July 19, 1940 |
Nashville, Tennessee, United States
|Alma mater||Peabody College|
|Occupation||Entrepreneur, Vanderbilt Commodores baseball coach, Minor League Baseball owner/executive, Vice President of Marketing for the Texas Rangers (MLB)|
Larry Schmittou (born July 19, 1940) is an American entrepreneur and former baseball executive and coach. He currently owns S&S Family Entertainment LLC, which operates a chain of bowling centers in Tennessee, Kentucky, Ohio, and Indiana.
Schmittou was the head coach of the Vanderbilt Commodores, Vanderbilt University's baseball team, from 1968 to 1978. From 1978 to 1996, he owned several minor league baseball teams, beginning with the Nashville Sounds. He served as the Vice President of Marketing for the Texas Rangers Major League Baseball club from 1983 to 1986. In 2006, Schmittou was elected to the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame. He was awarded the Fred Russell Lifetime Achievement Award by the Nashville Sports Council in 2011. In 2016, he was inducted into the Southern League Hall of Fame.
Larry Schmittou was born on July 19, 1940, in Nashville, Tennessee, to parents Egbert and Jane Ann. He was named for Larry Gilbert, manager of the Nashville Vols minor league baseball team from 1939 to 1948. Schmittou was the youngest of five children.
When he was a junior in high school, Schmittou began coaching youth baseball team for 9 to 12-year-old children. Concurrently, he pitched on the Cohn High School baseball team. After graduating, he enrolled at Peabody College, which is known for its teacher education program and was later merged with Vanderbilt University. He continued to coach three youth baseball teams and play in a city league while attending Peabody. By the end of his sandlot coaching career, Schmittou had over 500 wins, 20 city championships, 8 state championships, and 6 of his teams went to national tournaments.
Schmittou was a teacher in the Nashville public school system from 1961 to 1968. He was originally hired and assigned to teach at Haywood Elementary, but not wanting to teach at an elementary school without athletic programs, Schmittou instead accepted an offer to become the head coach of the football, basketball, and track teams at Bailey Junior High. He remained at Bailey for three years before being hired as the head basketball coach at Goodlettsville High School. Two-and-a-half years later, Schmittou left high school coaching for good. During this time, he had also worked for several years as a territorial scout for the Cleveland Indians Major League Baseball team.
Vanderbilt Commodores coaching
In 1968, Schmittou became the head baseball coach and head football recruiter at Vanderbilt University in Nashville. From 1971 to 1974, he led the team to win four consecutive Eastern Division Championships. In 1973 and 1974, the teams also won the Southeastern Conference (SEC) title, and Schmittou earned the SEC Baseball Coach of the Year Award. Through 11 years of coaching (1968–1978), Schmittou led his teams to a 306–252–1 (.548) overall record and a 98–98 (.500) SEC record.
Minor League Baseball
Schmittou was inspired to get involved with Minor League Baseball when, in 1977, Chattanooga, Tennessee, acquired the Birmingham Barons, relocated the team, and renamed them the Chattanooga Lookouts. He was told by multiple Major League Baseball teams that they would be willing to put a minor league affiliate in Nashville if he provided a suitable ballpark.
A member of the Metro Board of Parks and Recreation told him that neither the Park Board or the city of Nashville would be willing to pay for such a park. So, Schmittou, along with help from country music star Conway Twitty, put together a group of investors including other country stars Cal Smith, Larry Gatlin, Jerry Reed, and Richard Sterban (bass singer of the Oak Ridge Boys) in order to purchase a minor league baseball team. Twenty shares valued at US$15,000 each were issued, with Schmittou purchasing 2 shares, or 10 percent of the team. The Metro Parks Board agreed to lease to Schmittou the site of Nashville's former softball fields on the grounds of Fort Negley, an American Civil War fortification, approximately two miles (3 km) south of downtown, for a period of 20 years as long he built a stadium with a minimum capacity of 6,500 at a cost of at least $400,000 within 10 years. In the second ten years, he would be required to pay the city seven percent of the team's total revenue.
The projected construction cost of the stadium was between US$300,000 and $500,000; but the actual cost was over $1 million. Schmittou looked to local suppliers to donate construction materials, took out a $30,000 loan from a bank, and even mortgaged his own home to help pay for the ballpark. The ballpark, Herschel Greer Stadium, was posthumously named for Herschel Lynn Greer, a prominent Nashville businessman and the first president of the Nashville Vols baseball team, whose family donated $25,000 for stadium construction.
He called the team the Nashville Sounds. They were an expansion team in the Double-A Southern League and were affiliated with the Cincinnati Reds. During the first year of play, the Sounds drew in 380,159 fans, leading the league in attendance. The Sounds would be a major draw for years to come, drawing over 500,000 people from 1979 to 1982. Their success has been attributed to Schmittou's business philosophy of selling tickets at low prices and making profits from souvenirs, concessions, etc. In recognition of his achievements, he was awarded the Sporting News Double-A and Southern League "Executive of the Year" awards in 1978 and 1981 and the Triple-A Sporting News "Executive of the Year" award in 1989. In 1978, 1980, and 1981, the Sounds won the Larry MacPhail Award for outstanding minor league promotions. In 2006, Schmittou was inducted into the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame. He was awarded the Fred Russell Lifetime Achievement Award by the Nashville Sports Council in 2011. The Southern League inducted Schmittou into their Hall of Fame in 2016.
Schmittou and Sounds team owners arrived at terms in June 1984 to purchase the Triple-A Evansville Triplets of the American Association, with plans to move the franchise from Evansville, Indiana, to Nashville for the 1985 season. In order to prove to the team's Nashville banks, which would back the purchase, that the move was financially viable, Schmittou commissioned a survey to evaluate the potential turnout for a Triple-A team versus a Double-A team. Though the research proved to team owners that the move was a sensible decision, the banks were not impressed. As a result, the team switched banks and went ahead with the purchase and relocation. The Southern League wanted Schmittou to surrender his franchise to the league, but he had plans to relocate the team instead. Schmittou wanted to send Nashville's existing Southern League franchise to Evansville to continue as the Triplets at Double-A. However, a combination of the league's disapproval of the move and the City of Evansville being unwilling to upgrade Bosse Field resulted in a move to Huntsville, Alabama, where the team became the Huntsville Stars. The Triple-A Sounds carried on the history of the Double-A team that preceded it. The Triplets' legacy was retired, and the Stars were established as an entirely-new franchise.
From 1993 to 1994, Schmittou and his Sounds staff operated a second minor league team, called the Nashville Xpress, at Greer Stadium. In conjunction with the 1993 Major League Baseball expansion, the Double-A Charlotte Knights of the Southern League were selected to move up to Triple-A as an International League franchise. This left the Southern League team with out a home. Southern League president Jimmy Bragen approached Schmittou about placing the team at Ernie Shore Field in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, home of Schmittou's Class A-Advanced Winston-Salem Spirits of the Carolina League. The facility would have been inadequate for a Double-A team, so Schmittou offered Greer as a temporary home for the team. A one-year management arrangement was decided upon wherein Schmittou and the Sounds' staff would be responsible for taking care of the Southern League team. This marked the first time that two minor league teams would operate in the same city since 1972, when the Charlotte Hornets and Charlotte Twins shared Calvin Griffith Park. By the end of the season, a deal was reached to relocate the Xpress to Lexington, Kentucky, but the team owner was unable to get a new ballpark built in that city. Schmittou agreed to keep the team in Nashville for one more year. After the failed attempt to relocate the team to Lexington, and even Bayamón, Puerto Rico, the Xpress left for Wilmington, North Carolina, after the 1994 season, becoming the Port City Roosters in 1995.
Schmittou also owned the Daytona Beach Islanders, Eugene Emeralds, Greensboro Hornets, Huntsville Stars, Salem Redbirds, Salt Lake City Gulls, Wichita Pilots/Wranglers, and Winston-Salem Spirits. By 1996, Schmittou had sold all of his baseball teams and retired from the professional baseball business.
Major League Baseball
Schmittou headed a group seeking to place a MLB franchise in Nashville as part of the 1993 MLB expansion. Plans included a 42,000 seat stadium located near downtown at the intersection of Interstate 40 and Briley Parkway, the centerpiece of which would have been a 150-foot-high (46 m) guitar-shaped scoreboard in center field. Schmittou had a goal to pre-sell 10,000 season tickets, which he met and exceeded. The Nashville expansion bid had the endorsement of Tennessee Governor Ned McWherter and U.S. Senators Jim Sasser and Al Gore. In addition to a 120-page proposal to be presented to the expansion committee, the group produced a video narrated by Country Music Hall of Fame member Eddy Arnold which extolled the suitability of a Nashville for a major league team. Nashville failed to make the short list of candidates, and, ultimately, the National League awarded franchises to Denver (Colorado Rockies) and Miami (Florida Marlins).
In 1981, Schmittou led a group that brought minor league ice hockey back to Nashville at Municipal Auditorium. The Nashville South Stars played the 1981–82 season in the Central Hockey League, and the 1982–83 season in Atlantic Coast Hockey League. In both seasons, the South Stars served as an affiliate of the National Hockey League's Minnesota North Stars. Schmittou's group sold the team after their second season, and the South Stars were relocated to Vinton, Virginia as the Virginia Lancers.
Schmittou purchased a basketball franchise in the newly-formed Global Basketball Association in 1990. The Music City Jammers played a Municipal Auditorium in the 1991–92 season. Low attendance resulted in relocating the team to Jackson, Tennessee, at Oman Arena, for the 1992–93 season. The league collapsed during the second season, as did the team.
Strike & Spare Family Fun Center LLC
After leaving professional baseball, Schmittou formed Strike & Spare Family Fun Center LLC, which operates a chain of 16 bowling centers in Tennessee, Kentucky, Ohio, and Indiana, in August 2000.
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