On this day 50 years ago another nail was hammered into the coffin of Sulphur Dell. With nearly a century of baseball tradition inside the steel-and-concrete grandstand that was called out by a famous marquee which boasted “Baseball’s Most Historic Ballpark Since1870”, the powers that be simply turned their backs on the grand old lady.
The last professional game had been played eight days earlier at Sulphur Dell. With poor attendance of only 52,812 fans for the 1963 season and a deficit of almost $22,000, the franchise was surrendered to the South Atlantic League by the board of directors of Vols, Inc. on September 16, 1963.
It had been only six years earlier when the organization was formed, a public corporation to salvage the ball team and the ballpark from the previous owner, Ted Murray. Civic leaders sold tickets, promoted the team, and were successful in selling 4,876 shares at $5.00 each to purchase the club.
As early as 1955 Ted Murray and Larry Gilbert, co-owners of Nashville in the Southern Association, had confirmed that they faced the loss of their franchise, which had been a member of the league since its inception in 1901. Gilbert ultimately sold his share of the club to Murray and retired to New Orleans.
That was the first noticeable event that spelled trouble for Sulphur Dell.
In the end, there was not a dissenting vote by stockholders of Vols, Inc. after the 1963 season had ended, even though board chairman Jack Norman stated that he would assign a committee to look into the feasibility of retaining Sulphur Dell, which would mean a continuation of the corporation which owns the ballpark.
The committee was never formed.
Two years earlier, television, air-conditioning, the expansion of Nashville’s city limits, the hesitancy of the major league clubs to provide adequate talent to the teams in the minor leagues, and the fact that the Southern Association was not integrated, all contributed to the demise of the storied league. The attempt to resurrect baseball in the South Atlantic League was a brave attempt but miserable failure.
Nashville fans had no problem with their hometown team playing in an integrated league, but they did not want to leave their evening television shows, their air-conditioned living rooms and dens, nor drive downtown to what was becoming an ignored part of the city.
The difference today, the reason there is no Sulphur Dell still standing, the blame for no fans in the stands yelling for their favorite players and team, is the deafening indifference of the 1960s.