Looking Back: Charlie Dressen Managed In Nashville

By Bill Traughber | June 18, 2012 5:30 AM

Charlie Dressen was a baseball man that began his athletic career in professional football. He was a quarterback/running back for George Halas' Decatur Staleys (forerunner of the Chicago Bears) in 1920 and Racine Legion (1922-23) of the infant NFL.

Dressen was born in Decatur, Ill in 1898, but baseball was his real passion. He began his major league baseball career in 1925 with the Cincinnati Reds. The third baseman played eight seasons in the big leagues with Cincinnati (1925-31) and the New York Giants (1933).

While with the Giants, Dressen played in 16 games near the close of the season as a utility third baseman. When he was called up, Dressen was the player/manager of the Nashville Vols, which had finished their season. New York won the National League pennant and faced Washington in the World Series. Dressen was on the bench and did not make an appearance in "The Fall Classic."

An insight as to the baseball mind of Dressen is described in Nashville legendary sports writer Fred Russell's book Bury Me in an Old Press Box:

"Cocky Charlie, a bantam with unlimited confidence, wouldn't have made it as fast as he did for Bill Terry's selflessness. As 1933 New York Giants' manager, Terry summoned Dressen as a reserve infielder at the tail-end of the season when appendicitis sidelined third baseman Johnny Vergez.

"In the World Series with Washington, the last half of the eleventh inning of the fourth game found the Giants leading 2 to 1 behind Carl Hubbell with the bases full and only one out. Cliff Bolton, hard-hitting catcher, who had played at Chattanooga, came up as a pinch-hitter for Washington. Terry called time, gathered his infield around the pitcher's mound and instructed them to play in on the grass to try to cut the run off at the plate.

"Without being asked, Dressen dashed from the dugout and told Terry: 'You're playing Bolton wrong, Bill. Put your infield back and pitch him high and outside. He hits down on a ball, and he's slow.'

"Hesitantly, Terry changed. Bolton hit a scorching grounder to Blondy Ryan at shortstop to start a double play and the game was over."

After the game, Terry gave full credit to Dressen. The story got out. The Giants won the World Series, four games to one. In Dressen's baseball career he batted .272 in 646 games with 11 home runs and 221 RBIs.

Dressen originally came to Nashville with an unusual offer to Nashville Vols owner Fay Murray. Murray was not pleased with the direction of his Southern Association Vols, who in July 1932, were in fourth place (36-41).

Dressen said, "Mr. Murray, make me the manager of your club, and if it doesn't play better than 50 percent for the rest of the season, you won't have to pay me."

Murray thought it over for about an hour and told Dressen he would take a gamble. Dressen was told to take over the next day. The Vols stayed in fourth place, but finished the season 75-78. Dressen just barley won over 50 percent of his games.

Dressen lost his first game as Vols manager to Memphis, 4-2 in Nashville's Sulphur Dell. Sports writer Blinky Horn of The Tennessean wrote:

"Charlie Dressen took the boys into the club house and gave them a ringing lecture about hustling around. He churned them up like a cheer leader at a pep meeting. The Vols had plenty of dash. But they only had six safeties.

"Charlie Dressen applied new methods to Those Vols last night. He had them attempting to steal second base to get a runner in scoring position but all his strategy went awry. Danny Tapson was tossed out by Berger in the first just after Moose Clabaugh was called out by Jack Quinn. The Moose tried to pilfer the keystone in the third but Stanley Keyes swung vainly at the third strike as he slid into second. Zack Smith who singled in the sixth was thrown out.

"But the Vols had more hustle and more bustle than they had ever displayed heretofore. They merely had the misfortune to be meeting up with the Chicks and Wally Beck. That combination is fatal. Not only to the Vols but plenty of other folks."

Dressen managed the Vols to a 75-69 record in 1933, but the next year during a split season the Vols jumped out to a first place (46-26) lead. Midway in the 1934 season, Dressen was hired to replace the Reds fired manager Robert O' Farrell.

In the 60 remaining games, the Reds were a dismal 21-39, and finished in eighth place. He continued managing the Reds three more seasons in 1935 (68-85), 1936 (74-80), and 1937 (51-78). Dressen was fired late in the 1937 season. The Reds never finished above fifth place with Dressen at the helm.

Dressen was back in Nashville in 1938 for his second stint as the Vols manager. The Vols finished the season in second place (84-66) five games behind Atlanta. Murray was able to secure Dressen's old friend Gilbert who just completed his 15th season as manager of New Orleans. Dressen went back to the major leagues as a coach with Brooklyn (1939-46) and Yankees (1947-48).

Dressen became the Dodgers manager in the historic 1951 season. On August 12, the Dodgers had a commanding 13 ½ game lead over the second place New York Giants. "The Giants is dead," Dressen bragged as he could sense a National League pennant. But the Giants caught fire and won 37 of their final 44 games to close the gap while the Dodgers were losing.

The teams ended the season tied for first place and a two-of-three playoff series was established to determine the league champion. After the first two games, each team had won so the third and deciding game was held at the Polo Grounds. Don Newcombe of the Dodgers faced New York's Sal Maglie. Each pitcher had won 23 games each.

With the game tied 1-1, the Dodgers scored three runs in the eighth inning. Brooklyn took a 4-1 lead into the last half of the ninth inning. Alvin Dark and Don Mueller opened the Giants inning with singles. Monte Irvin fouled out then Whitey Lockman doubled to score Dark.

Ralph Branca came in to relieve Newcombe with runners on second and third. Bobby Thomson was the next batter. Giants' veteran announcer, Russ Hodges described one of the most historic pitcher/batter confrontations in baseball history to radio listeners:

"Bobby Thomson up there swinging...Bobby batting at .292. Branca pitches and Bobby takes a strike call on the inside corner. Lockman without too big of a lead at second but he'll be running like the wind if Bobby hits one.

"Branca throws...there's a long drive...it's gonna be, I believe...the Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant!"

The dramatic home run stunned Dressen and the Dodgers with the sudden 5-4 loss that ended their season.

Dressen's Dodgers did make it to the World Series the next two seasons (1952-53), but lost to the Yankees both years, four games to three and four games to two. Some of Dressen's "Boys of Summer" were Duke Snider, Pee Wee Reese, Roy Campanella, Jackie Robinson, Gil Hodges, Carl Furillo and Bobby Cox.

Fred Russell tells the story of Dressen's departure from Brooklyn after the 1953 season:

"Charlie Dressen told me he thought a mistake in timing cost him the Brooklyn baseball managership when he resigned in 1953 after the Dodgers had extended him a one-year contract. 'It was five-thirty in the afternoon when I sprang it on Walter O' Malley (Brooklyn owner) that I wanted a three-year contract,' Dressen said. "He was just leaving to keep a dinner engagement. It upset him. If I had broached the matter at nine-thirty in the morning, things might have worked out different. That taught me a lesson; a man should handle all his important business before lunch'"

Dressen resigned as the Dodgers manager and spent the 1954 season managing Oakland in the Pacific Coast League. He soon after managed in the major leagues for Washington (1955-57), Milwaukee (1960-61) and Detroit (1963-66). Dressen's career record as a major league manager was 1,008-973-9 (.509).

Dressen died in 1966 while he was the Tigers' skipper. He had a previous heart ailment and was sent to the hospital with a kidney infection. While in the hospital he suffered a massive heart attack.

If you have any comments or suggestions, click here to contact Bill Traughber via email.

This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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