Famous Teams, Stars Played Exhibitions at Sulphur Dell on April 4

Major-league ball clubs, training in the southern part of the United States, scheduled exhibition games as they made their way homeward, primarily against minor-league clubs. April 4 was a popular date for such games in Nashville as the teams worked their way toward opening day. Often, the starting lineup consisted of the most famous stars against the hometown team.

In 1906, the Chicago Americans defeated Nashville 6-2 in a game that took 1 hour and 40 minutes. The game was played at Peabody Field due to the wet conditions at Athletic Park. Known as the “hitless wonders”, the White Sox would go on to win the pennant despite having the lowest batting average in the league, then becoming World Series champions by winning four-games-to-two over the Chicago Cubs.

In 1915, the Chicago Cubs defeated the Nashville Vols 7-4 at Sulphur Dell. Cy Williams hits two home runs and the Cubs score three runs in the ninth for the win. Cubs short stop Bob Fisher and brother of former Nashville owner/manager/player, was born in Nashville.

The World Champions New York Yankees paid a visit to Nashville in 1928, falling to the Vols 11-10. Ed Pipgras, brother to the Yankees’ George Pipgras, tossed the last three innings and was the winning pitcher for the Vols. One of his strikeout victims was Babe Ruth, who had a home run in the first inning. Lou Gehrig and Leo Durocher each had a double. The star of the game was Nashville right fielder Wally Hood, who hit a double and home run along with three singles. He was 5-for-5, had a sacrifice fly, drove in two, and scored three runs.

Ruth and the Yankees returned to Sulphur Dell in 1933. With two home runs, New York shut out the Vols, 13-0. Nashville had 23 assists, and only one runner made it to third base. 2,500 fans were in attendance.

In 1942, only 3,500 attend the game at Sulphur Dell as the New York Yankees route the hometown Vols, 10-1. Nashville can muster only six hits, while the Yankees collect a total of 15, including a three-run homer by Don Pulford. Charley English hits a home run in the bottom of the fourth inning off Lefty Gomez for the only run for the host team. The next day, the Yankees win again by a 11-6 score with a barrage of 18 hits as 8,000 fans witness the contest.

In a three-hour, six-minute game played before 12,006 fans in 1954, the Milwaukee Braves defeat the Brooklyn Dodgers, 18-14.  Nine ground-rule doubles are called on balls hit among those seated on the outfield hills. Carl Furillo smacks a grand-slam, and George “Shotgun” Shuba, Duke Snider, and Ed Mathews each hit homers. Roy Campanella pinch-hits and works the last inning behind the plate as Junior Gilliam anchors third and Jackie Robinson plays first.

Two years later, only seven days after Sulphur Dell is under fourteen feet of water, Eddie Mathews hits three home runs to lead the Milwaukee Braves over the Brooklyn Dodgers 10-8. Mathews’ first homer off Don Newcombe is a 340-foot drive over the left field wall. Tom Lasorda relieves in the 9th inning for the Dodgers. Sandy Amoros has two home runs and Hank Aaron also has a homer as Johnny Logan has two doubles and a triple. The Dodgers will go on to win the 1956 National League pennant with a one-game lead over the Braves.

Nashville fans had many opportunites to see baseball’s best and brightest at famous Sulphur Dell.

© 2017 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

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Sulphur Dell Ballpark to be Enclosed with Retractable Roof

General Manager Skim Newcomb announced this morning that Sulphur Dell will undergo new construction at the end of the season that will transform the facility from an open-air ballpark to one with a roof. The project will take approximately five months to complete.

“This upgrade has been discussed for the past 70 years, and the board of directors of Sulphur Dell have decided it is time to proceed. Enclosing the grandstands and field with a permanent structure will allow us to add more dates to our entertainment calendar,” said Newcomb. “We want our fans to experience baseball and other events without the worry of potential rain-outs or other weather-related issues.”

GM Skim Newcomb at Sulphur Dell

Roads surrounding the area will be closed for the entire construction period from October until completed. Traffic will be re-routed to ease the disruption for Nashville travelers, but Newcomb feels the detours are a small price to pay.

“Once the project is finished and our fans see the features of new Sulphur Dell, they will forget about the inconvenience of construction,” he said. “The luxury of attending a game in an air-conditioned building as the summer temperatures rise, then being able to view a star-lit sky when it’s not raining – I mean, can you imagine how great that will be?”

Drawings were not made available, but a full rendition of the project should be ready for public viewing by the Fourth of July. However, there will be two roof panels that will open in the middle to a 45-degree angle on either side. It has not been determined whether the structure will open from a north-to-south or east-to-west direction.

“The complete details have not been worked out at this time,” explained Newcomb. “I guess you could say it’s an open-ended discussion with the architect and contractors.”

© 2017 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

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Cobb to Cubans to Limbless Wonders

The sports page of the March 19, 1910 edition of the Nashville American included a story about exhibition games the Nashville Volunteers would be playing at Sulphur Dell in the weeks to come. Most games were scheduled with major-league clubs: a three-game series each with the Chicago Cubs and Brooklyn, two games each against the Philadelphia Athletics, Cleveland and Boston of the American League, and a game against Detroit. Buffalo of the Eastern League would visit for a single game on April 9[1].

The array of baseball wonders playing on those teams included future Hall of Famers: Ty Cobb and Sam Crawford of Detroit, Eddie Collins of the Athletics, Frank Chance, Johnny Evers, and Mordecai “Three-Finger” Brown of the Cubs, and Nap Lajoie of Cleveland.

To conclude the exhibition schedule, a game against the visiting Cuban Stars would be held on April 12; the club would be comprised of players from Cuba and possibly other Latin American countries. It is unknown whether the game had been scheduled as a curiosity, or as a slow down to the quality of play afforded major-league teams before Nashville delved into the Southern Association season.

With some uncertainty, it appears this visiting Cuban club was formed in 1899 by Cuban baseball magnate Abel Linares, taking on the name “Cuban Stars” in 1905[2]. The March 1 edition of the Chicago Daily Tribune reported a letter had been received from Linares the previous day stating his club would “sail for the states right after the close of the Cuban season on April 28”[3]. However, a team of “Cuban Stars” did arrive in New Orleans on March 31.[4]

For whatever reason, the game did not take place. Sports writer Allen Johnson of the American felt the fans had their fill of the special preseason games, and chose to report a special event that would take its place: boxing, on April 11. But not just any boxing.

Matches were scheduled “among the representatives of the colored race strictly”. The main event was to include “Kid” Ditmore, and “Kid” Dilihaunty; but almost eerily, there was mentioned a bout between “two old-time black fighters, each of whom now has but one leg.”[5]

Johnson’s account, under the heading “Clever Bouts in the Dell”, stated 1,500 people attended the fight and “some good bouts were put up by the dark fight fans of this city”. In the best satire he could muster regarding the one-legged pugilists, he wrote “This fight was very amusing while it lasted, but Chambers gave out in the second round”.

To add insult to injury, Johnson describes the participants as “limbless wonders”. Even though it was a sign of the times, it could be argued that this was an example of how quality sports reporting degenerated in only a few days into a wonder of its own.

© 2017 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

[i] Nashville American, March 18, 1910, p. 5.

[2] Burgos, Adrian (2011). Cuban Star: How One Negro-League Owner Changed the Face of Baseball. New York: Hill and Wang.

[3] Chicago Daily Tribune, March 1, 1910, p. 15.

[4] Hartford Courant, April 5, 1910, p. 14.

[5] Nashville American, April 11, 1910, p. 8.

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1904 Baseball Banter, Southern Style

Southern Association moguls met at the Peabody Hotel in Memphis on March 8, 1904 to discuss league matters, analyze the previous seasons attendance figures, and approve the season schedule for the year ahead. Those attending, and city represented, included M. J. Finn, Little Rock; Newt Fisher and J. M. Palmer, Nashville; Charles Frank, New Orleans; Lew Whistler and Caruthers Ewing, Memphis, Abner Powell, Atlanta; Coffee Jackson and Thomas O’Brien, Birmingham, James M. Foster and Robert E. Gilks, Shreveport; and Barry Holt and William Stickney, Montgomery.[1]

After approving league president and treasurer Judge W. M. Kavanaugh’s financial accounts, the group heard the executive committee’s report that confirmed the sound economic status of the organization. The report included a final tally of 627,602 fans who had attended games the previous season. Only four leagues (out of 21 across the nation[2]) had higher attendance: the National League, American League, American Association, and Eastern League.

The schedule was approved as drawn up by a special committee that had met in Memphis on January 22 and 23[3]. The 1904 playing calendar included 140 games, an additional 14 contests per club from 1903, and opening day would be held April 21.[4] There was some slight protest by Nashville’s Newt Fisher, as his club would host no holiday games, but “… utmost good feeling prevailed, and it was the consensus of opinion with baseball magnates and managers that the season soon to open would be the best and most prosperous in the history of Southern baseball.”[5]

But there was banter between sports writers. Newspapers often included articles of pre-season predictions, but those prognostications were not always about the teams in the newspaper’s own city; whether in jest or otherwise, there was often a quick retort from the newspaper of the offended city. With no claim by a particular sports writer, the Nashville Daily American published a story on March 10 that answered Birmingham’s razzing.

“The sage of Slagtown (see author’s note below), alias the baseball writer of the Birmingham Ledger who has a penchant for dealing out groggy dope, has bobbed up again as foolish and unmuzzled [sic] as ever. This time he comes forth with the bold bad delf (author’s note: abbreviation for deflection?) that New Orleans is “the strongest team in the league and Nashville about the weakest.” They ought to fix up a pension and a padded cell and keep them in readiness.

“The strangest thing of all is that nobody outside of Birmingham has ever figured the slag caters as being other than a tailender [sic]. The fact is, Birmingham is about the best team in the Southern League, except seven (there were eight teams in the league).

And then, it got a little personal.

“The Hams would be stars on the Red Onion Circuit, but they are useful by the Southern League principally to fill in and make up the necessary number of teams to keep the league going.”

When asked to respond, at first Nashville’s Fisher took the high road.

“What’s the use? It is actually wasting time to stop their howling. They do it every year before the season opens, and it takes about one swing around the circuit to get them quiet.”

But the even-tempered Fisher did not let the opportunity to further provoke the matter go totally to waste.

“Birmingham has not only had the pennant won every year before the league season opened, but has packed the flag away in camphor balls for the following season. Results are what count. We won the pennant twice and finished fifth the third time. I am not ashamed of this record. I would just like to ask the young man on the Ledger where the Birmingham team finished those three years. It was below Nashville each time.”[6]

At season’s end, Fisher could not boast about his club; Nashville finished in fifth place (second baseman Justin Bennett led the league with 166 hits, and pitcher Wiley Piatt led with 22 losses and 44 appearances)[7]. The nemesis of his team and the Nashville Tennessean, Birmingham, finished in fourth place. The Barons were two games ahead in the final standings. But for the fourth year the pennant remained on Tennessee soil as the Memphis Egyptians defended their 1903 title.

Otherwise, Fisher would not consider it a bad year. It had been reported he had cleared $10,000 profit on the ball club the previous year, and it was estimated that he would pocket $4,000 for the 1904 season.

It was a favorable year for the Southern Association, with Nashville, Birmingham, New Orleans, Memphis, and Atlanta all making money. Little Rock was reported to have shown a small profit, but things were less positive in Montgomery and Shreveport.[8] Even those clubs may have made some money.[9]

Soothed by profits of a successful season, the bosses of southern baseball saved their banter for another year of razzing.

© 2017 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

Author’s Note: ”Slagtown” is in reference to Birmingham’s steel-making industry. Beyond the outfield walls of West End Park, often called the “Slag Pile”, was a hill of slag, a by-product of making steel.[10]

[1] New Orleans Times-Democrat, March 9, 1904, p. 12.

[2] Atlanta Constitution, March 9, 1904, p. 2.

[3] New Orleans Times-Democrat, March 9, 1904, p. 12.

[4] Nashville American, March 9, 1904, p. 7.

[5] New Orleans Times-Democrat, March 9, 1904, p. 12.

[6] Nashville American, March 10, 1904, p. 7.

[7] Wright, Marshall D. (2002). The Southern Association in Baseball, 1885-1961. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Co.

[8] Atlanta Constitution, September 19, 1904, p. 7.

[9] Ibid., September 26, 1904, p. 9.

[10] Watkins, Clarence (2010). Baseball in Birmingham. Charleston, South Carolina: Arcadia Publishing.

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14th Annual Southern Association Conference at Rickwood Field

scan0001Yesterday, I attended the 14th annual Southern Association Conference in Birmingham, and want to take this time to encourage you to be a part of this event next year. The Rickwood Field SABR chapter put on quite a conference, led by David Brewer and Clarence Watkins; but the opportunity to visit Rickwood Field is great in itself – it is truly one of America’s historic ballparks.

To be able to hear presentations about baseball in the South, among friends in a casual setting, was great. To wax poetic: Baseball was literally “in the air”.  Attendees came from Mobile, Memphis, Nashville, Birmingham, Montgomery, and Atlanta; we heard presentations about baseball in Montgomery (and pitcher Roy “Goat” Walker), Selma, the Southern Association, and vintage player A. T. Pearsall, but sidebar conversations were ongoing beyond.

An added treat was lunch with former Montgomery Rebels player and minor league manager Ted Brazell. One could literally hear and feel the passion Ted has with his love of the game of baseball. It was inspiring.

More than anything, the friendships rekindled and friendships made were more than worth the trip. The date could change, but put the first Saturday of March, 2018 on your calendar. You won’t be disappointed.

© 2017 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

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Catch and Release: Bill Schwartz’s Gamble on a Pike

Bill Schwartz was handed the reins of the Nashville club soon after current manager, Bill Bernhard, announced on September 23, 1910 that he would not manage the team any longer. Schwartz joined the Vols earlier that year and played first base for 62 games, hitting at a .288 clip. He came from Akron, where he played for five years, managing the Champs to an 80-41 record and an Ohio-Pennsylvania League (Class C) pennant.

The 6’2”, 185-pound Schwartz had played 24 games for his hometown Cleveland Naps in 1904, his only major-league experience, on a team which included a future Vols teammate, outfielder Harry Bay. Future Hall of Fame members Addie Joss, Elmer Flick, and Nap Lajoie were on that Cleveland ball club. Those great players, along with Naps manager Bill Armour (in 1908, Cleveland announced that it would have two farm clubs: Toledo, managed by Armour, and Nashville, managed by Bill Bernhard) must have been an influence on Bill and his future managerial skills.

After two fourth-, two fifth-, and one seventh-place finish, Bill had a final shot at improving his ball club. Aging Otto Williams had been a steady second-sacker, but at the age of 36 and a weak .246 average in his only season with Nashville, Schwartz saw an opportunity to bring in new blood at the position.

nashville-tennessean-and-american-march-2-1915-pike-schwartzIn 1915, Bill thought he had caught his big fish to fill the slot. On March 2, the Nashville Tennessean and American parodied a news story that about the signing of W. P. (Bill) Pike, and compared the potential of the new player to that of Boston Braves second baseman and 1914 National League most valuable player, Johnny Evers.

Bill Pike was a no-show as pre-season practice began. On March 14, he was still a “no-show”[1], but not necessarily an unusual circumstance as only 12 players had reported at the time. Pike joined first baseman Gene Paulette, shortstop Dolly Stark, third baseman Johnny Dodge, outfielders Bert King, Tommy McCabe, and Jack Farmer, and pitchers Floyd Kroh and Heinie Berger.

Bill Ware, who would also vie for the second base position, had not shown up in Nashville as well, but the first exhibition game was not scheduled for another week when Vanderbilt would be the opponent on Saturday, March 20. The pro club won over the collegiate Commodores 6-2 in chilly Sulphur Dell, and Pike was hitless in to turns at bat. Hoping that Pike would hold down the position at second base, Schwartz inserted Ware as a pinch-hitter in the seventh inning. After the strike out, he replaced Pike at second for the last two innings.nashville-tennessean-and-american-march-24-1915-pike-schwartz

When weather delayed the next game, the teams met at Dudley Field on Tuesday, March 23, and Pike was inserted as a pinch-hitter in the last inning as the Vols won, 11-4 in seven innings. Pike was hitless in two turns at bat. Ware played right field, and Howard Baker was at second.[2]

For whatever reason, by April 11, Pike was gone[3]. Bill Ware was not to be found, either. Second base was played by three players during season: Tom Sheehan, 67 games, George Kircher, 39 games, Howard Baker, 33 games, and Ben Diamond, 15 games.

Schwartz was not successful in Nashville, as his clubs never finished higher than fourth, and his Vols record in five campaigns was 350-360. In 1916 Schwartz became head coach of the Vanderbilt University baseball team, and retired with a Schwartz coaching record in 19 seasons.[4]

Ware disappears from baseball  history, and Pike is nowhere to be found. Did Schwartz’s big catch turn out to be a throwback?

© 2017 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

[1] Nashville Tennessean and American, March 14, 1915, p. 36.

[2] Ibid., March 24, 1915, p. 12.

[3] Ibid., April 11, 1915, p. 36.

[4] Traughber, Bill. “Vandy’s Bill Schwartz remembered”, Commodore History Corner. http://www.vucommodores.com/sports/historycorner/spec-rel/042512aaa.html, accessed March 1, 2017.

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Sulphur Dell: What was in the Water?

nashville-republican-banner-short-version-june-1-1841-j-h-bransford In the late 1700s, pioneers discovered a special place on the banks of the Cumberland River where a natural sulphur spring flowed, and deer and other wildlife licked the mineral salt. Named French Lick Branch, the creek ran through “Sulphur Spring Bottom”, a low-lying section of Nashville which soon became the city park. A ball field was established where games could be played, and picnics, horse racing, and other leisurely events were held.

In 1841, the Republican Banner reported that J. H. Bransford, a partner in the dry goods business of Maulding & Bransford, found opportunity to refit the spring for bathing purposes. The city allowed Bransford to take on the project, but in return he agreed to not charge patrons for its use. Being the entrepreneur that he was, however, J. H. would certainly offer “fruit, cigars, &c.”[1] for sale.

1828-fwIn a newspaper notice of June 1 to announce his venture, Bransford noted a chemical analysis on the water at the spring had been performed by a “Professor Bowen” in 1827. The analyzer was most certainly, George T. Bowen, Professor of Chemistry at the University of Nashville. Per a November 18, 1928 death notice in the Hartford Courant, young Dr. Bowen had passed away at the age of 28[2]. Hopefully, his demise did not come about from inhaling the pungent sulphur during his assessment.

nashville-republican-banner-long-june-1-1841-j-h-bransfordNonetheless, the examination was repeated by Dr. Gerard Troost, Tennessee State Geologist, who moved to the area in 1928 from Indiana to become professor of mineralogy and chemistry at the University of Nashville. and was probably a colleague of Bowen. Undoubtedly, Troost suffered no ill health from his inspection of the sulphur spring, as he died in 1850 as a result of a cholera outbreak in Nashville.[3]

The Republican Banner article goes on to lists the results of both distinguished chemists. Dr. Troost’s results proved the close resemblance of Nashville’s sulphur spring composition to that of Harrogate Springs in England. Today, the establishment is the oldest bottler of water, dating back to the 16th century.[4] By comparing the mineral content of a world-famous sulphur spring, to one discovered only a few decades before, Bransford was establishing the quality of the resort he was to build.

Bransford, Bowen, nor Troost could have conceived, yet even imagined, the historical significance of what would become Nashville’s Sulphur Dell. The magicial springs gave way to the ballpark’s mysterious smell, flavor, and mystique for years to come.

© 2017 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

[1] Nashville Republican Banner, June 1, 1841, p. 2.

[2] Hartford Courant, November 18, 1828, p. 3.

[3] Gerard Troost (1776-1850) , Geologist. http://faculty.evansville.edu/ck6/bstud/troost.html, retrieved February 28, 2017.

[4] Harrogatespring.com. http://www.harrogatespring.com, retrieved February 28, 2017.

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