Harry Boss: Vanderbilt's forgotten All-American

April 30, 2014

BossCommodore History Corner Archive

As a researcher and writer of Vanderbilt sports history, I sometimes stumble across interesting and mostly forgotten information on former Commodore athletes. Harry Boss is one of those athletes. Boss played baseball for the Commodores from 1937-39. 

Boss was a native of Copper Hill, Tenn., born on April 4, 1918. He was a Darlington Prep School (Ga.) graduate in 1935.

Though there is not much available about Boss’ time at Vanderbilt, his story can be told in old newspaper clippings. Boss was such a standout in baseball and so impressive that he was often a subject for Nashville sportswriters. In the September 1983 edition of Go Gold, a publication for Vanderbilt sports, a letter from Boss was published.

Congratulations on your inaugural issue. It was well done, and I look forward to the future series. Hopefully, our entire athletic program has turned the corner and we’re on the way back to the days when we could stand and slug it out with anybody, anywhere —in any sport.

I would like to bring one thing to light in regard to the story by Laurie Kiely concerning Tim Brecht, and the school batting record of .399 set by Scotti Madison in 1980.

Perhaps records prior to World War II do not count, or are not available, but in 1938, I hit .410 and, in 1939, I followed that with an even .400 average playing for Vanderbilt. Critics may say we didn’t play as many games, so high averages were easier. But with today’s advantages of aluminum bats, batting helmets and sometimes permissive scoring on hits versus errors, a .400 then could be a .700 now.

Unfortunately a lot of college baseball records from Boss’ era are lost, misplaced or never kept. Vanderbilt began giving baseball scholarships in 1968 during Larry Schmittou’s first season as head coach. That can be considered the beginning of the “modern” era with player records, accolades and accomplishments recorded.

Tony Neely, who in 1983 was Vanderbilt’s assistant sports information director, was asked by Go Gold to look into Boss’ letter. Said Neely in 1983: “I spent many hours my freshman year going through old Vanderbilt scorebooks trying to establish records for the team. Unfortunately we don’t have in our possession all the scorebooks, so my research was somewhat incomplete.”

Contacted by Go Gold at his Georgia home, Boss said that an “accident” did happen — World War II.

“After the war it took me a while to wind down and try and rejoin the human race,” Boss said. “I hadn’t touched a baseball in six years so my pro career was shot, and I took the head baseball coaching job at Darlington Prep School in Rome, Ga. It was wonderful therapy, working with the kids and being back in the game that I loved. I really feel indebted to baseball because it helped me get through Vanderbilt in the darkest days of the depression.”

In a 1983 Vanderbilt baseball media guide, Boss is listed with the top single-season batting average at .410 in 1938, but noted with less than 100 at-bats. Scotti Madison is listed at .399 in 1980 with more than 100 at-bats. Madison played in 56 games in 1980. Boss’ name would soon disappear from the records section.

Boss accomplished his .410 average in 1938 when the Commodores only played nine games with a 6-3 record. In his senior season as captain, he batted .400 (26-for-65) in 16 games (11-5) playing in every inning of every game. Hunter Bledsoe currently owns Vanderbilt’s highest batting average for a single season at .459 (95-for-207) in 1999. Bledsoe played in all of Vanderbilt’s 55 games that season.

Some newspapers from that era refer to the SEC as the “Big 13,” which was the number of teams in the conference. College baseball, especially the SEC, has progressed significantly in the decades since Boss’ playing days and is much more competitive. Pitchers are throwing with more speed with a combination of pitches that would wow the old timers.

Blinky Horn of the Nashville Banner wrote with the caption “Second Georgia Peach?”

Of course, as and all and sundry know, this is mighty airish weather to be talking about peaches. The hardy and humble prune would be a better topic of conversation. But there’s a baseballing boy out at Vanderbilt who is calling himself the Georgia Peach. Hence this yarn about peaches in baseball when snowball in baseball is more appropriate.

The Georgia Peach at Vanderbilt is a youngster named Harry Logan Boss. Bill Schwartz, the Vanderbilt diamond mentor, calls the young fellow ‘the Dizzy Dean of Vanderbilt.’ He calls himself ‘The second Georgia Peach.’ He admits that Ty Cobb was the first Georgia Peach. Harry Logan evidently has overlooked such Georgia peaches as Bobby Jones, Young Stribling and Bitsy Grant. For he list himself as second in the peach belt.

Bill Schwartz contends that the modest youngster is a very excellent outfielder. One of the best who ever came to Vanderbilt. Down in the Northwest Georgia Textile Loop Boss was voted the Most Valuable Player. He attracted the attention of a scout for Atlanta. The Cracker spy was all for signing him. But he preferred to finish his college education.

You’d think a fellow called a “Dizzy Dean” wouldn’t care a whoop about an education or anyone else. But he is a ‘B’ student at Vanderbilt. Harry Boss says he got his inspiration from his kinsman, Harley Boss, former first sacker with New Orleans, Chattanooga and now at Fresno.

George Leonard of the Nashville Banner wrote about Boss:

“There is just one boy I’ve known at Vanderbilt who loves baseball as Harry Boss does,” Bill Schwartz remarked recently in the sanctity of the coaches’ locker room as he enjoyed a quiet smoke following baseball practice.

Coach Schwartz, known as ‘Elmer’ to the boys he coaches on the diamond, also puts Boss of Tubize, Ga., near the peak of the university’s great hitters. He and Joe Agee, the catcher both.

“Both are typical examples of ‘made’ players,” said Schwartz. “Neither Boss nor Agee hit .250 for me when they were sophomores. Last year they were well over .400 and are cracking the ball nicely this year, too. They were slap hitters once, and now they are what we call ‘snap’ hitters. Their power comes from their smooth wrist action. Timing does it. Fundamentally they are sound as I can make them.”

Harry Boss is as colorful as they come. He has had few, if any, equals at Vanderbilt in this respect. His actions, mannerisms and repartee, all natural, place him in a class by himself. He is a cynosure every time he steps to the plate. Even his teammates who should be used to him regard him intently. He emulates the typical big leaguer in everything but ability.

Newspapers state that Boss was selected to the 1939 Coaches All-American team. Jeff Peeples is listed as Vanderbilt’s first All-American (Second Team) in 1973. While Madison is listed as Vanderbilt’s initial First Team All-American (1980). This would be consistent with the modern era accolades.

Sportswriter Raymond Johnson wrote in the Tennessean a story entitled “Harry Boss Looms as Vandy’s Next Gift to Major Leagues.”

Unless some obstacle bobs up to block his path, Vanderbilt’s next diamonder to perform in the major leagues will be Harry Boss. The young Georgia fly chaser, who has been playing with the Tubize club at Rome this summer, has received 14 offers from professional clubs to sign on the dotted line. The Cincinnati Reds made him a proposition last week of a $1,000 bonus to sign his name to a contract.

Boss has been going great guns in the semi-pro circuit this summer. He is hitting around .360, which is tops for his club, and he has stolen 40 bases.

The youngster cannot figure what has happened to cause him to rise from the depths. He had a poor season in 1937, both at Vanderbilt and with the Tubize club. He gives Vanderbilt’s Bill Schwartz much credit for his sudden rise.

Boss announced to one and all when he came to Vanderbilt three years ago this fall that the only sport he cared for was baseball. He hung a sign over his door at Kissam Hall warning visitors to keep out if they were not interested in baseball. His room was crammed with pictures of diamond stars and he had numerous books about the game.

During World War II, Boss served in the U.S. Army in Europe and received several citations for his service. Boss was head baseball coach in 1947-48 at the Darlington School and in 1970 was an inaugural inductee into the Rome-Floyd County Sports Hall of Fame. He was retired as Senior Purchasing Agent at the Rome Medium Transformer Division. Boss died at age 93, on August 27, 2011.

And Harry Boss was a Vanderbilt baseball All-American.

Traughber’s Tidbit: Harley Boss was a cousin to Harry Boss. Harley was Vanderbilt’s head baseball coach in 1960, 1963-64 with a career record of 21-42. Harley played four seasons in the major leagues as a first baseman with Washington (1928-30) and Cleveland (1933). His career average was .268 (139-for-519) with one home run and 61 RBIs in 155 games. Harley was a minor-league journeyman after his big league career playing for several teams from 1930-32, 1934-41, 1942, 1944-46. Harley was born in Hodge, La., in 1908 and played his college baseball at Louisiana Tech. He died in Nashville on May 15, 1964 and is buried in Nashville’s Woodlawn Memorial Park.

Tidbit Two: On April 1, 1938 (not an April Fools prank) the Nashville Banner published a story during Vanderbilt’s spring football practice with a photograph of the dirigible (blimp or airship) USS Los Angeles moored to a flagpole in the open-end of Dudley Field with the following caption:

Coach Ray Morrison may be forced to call off football practice at Vanderbilt today, for moored to the top of the flagpole in the stadium is the giant United States Navy dirigible, the USS Los Angeles.

Thrown off its course in a heavy storm, the huge ship turned up in Nashville today and made a forced “landing” at the football field. The flagpole was pressed into service as a mooring mast and the huge ship now rests in safety in the football stadium. Repairs will be made on the dirigible today and it is likely will be able to resume its trip sometime tomorrow. Meanwhile, Coach Ray Morrison probably will have plenty of visitors today. And Morrison would rather not have visitors today—of all days.

The USS Los Angeles was built in Friedrichahafen, Germany in 1924 and was funded by German World War I reparations for non-military use. It was considered the most successful of the Navy’s airships. By 1940 the airship had been dismantled and reduced to scrap.

If you have any comments or suggestions contact Bill Traughber via email WLTraughber@aol.com.



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