Nashville’s on-again, off-again love affair with the Southern League collapsed after the 1895 season, a year which saw George Stallings lead the Nashville Seraphs to a second place finish with a record of 69-38. Financial instability of teams from various cities, including Nashville, led to the league reorganizing once more in 1896. Six teams comprised the league but by mid-season Birmingham and Atlanta had dropped out; New Orleans, Montgomery, Mobile, and Columbus remained until August.
With the Southern in disarray as Memphis had no park in which to play and Atlanta having been accepted into the Southeastern League, only Columbus and Birmingham were committed to playing in the Southern League for a new season. It did not happen, although the league would re-organize for 1898 and 1899 but would fail to complete the season either year.
On January 18, 1897, a new Central League was organized at the Acme Hotel in Evansville and five cities were repesented: Terre Haute, Nashville, Cairo, Evansville, and Washington (Indiana) agree to membership. It was determined to withhold the Washington membership until representatives from Memphis and Little Rock (who were expected at the meeting but failed to attend) could be contacted.
Although the complete lineup of cities was not determined, the organizers knew from experience with failed ball clubs just what they thought was needed to complete the season. For example, it was agreed that the player salary limit should be fixed at $900 and a $300 fee was assessed to clubs for membership with one-half due at the next league meeting and the remainder due one month later.
Controlling player salary limits were a driving force for organizing a new league but travel expenses were the main reason due to the proximity of all cities which had been proposed as members. Membership fees were to keep the league solvent for a complete season.
Gabe Simons of Evansville was elected President-Secretary-Treasurer of the Central League. Billy Works, manager of the Nashville team, was named Vice-President.
Works had become anxious to place a Nashville team in either of two proposed leagues, the Central or Interstate League. George Stallings and Charley Frank of Memphis assisted him in his quest. An Interstate League had been proposed by Works to have Nashville, Knoxville, Jackson, Memphis, Chattanooga and Little Rock as members. In a letter from Charley Frank to George Stallings, Little Rock, Memphis, Clarksville, Evansville, Paducah, Cairo, Henderson, Terre Haute, Fort Wayne, Springfield (Illinois) and Nashville were selected as potential cities in the Central League.
However, on February 12 representatives from Nashville, Terre Haute, Washington, Evansville, Paducah, and Cairo met in Evansville to finalize plans for the Central. Uniforms were even selected for each team: Evansville, cadet blue, white trimmings; Terre Haute, gray and blue; Paducah, old gold and maroon; Washington, brown and red; Cairo, gray and black; and Nashville, blue and maroon.
At a meeting on February 27 Washington was admitted to the Central League over Terre Haute’s opposition, claiming that Washington is too small a city to support a team. At that meeting the league adopted the Reach baseball.
On April 28 Evansville won over Nashville, named the Centennials, 3-2 in the opening game of the 1897 Central League season for both clubs. Approximately 500 fans were on hand at Athletic Park.
The financially sound (or so it seemed) Central League was up and running.
It was reported on June 1 by league president Simons that Washington (pop. 18,000) was averaging 700 at each home game, including Sunday games; Paducah (pop. 20,000) was averaging 800 patrons, while Cairo, Terre Haute, and Evansville were drawing “even more”. There was no mention of Nashville’s attendance but it should be noted that it was the only city not allowing Sunday games.
On June 3 Nashville dropped out of the league with no explanation. The team traveled to Cairo to continue its schedule in hopes that the team would be transferred to Decatur, Illinois. A week later the team was transferred to Henderson, Indiana.
The board of directors accepted the resignation of Central League president Gabe Simons on June 28th as Simons was hoping to take over management of the Evansville club and no longer wanted to shoulder the responsibility and “annoyances” of the League office. Mr. F. C. Winter of Washington was named president of the Central. By mid-July Evansville was without financial backing or a manager as Simons failed in his bid to take over the club.
On July 20 the Central League seasons collapses. After the disbandment of the Washington club, the other teams decide it is not worthwhile to continue as all teams are in financial arrears due to so many Sunday games having been rained out.
With another noble attempt to entrench Nashville into the world of professional baseball, it would be four years before Nashville’s Newt Fisher would be instrumental in forming the Southern Association of Baseball Clubs with his hometown as a member in 1901. That attempt would last: the Southern Association disbanded in 1961 and Nashville remained a member during the league’s entire existence.
© 2015 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.