Larry Gilbert played major-league baseball, including in the 1914 World Series, before managing the New Orleans Pelicans.
New Orleans native Larry Gilbert played two seasons in major-league baseball and made a brief appearance in the 1914 World Series. He is best remembered, though, for his long tenure as a player, manager, and executive for the New Orleans Pelicans, and later as manager of a rival minor-league team, the Volunteers, in Nashville, Tennessee. He retired as the most successful manager in the history of the Southern Association with 2,128 wins.
Born in New Orleans on December 3, 1891, Gilbert broke into professional baseball in 1910 as a pitcher with the Victoria Rosebuds in the Southwest Texas League, leading the league with eighteen wins during the season. In 1911 he joined the Battle Creek Crickets in the Southern Michigan League; sometime between 1911 and his next assignment with the Milwaukee Brewers in the American Association, Gilbert switched from the pitcher’s mound to center field.
At twenty-two years old, Gilbert made his major-league debut on April 14, 1914, as an outfielder with the Boston Braves. Under manager George Stallings the 1914 “miracle” Braves vaulted from last place to claim the National League pennant. In the World Series the Braves swept Connie Mack’s heavily favored Philadelphia Athletics in four games. Gilbert played in seventy-two games and batted .268 with five home runs during the 1914 season. He had one at-bat as a pinch-hitter in the World Series and was walked intentionally.
He returned for the 1915 campaign but played in only forty-five games; his last was on July 12, 1915. Gilbert’s contract was acquired by A. J. Heinemann of the New Orleans Pelicans for $2,500, a record purchase price at the time for a minor leaguer. For nine seasons from 1917 through 1925, Gilbert patrolled the vast expanse in center field at Heinemann Park (renamed Pelican Stadium in 1938). He won the Southern Association batting crown in 1919 with a .349 average; after that stellar season he was sold to the Cleveland Indians, but he declined the return to the major leagues, preferring to remain in his hometown at what was, for its time, a lucrative minor-league salary. During a 1925 game with Little Rock, Gilbert was seriously injured when a pitch struck him in the head. After three tenuous days Gilbert began to recover from the beaning, but his playing days were over.
Gilbert would continue to build his baseball reputation as the manager of the New Orleans Pelicans. He first assumed this role in the 1923 season, when he led the Pelicans to an 89-64 record, earning the club its fifth Southern Association pennant. It was the first of four championships he would win with New Orleans. In fifteen seasons from 1923 through 1938, Gilbert compiled an impressive record of 1,307 victories against 968 losses for a .575 winning percentage.
In 1939 Gilbert shocked the New Orleans community by moving to Tennessee to accept a position as manager and part-owner of the Nashville Volunteers. There, he continued his winning ways: over the next ten seasons, Gilbert’s club won 821 games and lost 660. The Volunteers captured two Southern Association pennants, in 1940 and 1943. He remained as the general manager in Nashville from 1948 until his retirement in 1955.
Gilbert had two sons who also played major-league baseball: outfielder Charlie Gilbert spent six years with the Brooklyn Dodgers, Chicago Cubs, and Philadelphia Phillies between 1940 and 1947, and first baseman Harold “Tookie” Gilbert played for the New York Giants in 1950 and 1953.
Gilbert died on February 17, 1965, at Mercy Hospital in New Orleans.