HDL Reflections by Mike Dunavant
“The following unsolicited tribute was submitted by HDL Hall of Fame Board Member, Mike Dunavant, shortly after our November HDL Banquet. Mike and I have had a conversation about building an on-line library suppository of statistics, articles, stories, testimonials, etc. focused on the history of the HDL. Space on this Blog will be dedicated to that ambition. We plan to solicit as many former HDL (and FOY) players as possible to join us in contributing to this endeavor. We welcome your comments, questions and encouragement.” Larry Rutledge
Thanks to Larry Rutledge and a challenge to current HDL members:
I joined this league in the mid-1980’s. My greatest contribution may have been balancing the check book and paying the umpires. (Sorry, I apologize for those hideous gray vests we wore in the 90’s I will take the blame for those.) I hung around long enough to make a few playing contributions as well and was very humbled when elected to the Hall of Fame in 2001.
In the Eighties we were not the only Over 30 baseball league in town and for much of the Sixties, Seventies and early Eighties the Fountain of Youth (FOY) was considered the more competitive league. (They had Jim Cosman who once pitched for the Cardinals.) By the early nineties both leagues were struggling to field two teams on a weekly basis. Larry Rutledge went to the HDL officers with a plan, he had made contact with several members of the FOY and some of their members were disappointed about the attendance in their league. Larry wanted to combine the leagues and make the Over 30 Baseball experience a little better for all concerned. After much discussion, some of it a little heated as I remember, it worked. Larry was primarily responsible for saving Over 30 baseball. If Larry had not stepped in and committed himself to the project, I am of the opinion that both leagues would have slowly died.
The joint leagues moved to Gagliano & Sowell fields. It was considered better to have two adjacent fields to make it easier to balance teams when attendance lagged. It was a struggle for a couple of years, but after a while both leagues were united under the HDL banner. Thanks to several of the FOY veterans who, with their support, helped make this union work as well. Over these years, attendance ebbed and flowed with the HDL finally settling on three teams into the nineties and into the early 2000’s.
Larry had a huge role in the growth of the HDL. There were trips to St Louis for games with their over 30 teams as well as staying over for Cardinal games. Trips to New Orleans, Omaha, and other places created great memories for those who participated. Friday night games with the “Bar & Grille,” hosting the over 30 teams from Paducah, Knoxville, Chicago and St Louis, were a big part of the HDL experience. Also, the HDL hosted the legendary Indianapolis Clowns at Tim McCarver Stadium, and, sadly, HDL being the last baseball game ever played at Tim McCarver Stadium. Overall, the HDL became a very successful league for all involved.
Another big issue that became a problem during this time, the City of Memphis, under a former mayor’s term, dissolved the Memphis Park Commission. The Memphis Park Commission was responsible for the maintenance of athletic fields in the City of Memphis. When the Memphis Park Commission was dissolved, and maintenance moved to the Division of Neighborhoods & Parks, the Tobey baseball field received very little maintenance. We couldn’t even get the outfield grass cut, much less watered. During this time-frame, Tobey was leased to Crichton College and we (HDL) had to pay rent to them to use the field. Even under the lease arraignment, field maintenance suffered. There were times we moved games all over the city, Wooddale, Willow, Godwin and of course, Jesse Turner. After the lease with Crichton expired and the school closed, the city didn’t care about Tobey Legion, even to the point of allowing parking on the infield during football games at the Liberty Bowl Stadium.
Larry, Robert Miller, Mark Johnson, Paul Baioni, and Larry Hunsucker came to the rescue, at their own time and expense and with help from a few others, they cut the grass and maintained the field. They made sure that the field was locked to prevent Liberty Bowl parking on the infield. When the old grandstand was tore down, they rented a railway container-storage unit for maintenance and baseball equipment. Also, kept there were the grills and other equipment kept on hand for “Larry’s Bar & Grille” that operated each Sunday after the games.
Over the past few years, Larry has been a primary mover for continued improvements at Legion Tobey as well as other areas of Tobey Park. Tobey Legion now looks as good as it did when it was the home field for Memphis’ top level American Legion programs, like Bill Speros. He also helped LeMoyne College with needed improvements at Jesse Turner Park.
Larry did a lot for the league and truly deserves the title of President Emeritus, He deserves to sit back and hand over the day to day duties to the next generation of the HDL. I’m sure he won’t be able to stay away for long since without him there would be no HDL.