Category Archives: Fiction

All-American Girls Baseball at Sulphur Dell

Penny Marshall’s delightful movie A League of Their Own, one of the all-time classic baseball films, tells the story of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League. As World War II is raging, and attendance at major league games declining, Chicago Cubs owner Phil Wrigley organizes the concept in 1943 to counter the loss of revenue of his club and bring attention to a new brand of the sport[1].

The league began in four cities: Kenosha Comets, Racine Belles, Rockford Peaches, and South Bend Blue Sox. Spring training was held at Wrigley Field, and after a 108-game season, Kenosha and Racine participated in a five-game championship series. Racine took the league crown. Attendance stood at 176,612 for the inaugural season.

Unexpected success of the ladies’ loop gave rise to more teams, as the Milwaukee Chicks club was added in 1944. After spring training was held in Peru, Illinois, the league was up and running for a second season. Milwaukee won the regular season and playoff championships in 1944, as attendance grew to 249,000. A new team was added, the Fort Wayne Daisies, in 1945. Rockford was the top team that season, and year-long attendance stood at 450,000.

In 1946, Pascagoula, Mississippi, was chosen as spring training home, and two cities more joined the league: the Muskegon Lassies and Peoria Red Wings. Racine captured the championship at the end of the season, as attendance climbed to over 750,000.

But as the teams had broken camp from Pascagoula in May to head north to begin the season, exhibition games were scheduled in various cities, just as the major-league clubs. One of those cities was Nashville, and Sulphur Dell was the venue. The game was sponsored by the Davidson County Parent-Teacher Association.

1946 Muskegon Lassies: AAGPBL.org image

On May 8, the Racine Belles and Muskegon Lassies played before a crowd estimated at between 1,500 – 1,800 spectators. Arriving from Memphis by team bus at 4 p.m., the Belles quickly checked into the Noel Hotel before making their way to Sulphur Dell to play against the Lassies. The game began at 8:15 p.m.[2]

Muskegon infielder Dorothy “Monty” Montgomery was from Chattanooga, Tennessee. Her teammate Dorothy “Mickey” Chapman lost her first husband in overseas combat while she was playing for Grand Rapids in 1945, and Gladys “Terrie” Davis was the league’s first batting champion in 1943, hitting for a .332 average.

Doris “Sammye” Sams was from Knoxville, Tennessee, and was one of the league’s stars. In 1941, she played in the American Softball Association (ASA) Nationals in Detroit with her Tennessee team. A pitcher and outfielder, she would become league Player of the Year in 1947 and 1949, and an All-Star for six of her eight years in the league.

Racine’s Joan “Joanie” Winter was one of the original players chosen to participate in the league in 1943. At the end of her eight-year career, all with the Belles, she would be one of seven pitchers to have won 100 or more games, with 133. She would go on to become a member of the LPGA, and in 2005 would be inducted into the National Women’s Baseball Hall of Fame.

1946 Racine Belles: AAGPBL.org image

One of the rare female boxers of her day (then known as “Tuffy”), Irene Hickson was from Chattanooga. A catcher, Hickson played eight of her nine years in the AAGPBL with Racine. Edyth “Edie” Keating would play her entire eight-year career with the Belles during which she would steal 481 bases.

The Belles won the game 8-7; a Nashville Tennessean error reported the game as between “softball” teams[3]. In 1943, league president Max Carey had been quoted as to his take on where the “Girls” began and “Softball” ended: “Femininity is the keynote of our league; no pants-wearing, tough-talking female softballer will play on any of our four teams…”[4]

Muskegon manager, Ralph “Buzz” Boyle, would become a scout for the Cincinnati Reds and participate in spring training with the 1955 Nashville Vols.[5]

By 1948, attendance had reached nearly 1 million, and two Illinois teams were added: the Chicago Colleens and Springfield Sallies. But ultimately, teams shut down and attendance waned until the league closed shop in 1954.[6]

Although there is no review of the one recorded AAGPBL game played at Sulphur Dell, the fan-favorite movie always delivers the excitement and competitive spirit of the women of the “All American League”.

© 2017 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

[1] “All American Girls Professional Baseball League: League History,” https://www.aagpbl.org/index.cfm/pages/league/12/league-history, retrieved May 7, 2017.

[2] “Girls Baseball Teams to Play in Dell Tonight,” Nashville Tennessean, May 8, 1946: 21.

[3] “Racine Belles Edge Muskegon Lassies,” Nashville Tennessean, May 9, 1946: 21.

[4] Bill Francis, “League of Women Ballplayers, http://baseballhall.org/discover/league-of-women-ballplayers, retrieved May 9, 2017.

[5] F. M. Williams, “Vols Skipper Praises Left Handed Hitters,” Nashville Tennessean, March 13, 1955: 38.

[6] “The All American Girls Professional Baseball League,” http://www.seanlahman.com/baseball-archive/womens-baseball/, retrieved May 8, 2017.

Sources

Aagpbl.org
Baseballhall.org
Newspapers.com
Seanlahman.com

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Sulphur Dell Ballpark to be Enclosed with Retractable Roof

General Manager Skim Newcomb announced this morning that Sulphur Dell will undergo new construction at the end of the season that will transform the facility from an open-air ballpark to one with a roof. The project will take approximately five months to complete.

“This upgrade has been discussed for the past 70 years, and the board of directors of Sulphur Dell have decided it is time to proceed. Enclosing the grandstands and field with a permanent structure will allow us to add more dates to our entertainment calendar,” said Newcomb. “We want our fans to experience baseball and other events without the worry of potential rain-outs or other weather-related issues.”

GM Skim Newcomb at Sulphur Dell

Roads surrounding the area will be closed for the entire construction period from October until completed. Traffic will be re-routed to ease the disruption for Nashville travelers, but Newcomb feels the detours are a small price to pay.

“Once the project is finished and our fans see the features of new Sulphur Dell, they will forget about the inconvenience of construction,” he said. “The luxury of attending a game in an air-conditioned building as the summer temperatures rise, then being able to view a star-lit sky when it’s not raining – I mean, can you imagine how great that will be?”

Drawings were not made available, but a full rendition of the project should be ready for public viewing by the Fourth of July. However, there will be two roof panels that will open in the middle to a 45-degree angle on either side. It has not been determined whether the structure will open from a north-to-south or east-to-west direction.

“The complete details have not been worked out at this time,” explained Newcomb. “I guess you could say it’s an open-ended discussion with the architect and contractors.”

© 2017 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

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Sulphur Dell Ballpark Naming Rights For Sale

In conjunction with today’s Opening Day, the ownership syndicate of Nashville’s famous Sulphur Dell has let it be known it is considering selling naming rights to the old stadium. General Manager Skim Newcomb announced today that a request for proposals has been distributed throughout the city’s inner circles, seeking interest in a commercial partner.

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Sulphur Dell’s Naming Rights For Sale

“We have no idea whether a company name would even be appropriate,” Newcomb said. “Our goal is simply to put feelers into the marketplace.

“But it is our goal to add the name of some corporate partner to our façade marquee that calls out the historic aspect of Sulphur Dell.”

The ballpark will be celebrating its 145th anniversary of operation with today’s game that kicks off the 115th Southern Association season.

“This would be a first-of-its-kind agreement, as Sulphur Dell has been operated under its current name for so long.  Sports venues have been selling naming rights through sponsorships for decades and we thought we would test the water,” added Newcomb, who has been at the helm of the group that has owned and operated the ballpark since 1969.

“It could create a revenue stream that would allow us to upgrade the existing concourse, seating, and the entire grandstand to give the fans the best baseball experience possible.”

GM Skim Newcomb prepares for Opening Day at Sulphur Dell

GM Skim Newcomb prepares for Opening Day at Sulphur Dell

Specific financial terms are not immediately known, according to Newcomb.

Over the years Sulphur Dell has been used for baseball and football games, as a venue for circuses and wrestling matches, and many performers have held music concerts there.

Requests for additional information can be made by calling 615-555-0401.

© 2015 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

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The Civil War and Nashville Baseball: Where’s That Letter To Mama?

By 1862 Nashville was occupied by the largest southern contingent of the Union army, next to Atlanta. Generals Buell, Rosseau, Negley, Rosencrans, and Grant, as commander-in-chief of the Army of the Cumberlands, had all set up headquarters in Nashville.

It would be hard to imagine that  Yankee soldiers did not teach the locals how to play the Northern version of base ball. Even in prison camps in both the north and south, games were organized as a way to give players and spectators opportunity to divest themselves of the perils and weariness of war – if even only for a few hours.

I have often wondered when that special document will be found that gives a first-hand description of a game between Yankee or Rebel soldiers in the Nashville theatre.civil_war_baseball

A few months ago I was to speak for a few minutes at a meeting at the Smyrna Library. The theme was vintage baseball, and a few of the team members of the new Stewart’s Creek Scouts were going to discuss their interest in the vintage game. I was unable to attend due to illness, but my plan was to “wax romantic”, as the team would be playing home games at the home of Confederate Civil War hero Sam Davis.

What I have written below is fiction, but somewhere there are letters from home that will be found that describe something like this, that will give us a direct connection to the emergence of the great game in communities like Nashville, Smyrna, Murfreesboro, and a myriad of other towns.

Perhaps that letter will be one to a family member, father or mother, or in a manuscript, journal, or diary. Perhaps it will never come, but I hope in the not-to-distant future to be able to read for myself something very much like this:

     I swear there were Yankees at every turn. Each hill, each valley, we crouched, slid, and hopped tree to tree without so much as a whisper, so as not to call attention to where we were. To hide we followed creeks when we could, hoping the sound from the water pushing over the stones would mask any snaps from the sticks we stepped on.

     We helped branches back to their position to keep the swishing from signaling our where-abouts. Sometimes we’d see a plume of smoke from a campfire, or sometimes hear the whiney of horses. We always hoped those were ours, but could not take the chance that they were. As discreet as we could, we moved on. We had to make it to Chattanooga.

     The only break we took was one day when we came up on a clearing once where there was nearly a frightful noise. Wondering what the racket was about, we slowly moved up behind a locust tree and could hardly believe our eyes and ears.

     Men were yelling and whooping and hollering as bare-chested soldiers ran like bears between other soldiers chasing a ball. The soldier coming up from the rear of the circle or square or some other laid out dimension in the field was pumping his arms as the others were chasing after something with shouts of “throw it, throw it!”.

     I recollected that this was the game called “base-ball” being played in some of the prisoner camps that I had heard about, at least I reckoned that’s what this was without the prison. Seems that some of the officers allowed for prisoners to play active soldiers as a way to give healthful exercise for all.

     Crazy as it must sound, when the sweaty soldiers in the clearing stopped for water and rest, we showed ourselves. It was not purposeful, believe me. But when one of them looked our way and knew that we were the enemy, well, we were really scared and did not know what to do.

     But what they did was even crazier. Seems they needed a couple of more players and invited us to play.

     We were more scared to say, “no”, so we said, “yep” and they gathered around and put us way out in the field and for what must’ve been an hour we played. We hit with a birch bat they had, we threw the ball and we caught it when we could get to it.

     All of us took a turn or two and when it was all over and whichever team won, they didn’t tell us, them Yankees told us we played good.

     Then they told us, “so long”, mama, and I’ll never forget it.

(Note: This is an excerpt of keynote presentation delivered on April 14, 2014 to the Baseball in Literature & Culture Conference, Middle Tennessee State University, Murfreesboro, Tennessee) 

© 2014 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

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Junie McBride’s Tale of the Two-Headed Pitcher

When Julian “Junie” McBride passed away on April 1, 2009 at the age of 92, he was known to Nashville’s Old Timers board of directors as their official “Mr. Baseball”. There was not a more lovable, affectionate, passionate baseball fan within 1,000 miles than Junie.

Not only did he know everyone who ever picked up a baseball in the area, his jovial wit was part of his charm.  He loved to tell stories about Larry Gilbert, Hans Wagner, and every Old Timers banquet he had ever attended, which was 70 – every one ever held since the organization began holding them.Image

One of the stories Junie loved to tell was about the two-headed pitcher that the Nashville Vols once signed to a contract.

“Larry Gilbert signed this guy with two heads.  The Vols had a bunch of double headers to play one year, so what was better than bringing in a two-headed pitcher?

“They called him ‘Two-top’.  He was from Walla-Walla”.

Of course he was.

“On his contract, his record said: Hair, brown and blonde.  Teeth, all and some.  Eyes, blue and brown.  Facial hair, yes and no.

“’Two-top’ was great at holding runners.  In the first inning of his first game, with runners on first and third, he held both runners.

“After a couple of innings the frustrated catcher throws down his glove, takes off his equipment right there behind the plate, and walks to the dugout.

“What’s with you?” asks the manager.

“I can’t take it anymore,” says the backstop, “I’ve been giving him signals, Skip, but one head nods “yes’, and the other head nods “no”.

So Gilbert tells his catcher to go out to the mound and talk it over with his pitcher, since three heads are better than one.

“I’m finished,” says the burly catcher, “I have enough trouble with pitchers with only one head.”

About this time, Junie would be grinning and laughing along with everyone else.

“It was no use, and Gilbert gave ‘Two-top’ his walking papers after just one game.  You should have seen the lumps that came up in his throats.”

“He found a job up in New York City calling tennis matches before joining the Army.  One of the heads couldn’t sleep, so they made him the bugler.  He’s the only guy who could do ‘about face’ and ‘eyes right’ at the same time.”

Junie would giggle like a schoolboy at the end of his stories.  He was a gem, and his stories were jewels.

© 2013 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

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