Bye Bye SALLY, Hello Emptiness

GoodBye.fwThe last day of professional baseball at Sulphur Dell was September 8, 1963 as the Vols faced the Lynchburg White Sox in a double header.  Nashville outfielder Charlie Teuscher belted three home runs as Nashville won by scores of 6-3 and 2-1.

A total of 971 fans attended the two games that day, innocent witnesses to what would be the beginning of the end for Sulphur Dell.

Two years prior the Southern Association disbanded. Nashville had been a stalwart member of the league since its inception in 1900, fielding a team each year from 1901-1961. The legendary league silently refrained from allowing Negro players, and with integration on due course in the majors the Southern did not take a stand on reform.

Nashville experienced rapid attendance depletion between 1947 (when organized baseball was integrated) until 1960 when the death knell began to sound for the league. The rumblings of change were heard a few years before.

On August 29, 1960 Gabe Paul, Cincinnati vice-president and general manager, announced that the Reds six-year working agreement would not be renewed with Nashville.  His reason was quite clear.

“(The Southern Association) does not allow the use of Negro players.”

Nashville’s ownership and the directors of the Southern Association must not have heard quite clearly enough, as they continued another season under the same miserable whispers of the status quo.

The Minnesota Twins agreed to replace the Reds as major league affiliate for 1961, but that failed to revive the team or fan attendance as a mere 64,460 bothered to show up for the season. Diminishing upkeep on Sulphur Dell was taking its toll, too.

At a board meeting held in Charlotte in January of 1962 the directors announced that the league would officially suspend operations on February 15. There was to be no baseball in Nashville in 1962.

A resurrection took place in 1963, however, as the up and coming South Atlantic (SALLY) League accepted Chattanooga and Nashville as new franchises. The directors of Vols, Inc., a public corporation formed in 1959 to keep the club solvent, hired a new general manager and gave the ballpark a face lift.

Formerly a general manager with the Washington Senators, Ed Doherty was brought on board to revive the franchise. His hiring seemed to be just the thing the ball club needed as he salvaged a limited working agreement with the Los Angeles Angels.

The team was integrated, which was a remarkable feat. The SALLY league had no expressed rule against integration, and on the first day of the season on April 19 in Knoxville, Eddie Crawford stepped to the plate to become the first African-American to appear in a Vols uniform. Four batters later, Henry Mitchell would join Crawford as the second in that distinction. The squad included future major leaguers Aubrey Gatewood, Duke Sims, and Marv Staehle.

Even though season ticket sales were the worst in the history of the club, Doherty predicted a crowd of 7,000 for Nashville’s opening day, and on April 25 a Sulphur Dell home crowd of 7,987 saw the Macon Peaches win over the Vols 15-4. It was the largest turnout for opening day since 1948.

Success was fleeting, as interest waned once again and by season’s end the team had drawn less than 53,000. Nearly 15% of season attendance had viewed the first game of the home season.

And the team was not very good, finishing with a record of 53-86 and in last place 27 ½ games behind the pennant-winning Macon Peaches.

With three home runs on the final day of pro ball at Sulphur Dell Charlie Teuscher may have brought visions of towering home runs by Bob Lennon, Charlie Gilbert, Chuck Workman, and Jay Partridge. But a week later and with a deficit of almost $22,000 for the season, the directors of Vols, Inc. surrendered their South Atlantic League franchise. There was no dissenting vote.

Board chairman Jack Norman assigned a committee to look into the feasibility of retaining Sulphur Dell, but it was the last hurrah for the famous park. Amateur baseball was played at Sulphur Dell in 1964, and in 1965 it became a speedway before being converted into an automobile tow-in lot for Metro Nashville.

The storied ballpark was demolished in 1969, leaving the recollections of fans and players to honor the historic hallowed grounds of Sulphur Dell.

© 2015 Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

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