Vandy's Bill Schwartz remembered

April 25, 2012

Nashville sports historian Bill Traughber has recently written another book, Vanderbilt Football: Tales of Commodore Gridiron History. The 160-page paperback book can be ordered on for $19.99.

Commodore History Corner Archive

Bill Schwartz was a baseball man that made Nashville his home. He had connections to Vanderbilt and the Nashville Vols minor league baseball team. Schwartz was born in Cleveland, Ohio on April 22, 1884. He played one major league season with the American League Cleveland Naps in 1904.

The first baseman appeared only in 24 games batting .151 (13-for-86) with no home runs, no RBI and scored five runs. The right-handed batter would never again wear a major league uniform. The next few years, Schwartz was in the minors with Indianapolis (1905) and Akron (1906-09).

In 1910, Schwartz was in Nashville playing for the Southern Association's Vols. He became a player-manager in 1911 through 1915. Schwartz's best season as a Vol was in 1910 when he batted .288 (63-for-219) in 62 games. The highest his Nashville club would finish under his leadership was fourth place, which was achieved three times.

Schwartz final season in professional baseball came in 1915. In 11 minor league seasons, he batted .275 (935-for-3,403) in 945 games. He was one of the Southern Association's top fielders. 

As a manager, Schwartz's Vols were 350-436 with two seasons over .500. In 1911 the fourth-place Vols were 69-64 and the 1914 Nashville squad was 77-72 and a fifth-place finish.

During the off-seasons, Schwartz ran a Nashville cigar store on Sixth Avenue between Church Street and Union Street. The store became a natural winter hangout for athletes and sports enthusiasts.

The year after Schwartz left the Vols they became Southern Association champions; the city's first title since 1908. They won by nine games. Schwartz did receive some credit for that 1916 Nashville crown. He explained his involvement in an interview: Said Schwartz, "In 1915 the St. Louis Browns had an option on the Vols. That is, they could pick any player for that amount. Branch Rickey was managing the Browns then, and trying to get away from them because he held an option on a big block of stock in the Cardinals.

"The next year he did move over to the Cards. But before he could get away, he had to get rid of a lot of players he had staked out. Rickey was just beginning to launch his farm system, in a `personal' sort of way, and had strings on these players. Instead of $1,800, he proposed that he give Nashville eight players, and that we give St. Louis our 1915 first baseman, Gene Paulette. I accepted the deal.

"Nashville got Dick Kauffman, first base; Art Kores, third base; Gus Williams and Billy Lee, outfielders; Bill Ellis, Ernie Herbert, Dick Wells, pitchers and some other fellow I can't remember. He was the only one that didn't make good. The other seven started."

Bill SchwartzSchwartz was not out of baseball. He became the head baseball coach at Vanderbilt University in 1916, but moved back to Ohio to work for Goodyear. Schwartz returned to Nashville in 1924 as the business manager for Vanderbilt athletics. He also took over the baseball coaching duties for the Commodores. In June 1927, he took the team on a month long Eastern trip to play Yale, Princeton, Harvard, Brown, Dartmouth, Boston College, Holy Cross, Amherst and other colleges.

Schwartz coaching record at Vanderbilt is 155-112-1 in 19 years. Legendary sports writer and Vanderbilt graduate Fred Russell of the Nashville Banner wrote about Schwartz's death in 1961:

"Between Bill Schwartz and the men who played baseball under him at Vanderbilt, there was a lasting closeness. I've never known an athletic coach who took a warmer and more personal interest in his players. Long after he quit coaching and moved to a job in the Bursar's Office at Vanderbilt, few days passed that some Commodore athletes didn't come by to chat with Mr. Schwartz--or "Elmer," as many called him after Bull Brown hung that name on him.

"Bill Schwartz's friendliness and approachability weren't confined to his players. During the 20 years he was business manager of the Vanderbilt Athletic Association, his office was the place an athlete went when he had any problems. Leaning back in his red chair, Bill would lighten up his visitor's burden, some way. And probably he would wind up by taking the boy to his home for dinner.

"Some of the happiest hours of my life were the regular Sunday evening dinners at the Schwartz's home in the late 1920s, with Bill Spears, Kitty Creson, Bill Schwartz, Jr., and others listening to big Bill's stories and eating Mrs. Schwartz's delicious food. Right up until his death Tuesday at 77, Bill Schwartz could be seen walking between his home and the campus, or down on West End Avenue, dropping into a store. He was spry of body and keen of mind. And he liked nothing better than for some of his old boys to meet him late in the afternoon over a couple of beers. I can hear his laughter now.

"Back in April, 1954, 0n his 70th birthday, 70 friends, most of them from the university staff, honored Mr. Schwartz with a surprise party at Rand Hall. Citing Mr. Schwartz's genius fro friendship and his love for Vanderbilt, Vice-Chancellor Madison Sarratt said that night `almost anybody can be a friend to a boy who does the right thing. Bill always has been a man to help and counsel the boy who has done wrong.'"

"The late Fred J. Lewis, dean of the engineering school and closely associated with Mr. Schwartz in athletics for 25 years, said: `We came into the Vanderbilt athletic picture together. We had many, many problems and, Bill was one I could count on always. He never shirked. In serving Vanderbilt athletics none is worthier than Bill Schwartz. I'll always remember him with affection.'

"When Reubene Bragg and Bobbie Roberson led the singing of `Happy Birthday,' all over the place there were eyes leaking with tears of true friendship."

Schwartz died on August 29, 1961 at age 77. He is buried in Nashville's Woodlawn Memorial Cemetery.

Traughber's Tidbit: On April 13, 1920, the great Jim Thorpe played in a baseball game on the original Dudley Field (present site of the Vanderbilt School of Law). When the Sulphur Dell ballpark, home of the Southern Association's Nashville Vols, was too wet for play, alternate sites were selected such as Vanderbilt's home baseball field.

Thorpe had major league experience with the New York Giants (1913-15, 1917); Reds (1917); Giants (1918-19) and Boston Braves (1919). He had minor league experience with Rocky Mount (1909-10); Jersey City (1915); Milwaukee (1916); Akron (1920); Toledo (1921) and Hartford (1922).

On this spring afternoon, Thorpe was with Akron of the American Association playing an exhibition with the Vols. For the day, Thorpe was 0-for-4 with two strikeouts. To read about an earlier visit from Thorpe to the Vanderbilt campus, go to "Commodore History Corner" Archives--March 31, 2010. Thorpe became a star football player in the new professional league in the 1920s. Thorpe, who was a college football All-American at the Carlisle Indian School in 1912, would become an NFL Hall of Fame member and is considered to be one of the greatest athletes ever born.

If you have any comments or suggestions you can contact Bill Traughber via email Traughber's new book "Vanderbilt Basketball: Tales of Commodores Hardwood History" will be available in October.



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