It was at the beginning of the Senators seven-year win streak from 1926 to 1932 that Clark “the Ol’ Silver Fox” Griffith came to Chattanooga. Though he’d spent a quarter century playing baseball in six different cities on eight teams, Griffith found a home in Washington and wanted to give the Senators his best.
He was on the hunt for a good minor league partner for his major league club and found what he sought in the Lookouts. In 1928, the Senators became the major league affiliate of the Chattanooga club and changed the face of Scenic City baseball forever.
The following year, construction began on a new baseball stadium on the site of Andrews Field. The towering park played host to 12,000 seats under sprawling awnings stretching down both base lines. The left field wall stood 325 feet from home plate and the right at 318 feet. However, the centerfield wall demanded national attention, stretching a record 471 feet from home plate – making it the deepest centerfield wall in the history of the game.
At the apex of left and centerfield, an incline donned the word “LOOKOUTS” in bold, white lettering in fair territory, along with a flagpole bearing Old Glory.
Perched high atop the stadium was the press box, built on top of the wide roof. The stadium was one of the first in the country to be built with a press box. Eight ticket windows bordered the main gate and the concourse beneath the stands featured, among other things, a deli! For those who were interested, a barber chair also stood in the bleachers offering a quick shave and a haircut to those attending the game.
The Fox had found the perfect city for his club, choosing Chattanooga over Atlanta because of its proximity to Washington. The Lookouts’ players were eager to join the ranks of the Senators organization and the newly constructed green giant at the corner of O’Neal and East Third streets proved a patient host.
All that remained was to choose a leader for this new venture – a liaison between Washington and Chattanooga, major and minor. A man who would orchestrate the induction of major league baseball prospects into the Scenic City of the South and become the namesake of the record setting baseball stadium.
Griffith found that leader in an old friend, Joseph William Engel.
Born in Washington, D.C. in 1893, Engel was one of six children born to a German immigrant who owned a string of hotels in D.C. Engel was raised at the ballpark and spent his youth playing with Kermit and Alice Roosevelt, President Teddy Roosevelt’s children.
He was a Senators batboy and, later, served as the team mascot. In college, he lettered in four sports – track, baseball, basketball, and football. Pursuing his passion for baseball, he tried to make it as a pitcher in the majors from 1912 to 1920, playing for Washington five of his seven career seasons.
In his first year in the majors, he roomed with future hall-of-famer, Walter Johnson.
“People used to wonder at our close friendship – said we were so different,” Engel recalled. “Walter didn’t drink or smoke and was more or less on the serious side. I liked my fun and as a youngster was something of a hell-raiser. But we just clicked.”
As a player, the young Engel was mediocre, pitching in 102 games and starting only 53. Of those, Engel won only 17 games and posted a career ERA of 3.34. In three of his seven playing seasons, he appeared in a single game each year. He still holds a claim to contributing to the single-game record for most batters hit by a pitch.
While pitching wasn’t his strong suit, Engel had a knack for spotting natural athletic talent. All too aware of his own limitations, Engel chose to focus on his strengths, hanging up his cleats in 1920.
Griffith hired Engel as a scout in 1920, and he went on to bring some of the Senators best players to the club through the next six years, including Joe Cronin, Bucky Harris, Ossie Bluege, Buddy Myer, Doc Prothro, and Goose Goslin.
When the Fox needed to choose someone to head up operations over his newly acquired farm club in Chattanooga, his ace scout was the obvious choice.
However, Engel was in for an uphill battle.
Nearing the completion of construction at Engel Stadium, in October 1929, the stock market crashed and the nation’s economy dipped into a tailspin.
Amidst a nations’ turmoil, Joe Engel came to Chattanooga and took up his 34-year reign at 1130 East Third Street as one of the most notoriously eccentric promoters in all baseball.
The Chattanooga Lookouts & 100 Seasons of Scenic City Baseball
The tales of men, women and children - players and staff, umpires and fans - who added to the saga of America's pastime in Chattanooga. Besides covering the history of Engel Stadium, this book tells the tales of nine hall of famers, a teenage girl who struck out two Yankee greats, record crowds, the deepest centerfield in the history of the game, and the most eccentric owner in baseball! 284 pages
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