Looking Back: Vols' Averill Involved in 1955 Rhubarb

By Bill Traughber / Baseball Historian / Nashville Sounds | August 5, 2013 5:30 AM ET

On August 20, 1955 the Nashville Vols were playing a night game in Chattanooga's historic Engel Stadium. During one inning a fight broke out with a Vol arrested and jailed for his actions.

The Tennessean reported:

"Fists, bats and verbal blasts flew fast and furious last night at Engel Stadium as the host Chattanooga Lookouts whipped the Nashville Vols, 12 to 5 in a game that saw one player sent to a hospital and another rushed to jail. Lyle Luttrell, Lookout shortstop, suffered a broken jaw and a slight brain concussion after being knocked out with a right cross thrown by Earl Averill, Vol catcher, during a big rhubarb in the fifth inning.

"Luttrell was slugged after slinging his bat at Nashville pitcher Jerry Lane. The incident came after the shortstop was hit on the thigh by a pitch. As soon as the bat was turned loose, Averill popped Luttrell on the jaw, knocking him unconscious and provoking a general free-for-all that saw players on both sides exchanging blows for several minutes.

"Police Chief Ed Ricketts, of Chattanooga, watching the game from the roof of Engel Stadium, immediately ordered officers, who rushed on the field to quiet the melee, to arrest Averill on a charge of assault and battery-something that seldom happens in baseball.

"Averill was allowed to change from his baseball uniform into civilian clothes before being taken to jail, where he was held for about an hour until bond of $500 was posted. Money for the bond was advanced by the Hotel Patten to Trainer Chuck Swope, of the Vols. Averill returned to Nashville with his teammates last night but whether he will be allowed to play against Mobil today depends on league President Charlie Hurth who certainly will take some punitive action, either in the form of a fine or a suspension.

"Either Averill or a representative for him must appear in Chattanooga municipal court tomorrow morning before Judge Riley Graham to answer the charges. It is probable that a delay in the hearing will be required until after the baseball season has ended, two weeks from tomorrow."

The paper also reported that Luttrell's right jaw was broken in the incident. Luttrell had recently rejoined the Lookout's lineup after being hit in the right jaw on a pitch in May. The new break almost occurred in the same spot. After his release from jail, Averill spoke to a Chattanooga Times reporter.

"I'm sorry it happened," said Averill. "I signaled to Lane for three straight sliders while he was pitching to Luttrell. The first one was a fastball, but the other two were sliders. On each pitch Luttrell edged forward in the box, stepping into the pitch. I told him he shouldn't do it that Jerry didn't let any hitter get away with that. Lane also warned him from the mound to quit stepping into his pitches.

"Then with the count three balls and no strikes, a pitch brushed his pants and he threw the bat. I lost my temper and hit him."

Also reported that Lookouts owner Charles Engel was so upset over the incident that he would not aid Nashville officials he securing an attorney for Averill. Engel also said he was sending the hospital and physician's bill to the Nashville Vols. The Vols did secure former Vanderbilt All-American quarterback Bill Spears to represent Averill in court. Spears was an attorney residing in Chattanooga.

The next day, sports writer Raymond Johnson of the Tennessean wrote:

"Earl Averill, Vol catcher, who lost his head in Chattanooga Saturday night, is not apt to get as lightly as the last Nashville player who broke another's jaw in a fight. He was Pete Elko, a wartime third baseman, and his victim was Saul Rogovin, who then was Chattanooga's third baseman. Elko escaped without fine or suspension. But the only reason Billy Evans, then president of the Southern League, didn't penalize the Vol is that no one was certain at the time who delivered the blow that floored Rogovin, now a Philadelphia pitcher.

"That fight, which took place on the night of July 28, 1944 in Sulphur Dell, resulted from Charley (Greek) George, playing right field in that game, throwing a hand full of dirt at Chattanooga pitcher Oliverio Ortiz after Ortiz had knocked George to the ground in tagging him coming into third base.

"Rogovin was arguing with Umpire Paul Blackard near second base when George attempted to go to third after being caught in a chase. When he saw George throw dirt toward Ortiz, he charged the Greek. And Elko delivered a short right that stretched Rogovin on the ground with a broken jaw."

The umpire put out of that 1944 game both George and Rogovin. Both players were suspended for three games and fined $25 each. Elko was not fined because neither Blackard nor the umpire saw the punch thrown.

Nobody would go on the record, but there was a rumor that after the game in which Luttrell was injured, several Lookout players, led by pitcher Bob Ross, tried to storm the Vols locker room under the stadium stands looking for Lane for revenge. An unknown Vol was believed to have floored Ross with three hard blows.

Vols manager Joe Schultz said about the incident:

"It is unfortunate that Luttrell was hurt. Nobody wants to see a player injured and we're all sorry about it. If it hadn't been for that, there would have been nothing to the thing at all. There are incidents like those leading up to Luttrell's injury happening everyday in baseball. I had a seat on the sidelines. When I saw Luttrell throw the bat, and he threw it through the pitcher's mound, I started out towards the field.

"When I looked back at home plate, I saw Luttrell on the ground. I thought he'd had a heart attack or something. I never did see Averill's throw. I don't blame Earl for what he did. Any catcher in baseball would have done the same thing. It's part of his job to protect his pitcher. After all, what would have happened if the bat had hit Lane in the leg or in the head? He could have been seriously hurt himself."

In the end Averill was suspended for 10 days and given a $50 fine. There was also an Associated Press report that Luttrell was filing a $50,000 lawsuit against Averill and the Nashville Vols baseball club.

Averill was the son of Earl Averill, Sr. (1929-41) that was enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame by the Veteran's Committee in 1975. Averill began his minor league career in 1953-54 with Reading (Eastern League). He began the 1955 season in Nashville playing in 62 games while batting .298 (59-198) with eight home runs and 59 RBIs, but finished that season in Triple-A Indianapolis.

Averill played in the major leagues for Cleveland (1956, 1958); Cubs (1959-60); White Sox (1960); LA Angels (1961-62) and the Phillies (1963). In his ML career, Averill batted .242 in 449 games with 44 home runs and 159 RBIs.

Traughber's Tidbit: I am working on a book about Nashville baseball history expected to be published next spring. It will contain stories of Pre-1900 Nashville baseball as early as 1857, Nashville Vols, Black Nashville baseball, Nashville Sounds and other baseball tales and stats connected to the city. Many new photos and memorabilia not previously published or displayed in book form will be included.

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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