Q&A: Catching up with Larry Schmittou

Monday, July 21, 2008 at 3:29am

Larry Schmittou has been involved with sports, mainly baseball, nearly his entire life.

A long-time owner of the Nashville Sounds, Larry guided Vanderbilt to its first two SEC baseball championships as coach and led an effort to land major league baseball here in the early 1990s. He is currently owner or part-owner of 14 bowling alleys, five in the Nashville area. He is a member of the Tennessee Baseball Hall of Fame as well as the state Hall of Fame. The City Paper’s Larry Woody wrote a biography on him in 1996, entitled Schmittou. Schmittou and wife Shirley have five children (Debbie 43, Ron, 42, Mike, 41, Susan, 39 and Steve, 33) and 16 grandchildren. He turned 68 last Saturday.

CP: When did you first get interested in baseball?

LS: Back in my childhood days when I lived on Robertson Road, we’d play baseball in someone’s back yard from 8 a.m. to dark. I loved the sport. When I went to (old) Cohn High and played for Eddie Adelman, I was a pitcher, not great, but a pretty decent player.

CP: How did you get started in coaching?

LS: There was an opening for a Knot-Hole League (age 12-under) at Cockrill Elementary School, and about 100 kids came out. We had to split up our teams, and we stacked hands on the bat, and I lost the first pick. But a little guy named Charlie Mosley ran up to me and said, ‘pick Harold Deardoff,’ and I did. I got all the good players. At age 15, that’s where I got my start.

CP: Then the coaching continued?

LS: I went on to coach Babe Ruth and sandlot ball and I had a lot of success in summer league when we won some national tournaments. I established some contacts and had some really good players. After I finished at Peabody in 1962, I got a job at Bailey Junior High coaching football, basketball and track (1962-65). Then I went to coach at (old) Goodlettsville High (1965-68).

CP: How did you get the Vanderbilt job?

LS: Jess Neely, the Vanderbilt AD at that time, came out in ’68 and told me they wanted to upgrade the baseball program. They had no scholarships back then and offered me a $1,500 salary. I was also the football recruiting co-ordinator and worked with (later) NFL coach Bill Parcells. It was a big gamble, because I was working at Ford’s Glass Plant, trying to make ends meet.

CP: How did the first years go?

LS: We got a late start in 1968 and only won seven games. But the next year, we had a winning season (first one since 1955). I started heavily recruiting Nashville players, and just four total scholarships wasn’t much. I got (Overton’s) John McLean on full. We went on to win two SEC championships (1973-74).

CP: How did you get the Sounds started?

LS: It was something I was determined to do, return minor league baseball to Nashville (absent since 1963) in the Southern League. We had almost everything stacked against us, codes, regulations, along with the death of my mother (Jane Ann) during that time. I had to switch dates with teams so we could have the later start, but we finally made it work. (The Sounds beat Savannah 4-2, April 26, 1978).

CP: Who offered you encouragement?

LS: I had a wonderful friend in (singer) Conway Twitty who helped me every step of the way. Once, during a down time, he just said, ‘just get on my bus, and we’ll take you to Huntsville for a performance.’ I felt much better after that.

CP: How about your promos?

LS: I wanted baseball to be fun for everybody. We had about every promo available, the (San Diego) Chicken, we also had $1 bill pick up night when we withdrew $10,000 in $1 bills from the bank and many others.

CP: Didn’t you have two baseball teams playing at Greer Stadium?

LS: In 1993, the AA franchise in Charlotte was trying to re-locate and there was no city available. At the meeting in Birmingham, I thought to myself that it was something I’d offer to do as a last resort. In 1993 and ’94, we played both our AAA Sounds and the AA Express at Greer Stadium. We had no home days off the entire summer. But we divided the work schedule up for everyone and it wasn’t too bad. The next year, they wanted to move it to Puerto Rico. The Express refused that, so we did both teams again in ’94.

CP: Did you come close to getting major league baseball to Nashville?

LS: After I returned from working with the Texas Rangers, we made a bid for major league baseball. We knew we wouldn’t get one on the first wave, when they gave the first two to Colorado and Miami. But we didn’t get in on the second wave either.

That later paved the way for the Titans to come here. When the Oilers threatened to leave Houston for Nashville if a new stadium wasn’t built, Houston didn’t bite. Because of our baseball efforts, we had the presence of a major league city, and they came here.

CP: You had some hockey and basketball ventures?

LS: We took the South Stars, a hockey farm team of the (old) Minnesota North Stars and played in Municipal Auditorium. The rink was only 185 feet long, and the NHL requirement was 200 feet, so that didn’t last long. (The team did make the playoffs in ’82, losing to Wichita in the first round).

We also started the Music City Jammers, and they won the city’s first and only pro basketball championship in 1993 in the old Global Basketball Association. We had one game canceled due to a leaky roof. We had to move to Jackson, Tenn., because of lacking attendance at Municipal Auditorium. I think the Jammers would have made it in Jackson if the league hadn’t folded.

CP: What is your latest venture?

LS: After we sold the Sounds in 1997, I sat around for about a year, not doing much of anything. Rick Scott of Columbia HCA gave me a call and asked if I’d like to go into some bowling ventures. We took over 14 bowling alleys in all, five in the Nashville area, most of which were S&S for Strike and Spare, but we called them Schmittou and Scott, so as not to change the initials. I’ve really enjoyed that, and it keeps me busy.

CP: Who are your favorite teams?

LS: When I was growing up, I caught the bus with my mother on 51st Avenue to go down and see the old Nashville Vols play. Then I really liked the Yankees, and later the Reds and then the Braves when they moved to Atlanta.

CP: Who were your best players you coached?

LS: There were so many. I had Wayne Garland and Sam Ewing in summer league, and they both played in the major leagues. At Vanderbilt, I had a team of all-stars in Steve Estep, Rick Duncan, Ted Shipley, John McLean and of course, Jeff Peeples, who was the best big-game pitcher I ever had. He still holds a lot of Vanderbilt records.

CP: Most memorable win?

LS: Probably when we beat Tennessee in the opener of a big series in ‘73. UT hit five homers off of Peeples, and they were ahead 8-4 going into the bottom of the ninth. But we scratched out a run, then Tommy Powell hit a grand slam, walk-off home run to win it 9-8 with a five-run ninth-inning. My wife called asking who won, and she didn’t believe me when I told her. She had left the game earlier.

CP: Does your granddaughter play?

LS: Carrissa is a third baseman for Brentwood High, and I got to see her play as a freshman in the state tournament in May. Interestingly, she and my other first granddaughter were born the same day, Sept. 8, 1992. Nikki (daughter of Susan) was born at about 7 a.m., then Carrissa (daughter of Ron and Adonica) was born about 7 hours later, both in Baptist Hospital.

CP: Biggest sports wish?

LS: I’d like to go to the Olympics once and see the (track) finals of the 100 meter dash.

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By: idgaf on 12/31/69 at 6:00

We blew it by not electing him councilman (in the run off) for city council. Larry is a man with integrity and great civic pride.

By: breathofdeath on 12/31/69 at 6:00

A first-class gentleman who, like the late Bill Veeck, treated baseball fans like royalty and did everything humanly possible to provide the fans with an enjoyable and entertaining experience at the ball park. I guarantee that if Larry Schmittou still owned the Sounds he would have found a way to build a new park without using city financing because he did it once before. Say what you want about Greer, but Mr. Schmittou, his investors, and his friends in the Nashville community did what they had to do to build that park at no cost to the taxpayers.