During his full-time playing days with the Boston Braves (1942-1950), outfielder Tommy Holmes was a particular fan favorite, especially among those who populated the right field grandstand known as the Jury Box, where fans often carried on a conversation with Holmes as he stood in his position.1 Twice an All-Star (1945, when he was elected to the NL roster although there was no All-Star Game that year, and 1948), Holmes hit .304 over those nine seasons, finished among the top 10 in batting five times, and barely missed the NL batting title and MVP award in 1945, when the Chicago Cubs’ Phil Cavarretta edged him out in both races, although Holmes had superior numbers in nearly every other offensive category. In 1948 he was one of the pivotal players on the Braves’ first NL championship team since 1914.
After the 1950 season, the Braves asked Holmes to manage their Class-A team at Hartford in the Eastern League for 1951. Then 33, Holmes thought he still had some years in him as a major-league player but recognized that if he turned down the managing job, he would likely be the number four outfielder for the Braves in 1951; the minor-league job would give him a shot at staying in baseball and one day managing in the major leagues.2 Holmes even suggested at the time that the Braves had hinted they had pledged the big-league managerial job to him whenever it next opened up. “They made me a pretty nice promise,” he told reporters.3
As it turned out, Holmes did not have long to wait. In mid-June, Braves manager Billy Southworth resigned abruptly, citing the team’s continuing mediocre play and his disappointment that the organization was unable to acquire any players who might help the team out of its doldrums.4 To replace him, Boston turned to Holmes, who at the time had his Hartford team in first place. Braves general manager John Quinn told reporters that Holmes was the only person on the team’s short list of candidates: “[We] considered Tommy and nobody else. In a few months at Hartford, he proved to us that he can handle men, that he can produce winning baseball for us.”5
With the Braves at 28-31 and 10½ games out of first place, Holmes debuted as manager on June 20 against the Cubs in Wrigley Field and guided Boston to a 9-0 victory, which the Boston Globe took as an omen for the balance of the team’s season. Declaring “a new era opens,” the newspaper ran the game story under the headline, “Holmes Brings Tribe Back to Life,” and reported that the team seemed to have renewed enthusiasm under the new skipper.6
Although the team went but 1-3 over its next four games to close out Holmes’s road debut at 2-3, he returned to Braves Field to significant acclaim. “I haven’t had too much time to sleep [since assuming the manager’s job],” he told reporters. “It’s been a whirl ever since I took over. … Press conferences and calls and letters … from everywhere. …There are some [that] tell me they haven’t been to a Braves game all season but they’ll be coming down now.”7
Holmes made his home debut on Saturday, June 30, 1951, facing the second-place New York Giants, sending Boston’s Vern Bickford (8-7) against the Giants’ Sal Maglie (12-3), who was on his way to arguably his best season as a starting pitcher.
The game drew 10,812 spectators despite the threat of rain, and before the first pitch fans in the Jury Box celebrated Holmes’s return by presenting him with some good-luck charms, including rabbits’ feet and four-leaf clovers and what the reporter from the Boston Herald described as “a miscellaneous assortment of magic potions.”8
The charms seemed to do their work early on. Bickford retired the Giants without allowing a run in the top of the first inning, though he hit Willie Mays, who had just completed his first month in the major leagues. There was a 12-minute delay before the Braves’ first hitter could step to the plate when the skies opened up and the grounds crew covered the mound and the plate, but the downpour ended before they could deploy the tarp.9 Then the Braves gave Holmes what the Boston Globe described as a “jubilant opening.”10 They scored four runs off Maglie in the first inning, the big blow a two-run, 425-foot homer to center field by left fielder Sid Gordon.11
The lead held up only until the top of the third, when Bickford began to struggle with his control, walking two consecutive hitters after striking out the leadoff man. He nearly got out of the inning when the Giants’ Al Dark hit what should have been a double-play ball to Braves shortstop Sibby Sisti. But Sisti booted it, loading the bases. Willie Mays grounded to second for the second out, but then Bickford allowed three consecutive hits, tallying five unearned runs. The Giants added two more in the fifth to take a 7-4 lead, helped by another Braves error, this one when first baseman Earl Torgeson dropped a throw from second baseman Roy Hartsfield.
But then the game shifted.
To lead off the bottom of the seventh, Holmes sent pinch-hitter Bob Addis to the plate for Bickford, and Addis singled to left. Then the Braves started what was their biggest one-inning offensive explosion of the season. (They matched it in a game on August 26.) Maglie did not retire a batter in the inning, allowing Hartsfield to single and then hitting Sam Jethroe to load the bases. On a 1-and-1 pitch, Torgeson made up for his error in the top of the inning by launching his first career grand slam into the Braves bullpen. After Maglie walked third baseman Bob Elliott, Giants skipper Leo Durocher lifted him for right-hander Sheldon Jones, but the Giants seemed undone: Jones allowed four singles, threw a wild pitch and Giants right fielder Don Mueller added a throwing error before Durocher went to his bullpen again and bought in Dave Koslo, who finally retired the side – but not before the Braves had tallied eight runs in the inning.
The Braves were not finished. In the bottom of the eighth, after reliever Max Surkont set the Giants down in order, Boston went back on the attack, aided by more porous New York defense. Two hits and a walk loaded the bases and catcher Walker Cooper singled, scoring two runs when center fielder Willie Mays booted the ball, although he recovered in time to nab Cooper trying to go to second on the miscue. After a single by Sisti, Surkont fouled out to first, but then Giants second baseman Eddie Stanky made errors on two consecutive plays, allowing one run to score and putting two on base for Torgeson, who had been struggling nearly all season to that point, his average down to .236 at game time. Torgeson launched his second home run of the game, to collect his seventh RBI, his career best for one game. His blow ended the scoring for the game, which gave Holmes a 19-7 victory as a homecoming present. Holmes inserted himself into the lineup in the top of the ninth, playing right field, and received a standing ovation from the fans in the Jury Box.12
Sadly, Holmes did not last long as Braves manager and he did not, as the Globe declared, bring the team back to life: They went 48-47 under his guidance for the rest of the 1951 season, finishing fourth, 20½ games behind pennant winner New York. After the team got off to a 13-22 start for the 1952 season, the Braves replaced Holmes at their helm with Charlie Grimm, this time GM Quinn saying that Holmes “needed more experience” before he was ready to return to the major leagues.13 Holmes managed in five more seasons in the minors but never returned to the big leagues as a manager.
This article appeared in “Br aves Field: Memorable Moments at Boston’s Lost Diamond” (SABR, 2015), edited by Bill Nowlin and Bob Brady. To read more articles from this book, click here.
Lowell (Massachusetts) Sun
The Sporting News
Saul Wisnia, “Tommy Holmes,” SABR BioProject
2 BobAjemian, “Holmes Gives Up Braves Berth to Make Pilot Bow at Hartford,” The Sporting News, March 28, 1951, 10.
3 Steve O’Leary, “New Skipper Was Popular With Players,” The Sporting News, June 27, 1951, 7.
4 Steve O’Leary, “‘Braves Good Enough to Win’ – Holmes,” The Sporting News, June 27, 1951, 7.
5 O’Leary, “New Skipper.”
6 Clif Keane, “Holmes Brings Tribe Back to Life, Boston Globe, June 21, 1951, 15.
7 Bob Holbrook, “Lil Holmes Still Floating on a Cloud,” Boston Globe, July 1, 1951, C31.
8 Will Cloney, “Braves Crush Giants 19-7,” Boston Herald, July 1, 1951, 37.
9 Frank Sargent, “Braves Explode at Plate to Hammer Giants, 19-7,” Lowell Sunday Sun, July 1, 1951, 17.
10 Hy Hurwitz, “Braves Trounce Giants, 19-7,” Boston Globe, July 1, 1951, C30.
13Jack Barry, “Braves Name Grimm Manager,” Boston Globe, June 1, 1952, C1.