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 managing the classification system’s entire structure.
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 General Manager’s position 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.
Under 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 ones negotiating the deal included 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 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, when Gilbert retired.
Branch Rickey’s successful minor league venture paved the way for all major league clubs to control player development. Nashville’s foundation for successful seasons began with an agreement with the Dodgers who modeled Rickey’s formula.
© 2020 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.