Death On The Diamond, Circa 1916


My unasked-for investigations into the history of Nashville baseball continue today, as part of Narratively's baseball week. Researching that long piece I wrote for the Classical about Greer Stadium, I came upon the story of a man who, in 1916, killed a former roommate with a fastball, and three weeks later did something remarkable. I was originally going to shoehorn it into the piece for the Classical , but decided it would work better as a standalone. I'm glad I did, because I think it turned out well. Behold!

They called him "Shotgun" Rogers. In 1916 Nashville Vols pitcher Tom Rogers earned that nickname with a fastball that called a cannon to mind, and what, in the sports-writing parlance of the day, might have been called "sterling displays of boxwork." He won 24 games for the minor league club that year, and led the team to the Southern Association championship. In an era before television, before radio, when small towns saw big leaguers only during rare off-season barnstorming trips, these independent clubs were the only game in town. In Davidson County, Rogers was a hero, a country boy made good in the big city. But on June 18, 1916, Shotgun Rogers, aka the Gallatin Gunner, earned his deadly nickname a second time around.
Pitching in Mobile against the Sea Gulls, Rogers launched one of his famous fastballs at Johnny Dodge, a smooth-handed third baseman who had played in Nashville the year before. A happy-go-lucky type sometimes criticized for a lack of commitment to the game, Dodge had—according to the Tennessean's Blinkey Horn—"recently coupled his latent faculties with self mastery."
The Nashville Vols in 1916 (Photo courtesy Skip Nipper)
"When that juncture was reached," wrote Horn, "his success was assured."
But Dodge also had a nasty habit of "running out into the diamond to meet a curve before it broke"—an unorthodox bit of the gamesmanship that has long since disappeared from the sport. That day in Mobile, Dodge ran to meet Rogers' pitch, but the ball did not curve. At "cannon-speed," it sailed into Dodge's face, and "knocked him to the ground like a log." A "hasty examination" suggested he would recover. He didn't, dying of a brain hemorrhage after passing out in the clubhouse showers.
Contemporary accounts tell us nothing about Rogers' reaction. In those days, ballplayers’ private lives were private, in victory and in tragedy. Rogers is not quoted in the newspaper accounts of Dodge's death, and there is no way to really know how the on-field catastrophe affected him. But the newspapers do record that, three weeks after his fastball killed Johnny Dodge, Shotgun Rogers threw a perfect game.

 Read on, read on, read on. It gets pretty ridiculous towards the end—there's Kierkegaard and whatnot!—but I think you'll enjoy. And thanks very much to Skip Nipper, maintainer of Sulphur Dell history, whose Baseball In Nashville  is a definitive work.