Tag Archives: Mobile Sea Gulls

The Man who Dried up Memphis

4 Jan

Finis Albert “Fin” Wilson had a brief, unsuccessful Major League career.  After four minor league seasons—two with the Knoxville Reds in the Appalachian League and two with the New Orleans Pelicans in the Southern Association—and a brief spring trial with the Cleveland Indians, Wilson signed a contract to play with the Brooklyn Tip-Tops in the Federal League in September of 1914.

Appearing in two games that September, Wilson went 0-1 with a 7.71 ERA.  Despite a respectable 3.78 ERA in 1915, Wilson‘s Major League career was over after a 1-8 season for the Tip-Tops.

Wilson signed with the Atlanta Crackers in the Southern Association in 1916, but became sick in April and missed most of the first half of the season.  He returned to the team in July and ended the season with a 4-6 record.

Finis Wilson 1914

Finis Wilson 1914

He returned home to Greensburg. Kentucky and served two terms in the Kentucky General Assembly.  In 1928 he was appointed as a federal prohibition administrator in Memphis, Tennessee, primarily responsible for stopping the transportation of illegal liquor on the Mississippi River.

Wilson was very popular in Atlanta because while pitching for New Orleans in 1913 he beat the Mobile Sea Gulls on the last day of the 1913 season securing the championship for the Crackers and shortly after his appointment he was the subject of a glowing profile in The Atlanta Constitution:

“In an office at the custom-house here in old Shelby County with the Mississippi meandering by just outside the window I found the man who won the 1913 pennant for the Atlanta Crackers. Finis E. Wilson, who left a bank presidency in Kentucky to battle Shelby county bootleggers, does not look like the young left-handed pitcher who gave the greatest exhibition of courage the Southern Association ever saw. His hair is gray now and he looks positively genial.”

He was on the front line of the government’s battle with moonshiners.  In one raid Wilson, according to The Associated Press he:

 “Dried Memphis up… (Wilson) directed the greatest cleanup Memphis ever experienced…more than 150 persons were arrested and confiscated 1,500 gallons of whiskey, 800 gallons of wine and 20,000 quarts of home-brew.

In another raid two of Wilson’s boats were bombed as agents destroyed 1300 gallons of liquor and arrested six men.  Wilson told The Associated Press:

“If it’s war the moonshiners want it’s war they’ll get.”

And it was a war; 16 agents were killed and 183 were injured in 1928 and ’29 alone; and while corruption among agents was widespread, it appears that no agents under Wilson were charged with any wrongdoing.

Wilson left government service sometime after the repeal of the Volstead Act in 1933, and died in Coral Gables, Florida in 1959.

Finis Wilson circa 1930

Finis Wilson circa 1930

Southern Association Pennant Race Scandal

15 Oct

The Memphis Egyptians collapsed in the final three weeks of the 1907 Southern Association race.  After leading the league from the beginning of the season, poor play in the last weeks led to them being overtaken by the Atlanta Crackers.

Vague rumors circulated that Memphis might have thrown the race—but became a full blown scandal on June 2 of 1908 when the rumors became formal allegations.

Former Memphis pitcher Otis Stocksdale, who had been released following the ’07 season and signed with the Mobile Sea Gulls, said Memphis manager Charlie Babb:

“Threw the pennant…to the Atlanta club, and did so deliberately and for business reasons.”

Stocksdale alleged that he had been forced to pitch while he was sick and that players were instructed by the manager “Not to win games.”  Stocksdale charged that Babb, who also played 3rd base, had deliberately misplayed balls during games in Nashville.

If there was any doubt, Stocksdale doubled down on his charges later the same day, telling reporters:

“Every word of this charge is true, and, what is more, I am going to prove the correctness of what I say and by affidavit…I am not going to stop, now that I have started, until this thing is given to the public and Babb gets the punishment he deserves.  The thing was done in order to make a closer race for the flag and get the money in the gates.

“Charley (sic) Babb has no right to be a manager in this league.”

Stocksdale also claimed that two additional players Richard James and Robert “Nick” Carter could, and would corroborate the charges.

Babb denied the allegations.  Atlanta Manager William Smith said, “The league will have to blacklist either Babb or Stocksdale, and I don’t think it will be Babb.”

Atlanta Mayor Walthall Joyner asked Southern Association President William Marmaduke Kavanaugh for an immediate investigation.

A hearing was scheduled for the following week in Memphis.  Stocksdale promised to make his case.

He didn’t.

According to The Sporting Life:

“He had no witnesses.  He had no affidavits.  He merely entered formal denial of the published statements.”

Stocksdale blamed reporters for misquoting him.

The Memphis club presented their case which included live testimony and dozens of statements refuting the charges, including one from Nick Carter, who Stocksdale had said would affirm his allegations.

Stocksdale was suspended indefinitely for, as The Sporting Life said, “Besmirching Baseball’s Fair Fame.”

Otis Stocksdale, the accuser

It was speculated that 36-year-old Stocksdale’s career was over, and that even if he did manage to play again that he would be blackballed from the Southern Association; however, when the suspension was lifted before the 1909 season after a petition drive that collected more than 1000 signatures in each Southern Association city, Stocksdale returned to the Sea Gulls and stayed in the league through the 1910 season.

Stocksdale finished his career as a player-manager with the Lynchburg Shoemakers in the Virginia League in 1912.

Babb remained as manager of Memphis until 1910 and continued managing in the minor leagues until 1913.

Charlie Babb, the accused

An interesting Postscript involving Atlanta Manager William Smith who vigorously defended Babb and insisted Stocksdale’s allegations were false.  After leading the Crackers to another league title in 1909 Smith was fired.  The deposed manager claimed the reason for his firing was his refusal to rein his team in the final weeks in order to increase gate receipts.  Smith’s complaint was dismissed by the league.