Jerry Summers: Peerless Millers Baseball History

Sunday, February 23, 2020 - by Jerry Summers
Jerry Summers
Jerry Summers

Ever since the opening of the Peerless Woolen Mill by John L. Hutcheson, Sr. in 1905 the plant has always had superb athletic programs both in and outside the plant in basketball, softball and baseball on facilities that were superior to many other playing fields or gymnasiums.

Prior to the 1950s, when television changed the practice of many minor league teams from Triple A through AA, A, B, C and D in classifications, existence in small towns as part of the national past time thrived in many communities.

Peerless was very active in the 1930s-1940s and fielded teams that played in the Amateur World Series of the American Baseball Congress.  Each year the series would rotate between Battle Creek, Michigan and Wichita, Kansas.

Eddie Koger, whose wife’s grandfather Lester “Son” Jarnigan, was the Millers starting catcher and her great uncle “Red” Bevis was the team’s third baseman during the hey days of the 1930s, provided much history of the Millers.

The Millers were the perennial champions in the Tennessee-Georgia amateur league and won the title in 1932 and 1933.

In 1935 the team played in the Wichita, Kansas semi-pro tournament and won four games while losing two in double elimination.  According to notes kept by Red Bevis, the tournament was won by the Bismarck, North Dakota team whose star pitcher was the future Hall of Fame pitcher Satchel Paige who struck out 60 batters and was selected as an All American.  He also was paid $1,000. 

Millers’ pitcher Buford “Lefty” Denton was also selected for the elite squad.

Lefty Denton was considered the premier pitcher in the area for Peerless and had played professional baseball before he got homesick and returned to East Ridge in 1934 and started playing for Peerless.

In 1939 the team finished third in the national tournament and to show the strength of semi-pro baseball, it was reported that there were 36,000 teams through the country competing for the right to play in the national tournament.

“Lefty” Denton and “Red” Bevis were once again selected to the first class All-American team and pick-up players right fielder Cleve Barrett and catcher Samuel Case were chosen for the second team.

The legendary Walt Lauter was the business manager and future Rossville mayor and politician, Paul Ellis was a young score keeper.

Another outstanding pitcher was “Preach” Baker, who turned down the requests of Chattanooga Lookouts owner Joe Engel to become a professional ballplayer.  However, the young player preferred to stay close to his Rock Springs, Georgia home and play for the Millers.

In 1939 Opening Day was a big event at the Peerless Field with a band playing before thousands of fans and John S.

Hutcheson, Jr. throwing out the first ball to his batter, John Hutcheson, Sr. Montgomery Montague served as catcher.

Rossville and Peerless were not the only communities that provided top notch amateur baseball teams.  The Chickamauga Bleachery, North Chattanooga, East Lake, etc. all had teams with outstanding talent such as future Central High geometry teacher and former professional ballplayer Willard Millsaps and Ty Coppinger on the Soddy Daisy team.

Other players on the 1939 Millers were Duncan Doty, “Doc” Reavely, Norman Wood, C.L. Billings, Warren Coleman, Lee Settles, “Lonesome” Burch, Jeff Park, Cecil Fowler, Clyde Roberts and J. D. Morton.

Before television the Peerless Millers were just one part of the nationwide phenomenon known as amateur and semi-pro baseball.

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Jerry Summers

(If you have additional information about one of Mr. Summers' articles or have suggestions or ideas about a future Chattanooga area historical piece, please contact Mr. Summers at jsummers@summersfirm.com  


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