Bob Allen’s Short-lived Control of the Vols

On January 20, 1931, Bob Allen and his son R. G. Allen, Jr. acquired ownership of the Nashville baseball club by outbidding two others interested in obtaining the team. Allen, who had disposed of ownership in his Little Rock franchise two weeks earlier, planned to move to Nashville as soon as possible.

“This will be my home hereafter,” he told Nashville Tennessean sportswriter Blinkey Horn. “I not only intend to move here, but I have every hope that I will be able to give Nashville a winning club, something I have not been able to do in Little Rock lately through no fault of my own.”

Allen paid $25,000 cash to obtain control of the Vols, with installments of $12,500 on August 1 and February 1, 1933, until the entire amount paid him to Caldwell & Co. was received. Horn understood that claims against the ballclub stood at around $125,000.

Fay Murray, a cattleman who resided in Nashville and was part owner of the Minneapolis club in the American Association, was outbid by Allen but would assume control only a short time later. Murray would entice Larry Gilbert to leave the New Orleans Pelicans to become Nashville manager beginning with the 1939 season.

Jack Whaley, president and business manager of J H. Baird Publishig, publisher of Southern Lumberman magazine, was the other bidder. His and Murray’s bids were oral, while Allen sealed his bid. Allen was declared the highest bidder after agreeing to assume the debt on Nashville’s ballpark, Sulphur Dell.

Allen had been a major league player for parts of seven seasons with the Philadelphia Phillies, the Boston Beaneaters, and Cincinnati Reds between 1890 and 1900. A native of Marion, Ohio, he played baseball growing up with future United States President Warren G. Harding and was the Phillies starting shortstop from 1890 to 1894. After the Phillies did not renew his contract, he left the majors for three years, but came back in 1897 to play for Boston. Used mostly in reserve, he retired after the end of the season but later managed the Reds, and appeared in five games for them in the 1900 season.

His purchase of Nashville was not his first ownership of a ball club. He bought the last-place Montgomery Billikens after the 1914 season, moved them to Little Rock, and spent part of 1915 managing the club. With Kid Eberfield as field manager, the Travelers won the Southern Association pennant in 1920 with an 88-59 record, finishing 2 ½ games ahead of New Orleans.

According to Derby Gisclair, author of The Dixie Series, Allen ignored the decision by Southern Association directors to ban participation in a new inter-league, post-season series. He matched his club against the Fort Worth Panthers of the Texas League and since he did not receive the blessing of the Southern Association moguls, he announced his team would only be known as “Little Rock,” dropping “Travelers” for the games.

Fort Worth won the series, four games to one, with one tie game. It was the inaugural series that lasted through 1958 except for 1943-1945 due to World War II, according to Gisclair.

The Allens did not last long in Nashville, as Fay Murray purchased the Vols on June 20. Horn claimed the Allens had been in over their head.

“All the taxpayers know Those Vols are out of the race. But they are rejoicing. Because Those Vols are out of the clutches of the Allens – folks who in (are in a) new era and in a big town employed methods which win approval only in rural settlements.”

The 1931 Vols fared miserably on the field, finishing last while winning 51 games while losing 102 under Joe Klugman. Murray had brought in his hand-picked leader, Jimmy Hamilton, as general manager, who selected Charles Dressen on July 7, 1932.

Murray’s impact on Nashville baseball was beginning. Bob Allen purchased the Knoxville Smokies in December of 1931, but under his ownership, never won a Southern Association championship.


Gisclair, Derby, The Dixie Series (2023; Derby Gisclair)

Knoxville Journal

Nashville Banner

Nashville Tennessean

Note: The author referred to Chris Rainey’s excellent biography of Allen, published by SABR (Society for American Baseball Research as part of the SABR Bio-Project may be found at; accessed January 19, 2024.

© 2024 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

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