One of the frustrations in researching baseball history is finding so many stumbling blocks in searching about Negro baseball* in Nashville. Research done in other cities, particularly in the South, probably bring similar results.
I was able to find an interesting article in the March 10, 1911 edition of Nashville Globe that was helpful in understanding the nature of reporting to the Negro community:
“Each day we read in the papers long articles about the beginning of the baseball season and about what the different league teams are doing. I do not think it would be out of place to mention a few facts about the Negro teams and what they are doing. It is true that Nashville has been a bit slow in past seasons in baseball. I do not mean that there has not been good baseball players in Nashville for no town in the South can furnish more good baseball material than Nashville. But it has not been gotten together and handled as it should have been, however, it is of the present and future not of the past about which we wish to talk. The season of 1911 from all indications is going to be the greatest in the history of Nashville for Negro baseball. It has been my good pleasure to have several long conversations with two managers of teams in the city and both expressed themselves pretty freely.
One of the gentlemen said, “…I am going to have only the best teams here and my players will be gentlemen both on and off the field…You can say for me as long as I have a team or anything to do with it, that we are going to play only high-class teams and gentlemanly baseball.”
I have been able to piece together information about the Nashville Standard Giants, National Baptists, Methodist Publishing House, Nashville Butchers, the Stars, North Nashville Tigers, and the Baptist Printers. They were all early Negro teams organized in the early 1900s.
Players of note were Walter Campbell, Henry O’Neal, Joe Bills, Haywood Rhodes, and National Baptist manager Blaine Boyd.
The proud history of Negro baseball in Nashville included visits by traveling Negro League teams to challenge the best of the local teams. Fisk and Pearl High were playing baseball schedules on a regular basis, and their fields were often used by amateur teams.
Negro League players Norman “Turkey” Stearnes, Henry Kimbro, Clinton “Butch” McCord, and Sidney Bunch called Nashville their home. After joining the Chicago American Giants in 1932, Stearnes played in the inaugural East-West All Star Game in 1933. He was named to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 2000 by the Veterans Committee.
Henry Kimbro was born in Nashville in 1912 and retired to his own business in his hometown after compiling a .315 lifetime batting average. McCord and Bunch played Negro League ball and signed with major league teams in the 1950s and had successful careers.
The history is there. The stats are often found. The frustrating part is not being able to gain insight into what was experienced in the Negro Leagues on a personal level. White newspapers did not cover the game, and Negro newspapers are not as prevalent in our libraries.
We know a lot because there are many who remembered, recalled, and wrote. Not as many thought to take a photograph; if they did, they are probably lost to time. The pieces that are there are valuable and as important as any story of Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, or Joe DiMaggio.
Some of that will be lost forever, and that’s a shame.
*The term has changed over the years: “negroes”, “coloreds”, and “blacks” in the early days, and “African-Americans” today. Former Negro League player Clinton “Butch” McCord once told me, “I’m not an African-American – I’m a Black man. I ain’t never been to Africa”.