Top 100 Teams
By Bill Weiss & Marshall Wright, Baseball Historians
| 1924 Memphis Chicks|
(photo courtesy of
In 1921, a Southern Association club from Memphis posted an impressive 104-win season, gaining inclusion in the list of the top 100 Minor League teams. Surprisingly, only three years later, another Memphis club accomplished the same feat using an entirely different roster while being spurred by one of the league’s most prolific managers.
When the Southern Association was formed in 1901 out of the remnants of the Southern League, Memphis again was an eager participant. Two years after the league’s formation, a team called the Egyptians won a pair of flags in 1903-04. After a lengthy drought, the 1921 club, now called the Chicks (short for Chickasaws, a local Indian tribe) steamrolled the Southern Association with a 104-49 winner. After a slight dip to second and third the next two years, the Chicks rose like a colossus to club the league once again.
In 1924, the Chicks lost three of their first five games, then won 14 in a row to take over first place, a position they never relinquished for the rest of the season. They went into a brief slump in mid-season, losing six of eight and at one point were only two games ahead of New Orleans, but then pulled away again, winning 57 and losing only 22 the rest of the way. They closed with a flourish, taking 14 of their last 16 games to finish five games in front of an excellent Atlanta club. Memphis had a remarkably stable roster, making only two important changes. On June 25, they traded their fine fielding but light hitting center fielder, Gene Morrison, plus some cash to last place Little Rock for hard-hitting ex-major leaguer Turner Barber. In July, Washington purchased Tommy Taylor, who was batting .339, but in the deal sent third baseman Doc Prothro, who finished the season at .326, plus outfielder Carr Smith. Smith, who went on to hit .298, replaced Dick Wade, a .248 hitter. It turned out to be a break for Taylor who got to play three games in the 1924 World Series for the Senators. That transaction was one of many between Memphis and Washington during that period, although there is no indication they ever had a formal written working agreement.
Memphis’ 104 wins tied the 1921 Chicks’ total for the most victories in the 60-year life of the old Southern Association. They finished second to Atlanta in team hitting, but led the league in hits (1,585), total bases (2,229) and doubles (299) and tied for the lead in triples (102).
Following the season, Memphis was edged by Fort Worth (Texas League) in the Dixie Series, four games to three. After an opening 3-3 game, the Chicks took a two game lead behind a pair of 2-1 wins. Fort Worth took the series after a trio of wins by the scores of 11-3, 7-3 and 14-8. Facing elimination, the Chicks edged the Cats 4-3 to knot the series at three apiece. Memphis went down to defeat when Fort Worth pushed across a run in the eighth inning to take the deciding game, 3-2.
Memphis was managed by 48-year-old Johnny Dobbs, who was second only to Larry Gilbert in Southern Association longevity, 23 years (1907, 1910-31). He won five pennants and finished second six times. Dobbs set the league record for having managed the most teams, seven (Nashville, Chattanooga, Montgomery, New Orleans, Memphis, Birmingham, Atlanta). His teams had a 1,918-1,487, .563 record. Dobbs, a native of Chattanooga, was an outfielder for Cincinnati and Brooklyn from 1901-1905 with a .263 career average. He made his managerial debut with Nashville in 1907. He came to Memphis in 1923 after nine successful seasons in New Orleans where he won championships in 1915 and 1918 and never finished below third place. Birmingham hired him away from the Chicks in 1925 and he won pennants there in 1928-29 before moving on to Atlanta in 1930. In 1931, he unintentionally made a bit of history in the first night game ever played in Atlanta. The Sporting News reported that “Manager Johnny Dobbs of the Atlanta Crackers was suspended for 30 days for striking umpire E.L. Goes in the night game at Atlanta, May 25. (League) President John D. Martin was in the stands at the time of the fight. The heated argument in which Dobbs and Goes were engaged was climaxed by the pilot striking the arbiter. Goes, in defense, struck back, hitting Dobbs in the stomach. Dobbs claimed Goes cursed him after ordering him from the game, causing John to become so indignant he belted the ump in the puss.” That was his last season in the Southern. He became co-owner of the Charlotte club and started the 1933 season as both president and manager of the Hornets. He stepped down as manager in May with a 10-9 record, but continued to operate the club until his death September 9, 1934. His manager in that last year was his old Memphis third baseman, Tommy Taylor.
The Chicks’ best hitter was 23-year-old outfielder Roy Carlyle, a second-year pro from Oglethorpe University, who was second in the league in batting (.368). He led in hits (233), total bases (356), doubles (47), triples (20) and RBI (122). His hit total was a league record, but was broken the next season by Atlanta’s Wilbur Good with 236. Carlyle went up to Washington in 1925 and in the next two years hit .318 in 174 games for the Senators, Red Sox and Yankees. He spent the rest of his career in the minors, ending with a few games in 1934 at Charlotte for Dobbs and Taylor. Carlyle had a minor league career .349 average and never hit below .326 for a full season. He made history while playing for Oakland in the Pacific Coast League. On July 4, 1929, he hit a home run that traveled a record 618 feet over the clubhouse in center field at the Oaks’ Emeryville Park. The blow was off Mission right-hander Ernie Nevers, the former Stanford great who is in both the Professional and College football Halls of Fame. Roy had a younger brother, Cleo Carlyle, also a left-handed hitting outfielder, who played for 16 years, including one for the Red Sox, with a .314 career average. The brothers never played on the same team and only once, in 1929, in the same league, when Cleo was with Hollywood.
| Doc Prothro|
(photo courtesy of
The player who had the greatest impact on Memphis baseball was Doc Prothro, a native of the city. Dr. James Thompson Prothro did not play a game in professional baseball until he was 27, nor a full season until he was 30. Prothro was a graduate of the University of Tennessee Dental School and was a practicing dentist in Dyersburg, TN, in 1920, playing shortstop for the town team. Ex-Washington left-hander Joe Engel, later to become famous as the “Barnum of Baseball” when he operated the Chattanooga Lookouts, was scouting for the Senators. He saw Prothro in a game and was so impressed he sent a telegram to Clark Griffith. Washington signed Doc and he played in six games for the Senators at the end of the 1920 season, batting .385. The next spring they wanted to send him to Reading (International) but he refused to report, returning instead to his dental practice. Washington placed him on the Ineligible List. He was reinstated in 1923 and assigned outright to Memphis, his hometown team. The Senators bought him back in September and he started 1924 with Washington, batting .333 in 46 games before losing his third base job to the better fielding Ossie Bluege. At the end of the season Washington again re-acquired Prothro from the Chicks, but traded him to the Red Sox where he hit .313 in 1925. Except for three games in Cincinnati in 1926, he spent the next two seasons with Portland (PCL). He was appointed manager of Memphis in 1928 and led the Chicks for the next seven years, always in the first division. He won the pennant in 1930 and won one-half of the split season in 1928 and 1933, losing the playoff both times. Memphis lost the 1930 Dixie Series to Fort Worth. In 1935, reportedly at a hefty increase in salary, he moved to Little Rock for four years where he won one pennant, in 1937, but again lost the Dixie Series to Fort Worth. His success in developing players at Little Rock for the parent Boston Red Sox led to his being signed to manage the Philadelphia Phillies. Prothro had never finished last, but at Philadelphia he had three consecutive eighth-place teams, 1939-40-41. Prothro once told The Sporting News, “ I worked for one of the finest men who ever lived (owner Gerry Nugent), but the teams we had were horrible. Every time we came up with a good player, we had to sell him to stay in business. It was a nightmare.” When Nugent sold the Phillies after the 1941 season Prothro returned home to become part owner and manager of the Chicks. They won the first half in 1944, but lost the playoff to Nashville. Prothro retired after the 1947 season. His son, Tommy Prothro, was head football coach at UCLA for many years and coached the NFL Los Angeles Rams in 1971-72.
Taylor, whose only major league service was with Washington in the second half of 1924, returned to Memphis the next season and in 1926 led the Southern Association in batting (.383), RBI (135) and doubles (48). Twelve of his 16 years in pro ball were spent in the Southern Association. He had an excellent .320 career average. The other starting infielders rarely missed a day. Shortstop Bobby LaMotte (.279) played in every game, first baseman Cy Anderson (.271) was in 154 games and second baseman Billy Gleason (.280) in 143. LaMotte, who had played for Washington in 1920-21-22, went back to the majors with the St. Louis Browns in 1925-26 and had a .253 major league average. When the South Atlantic League revived in 1936 he was part owner and general manager at Savannah from 1936-39. Gleason played 40 games for the Pirates (1916-17) and Browns (1921), hitting .220. Anderson never made the majors. Utility infielder Walter Barbare was a major league veteran of eight seasons (1915-22) with the Indians, Pirates, Red Sox and Braves. He was the Braves’ regular shortstop in 1921, batting .302, and had a .260 career average.
Barbare, a Tennessee product, had played nine seasons (1915-23) for Washington, the Chicago Cubs and Brooklyn, batting .289. He was with the Cubs in the 1918 World Series. Dick Wade, who had played for Washington in 1923, was sold to St. Paul when Carr Smith came down from the Senators. Wade was a lifelong resident of Duluth, MN, and Wade Stadium, present home of the Duluth-Superior Dukes in the Northern League, is named in his honor. Two catchers split behind the plate duties. The distinctively named Everett (Yam) Yaryan hit .337 in 93 games, Frank Kohlbecker batted .277 in 91 games. Yaryan, who hit .260 for the White Sox in 1921-22, played 20 years in the minors, batting .315 and hitting 213 homers.
Kohlbecker’s playing career ran from 1916-1931. He was a playing manager at the age of 23, in 1922 at Meridian in the Cotton States League and was drafted at the end of the season by the Cardinals who sent him to Memphis at the end of spring training. After the 1924 campaign, Brooklyn purchased him, but again he was returned to the Chicks during spring training. He was out of baseball, working as a cotton broker in Meridian when he was appointed traveling secretary of the Cleveland Indians in 1936. He added the title of business manager in 1938 and remained with the Indians until he resigned in July, 1946, because of differences with Bill Veeck, who had purchased the club from Frank’s friend, Alva Bradley. Kohlbecker was an aggressive player as demonstrated by two incidents reported by The Sporting News. In 1920, he was catching for Nashville. In one game, Little Rock manager Kid Elberfield was razzing Kohlbecker so much that Frank couldn’t stand it and, rushing to the dugout, he uncorked a right hand punch to Elberfeld’s jaw, knocking the manager over the back of the bench. A few days later, the Kid purchased Frank, saying that was the kind of player he wanted. While with Memphis, Kohlbecker was catching in an exhibition game against Detroit and saw Ty Cobb taking a long lead off third. He called for a pitchout and threw to third, but Ty turned into the throw and the ball bounced off his shoulder. Cobb headed for the plate as the third baseman made a quick recovery and fired the ball to Kohlbecker, who received it just as Ty went into a hook slide. Kohlbecker rolled on his back over the plate and rammed the ball into Cobb’s stomach for the putout.
The Chicks had a pair of veteran 20-game winners, Otto Merz (20-6) and Wallace (Cy) Warmoth (20-11). The 35-year-old Merz, from Red Bud, IL, was in the 15th season of a 21-year pro career in which he had a 249-243 record. He pitched in the high minors for 17 years, but never in a major league game. Warmoth, 30, a native of another southern Illinois hamlet, Bone Gap, was the Chicks only left-hander and led the league in strikeouts (133). Merz and Warmoth had virtually identical ERAs, 3.19 and 3.20. Warmoth had pitched in three games for Pittsburgh in 1916 and had an 8-5, 3.70 record for Washington in 1922-23.
Tom (Shotgun) Rogers won 18 and lost 9 with a 3.46 ERA. Rogers, 29, had pitched for the Browns, Athletics and Yankees from 1917-21 with a 15-30, 3.95 record. On June 19, 1916, while with Nashville, Rogers threw a pitch that struck Mobile third baseman Johnny Dodge in the head, killing him. Three weeks later, on July 11, Rogers pitched a perfect nine-inning 2-0 game against Chattanooga in which Nashville had only one hit.
Walter (Slim) McGrew (15-5) had the team’s best ERA (2.84), sixth in the league. McGrew, 25, was the tallest player in baseball at the time, 6’ 7 ½ “, weighing 235 pounds. He pitched briefly for Washington in 1922-23-24, 0-1, 6.80 in 10 games. 22-year-old Monroe Mitchell, who had pitched for the Senators in 1923 (2-4, 6.48) had a 14-7, 2.90 record, but injured his arm on July 4. The pleasant surprise of the season was the performance of 18-year-old Harry Kelley from Parkin, AR, about 25 miles west of Memphis. Kelley, both starting and relieving, had a 14-7, 2.87 record. He pitched briefly for Washington in 1925-26, then came back to Memphis in 1927 for a 7-½ year stay. He was purchased by the Giants in 1928, but returned to Memphis without appearing in a game. He was traded to Atlanta in 1934. Kelley led the Southern Association in wins in 1933-34-35 with records of 21-13, 23-11 and 23-13. Following the 1935 season he was drafted by the Philadelphia Athletics and in 1936 had an excellent 15-12, 3.87 season as a 30-year-old rookie, tenth in the American League in ERA. He pitched for the Athletics and Senators from 1936-39 with a 41-46 record. Kelley pitched one more year for Memphis, 1943, then closed out his 23-year career the next season with Indianapolis. He won 277 and lost 202 in the minors and had a total of 319 victories in pro ball. Kelley was a five-time 20-game winner in the Southern Association, held the league record for most games pitched (515) and was second in career wins (206).
The Chicks remained in the Southern Association for another 36 years, dropping out after the 1960 season, one year before the demise of the league. During that span of time, Memphis won four flags but only one playoff championship, coming in 1952 from a fourth place team. In 1968, the team joined the Texas League for a six-year stint before moving up to the International League from 1974-76. Two years later, the Chicks joined the new Southern League, remaining until 1997 when they moved up to the expanded Pacific Coast League. Titles acquired during this time included crowns won in the Texas League (1969) and Southern League (1990).
The 1924 Memphis Chicks, emulating their brethren from three years before, put together a powerhouse champion which finished with a .680 winning percentage. In the 60-year history of the league, that total was only topped once.
|1924 Memphis Chicks Standings|
|1924 Memphis Chicks batting statistics|
|Gene Morrison (L. Rock)||OF||142||504||58||128||43||25||18||3||44||69||6||.254|
|Turner Barber (L. Rock)||OF||137||562||102||190||70||28||14||2||38||10||10||.338|
|1924 Memphis Chicks pitching statistics|