1961 Chattanooga Lookouts Remembered

Chattanoogan.com
June 1, 2011
by B.B. Branton

It was a special baseball summer in 1961 as the Chattanooga Lookouts brought a Southern Association pennant to Engel Stadium.

Manager Frank Lucchesi and the youthful Lookouts – 11 regulars were 25 or younger – brought fun and wins to town, hall of fame announcer Gus Chamberlain kept everyone informed with his broadcasts on WAPO and more than 100,000 fans filed through the turnstiles at Engel in a complete turnaround from a last place finish in 1960.

In a thrilling final weekend of the ’61 season – the curtain call for the 60-year-old, eight team Southern Association (1901-1961) – Chattanooga overtook the Birmingham Barons and won the pennant by one game with heroes named John Boozer, John Herrnstein, Cal Emery, Norm Gigon, Al Neiger, Lee Elia and Wayne Graham.

Two Seasons, Two Results: While the Philadelphia Phillies AA club in the Scenic City floundered in last place in 1960, Lucchesi, Herrnstein, Boozer, Graham and company led the Phillies’ A Club, the Williamsport Grays, to the Eastern League title.

Fifty Years Later at Rickwood Field: Today, June 1, 2011 – the Lookouts and the host Barons – will turn back the clock to re-create a snap shot of the 1961 season as the two clubs will don early 1960s vintage uniforms and meet at 1:30 p.m. EDT at old Rickwood Field.

Known as the Rickwood Classic, the current Birmingham club, which plays all other home games at nearby Regions Park, hosts one game a season at Rickwood Field, the oldest active baseball park the country.

Today’s game is the 16th Classic and the third appearance by the Chattanooga club which lost in 1997 and 2002. The Barons hold an 8-7 Classic work sheet.

More than a turn-back-the clock contest, the Barons and Friends of Rickwood will be hosting a sports memorabilia auction at Rickwood Field to benefit the Alabama Tornado Recovery Fund led by the Community Foundation of Greater Birmingham.

The auction will include a set of 12 autographed baseballs from the 1977-78 New York Yankees, 1955 and 1961 Barons programs, signed baseballs and photographs and vintage bats and gloves. Hall of fame pitcher Gaylord Perry will also be in attendance to sign autographs.

The Lookouts were a talented group 50 years ago as Herrnstein was a two-sport athlete at Michigan, Al Neiger was an All-American pitcher at Delaware and Emery was the most valuable player in the 1957 College World Series as he led Penn State to a second place finish behind champion California.

Lookouts All-Star third baseman Wayne Graham, who played collegiate ball at the U. of Texas, has made his name as a college baseball coach now in his 20th year as head coach at Rice.

He guided the Owls to the 2003 NCAA championship after leading San Jacinto Junior College to the NJCAA national title five times (1985-86-87-89-90).

Chattanooga overcame its share of injuries – pitcher Dennis Bennett (broken leg), Fred Van Dusen (hepatitis) – and roster changes – Warren Hacker was 8-1 when sold to the Chicago White Sox – to win its fourth title since 1932.

June 1, 1961 - Southern Association

Chattanooga Lookouts    33    20    --
Birmingham Barons    31    20    1
Atlanta Crackers    28    20    2.5
Little Rock Travelers    30    23    3

Today’s standings in the Southern League has Chattanooga eight games back of first place Tennessee in the North Division, while in the South Division, Birmingham is a half game back of Jacksonville and Mobile.

On the morning of June 1, 1961, the Lookouts were 33-20 and one game ahead of the second place Barons at 31-20.

But the Lookouts lost the services of 36-year-old Hacker to the White Sox. Yet the purchase of Jake Striker from San Diego the same day proved to be worth every penny as he posted a solid 8-3 worksheet the final three months of the season.

Fast forward to early August, as the Barons came to Engel Stadium down 2.5 games, swept the four-game series (won the season series, 15-7) and left town on the evening of Aug. 10 one with a one-and half game lead.

The Barons had single game wins of 7-6 (Aug. 7) to trail by 1.5, then 5-1 (Aug. 8) to move within a half game and then swept an Aug. 10 doubleheader (8-2, 2-0) to leave town up 1.5 games and in first place for the first time since July 24.

Aug. 17, 1961 - Southern Association

Birmingham Barons    77    55    --
Chattanooga Lookouts    74    57    2.5

On the morning of Aug. 17, the Barons (77-55) led by 2.5 games, but the Lookouts (74-57) were on the verge of a run to the title.

From Aug. 17 to Aug. 29, the Lookouts were 11-4, including seven wins in a row, while the Barons were 10-5 and led by a game and a half.

Final Home Stand: The Lookouts won eight of nine in their last home stand (Aug. 24-29; which included three doubleheaders) and went well past 100,000 for the season.

Fri. Sept. 1, 1961 - Southern Association

Birmingham Barons    87    60    --
Chattanooga Lookouts    86    61    1

The Last Weekend: On the morning of Fri. Sept. 1 the Looks trailed by one and would play five in Shreveport over Labor Day Weekend, while the Barons were at Rickwood Field hosting the fifth place Macon Peaches.

A similar scenario was being played out in the American League as the first place (by 1.5 games) New York Yankees hosted second place Detroit Tigers for a key three-game series in the two-team race as Baltimore was 10.5 games back in third.

American League

New York Yankees    87    45    --
Detroit Tigers    86    47    1.5

Sept. 1 - Chattanooga and the Barons both won on Friday as the Lookouts’ Striker improved to 8-3 and third baseman Wayne Graham had a double and triple, scored twice with one RBI.

Sept. 2 - But while the Lookouts swept a road twin bill on Saturday, the Barons lost two games at home, and more importantly their 22-day hold on first place.

Graham’s hot bat was key to the sweep as he was 2 for 4 with an RBI in the 4-1 first game win and was 3 for 4 with two home runs and three RBIs and scored three times in the 11-2 nightcap victory.

First Game: Ron Mrozinski (7-4) had a complete game win, while Elia, Herrnstein and Reimer also had hits.

Second Game: Bob Milo (12-7) also tossed a complete game win, while Elia (2 for 4, 4 RBIs), .Cal Emery (3 for 5, 1 RBI) and Herrnstein (2 for 4) in the 13-hit attack.

In Birmingham, former Lookout Hal Griggs (9-2) stymied the Barons, 6-2, on six hits. In the opener of a Macon sweep as the Peaches won the nightcap, 2-1.

In New York, the Yanks swept three from the Tigers, Maris hit home runs 52 and 53 on that Saturday on the way to a record 61 round trippers, and by Sunday night, the Bronx Bombers lead was 4.5 and the beginning of the end for the Tigers.

The Yanks won 13 straight from Sept. 1-12, while the Tigers were 2-9, including eight straight losses. On the morning of Sept. 13, The Bronx Bombers’ lead was 11.5 and they never looked back.

Back to the Southern League pennant race on that Sunday, the combination of a Chattanooga win and Barons loss gave the Lookouts their fourth pennant.

Sept. 3 - The Lookouts clinched the pennant in dramatic fashion, 8-4, with a 5-run 10th. Emery his a two-run homer in the visitors’ eighth to tie the game at 3-3, while Herrnstein’s 19th season round tripper highlighted the 10th inning outburst. Don Erickson (6-4) won in relief. In Birmingham, Macon topped the Barons and the Lookouts had their title.

Chattanooga lost on Monday in the season finale and the Barons won, but it was too little too late as the Lookouts won by one.

“Frank Lucchesi was a player’s manager as he really knew how to get us to play together,” said Herrnstein. “He was a fiery guy, but a good manager and I was fortunate to play for him on pennant winning teams in Williamsport (Pa.), Chattanooga and Little Rock.”

Season Stats: As a team, the Lookouts were third in the league in both hitting (.275, two points behind the leader) and hits (141) and first in triples (57). The mound corps had the best earned run average (3.60) and gave up the fewest runs (624).

Ohio State or Michigan: Herrnstein’s dad and great uncle (Albert Herrnstein) had played football at Michigan, but the Wolverines had not expressed any interest in John until his dad (William Herrnstein) sent a note to then Michigan coach Bennie Oosterbaan who had been a teammate of John’s dad in the 1920s.

“Ohio State offered my a full scholarship, but I took a half academic scholarship (later increased to a full academic scholarship) to go to Michigan,” said Herrnstein who was first team all-state in baseball and football and second team all-state in basketball at Chillicothe (Ohio) High School.

“Ohio State coach Woody Hayes played only 11-12 guys a game and I wasn’t sure I would get to play much in that system so I went to Michigan.”

Herrnstein’s full scholarship offer came from Ohio State booster and Pittsburgh Pirates owner John Galbreath which was legal in the 1950s.

“I do wonder how my career would have turned out if I had taken the scholarship from the Pirates owner,” he stated.

1961 Chattanooga All-Stars: Norm Gigon, John Herrnstein, Wayne Graham, Al Neiger and Jerry Reimer

How They Arrived in Chattanooga … In 1960, Frank Lucchesi managed the Williamsport Grays to the Eastern League (A) title ... He along with John Herrnstein, John Boozer and Norm Gigon came to Chattanooga in the spring of 1961 … veteran pitcher Warren Hacker (Buffalo) and first baseman Cal Emery (Indianapolis) arrived from Triple-A … Hacker was 8-1 in a Lookouts uniform and then purchased by the White Sox on June 1 … Lookouts bought Jake Striker from San Diego on the same day ... Catcher Bob Lipski and outfielder Gerry Reimer moved up from the B League in Des Moines … Wayne Graham split 1960 in Chattanooga and Buffao (AAA) … Ron Mrozinksi (7-4) came from rival Birmingham.

Where They Went: Lucchesi went back to Williamsport for 1962 (Lucchesi had a pretty fair 20-year-old named Dick Allen) and then to the Triple-A Little Rock team (with Allen) in 1963 and won a pennant that summer with several ’61 Lookouts … … Boozer, Elia, Emery, Gigon Graham, Herrnstein and Lipski all were in Little Rock in ’63 … all played in the majors ... Neiger went to Dallas-Fort Worth for 1962 and back with the Lookouts in ’63.

1961 Southern Association (Final Standings)

Chattanooga Lookouts    90    62    --
Birmingham Barons    89    63    1
Little Rock Travelers    80    73    10.5
Atlanta Crackers    77    74    12.5
Macon Peaches    75    79    16
Nashville Volunteers    69    83    21
Shreveport Sports    69    84    21.5
Mobile Bears    61    92    29.5

1961 Chattanooga Lookouts (some of the cast of characters)

John Boozer – Pitcher … Age: 22 … Wofford College … Southern Assoc. Rookie of the Year … 19-9, 2.61 ERA … played seven seasons with the Phillies

Lee Elia – Outfield … Age: 23 … Univ. of Delaware … batted 266 with 139
played college ball with Al Neiger … arrived in Chattanooga in time for ’61 opener on April 11

Cal Emery – 1B … Age: 24 … Penn State … MVP of College World Series as Nittany Lions finished second to California … career best 26 home runs in’61 … batted .292 with 94 RBIs … played part of the 1963 season with the Phillies.

Norm Gigon … 2B … Age: 23 … Colby College … career highs in hits (165) and batting average (.306) plus 28 doubles … was on pennant winners with Lucchesi, Herrnstein, and Williamsport (’60), Chattanooga (’61) and Little Rock (’63) … played 39 games with the Chicago Cubs in 1967.

Wayne Graham – 3B … Age: 25 … Univ. of Texas … ’61 All-Star with career bests in batting average (.331) and hits (199) … with Chattanooga and Buffalo in 1960 … is in his 20th season as head coach at Rice University .. led the Owls to the 2003 NCAA championship.

John Herrnstein – Outfield … Age: 23 … U.of Michigan … captain of 1958 Michigan football squad ... runner-up to John Boozer in Rookie of the Year voting … ’61 All-Star … .292 average, 17 home runs and 95 RBIs … played major league-high of 125 games with Phils in ’64 with 6 HRs and 25 RBIs.

Bob Lipski – Catcher … Age: 22 … batted .268 in 109 games ... signed at age 18 by the Phils …

Andy Madalone – Shortstop … Age: 24 … batted .254 in 57 games … came to Chattanooga from Macon midway through ’61 …

Bob Milo – Pitcher … Age: 26 … 12-7 … 3.79 ERA … was 13-9 for the ’60 Lookouts … led Class D PONY League in wins (20-9) in 1956 while playing for Olean (N.Y.) Oilers.

Ron Mrozinski – Pitcher … Age: 30 … 7-4 and was winning pitcher in pennant-clinching win against Shreveport on Sept. 3 … pitched for the Phillies in the mid-1950s

Al Neiger – Pitcher … Age¨22 … All-American at Delaware … 11-9 with 3.17 ERA … was 13-10 with the ’63 Lookouts.

Gerry Reimer – Outfield … Age: 23 … batted .323 with 171 hits in ’61 … minor league career average of .304 …

Jake Striker – Pitcher … Age: 27 … 8-3 in ’61 … best season was 17-11 at Mobile in 1958.

contact B.B. Branton at william.branton@comcast.net

Article courtesy of Chattanoogan.com: http://chattanoogan.com/articles/article_202504.asp

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