John Andrew Beazley was born May 25, 1918 in Nashville, Tennessee, to John Andrew and Mattie Sue Robertson Beazley. Apart from a brief period during which the family lived in Alabama, John attended school in Nashville. While enrolled at Cohn Junior High School he participated in both football and baseball, where his athletic skills became evident. Despite his involvement in these sports, by age 16 John had developed a passion for boxing. He had a friend who was a Golden Gloves champion. The two worked out together and John often assisted him in the ring. However, when Johnny announced his desire to become a fighter to his mother, she quickly quashed any such notion. Johnny's brother had died at age 17 from a brain injury sustained during a football game at Cohn High School. Understandably, she did not wish her only remaining child to participate in the rough sport of boxing. Johnny heeded his mother's plea and turned his attention to baseball instead.
Thompson Station School baseball team, Williamson County, Tennessee, ca. 1940
Looking Back at Tennessee Collection
When Johnny was still young, his father died. Out of necessity, Johnny worked after school and during summers to earn extra income to help provide for his mother. There was very little time to play baseball. He had more time to devote to after school sports during his high school years. Beazley played outfield for the Hume-Fogg Blue Devils baseball team. His pitching ability was discovered by accident when the Devils' coach, Slim Porter, called him in to pitch after running out of "hurlers." Beazley soon became the team's number one pitcher.
Following his graduation from Hume-Fogg, Beazley attended the Dressen Baseball School that took place at the historic Sulphur Dell ballfield. Jimmy Hamilton managed the business office for the school. He was also a scout for the Cincinnati Reds whose job it was to find and sign talented young prospects. Hamilton, who was also vice-president and general manager of the Nashville Vols, signed 17-year-old Beazley to a contract with the Vols in the fall of 1936, giving him his first opportunity in professional baseball. Beazley told the story of how he got his pro start:
I read in the newspaper that they were going to hold a professional tryout camp at the old Nashville ball park, Sulphur Dell. But, a guy had to have a $25.00 deposit. To a West Nashville kid, twenty-five bucks in those days was the national debt now. A buddy of mine said he knew a bootlegger who would pay a nickel apiece for used whiskey bottles. There was a stamp on the bottles that said 'It is illegal to re-use this bottle' but it didn't stop me. I searched every trash can and trash pit in West Nashville and came up with enough bottles to pay my way to the tryout camp. I signed for $60.00 a month, and, by the way, they never refunded my $25.00.
Sulphur Dell Stadium, Nashville, Tennessee, 1937
RG 82, Department of Conservation Photograph Collection
The following spring, Beazley was "farmed out" (a farm team is a sports team in a lower league that is affiliated with a team in a higher league) to the Leesburg Gondoliers in Florida. He did not play well for the Gondoliers, so he was transferred to Tallahassee to play in the Georgia-Florida League. In the 2 years after signing with the Vols, Beazley was sent to play with 5 different teams in hopes that his performance might improve under different leadership. On more than one occasion, he was so disgusted with his playing that he decided to return home to Nashville. Beazley signed with Abbeville in the Class D Evangeline League in 1938. By the end of the 1938 season, his play had improved. His contract was sold to the New Orleans Pelicans, a farm team for the St. Louis Cardinals. Unfortunately, after playing only 1 month for the Pelicans, he injured his arm and ended up being sent home to recover. Beazley continued to be plagued by injuries and poor performance. It was only his determination and the encouragement of his coaches that kept him from giving up the game.
Nashville Base Ball Club, Nashville, Tennessee, ca. 1880s
Tennessee Historical Society Photograph Collection
Irene White in a baseball uniform at Maryville College, Maryville, Tennessee, 1916
Looking Back at Tennessee Collection