Calling For a Ball Park?

Nashville clubs, desiring to take their game to the mythical four corners of earth to establish hierarchy in the great stadium of sport, issued challenges that were easily accepted. Hopeful for an outcome of superiority, rivals anxiously consented for an opportunity to “vanquish” the opponent.

This was 1870s “base ball”, and challenges came from every club instead of the regular scheduling of games, as who was to know who the best club was without the continual jousting between clubs for superiority:

     The Independent Chick Base Ball Club challenges any club in the city, whose members are 16 years of age, to a match game.

     The North Nashville Club has been challenged by a club, the name of which, owing to the crookedness of the chirography, no fellow can find out.

     The N. Jacobus boys vanquished the G. F. Akers by a score of 17-12, giving them three goose eggs.

     The North Nashville Base Ball Club have cleaned up and leveled their grounds for the battle soon to come off with the Lincks.

     The South Nashvilles are anxious for a chance at the H. Drexlers.[1]

meatball-sepia-fwA cleared lot or field was no longer the acceptable location for a game. “Home field advantage”, became an important draw, and that meant an adequate ball field included considerations for spectators. The safety of crowds, especially in drawing ladies to games, added to the reasoning; to draw a crowd, “cleaned up and leveled” grounds were necessary.

The North Nashville and W. T. Lincks teams were the premier clubs in 1876, and each one’s challenges were not taken lightly. Teams on either side were expected to bat and field with their best ability, but at some point appearance became an important ingredient to a team’s superior class. Whether a part of the arrogance, aristocracy, or patronizing of one club over another, soon all clubs joined in on the regalia:

     The long looked for match of base ball between the noted Lincks and the North Nashvilles will be played to-morrow on the grounds of the North Nashvilles, near Mr. Felix Cheatham’s residence. The game will be called promptly at 3:30, and a large crowd is expected to be on hand, as this game will be the event of the season. Seats will be provided for all, and everybody is cordially invited, the ladies especially. A strong and sufficient force of police will be on duty to preserve order. Both clubs will appear in their new and beautiful uniforms.[2]

Two days later an account of the game, won by the Lincks 12-6, suggested between 2,500 and 3,000 spectators were on hand; about 600 of them were ladies. Eloquent description of the contest allowed for one interjection for the decades to come:

     Never since base ball was introduced have we seen such admirable playing. What a pity we have not a Base Ball Park.[3]

Was this the first call for what would become Nashville’s Athletic Park, affectionately known as Sulphur Dell to future generations?

© 2016 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

[1] Nashville Daily American, August 23, 1876, p. 4

[2] Ibid., August 27, 1876, p. 4

[3] Ibid., August 29, 1876, p. 4

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First Nashville Professional Games in 1884

Area amateur baseball had flourished since the end of the Civil War, and the “Nashvilles” were the premier local team. But with the expansion of professional ball clubs throughout the south, it was necessary to stock a club with players who played for pay.

Paying players moved a team a step closer to winning championships, which up to that time had been mythical (such as “the champions of Tennessee”) with no bearing on anything except for proper boasting at the local tavern and in newsprint. But as professional baseball was growing, challenges to championship caliber teams would necessitate an upgrade in the roster.

The only way, was to pay. Improving the quality of play would also bring a successful club to the attention to those who were considering forming a southern league, as there were moves to organize leagues across the country.

An article in the Nashville Daily American on October 9, 1884, described the formation of a professional baseball team for Nashville, the first for the city.

“Recently a stock company has been formed of reliable and business men of the city, who have decided to get a team for Nashville of professional base-ball players who can meet the best clubs of the country and cope with them in a game of which the audiences would not leave the ground disappointed or disgusted.

“On Monday of this week the stock company had a meeting, decided definitely to get such a team, and immediately sent Mr. Will C. Bryan, whose base-ball record is familiar to all who know of base-ball in the city, to Cincinnati to consummate arrangements with players with whom he has for some time been in correspondence. At the same meeting the stockholders decided to call the club “The American” Base ball nine, in honor of the daily which bears that name. Mr. Bryan was also elected Manager of the new club, and was instructed to hire first-class material, regardless of cost.”[1]

So off went Will Bryan, not only to engage the services of players, but also to schedule a game with a top-quality club to introduce their brand of the game to Nashville’s spectators. He engaged the Cincinnati Unions to visit Nashville right away, as a game was scheduled for Friday, October 10.

The Unions were also known as the Outlaw Reds (their owner was Justus Thorner who had previously owned the Red Stockings) and had played in the Union Association during the season. The 12-team league included the St. Louis Maroons, Milwaukee Brewers, Kansas City Cowboys, and Wilmington Quicksteps.

Considering that Nashville held potential as a member of the Union league for 1885, Thorner agreed to take his club south, and on October 10 the first professional game for a Nashville ball club was played at the fairgrounds.

A banner across the top of the American’s page 4 heralded to event.


Bryan secured the majority of this new ball club from a distance away, and the newspaper gave detail about each one.

“The “American” Club is composed of the following material: Baker, the pitcher, is from Springfield, where he has made a very fine record…Lang, the catcher, was for awhile one of the crack battery of the Atlantas, but left them for a more prominent position…Collins, who holds first base, is taken from the Louisvilles…Bryan, who is well known to Nashvillians, will play on second base…Reccius, one of the most widely known players in the country, has been engaged from the Trentons and will play third base…Meyers, of the Portsmouth Blue, will play in the position of short stop.

“Rhue, the left fielder, comes from the Springfield Club, Hungier in center from the St. Louis Club, and Hellman in right from the Terre Hautes.”[2]

Noting that the local club had not practiced together beforehand, the American reported an audience of between 1,250 and 1,500 persons watched them lose to the visitors by a score of 6-3. The Unions had to score three runs in the eighth inning and two in the ninth to secure the win after falling behind 3-1. The game took 1 hour and 45 minutes to complete. Game rules included “seven balls being required to give a batter his base, and fouls being out on first bounce.[3]


The next day’s game was not a close one. Nashville scored two runs in the eighth inning and lost 11-2.


Without no announcement about Nashville’s chances in the Union Association (the league, in fact, folded after playing only one season), another club, the “Georgetowns” concluded the Americans’ three-game home stand by winning over the locals 4-1.

Losing three games gave reason for Nashville to reorganize its roster. Added to the lineup were new players who would become the nucleus of the Americans first team in the newly-formed Southern League for 1885. Joining Will Bryan and Norm Baker would be Charles Marr, Ollie Beard, and Billy Crowell of the Evansvilles.

Potential games were announced in the American to conclude the 1884 exhibition season.

“Georgetowns, Oct. 19; Cincinnatis, American Association, Oct. 26 and 27, Dayton, Champions of Ohio State League, Nov. 2 and 3, Kansas City Unions, Nov. 22 and 23, Louisville, Nov. 29 and 30.”[4]

The article concludes with high expectations to be met by the new professionals.

“…the Nashville public may expect some excellent base-ball continues.”[5]

PostScript: Interestingly enough, one of the Cincinnati Unions players in the two games in Nashville, George Bradley, would become manager for Nashville for a short period of time during the 1887 season. Bradley had also pitched during his tenure with the Unions in 1884, winning 25 and losing 15.

© 2016 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.


[1] Nashville Daily American, October 9, 1884, p. 5

[2] Nashville Daily American, October 10, 1884, p. 8

[3] Nashville Daily American, October 11, 1884, p. 4

[4] Nashville Daily American, October 14, 1884, p. 4

[5] Ibid.

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Ghosts of Sulphur Dell

The last week of the 1963 season was hardly going to be a great send-off for Nashville’s fabled ballpark. A 15-word sentence, seemingly an afterthought in an article about a player who had been sent to Tulsa of the Texas League, pronounced the beginning of the end.nashville-tennessean-09-01-1963-sulphur-dell

nashville-tennessean-09-08-1963-sulphur-dell-barney-ballard-article-apBut the oldest ballpark in existence was given special attention on September 8, 1963, when Associated Press sports writer Barney Ballard published his epitaph of Nashville’s Sulphur Dell. On that day the final professional game was scheduled for the quaint, quirky ballpark. Ballard’s prediction on fan attendance was true: 971 faithful people passed through the turnstiles. It was the lowest season attendance in the history of the ball club, as only 54,485 bothered to journey down to Sulphur Dell for the entire year.

The Vols won both games on that special Sunday, 6-3 and 2-1 over Lynchburg. But the spirit of the old ballpark seemed to want to hang on, to keep the saga alive, to give up one more home run down right, 262 feet from home plate.

And it happened.

The second game went into extra innings before the historic day ended with an appropriate feat, as Nashville outfielder Charlie Teuscher lifted a fly ball over the right field wall to end the game.


Teuscher slapped three home runs in the two games, but his game-ending achievement also began the final demise of one of Baseball’s most beloved, cherished, and endearing ballparks of all time.

Relinquishing its hold on professional baseball in Nashville, the city took over management of the facility. Relegated to a final flurry of amateur softball and baseball games, wrestling matches, concerts, and the rodeo in 1964, the park was eventually shuttered after becoming a race track in 1965, and demolished in 1969.

It was soon after the final season that happy thoughts were stirred once again, resurrecting flashbacks of a better day, a better time, when things were different. Tennessean cartoonist Charles Bissell gave one final inscription to thoughts of Sulphur Dell.


Bissell’s cartoon appealed to Mrs. Henry Justice, who penned a special memory in a letter to the editor a few weeks later. Reckon the ghosts are still there, after all?



Nashville Tennessean

© 2016 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

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Suffrage and Shropshire’s Baby

As voting rights for women gained steam in 1915, Nashville Vols club owner and president Clyde Shropshire supported the movement as he best knew how: he determined that the game between his ball club versus the Birmingham Barons on July 23 would be Suffrage Day at Sulphur Dell.

Sports writer Blinkey Horn made an announcement in a column “Vols and Barons Will Play on July 23 for Cause of Suffrage”:

Nashville Tennessean and Daily American 06-19-1915 Suffrage Game Vols Barons Sulphur Dell 07-23-1915

Shropshire’s generosity was to include $25 from his own funds for special prizes to players. The first player of either team to hit a home run would be awarded $10, and $5 each to the player with the first triple, run scored, and stolen base. He also announced that the movement would receive a portion of gate receipts.

Nashville Tennessean and Daily American 07-18-1915 Suffrage Game Vols Barons Sulphur Dell 07-23-1915

Mrs. George Dallas, vice-president of the Nashville Equal Suffrage League, headed up the day’s event. She had a special booth constructed outside the entrance to the ballpark for patrons to purchase tickets to the game. Grandstand box seats were decorated in suffrage colors, yellow and white, and ladies sold all sorts of concessions, “cigars, peanuts, lemonade, popcorn, and the various substances obtainable at a baseball game.” Ladies roamed the stadium to hand out flyers, explaining the reasons why the voting franchise should be extended to the fair sex. Nashville won over Birmingham 6-3, but there was no mention of the proceeds.

Perhaps as a gesture to Shropshire’s endorsements, his daughter was selected mascot of the game.

Nashville Tennessean and Daily American 07-24-1915 Suffrage Game Vols Barons Sulphur Dell 07-23-1915

The next season another game was planned in support of suffrage, once again with the full support of Shropshire. Designated as “Suffrage Day at Sulphur Dell” on August 21, 1916, yellow banners decorated the ballpark to commemorate “Votes for Women” and Nashville won over the New Orleans Pelicans 6-1. Ladies from the Equal Suffrage League sold tickets, soda pop, peanuts, and other concessions. Yellow sashes and streamers were part of the repeat celebration.

An addition to the event was the awarding of a cake to the ugliest and prettiest ball player, and one for the most popular fan. The cakes were on display in Nashville store windows in the days leading up to the game. The fund-raising endeavor was once more noted as successful.

nashville Tennessean and Daily American 08-22-1916 Nashville New OrleansSulphur Dell Suffrage Womens Voting Rights 08-21-1916

Repeated in 1917, the game was won by Nashville over New Orleans 5-3 but with no mention of the suffrage movement except for an article the previous week.

Nashville Tennessean and American 08-12-1917 Suffrage Game Nashville Sulphur Dell

Clyde Shropshire was a notable attorney in Nashville, held prominent positions on the board of several businesses, and was elected to the Tennessee State House of Representatives on November 3, 1914 as a Democrat. A staunch supporter of suffrage, prohibition, and tax equalization, he served as Speaker of the House 1917-1919.

nashville Tennessean and American 01-02-1917 Clyde Shropshire Nashville Speaker of the House


Nashville Tennessean

Nashville Tennessean and American

Paper of Record

The Sporting News

© 2016 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.



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Sulphur Dell Circuses and Slugfests

In what must be one of baseball’s most productive offensive games ever in Sulphur Dell, Chattanooga outlasted Nashville 24-17 in the second game of a double header on Wednesday, June 12, 1946.

With the Shrine Circus scheduled for a five-day run at the historic ballpark the next week, sportswriter Raymond Johnson offered his view by comparing the wild game to circus shenanigans under the sub-heading “Vol-Lookout Gyrations Bring To Mind Shrine Circus”:

“…it is extremely doubtful if the circus will provide more amusing things than some of the comical and, at times, stupid play Those Vols, their rivals, and the umpires – let’s not forget them – have in the Dell this week.”[1]

Nashville won the first game that day by a score of 4-3, but the night cap was one for the record books.

Nashville Tennessean, 06-17-1946 Shrine Circus Sulphur Dell

Nashville and Southern Association rival Chattanooga set a league record for most hits in one game for both teams with 51 and tied a league record for runs scored in a game with 41. There were 109 official times at-bat, 29 left on base, 15 doubles, three home runs, and a total of 71 bases.[2]

What does not show up in the box score are other zany happenings.

Twenty-eight players, 12 Lookouts and 16 Vols, took part in the game. Nine pitchers, six Vols and three Lookouts, took his turn on the mound. There were four hit batsmen and nine errors.

In the first inning, Nashville’s Joe Stringfellow golfed a long home run out of the ballpark, and a few batters later second baseman Jim Shilling hit an infield popup which Lookouts third baseman Ray Goolsby, first baseman Jack Sanford, and pitcher Larry Brunke dropped between them. Shilling later pitched two innings for Nashville.

There was even a protest, although only rules interpretations can be protested, not judgement calls. In the fourth inning Chattanooga’s Hillis Layne hit a fly ball that hit the right field screen and dropped down to settle at the top of the wooden fence. Base umpire Lyn Dowdy ruled it a ground-rule double, but plate umpire Paul Blackard thought the ball had cleared the fence and gave the signal for a home run.

Nashville outfielders Stringfellow and Pete Thomassie convinced Blackard that the ball was clearly visible on top of the fence and the arbiter reversed his decision. The decision brought manager Bert Niehoff out of the Lookouts dugout to argue that the ball on the fence could have been one hit there during batting practice. After discussing the issue, both umpires ruled once again that, in fact, Hillis should be credited with a home run. Larry Gilbert protested the game at that point, to no avail.

A blowout game had happened in Atlanta’s Ponce De Leon ballpark a few seasons before, with similar results.

In a 26-13 win over the Crackers on August 18, 1943, every Nashville player collected at least one hit, scored at least one run, and all except Charlie Brewster knocked in at least one run[3].  Charlie Gilbert went to the plate eight times in the game, and the entire team totaled 58 plate appearances and 29 base hits.

First baseman Mel Hicks started the Vols scoring spree with a three-run homer in the first inning, and Ed Sauer added another four-bagger for two runs in the fifth. It was the 10th home run on the season for the pair. After three innings the Vols had scored 14 runs, then added five more in the fifth.

The Crackers made it interesting by scoring 11 runs in the final three innings, but by then Nashville increased their total with three more in the seventh and four in the ninth, which included a steal of home by third baseman Pete Elko for the final Vols tally.

Gritty Vols manager Larry Gilbert called on outfielder Calvin Chapman and catcher Walt Ringhofer to direct the ball club in his absence, flying from Atlanta to attend the wedding of team owner Fay Murray’s daughter Emily on that day.[4]

One of the highest scoring games in Vols history, the previous record had occurred two years prior in Chattanooga.

On the third day of the 1941 season in Chattanooga on April 13, Nashville won 25-1 by sending 19 batters to the plate in the seventh and final inning of the second game. Vols outfielder Oris Hockett hit a grand slam and catcher Marvin Felderman drove in three runs with a single to clear the bases, accounting for seven of the runs. With 15 runs in the frame, the Vols came within one of the league record for runs scored in an inning, set by Little Rock against Nashville on April 25, 1929.[5]

Big scores continued six days later on April 19 Nashville won 20-1 at Sulphur Dell, and the next day as the Vols pounded the Lookouts again 21-9.[6]

Rivalries between opponents created some of the most memorable games in Southern Association history, complete with all-time marks, record stats, and individual performances. The success of Nashville’s franchise during the 1940s includes noteworthy performances such as these.

[1] Johnson, Raymond. “One Man’s Opinion”. Nashville Tennessean, p. 40, June 14, 1946.

[2] Nashville Tennessean, April 13, 1946, p. 19

[3] Nashville Tennessean, August 19, 1943, p. 18

[4] The Sporting News, August 26, 1943, p. 19

[5] The Sporting News, April 24, 1941, p. 11

[6] Johnson, Raymond. “One Man’s Opinion”. Nashville Tennessean, p. 32, August 20, 1943.


© 2016 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.


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Perfection at Sulphur Dell

Tom Rogers pitched a perfect game for Nashville on July 11, 1916, as the Vols won over Chattanooga at Sulphur Dell 2-0. The hard-throwing right-hander from Sparta, Tennessee who resided in nearby Gallatin and was known as the “Gallatin Gunner”, “Sumner County Scythe”,and “Shotgun”, struck out four in the game that took only one hour and 25 minutes to complete.

The feat had been accomplished only two times before in baseball’s modern era, by Cy Young on May 5, 1904, when the Boston Americans defeated the visiting Philadelphia Athletics, and by Addie Joss of the Cleveland Naps over the Chicago White Sox 1-0 on October 2, 1908.

Nashville Tennessean and American 07-12-1916 Tom Rogers Perfect GameOutfielders Billy Lee and Gus Williams aided in securing Rogers’ feat. Lee ran down a smash by the Lookouts Joe Harris in right-center in the second inning, even though he stumbled as he made the play. Lee held on to the ball and the crowd applauded their approval.

Williams performed a similar play by running down a seventh-inning Jake Pitler drive that was heading down the left field line. The left fielder nabbed the ball just before crashing into the fence near the negro bleachers.

Both pitchers held his opponent hitless for six innings. In the seventh inning, Vols second baseman Tom Sheehan managed his clubs lone hit against Chattanooga’s Jim “Lefty’ Allen. It began a rally of two runs as Howard Baker sacrificed Sheehan to second, and Sheehan taking third on an outfield error that was hit by Gus Williams.

Sheehan scored on a Dick Kauffman bunt that was not fielded cleanly by Allen, and Williams followed him home on a squeeze play that was performed flawlessly by Art Kores.

Nashville was not able to generate additional hits, and Allen finished with a one-hitter while Rogers completed his perfect game.

The previous season on August 15, 1915, Rogers had thrown a complete game, 15-inning shutout in allowing only three hits as Nashville won over visiting Little Rock 1-0. He ended the season with a 14-19 record in 293 innings pitched.

He continued his resolute performance in 1916. Rogers had shut out the Atlanta Crackers in his previous start before his unspoiled performance, giving him 18 straight innings without allowing a run. It was not until July 23 when Little Rock scores in the seventh inning that the first run was given up by him after 43 scoreless innings.

Tom RogersRogers would finish the season with a 24-12 pitching record in 317 innings as Nashville would secure its fourth Southern Association pennant.

A tragedy had occurred one month before Rogers joined the history books. On June 18, 1916 Rogers hit Mobile third baseman Johnny Dodge with a pitch in the seventh inning the game, striking him in the face. Dodge had lunged into the pitch to catch the ball before it curved, and although the injury was not considered to be serious at first, Dodge was hospitalized as a precaution.

The next day he dies from the injury. Teammates on the 1915 Nashville team, Rogers was distraught over his friend’s death, and Rogers continued to carry the tragedy with him until his own passing in Nashville in 1936 after 14 seasons of professional baseball.

His perfect game entrenched himself into the annals of Sulphur Dell history, as it is the only such accomplishment in the history of the ballpark.


Nashville Tennessean and Daily American

© 2016 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

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One Day, Three Wins: Nashville’s 1895 Tripleheader

Rain interfered with Nashville’s home doubleheader with Little Rock on June 25, 1895, as the first game was postponed after three innings when field conditions were too poor to continue. Nashville was leading 2-1, but not enough innings had been played for it to have been a complete game.

George StallingsThe game scheduled for the next day, June 26, was the last visit Little Rock was to have made to Athletic Park for the remainder of the season, creating an unusual circumstance for completing the series. It was the home team’s prerogative to reschedule games, but when Seraphs manager George Stallings decided to play three games in one day to complete the series, the decision did not set well with the visiting team.

Sending word to the opposing club that the first of three games would take place at 10:30 AM, Little Rock’s manager, Richard Gorman, protested to Southern League President J. B. Nicklin that the Travelers should not have to play more than two games in one day. Nicklin did not exactly side with Gorman; he sent a telegram that the choice to play in three games was optional.

Even though Gorman refused to play the morning game, he and two of his players showed up anyway. At game time, umpire Ed Cline yelled “Play ball” and Nashville’s Eddie Daniels toed the rubber. With no batter at the plate, the Nashville pitcher threw three lazy curves to catcher Mike Trost. Cline turned to the 900 spectators and declared the game a 9-0 forfeit in favor of the Seraphs.

When play began in the second game, players from either side had to alternate the umpiring chores for the first three innings as Cline had misunderstood the starting time, set for 2:30 PM.

Nashville committed nine errors but the Seraphs won over Little Rock 17-7. Travelers pitchers Buttons Briggs and Jack Fifield allowed 18 hits, one a home run by Seraphs left fielder Frank Butler, but only seven of the runs were earned.

Sam Moran was the starting pitcher for Nashville. He had a 7-4 record the previous season when the team was known as the Tigers, and would end the season with a 22-12 record. He would become a member of the Pittsburgh Pirates pitching staff at year’s end.

In the middle game of this day, he pitched all nine innings in the two hours it took to lead his team to the win.

The third game of the day was ended after seven innings due to darkness with Nashville having the upper hand, 8-5. Moran was chosen starting pitcher in the final game by manager Stallings. Lackung the speed he possessed in the previous game, Moran gave up only eight hits and two walks as Nashville completed the trifecta.

Atlanta Constitution 06-28-1895 Three Games Triple Header Nashville Little Rock

Nashville remained in third place in the Southern League with the three wins with a 30-18 record, just behind second-place Atlanta (33-17) and league-leading Evansville (33-16). At seasons end, Atlanta secured the pennant with a one-game lead over Nashville. The season was not without problems, as Montgomery, Memphis, and Little Rock did not finish the year.

When the Travelers ball club disbanded in late July, Nashville acquired the contract of Richard Gorman.

Although rare, there are records of other tripleheaders being played. One was played five years earlier on Labor Day, September 1, 1890, between Brooklyn and visiting Pittsburgh. Unlike the Nashville-Little Rock series, all three games were played with no forfeit, with Brooklyn winning 10-9, 3-2, and 8-4.[1]

In 1896, three games were also played in one day. No reason is given, but the tripleheader was played on Labor Day in Baltimore on September 7. The visiting Louisville Colonels lost 4-3, 9-1, and 12-1 with the final game ending after eight innings due to darkness.[2]

Several years would pass before another tripleheader be played. The games were scheduled to determine third-place in the National League, and were the last games of the season. This time, on October 20, 1920, the Cincinnati Reds visited Pittsburgh and won 13-4 and 7-3 before losing 6-0 in a game shortened by darkness. Cincinnati had clinched third place with the first two wins, but the third game was played anyway.[3]

Three games played in one day gave Nashville an uncommon footnote in the history of baseball.


Nashville American

Atlanta Constitution

[1] Suehsdorf, A. D. “The Last Tripleheader”. SABR Research Journal, Accessed June 20, 2016.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Willard, Jim. “Baseball’s last triple-header was certainly one for the record books. November 30, 2011. Accessed June 16, 2016.

© 2016 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

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