good hands. Michael will assume a new role as Executive Director, and continue as a member of the Nashville Maroons (view his letter to the TAOVBB members here).

I have seen the exuberance grow beyond what I viewed at that exhibition beneath the Gateway Arch and what I saw at that first practice with the Maroons. Those involved with the Tennessee Association of Vintage Base Ball have displayed a deeper love and appreciation of baseball, and in doing so have given a glimpse of how baseball was played when it was known as the “Gentleman’s Game”.

In two years participation has increased from 30 to 120 “ballists” (1860’s lingo for “player”) in the league that claims the motto “No Spittin’, No Swearin’, No Gloves” (Vintage Baseball Returns). But that’s not all: exhibition games with teams from Boston, Indianapolis, and Norwood, Ohio were played this past season, and so much positive attention has been placed on what the organization is doing that it will host the national Vintage Base Ball Association’s 2015 Convention to be held March 27 – 29 in Franklin.

With expansion taking place again next season, Michael expects a promising future for the league.

“In 2015, we are adding two expansion teams in Chattanooga which will bring us to 10 teams in the league. We want to spend this year focusing on the league and making sure we are set up for success as we continue to grow.

“A personal mantra of mine is “what was good enough to get us here is not good enough to keep us here.” So I can assure you, we won’t become complacent. We will continue to strive towards bettering the league by focusing on our members and on the fans.”

It is important that baseball purists understand the Vintage Game as the forerunner of baseball as it is played on the sandlots and professional fields. This view of baseball’s foundation is quite incredible.

Thanks to Michael Thurmon, Trapper Haskins, and all Tennessee “ballists” for that.

© 2014 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.


 
 
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Born in Nashville on September 9, 1892, Dawson “Tiny” Graham had a frame that did not match his nickname. Graham stood 6’ 2” and his playing weight was 185.

The right-hander began his pro baseball career with the Appalachian League’s Cleveland Counts (and then the Morristown Jobbers when the team moved mid-season), hitting .370.[1] He was released by Morristown to the Roanoke Tigers of the Virginia League[2] in 1914 where he hit for a .295 average[3].

A first baseman, Graham was sold to the Cincinnati Reds by the Roanoke club on July 1, 1914. He was released by the Reds late in the season after playing in 25 games and batting .230 on only 14 hits in 61 plate appearances.

By April of 1915 Tiny was competing with Toronto veteran Tim Jordan for the Maple Leafs’ first base job[4]. Under manager Bill Clymer Graham had 146 hits in 506 plate appearances for a .289 average. The next season the Leafs made a managerial change, naming Joe Birmingham to lead the club and Graham increased his hit production to 164 and his batting average to .294.

Graham played for Toronto again in 1917, this time under the tutelage of future Hall of Famer Nap Lajoie, reporting from his home in Nashville “in excellent shape”[5]. However, Graham’s average slipped to .267 and in the spring of 1918 he was released to Chattanooga of the Southern Association.[6]

Hitting at a .275 clip did not please Chattanooga president Sammy “Strang” Nicklin, although Graham had enlisted in the Army on July 31st.  He was discharged on December 3 soon after World War I ended. Reporting in 1919, Graham sat out the beginning of spring training while Nicklin offered him to Texas League and International League teams. However, Graham was allowed to umpire the Lookouts’ first intra-squad game.

Eventually signing with Chattanooga he was unconditionally released mid-season, but was signed on July 12 by the Vols during a July series between Nashville and the Lookouts. First baseman Dick Kauffman had suddenly left the team, deciding he could make more money by playing with a semi-pro team in his home state of Pennsylvania.[7] Manager Roy Ellam immediately filled the void in the Vols’ infield by signing Graham.

His season average was .248 on 86 hits between the two Southern Association clubs.

In his nine seasons in the minors, Graham never hit for a higher average than he achieved during his first season, although in his last year he hit .316 for Oklahoma City. Graham retired from baseball after the 1921 season with a career .291 average.

Upon his death on December 29, 1962 he was buried in Calvary Cemetery in his hometown.[8]

© 2015 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

[1]Baseball-Reference.com. Retrieved June 15, 2013

[2] Sporting Life, January 24, 914

[3] Baseball-reference.com

[4] Sporting Life, April 24, 1915

[5] Sporting Life, April 21, 1917

[6] The Sporting News, March 7, 1918

[7] Nashville Banner July 13, 1919

[8] Ancestry.com. Retrieved December 22, 2014


 
 
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December 22, 1916 – Today is the birthday of J. F. “Junie” McBride, player, coach, and manager in Nashville’s local amateur leagues for over 50 years. President of the Nashville Old Timers Baseball Association from 1966 through 1968, Junie was given the group’s prestigious “Mr. Baseball” award in 1992. The upper floor of the clubhouse at Nashville’s Old Timers Complex at Shelby Park is named the “Junie McBride Hall of Fame Room” in his honor.

December 23, 1953 – Nashville’s own Jim “Junior” Gilliam, second baseman for the Brooklyn Dodgers, wins the National League Rookie of the Year, awarded by The Sporting News.

December 24, 1913 – Today is the birthday of George Jeffcoat, Nashville pitcher from 1939 though 1942 and brother to former Vols player Hal Jeffcoat. With an overall record of 53-38 for Nashville, his best season for the Vols was in 1940 when he was 14-6 with a 3.78 ERA and was second in the league with 121 strikeouts. His greatest accomplishment for Nashville came on September 11, 1940 in a Southern Association playoff game as Jeffcoat struck out seven consecutive Chattanooga batters on his way to tallying a league record eighteen strikeouts

December 25, 1908 – Former major leaguer Ben Chapman is born in Nashville. In his 15-year career he played for the Yankees, Senators, Red Sox, Indians, White Sox, Browns, and Phillies and played every position except first base and catcher. His career major league batting average was .302. A four-time All Star, Chapman led the American League in stolen bases for three consecutive seasons (1931, 1932, and 1933) and again with 35 in 1935 while splitting time with the Senators and the Red Sox. He led the America League in triples with 13 in 1934 while with the Yankees. Chapman became player-manager of the Philadelphia Phillies in 1945 and was known for opposing the presence of Jackie Robinson in the majors due to his race

December 26, 1984 – Johnny Gill passes away in his home town of Nashville. His major league career was short-lived, playing in only 118 games with the Indians, Senators, and Cubs, but his minor league career lasted for 23 years primarily as an outfielder. Known to his teammates as “Patcheye”, Gill’s best seasons were spent with Knoxville, Chattanooga, Baltimore, Minneapolis, and Portland. His last professional season was in 1947 when at the age of 42 he played and managed for Fulton, Kentucky and Clarksville, Tennessee in the KITTY League. Born in Nashville on March 27, 1905, upon his death Gill was buried in Calvary Cemetery in Nashville

December 27, 1920 – Robert “Dutch” McCall is born in Columbia, Tennessee. In his first three seasons in organized ball he was mostly an outfielder, but after signing with the Nashville Vols, manager Larry Gilbert converted McCall to a pitcher. In 1942 and 1943 with Nashville, his combined pitching record was 15-11. But after a 2-year stint in military service, his 1946 season was exceptional. On April 30th, he tied the Southern Association record for strikeouts in a game with 17 and for the season he led the league in strikeouts with 179 as he finished 12-9. McCall earned a call-up to the Chicago Cubs for the 1948 season where he went 4-13 in his only year in the majors, retiring in 1954

December 28, 1906 – Local favorite Tommy Bridges, whose major league career spanned 16 seasons all with the Detroit Tigers, is born in Gordonsville, Tennessee.

© 2014 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

 
 
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Former Atlanta Braves star Dale Murphy will be the featured speaker at the 77thannual Old Timers banquet, scheduled for Thursday, January 22, 2015 at the Nashville Airport Marriott.

With 18 seasons in the Major Leagues including 15 with the Braves, Murphy also suited up for the Philadelphia Phillies and Colorado Rockies. A two-time National League Most Valuable Player in 1982 and 1983, he was a seven-time all-star while winning five Rawlings Gold Gloves and four Silver Slugger Awards.

Murphy was the 1988 recipient of the Roberto Clemente Award, given annually for outstanding service in the community. The Portland, Oregon native finished his career with 2,111 hits and 398 home runs.

Chris Mercado, head coach of the South Nashville team that was one of eight teams to represent the U.S. during the 2014 Little League World Series, will be honored as the Old Timers’ 2015 “Mr. Baseball” selection; long-time coach at Vol State and current South Carolina-Aiken head coach Kenny Thomas will be inducted into the Nashville Amateur Baseball Hall of Fame.

Nashville and Middle Tennessee umpire Ken Norfleet will be inducted into the Umpire Hall of Fame and local amateur MVPs and World Series Champions will be honored.

2015 Scholarship Award recipients will also be recognized. Over $300,000 has been awarded to worthy high school senior baseball players during the past 16 years by the organization.

Banquet tickets are $60 each and may be purchased from any Old Timers board member, or Hit after Hit, the Nashville Sounds at Greer Stadium, and Nashville Sporting Goods. The doors open at 5:30 PM and the banquet begins at 6:30 PM.

Call Old Timers president Bart Leathers (586-0352), Farrell Owens (269-7348), Rip Ryman (319-8459) or visit http://www.otbaseball.com for more information.

Formed in 1938 by a group of local baseball enthusiasts, the Old Timers organization is one of the oldest such organizations in the United States, celebrating its 77th year of existence in 2015.

© 2014 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.