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Monday, June 6, 2022

Larry Schmittou helped bring pro ball back to Nashville, focused on fans; Tried for bigs

As any minor leaguer does, Larry Schmittou had his sights set high in 1990 - the big leagues. Only Schmittou had them set there as an owner, not as a player. The president and GM of the AAA Nashville Sounds hoped to bring the bigs to Music City, The Nashville Tennessean wrote.

"We owned a minor league baseball team in Greensboro, N.C., for nine years, and I'll tell you right now, Nashville doesn't have to take a back seat to Charlotte or anybody else," Schmittou told The Tennessean. "Nashville can do anything if Nashville wants to bad enough."

While Schmittou never succeeded in bring the majors to Nashville, he did succeed in many other areas, from minor league baseball ownership, to college coaching at Vanderbilt and even through a chain of bowling centers.

Schmittou grew up in the Nashville area. He started as a teacher and coach in Nashville schools from 1961 to 1968, according to his Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame bio. (He was inducted in 2006)

He arrived at Vanderbilt in 1968, where he became the school's head baseball coach. He won two conference championships and amassed more than 300 wins over his decade at the school.

In 1978, he and a group of investors brought pro baseball back to Nashville, with the AA - and later AAA - Sounds. The group also included country music legend Conway Twitty, whom Schmittou later credited with getting the Sounds' Herschel Greer Stadium up and running.

The team showed success early at the box office, as it led the minors in average attendance, even with some lingering stadium construction issues, The Associated Press wrote.

"We're trying to do everything we can for the fan," Schmittou told The Associated Press that August. "Once our stadium is complete, I think we'll be one of the most stable franchises in the country."

Schmittou quickly won awards, too. He won the Larry MacPhail Award for the top promotion effort in 1978 and 1980. He won the Executive of the Year award from the Sporting News for AA in 1978 and 1981 and at AAA in 1989, his Hall of Fame bio reads.

In between, Schmittou brought his promotion knowhow to the Rangers, as vice president for marketing and administration from 1983 to 1986.

Schmittou also had hands in minor league clubs elsewhere, including in Huntsville and Wichita. As he brought baseball back to Wichita for 1987, Schmittou told The Wichita Eagle about the Larry Schmittou style of management, which emphasized first impressions over everything. 

"Larry wants us to to be the ultimate professional," Kent Pylant, new Wichita VP and four-year Schmittou employee told The Eagle in October 1986. "You always conduct yourself in a way where it would be impossible to embarrass the club."

The Eagle also noted some of Schmittou's promotional ideas, including a 360-foot banana split between games of a double-header and a $10,000 scramble for wadded dollar bills.

Schmittou stayed with Nashville through 1996, when he sold his stake in the club.

As Greer Stadium closed in 2014 for a replacement, The Tennessean asked Schmittou about his memories of the place.

"I don't really have any magical moments (in particular)," Schmittou told The Tennessean. "They were all magical, really. It was just nice to see Nashville respond in a positive way (to the team), and it was wonderful to see the kids wearing a Sounds shirt, hat or batting gloves and just having fun."

1990 Minor League Tally 
Players/Coaches Featured:3,934
Made the Majors:1,313-33.4%-X
Never Made Majors:2,621-66.6%
5+ Seasons in the Majors:534
10+ Seasons in the Minors:328    

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