Shelbyville's 'Slats' remembered as pro

Saturday, June 8, 2019
Mark McGee speaks at the Cooperstown Symposium on Baseball & American Culture.
Submitted photo

Former Times-Gazette editor, and current freelance contributor, Mark McGee spoke on major league ballplayer George McConnell at the 31st Annual Cooperstown Symposium on Baseball & American Culture, held last month in Cooperstown, New York, home of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. The Hall of Fame co-sponsors the conference with the State University of New York at Oneonta.

It was McGee's second time to speak at the conference, but his first time as a solo speaker. His presentation was an expansion of a February 2018 article he wrote for the Times-Gazette about McConnell, a Shelbyville native who played in the major leagues in the early 1900s.

McGee refers to him as "the baseball equivalent of Forrest Gump," playing for several different teams and crossing paths with various great teams and players. At the age of 37, he was pitching for the Bisons of the International League, and in a game against the Baltimore Orioles, the opposing pitcher was a 19-year-old making his professional baseball debut: George Herman "Babe" Ruth. Ruth won the game, 6-0, and reached base twice on McConnell pitches.

On the mound

McConnell was nicknamed "Slats" for his lean, lanky frame.

McConnell was known for the spitball, and it was McConnell's pitching that led the manager of the Chicago Cubs at the time, Frank Chance, to actively campaign for banning the pitch. Chance refused to hire McConnell for the Cubs, but a later manager brought him onto the team, and McConnell narrowly missed being the first-ever pitcher at what is now Wrigley Field. Instead, he pitched the Cubs' road opener that year.

McGee's presentation on McConnell was part of a panel on forgotten baseball players. McGee has remarked that he's surprised how few Bedford County residents are aware of McConnell and how he's often been omitted from historical books and publications about local history.

McGee's proposal was one of 115 received by the conference, of which 55 were selected to give their presentations for the 170 who attended the symposium.

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McGee with his former Lipscomb University student Willie Steele, also a presenter at the symposium, in the plaque gallery at the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Submitted photo

McGee said the conference organizers have asked him to submit a paper on McConnell for their anthology, although that doesn't guarantee publication.

McGee, a former sports writer for the Nashville Banner, is an alumnus of Lipscomb University and has been active at Lipscomb over the years, teaching classes and working in the sports information department. One of McGee's former students at Lipscomb, Willie Steele, now an English professor at the school, was also a presenter at the convention, speaking on girls' baseball in literature.

McGee currently serves as executive director of United Way of Bedford County. He first spoke at the symposium in 2013.Mark McGee speaks at the Cooperstown Symposium on Baseball & American Culture.

McGee with his former Lipscomb University student Willie Steele, also a presenter at the symposium, in the plaque gallery at the Baseball Hall of Fame.