January 12, 1954
A New Page in Montgomery Baseball History Begins
The winter is a time for teams to make plans and the 1954 season was different for the Montgomery team. The Grays are coming off a terrible season, one that saw them lose 90 games and finish last in the SALLY league. They had watched as Hank Aaron broke the color barrier in the South Atlantic League playing with Jacksonville.
|Hanks 1953 double-A championship ring|
So the Montgomery front office went to work. Even as an affiliate of the Tigers, the executive branch of the team was doing everything it could to change the public impression of the team. And it started at the top - a name change.
YOUR MONTGOMERY REBELS
|Rebels program 1955|
Montgomery shared the name Rebels in the South Atlantic League with the Charleston S.C. franchise, who also used the name Rebels. Montgomerys team went back to the old nickname Grays "to avoid confusion".
Montgomery hadn't used the name Grays since 1895. However it was a popular nickname for local teams since it was a pre-civil war era volunteer militia from the area.
Montgomery used the Rebels name when they entered the Sally league and took the title in the first season. Afterwards the team changed it to Grays, probably under pressure from the league which worried about a possible "Rebels vs Rebels" championship series.
However when Charleston left the league, Montgomery quickly took the opportunity to reclaim the longtime moniker and became the Rebels once again for 1954.
Along with the teams name, popular manager Charlie Metro was also replaced. He had managed the team for four straight seasons, the longest tenure of any Montgomery skipper until the seven year streak by Biscuits Billy Gardner Jr.
One of my fave facts about Metro is that he is the inventor of the batting tee, which he didn't patent so received no compensation for. However it totally innovated baseball and every player since then has used Charlie Metro's creation to refine their craft.
THE NEW GUY
In as new manager is Sparky Olson.
|Marv "Sparky" Olson|
Olson was in his second stint as Montgomery manager, having previously been at the helm during the 1943 season. That was the year the team split time between Chattanooga and Montgomery.
Since then Sparky, a former Boston RedSox second baseman, had managed Jamestown in the Pony league and was being given a promotion in the Tigers chain by coming here in 1954.
NEW SIGNINGS FOR REBELS
Along with Sparky the team brings in new players, announced today along with the new team name and new manager.
At that time free agent signings by minor league teams was the norm and Montgomery made efforts to improve. Much like todays free agent signings, not all were successful...
|Wiltse now resides in Iowa|
Robert Wiltse is signed before he finished his military stint, he would lose two of the eight games he appeared in before being dealt to Greenville.
Bill Glendenning is signed to pitch, he played in one game in 1953 but also would fail to make the team out of spring training and retire from pro ball.
Gerry Kleinsmith is purchased, but would be sold off again before the start of the season.
All veteran pitchers signed to boost the new team image. All busts, only Wiltse would see regular season action.
those arent the only signings, but the others aren't announced with such fanfare as the reclaimed Rebels nickname. However it does set the stage for the biggest change in Montgomery baseball history.