Looking Back: Tom Rogers Perfect Game

By Bill Traughber | August 1, 2011 4:30 AM

The Nashville Vols of the old Southern Association had a rich history as a major contributor to the National Pastime. In a three-week period in 1916, one of these Vols' players was involved in two separate incidents, which placed him in the baseball history books. Both were rare for a baseball game with one becoming a career highlight and the other a tragedy.

On July 11, 1916, Vols pitcher, Tom Rogers, hurled a no-hit, no-run, perfect game in Nashville's Sulphur Dell. The right-hander was born in Sparta, Tenn., in 1892, and was known as the "Gallatin Gunner." The previous season he nearly signed a contract with the St. Louis Browns, but they decided he needed more polishing at Nashville.

The Vols were in a battle with the New Orleans Pelicans for the Southern Association pennant, leading the standings by one game, as this historic day began. Vols' skipper, Roy Ellam, was in a pitching dilemma, with his pitching staff shaken up by injuries and poor recent performances. Rogers was placed into the lineup with only two days rest.

The third-place Chattanooga Lookouts were in the Dell on this summer afternoon, seven games behind the league leading Vols. The Lookouts countered with lefthander Jim Allen on the mound. Allen was nearly as effective as he only allowed one hit, two walks and a hit-batter in the game. The game was scoreless and hitless until a breakdown by the Chattanooga defense occurred in the 7th inning.

Vols second baseman, Tommy Sheehan, led off the 7th inning, running out a hit to deep short for the first and only hit of the game for either team. Howard Baker sacrificed Sheehan to second, followed by a fly ball to Lookouts' centerfielder Bob Messenger. Messenger was about to make the catch when Lookout leftfielder Joe Harris, leaped in front of Messenger interfering with the catch. The baseball fell to the ground for an error with runners now on second and third with one out.

Vols first baseman Dick Kauffmann dropped a bunt at Allen, who bobbled the ball scoring Sheehan from third on another error. Williams then concluded the scoring when Art Kores successfully executed a squeeze play. Roy Ellam walked and Gabby Smith popped out to finish the inning.

With two outs in the Lookout ninth, reserve catcher John Peters entered the game to pinch-hit for Allen. Not wanting his team to end the game without a hit, a determined Peters hit a weak fly, which Sheehan caught for a 2-0 win.

Rogers faced 27 batters and retired each for the Vols only perfect game of their history, which began in 1901 and ended in 1963. After the sixth inning the coaches for the Lookouts became so frustrated with Rogers' perfection, they put on a heckling show from the coaches boxes. In an attempt to upset Rogers' composure, the Lookouts began a barrage of distracting catcalls and jeering, but to no avail as Rogers continued to mow them down.

The perfect game was in jeopardy with two smashes by the Lookouts, which resulted in great defensive catches. In the second inning lead-off batter Harris, stroked a bullet to the famous right centerfield "dump." Centerfielder Billy Lee raced toward the ball with the crack of the bat. He dove at the foot of the hill, clutching the ball as he fell forward, burying his face into the grass. The fans stormed to their feet with the exciting catch.

In the seventh, the fans were very much aware of the situation and the tensions were growing with each pitch. The perfect game was almost spoiled until another unbelievable defensive play by the Vols saved the hitless streak. This description appeared in The Tennessean.

To match the stunning performance Gus Williams made a seemingly impossible stab against the colored grand stand in the seventh frame off Jake Pitler. The Chattanooga second-sacker laced a pill on a dead line to left straight as an arrow towards the negro shady stands. Gus was set far towards center, but with a herculean gallop he raced under the streaking ball, snagged it as it neared the stand and crashed into the bleacher fence, swept forward with the momentum of his rapid pace.

The headlines of the newspaper prominently covered the gem with a large photo of Rogers indicating a heroic performance.

Thomas "Shotgun" Rogers climbed yesterday to the proudest pinnacle in the baseball world. The Gallatin Gunner, in the most gallant exhibition of slab work ever unfurled in this section of the more or less United States, reported with that fondly cherished dream of every gent who makes the diamond his habitat--a perfect game. One unmarred by either a run, a hit or a hostile son of swat reaching the initial corner.

In a word, the climax of twirling cunning. Like the steady sweep of a giant blade, the Gallatin Gunner's superb pitching mowed down the twenty-seven hostile Lookouts as rapidly as they came to bat. in rare rotation, without exception, the Elberfeld clan were moved into the morgue in every frame of the matchless performance.

Nothing that remotely resembled a hit could the laboring Lookouts prize from the cunning of the Gunner's whip. Not a bobble did his mates contribute behind him. Not a free pass did he give out. Not a batter did he hit and for nine brilliant and bizarre rounds three Lookouts were retired in the order of their appearance at the plate.

Only twice did a Lookout bid for a safe smash. Joe Harris and Jake Pitler erupted a smash a piece that was ticketed to shatter the dream of Shotgun Rogers. The Brace of the Lookouts larrupers smote the ball with all the fervor of a piledriver. Yet Billy Lee and Gus Williams turned the wallops into deaths with two of the most astonishing catches that have ever been exhibited in any man's ball yard.

Just three weeks earlier, Rogers was involved with one of the rarest tragedies that can occur in professional baseball. A Roger's pitch struck Mobile (Ala.) Gulls' batter Johnny Dodge in the face on June 18, 1916, in Mobile, Ala. He was knocked unconscious and died the next day. Dodge was born in Bolivar, Tenn., and a former Vols' teammate of Rogers the previous season.

The 23-year-old Dodge gained major league experience with the Phillies and the Reds in 1912-13. The infielder's limited ability produced a career .215 average which sent him back into the minors.

The newspaper regrettably reported Dodge's death.

The Great Umpire has called Johnny out. There will be no more "close plays" for the former Vol in that land where all decisions will be in his favor. In the big diamond Johnny is "safe" at last.

Brought down by a cannon-speed ball hurled by Rogers, the Gull third sacker passed away in Mobile at 7:30 o'clock last night after being unconscious since Sunday. When first struck by the terrific drive fired by Tom Rogers, reports indicated that he would be able to recover. Many other ball players have been hit, and many have recovered. But the Great Umpire had marked Johnny Dodge for an "out."

Though his critics had assailed him, there can be nothing now but uniform regret over his untimely end, just when he appeared to have recovered his grip upon himself. Endowed by nature with every attribute for success on the diamond, Johnny Dodge had apparently only coupled his latent faculties with self-mastery. When that juncture was reached his success was assured.

But this spring, when discarded by the Vols, Johnny Dodge blotted out the past and inserted a clean leaf upon which he was rapidly writing good deeds. Humbly, he confessed to a squandering of past opportunities and a determination to make his critics accord him the just praise of his new career.

Dodge had been criticized throughout his career as being indifferent towards baseball and labeled a happy-go-lucky person. He was described as one of the best fielders in the league "when he wanted to be." Dodge's personality attracted friends wherever he played but his attitude and perseverance was always in question. Rogers regretted the incident, but was never blamed.

The newspaper explained the incident.

The position, which Johnny Dodge assumed at the plate and his habit of running out into the diamond to meet a curve before it broke, actually magnified his danger of being struck. He was not a batter who "culled" from the ball, but instead walked into it. It is highly probable that against Tom Rogers, Johnny set for a curve was "crossed" by a fast ball which he met with the full speed of the pitch. For Tom Rogers throws a terrifically fast ball. Yet rarely has he struck any batter.

The Vols won the Southern Association championship in 1916 and Rogers tied for the league lead with 24 wins against 12 losses. Rogers made his major league debut the following season with the St. Louis Browns, appearing in 24 games and starting in eight. He was 3-6 with a 3.89 ERA.

Rogers was sent to the Philadelphia A's during the 1918 season while ending his major league career in 1921 with the Yankees. His major league career record of 15-30 with a 3.95 ERA occurred in 83 games. Rogers also appeared in one game of the 1921 World Series while with the Yankees. Rogers died in Nashville on March 7, 1936.

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

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