Looking Back: Skeeter Barnes Always A Sound

By Bill Traughber / Nashville Baseball Historian / Nashville Sounds | August 18, 2014 9:30 AM

In the 37 years that the Sounds have been playing baseball in Nashville, there have been two jersey numbers retired. One was Don Mattingly (1981) and Skeeter Barnes (1979, 88-90). Mattingly wore No. 18 while Barnes donned No. 00 in his second stint with the Sounds.

"I know I did a lot of things there," Barnes said recently. "One of those years the team was Double-A, but I guess they combined all the numbers whether it was Double-A or Triple-A. I never had my number retired in anything not even at my high school. I didn't wear that number in my first year in Nashville. I thought saying nothing to nothing means nothing so double 00's here we go.

"I was grateful that people appreciated the way I played in Nashville. That's the one thing I always prided myself. I've always played hard wherever I played. Maybe not always good, but I've always given 100% and people really appreciated that."

Barnes, 57, was born in Cincinnati, Ohio with the name William Henry Barnes graduating from Woodward High in 1975 and attended the University of Cincinnati. As for the name "Skeeter" said Barnes, "that is something my mom gave me at birth. It doesn't really mean anything. They just started calling me Skeeter as a newborn and it just kind of stuck."

The Reds in the 16th round of the 1978 Major League draft selected him. Barnes was sent to Billings in the Pioneer League for rookies for the remainder of that year. In Billings, Barnes batted .368 in 68 games and was selected to the All-Star team. He was sent to the Reds Double-A affiliate in Nashville the next season.

Nashville had revived baseball in 1978 with a new Herschel Greer Stadium and was members of the Southern League. There was a great excitement for Nashville baseball fans as the professional sport returned to the city since the demise of the Nashville Vols in 1963.

"Nashville was a very easy place to play," said Barnes. "A lot of that had to do with Larry Schmittou. I think when it comes to minor league general managers or owners have to do a good job. Larry was way ahead of his time as far as knowing how to put people into seats. And to make sure there was a competitive team.

"I hear a lot of the kids I work with today talk about how it's hard to play with nobody in the stands. That's always an excuse, but I know in Nashville you had sellout crowds. The outfield was roped off to accommodate more fans. You couldn't wait to get to the ballpark. A lot of that had to do with Larry Schmittou and his family."

The Sounds manager at this time was George Scherger a baseball veteran playing 14 seasons in the Dodgers minor league system with 10 of those years being a player/manager. He managed in the minor leagues from 1947 until 1969 where he joined the Reds coaching staff in 1970.

"George Scherger was very instrumental in my development," said Barnes. "I owe a lot to the Reds. When I was coming up at the time they didn't skimp on player development. I really learned how to play the game in the Reds system. I have to give the Reds kudos for that. I couldn't say enough about George. The good thing that I liked I went from rookie ball to Double-A and I was in there with some older players.

"Those first two weeks in that league I was calling home telling my dad they were throwing breaking balls. After awhile I got the hang of it. I settled in. Having so much thrown at you especially in the first full year where normal guys would probably have played another year of A-ball. I was having a lot thrown at me. George Scherger was on me. He was hard, but he was fair. I had a lot to learn in a short period of time.

"I thank God that I was there because when I look at all the Single A-teams that I cover now there is a lot of silly immature stuff that goes on. I went from rookie ball to Double-A and I'm thrown in there with guys that had been in Double-A a year or two or maybe in Triple-A. They just didn't go for a lot of shenanigans. I had a group of guys that when I did something wrong they'd let me know."

With Barnes playing third base and in the outfield, the Sounds would be involved with a championship. Nashville defeated Memphis two games to one in the first round of the playoffs of the Western Division. They would win the Southern League crown by whipping Columbus three games to one.

"We won the championship in rookie ball and now I am in my second year in pro ball and won another championship," said Barnes. "We had a slew of guys from that team that made it to the big leagues. It didn't surprise me that we won the championship now that I look back. Guys like Eddie Milner, Paul Householder, Duane Walker, Scotty Brown, Dave van Gorder and Rafael Santo Domingo.

"Gene Menees and Rick Duncan did not make it to the big leagues, but Gene was very instrumental in us winning the championship. To this day I still can't believe that Gene didn't make it to the big leagues. He was about as fundamentally sound as a second baseman you could ask for. Playing with these guys helped me in my development."

Barnes played in145 games batting .266 (133-for-500) with 12 home runs, 77 RBIs, 19 doubles and four triples in Nashville. In 1980, the Yankees became the Sounds next major league affiliate through 1984 followed by Detroit (1985-86).

Barnes made his major league debut in September 1983 with the Reds. In 15 games he batted .206 (7-for-34). Barnes played mostly for minor league teams thereafter, but did appear in 19 games for Montreal (1985) and four games in St. Louis (1987). The Reds returned to Nashville as an affiliate in 1987 as a Triple-A club in the American Association. Barnes also came back to Nashville as property of the Reds in 1988.

Was Barnes disappointed about being back in Nashville and another minor league team?

"Wherever I played, I played as hard as I could," said Barnes. "The game is not always fair. It would have been great to get 10 years in the big leagues, but I didn't. I've never been a guy like that. You have to fall into the right situation like I did in Detroit in '91. I always felt I had a chance to get to the big leagues. That is one of the reasons I kept playing."

The Sounds managerial situation was strange in 1988. Jack Lind began the season as the Sounds skipper, but left the club due to health reasons. Pitching coach Wayne Garland filled in as an interim until Scherger returned as manager. Scherger retired after one game. Jim Hoff replaced Scherger, but departed for a Reds' front office position. Former Texas manager Frank Lucchesi was brought in to finish the season.

"Frank kept me on his team when he probably could have said, 'oh, he is an older guy we don't need him here,'" said Barnes. "But he knew that I would play hard and show the younger kids how to play the game. Frank didn't have to have me on his team. He wanted me on his team. Being an older guy I prided in taking care of myself; staying in shape. And as an older guy I stood out in the league. If you are an older guy and you don't stand out there's no reason for them to keep you around. I always felt I could get back to the big leagues and I always stood out when I played."

In his first of three seasons in Nashville in 1988, Barnes appeared in 101 games batting .259 (85-for-328) with four home runs and 34 RBIs. In 1989 as a Sound, he led the American Association with 39 doubles to earn a spot on the postseason All-Star team. That season he batted .303 (143-for-472) with six home runs and 55 RBIs.

In the 1990 Nashville Sounds Souvenir Program, Buster Olney, Vanderbilt graduate, former Sounds beat writer for the Nashville Banner and current ESPN baseball analyst wrote:

"When a rival team arrives at Greer Stadium for the beginning of a series, they usually have to cross the field in the middle of the Nashville Sounds' batting practice. These are moments of great tension. Competing athletes, some welding bats, all confine in a small part of a minor league ball park. A dangerous situation. Eye contact is made, the opponents draw close, and then…

"Skeeter! What's going on?"


"The Skeet man!"

"It sometimes seems that every player who comes through Nashville has played with or against Skeeter Barnes. After all, Barnes has logged 12 seasons in baseball bumping through Billings and Montreal and Waterbury and Portland, and at age 33, will play his third straight year for the Nashville Sounds this summer.

"If he finishes a full season in the Music City, Barnes could set club career records in games played, at-bats, hits, doubles and runs batted in."

In 1990, Barnes led the American Association with 156 hits (batted .285) and ranked among the leaders with 83 runs scored collecting 34 stolen bases. The Sounds made it to the American Association championship series losing to Omaha 3-2.

At age 34, Barnes made it back to the major leagues with Detroit the next year playing his most productive years at that level. After batting .330 in 1991 at the Tigers Triple-A farm club in Toledo, Barnes was called up to the Tigers where he'd stay until1994. Barnes played several positions used primarily as a utility man, which made him a valuable asset to the club. Tigers' fans sometimes called him "Crash Davis" the fictional character from the movie "Bull Durham." Davis spent most of his career in the minor leagues.

Schmittou was an owner and president of the Sounds for 19 years (1978-96). A few years ago in an interview, Schmittou was asked, "who is your favorite Nashville Sounds' player of all-time?"

"Skeeter Barnes," Schmittou said without hesitation. "The reason Skeeter is my favorite is he's the one no matter whatever had happened to him, he still worked the hardest. He had that cheerful face on him. Skeeter first came to us in 1979. He was always the first person out who was cheerful and inspiring other people. He would play any position you asked him. His attitude is what made him one of my favorites. Skeeter wasn't the best player, but he worked harder than anybody I saw coming through there."

Barnes saw playing time in these minor league cities including more than one stint in some cities: Billings, Nashville, Waterbury, Indianapolis, Wichita, Denver, Jacksonville, Portland, Louisville, Buffalo and Toledo.

Playing for the Tigers, Barnes batted .289 (1991), .273 (1992), .281 (1993) and .286 (1994). During all or parts of nine seasons in the major leagues Barnes played in 353 games, batted .259 (159-for-614) with 14 home runs and 83 RBIs. In the minor leagues he batted .296 (1,773-for-5, 985) with 121 home runs and 900 RBIs in 1,633 games in 15 seasons.

Barnes ranks as one of the all-time fan favorites at Greer Stadium and currently stands as the Sounds career leader in hits (517), doubles (94), at-bats (1, 898), and games played (514). He ranks in the top three in every major offensive category on the Sounds career leader board. In four seasons as a Sound, Barnes batted .280 with 29 home runs and 232 RBIs.

In the early 1990's the Sounds commissioned a miniature statue of Barnes as a fans' giveaway at Greer Stadium. Barnes is posed as a left-handed batter though he actually bats and throws right-handed. A photo of Barnes batting left-handed was used as a model for the stautue. It was learned later that photo was of Barnes "playing" around poising as a left-handed batter.

After retiring as a player after the 1994 season, he remained in the game as a minor league manager and coach. In 2013, Barnes is the Minor League Outfield and Base Running Coordinator for the Tampa Bay Rays. He is in his 11th season in the Tampa Bay organization (seventh in his current position).

Some baseball players are said to be "in between" players. That is a player that is solid in Triple-A, but struggles at the major league level.

"I was a Four-A player," said Barnes. "You are always hoping for that chance in the right situation on a big league team. That's what happened with Sparky [Anderson-Detroit manager]. I get there in 1991 and fit right in playing the same way for the last five years. And they'd say where have you been the last five years. I'd say I've been in Nashville. I've been here. I've been there. Its just the matter of finding the right fit."

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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