Category Archives: Negro League

Under the (Temporary) Lights

J. L. Wilkinson’s Kansas City Monarchs won the Negro National League pennant in 1929, and when the Stock Market crashed on October 24, it did not bode well for his team. The league had just had the lowest gate receipts in the league’s history.[1]

The white team owner considered abandoning the league and making his club a touring independent team. But a radical idea was soon born, as he devised a plan to not only allow players to play night games, but perhaps pique the interest of fans so they would come to his team’s games out of curiosity.

He purchased a lighting system portable enough that it could be taken to ballparks across the country.

Wilkinson took on Thomas Baird as a partner, and mortgaged nearly every asset he had to fund the venture. Giant Manufacturing Company in Omaha, Nebraska, constructed the towers, floodlights, and generator at a cost of between $50,000-$100,000.[2] The telescoping poles had five or six lights, and when fully extended were only 50 feet high. The generator used 15 gallons of gasoline an hour[3] and was very noisy.

Before the Monarchs began their travel schedule, the lights were rented to the touring House of David team.[4] The first night game played by the Monarchs took place in Enid, Oklahoma, when they played Phillips University on April 28, 1930.[5] The system was introduced in Monarchs games all across the south. Wilkinson even rented the lights to Shreveport in the first night game in the history of the Cotton States leagues[6].

Nashville’s Wilson Park, located at the end of Second Ave., South near the Nashville & St. Louis railway track, was one of the earliest ballparks for the unique lighting to be used. The home ballpark of the Nashville Elite Giants, Wilkinson’s Monarchs played a two-game series on May 14 and 15.

The Nashville Tennessean announced the event in a May 13 article.

“The baseball fans of Nashville as well as the idly curious will have a chance to see what night baseball is like when Nashville Elite Giants meets the Kansas City Monarchs, one of the most famous negro teams. Wednesday night at 8 o’clock out in Wilson Park. The Monarchs, owned by J. Leslie Wilkinson of Kansas City, Mo., are pioneers in his field, having created a mild sensation in baseball circles all over the country with their undertaking.”[7]

The next day, increased space described the game to take place that night, probably just as Wilkinson presented it to the newspaper.

“The equipment used in this event is of a new creation, designed by several of the leading engineers in the United States. The lighting equipment, with its contributaries [sic], when assembled, is a systematic mammoth affair of its own. The 90 kilowat [sic] generator and 240 horsepower marine gas engine, which is of special design and made to order, is said to be positively the largest Electric power plant in the world on wheels.

“The giant flood lights, which encircle the entire baseball park, are designed expressly [sic] for this type of outdoor amusement, illuminating each and every part of the baseball park. The series of poles and towers, that support the giant flood lights are similar in construction to a jack knife or a fire department with its extension ladders. They have telescoped poles and towers that extend 40 to 50 feet in the air, elevating the giant flood lights so they light the playing ground as well as the sky.”[8]

With no game detail or report of the score the following day, the trial of night play was generally acceptable.

“Although only about a thousand fans, numbering many white persons, turned out for the game, those present got a big kick out of the contest. Many went away from the park amazed at the lighting system which made it possible for an outfielder to see the ball as good as if he was playing in the day time.”[9]

On May 16, the newspaper gave a final score of the second game, 8-1 in favor of Kansas City. It included a reference to a future Hall of Famer, “Bullet Joe” Rogan, who was a pitcher-outfielder for the club.

“”…Rogan, hard-hitting centerfielder of the Monarchs, did most of the hitting for the Kansas City aggregation, getting two two-baggers out of the four times he was at bat.”[10]

Nashville’s club included two home-town products, 44-year-old shortstop-second baseman-outfielder  Joe Hewitt, and Leroy Stratton. Hewitt was born in Nashville in 1885, had played Negro League baseball since 1914, and managed the 1923 St. Louis Stars[11], a team which included future Hall of Fame member “Cool Papa” Bell. Stratton was born in Nashville in 1895 and would become manager of the Elite Giants in 1931.[12]

The Monarchs would continue to Hopkinsville, Kentucky with their lighting system, while the Elites would be hosting Memphis in a four-game series in Nashville.

Although the illumination experiment would continue, temporary stadium lighting would soon be a thing of the past. Lights were added to Nashville’s Sulphur Dell in 1931, and major league clubs would soon follow as Cincinnati’s Crosley Field was the first to add lights in 1935.

© 2017 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

 

Sources

Baseball-reference.com

Newspapers.com

Paperofrecord.com

Sabr.org

[1] John Horner, “Know Your KC History: The Monarchs Shine a Light on Baseball’, https://www.kclibrary.org/blog/kc-unbound/know-your-kc-history-monarchs-shine-light-baseball, retrieved May 15, 2017.

[2] Earl Nash, “Negro League Team Used Lights Years before MLB”, http://bosoxinjection.com/2013/12/18/illuminating-past/, retrieved May 15, 2017

[4] Horner.

[4] Horner.

[5] Rives, Bob (2004). Baseball in Wichita. Arcadia Publishing, p. 27.

[6] Joe R. Carter, “Baton Rouge Wins From Reds of Alexandria in First Night Ball Game in Shreveport”, (Shreveport) Times, May 9, 1930: 15.

[7] “Nashville Elite Giants in First Night Game,” Nashville Tennessean, May 13, 1930: 10.

[8] “Negro Diamond Teams To Battle Here Tonight: Nashvillians to See Their First Night Game”, Nashville Tennessean, May 14, 1930: 10.

[9] “Night Baseball Game Here Gives Fans Big Thrill,” Nashville Tennessean, May 15, 1930: 15.

[10]“Elite Giants Bow To Monarchs in Second Night Tilt,” Nashville Tennessean, May 16, 1930: 19.

[11] Peterson, Robert (1970). Only The Ball Was White. Gramercy, p. 347.

[12] Plott, William J., The Negro Southern League: A Baseball History, 1920-1951. McFarland & Co., p. 81.

Leave a comment

Filed under History, Negro League, Research

Hank Aaron’s Professional Debut Was in Sulphur Dell

Henry Aaron was inducted to the Hall of Fame in 1982 after a career that included 25 All-Star appearances, at least a .300 batting mark in 14 seasons, hitting 30 home runs 15 times, and winning three Gold Glove Awards.

Aaron1Most notably renown for becoming baseball’s home run king on April 8, 1974 in passing Babe Ruth with his 715th, Aaron would still have more than 3,000 hits should his total of 755 home runs be removed from his hit total.

“Hammerin’ Hank” captured the National League MVP Award in 1957, won the league’s batting title in 1956 and 1959, and appeared in the World Series in 1957, 1958, and 1969.

Born on February 5, 1934 in Mobile, Alabama, the 18-year-old, 5’11” 170-lb sensation began his march to baseball immortality as a member of the 1952 Negro American League Indianapolis Clowns. The team held spring training in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, then traveled to several cities to play exhibition games between Buffalo and Kansas City.

The Kansas City Monarchs, Chicago American Giants, Birmingham Black Barons, Memphis Red Sox, and Philadelphia Stars were the other teams in the six-team league. The Clowns did not schedule games in Indianapolis, playing all games in other cities, but opening day was scheduled for May 11, 1952 as a double header against the Philadelphia Stars.

In Nashville, at Sulphur Dell. It would be Hank Aaron’s first regular-season game as a professional.

The Memphis World heralded the “newcomer Henry Aaron, the sensational 16 [sic]-year-old, will open at short…”

Memphis World 05-06-1952 Indianapolis Clowns Philadephia Stars Hank Aaron Rookie Sulphur Dell

But the Nashville Tennessean made no mention of Aaron in articles previous to and after the two games:

Tennessean 05-10-1952 Henry Aaron Sulphur Dell Indianapolis Clowns Philadelphia Stars 05-11-1952Tennessean 05-11-1952 Henry Aaron Sulphur Dell Indianapolis Clowns Philadelphia Stars 05-11-1952Tennessean 05-12-1952 Henry Aaron Sulphur Dell Indianapolis Clowns Philadelphia Stars 05-11-1952

With no report of his batting or field totals on that day in the historic ballpark, one can only guess that he began a string of games that included strategic hits and powerful blows that lent to his successful career.

Exactly one month later, on June 11, Aaron was leading the Negro American League with a .483 batting average on 15 hits, 51 total bases, five home runs, six doubles, 28 runs, and 24 RBI. On that day he was purchased by the Boston Braves for $10,000 and his major league career was off and running.

Sent to Eau Claire (Class C – Northern League), he ended his first season in organized baseball with a .336 average. In his first full year in the minors at Jacksonville (Class A – South Atlantic League) in 1953, Hank slammed 22 home runs and had 208 hits leading to a batting average of .362. He earned a trip to spring training where he caught on with the Braves who had left Boston for Milwaukee.

On April 4, 1954, Hank returned to Nashville and had two doubles, scored twice and had two RBI in an 18-14 exhibition win over the Brooklyn Dodgers. At Sulphur Dell one year later against Brooklyn, he hit a home run and a single, driving in two runs in the Dodgers 10-8 win.

In Brooklyn’s 12-2 win the next year on April 9, he had a double and an RBI. It would be four years before Aaron returned to Sulphur Dell, this time against Cincinnati before 6,763 in a 6-3 win over the Reds when he had a single and scored a run.

Aaron’s four appearances in Nashville as a member of the Braves were preceded by a particular date on the baseball calendar, May 11, 1952, when Hammerin’ Hank marked his official professional debut in the infield dirt at Sulphur Dell.

© Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

Special thanks to fellow researcher, Mark Aubrey (oldknoxvillebaseball.blogspot.com)

References

Bryant, Howard. (2010). The Last Hero: A Life of Henry Aaron. New York, New York. Pantheon Books.

Vascellaro, Charlie. (2005). Hank Aaron: A Biography. Greenwood. Westport, Connecticut.

Online Sources

http://coe.k-state.edu/annex/nlbemuseum/history/players/aaron.html

http://www.baseball-reference.com

http://www.baseballhall.org

http://www.crossroadstofreedom.org

http://www.georgiaencyclopeia.org

http://www.newspapers.com

1 Comment

Filed under History, Negro League, Research

Jackie Robinson at Sulphur Dell

Jackie Robinson appeared in Nashville six years after his heroic entrance to the major leagues when on April 5, 1953 he played at Sulphur Dell in an exhibition game against the Milwaukee Braves. It was the first of four consecutive visits for the two clubs as they journeyed from spring training.

Displaced at second base by one of Nashville’s favorite sons, Jim “Junior” Gilliam, Robinson played third. Jackie had a double and a single in three appearances in Brooklyn’s 3-1 win.

The ballpark was packed with 12,059 fans that day, many from the black community, as the outfield hills were overrun from those who flocked to the game. It had been only three years since Ray Dandridge became the first black player on an integrated team in Sulphur Dell when the Minneapolis Millers visited Nashville on April 9, 1950.

Black players Bill Bruton and Tennessean Robinson 1BGeorge Crowe of the Braves joined Robinson, Gilliam, and Dodgers catcher Roy Campanella in the starting lineups.

In 1954 the two clubs returned to the historic ballpark. On Sunday April 4 in the cleanup spot once again, Robinson amazed the 12,006 cheering fans by getting four singles in six trips to the plate, driving in two runs and scoring twice as the Braves won a slugfest 18-14 over the Dodgers.

Brooklyn won 10-8 on April 4, 1955 before 5,117 in attendance, but the hero of the game was Eddie Mathews of the Braves who slammed three homers along with Henry Aaron who hit one. Jackie Robinson had two singles and was walked twice while performing brilliantly at third base.

The Dodgers took their third win in four visits to Nashville on April 8, 1956, winning 12-2. Jackie had dropped down in the batting order but still managed to get two singles in four at-bats and one RBI as 11,933 attended the game.

It would be Robinson’s final season. His batting average diminished to .275 and he dealt with diabetes. Traded at the end of the year to the New York Giants, he chose to retire.

His legacy continues as a torchbearer for his race, not in only baseball, but as a voice in his community and across the United States.

© Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

Leave a comment

Filed under Biography, History, Negro League, Research

Highlighting Nashville’s Negro Leagues

An early mention of African-American participation in a local baseball game was reported in the Nashville Daily Union and American on the September 18, 1866 with reference to “Brownlow’s Black Boys Base Ball Club” (probably a reference to Governor William Brownlow, who was a proponent of extending civil rights to African-Americans). Whether this was a real team or just a gathering of players from the black community, the game took place in Sulphur Spring Bottom.

Teams organized by the 1900s were the Baptist Printers, Maroons, Methodist Publishing House, North Nashville Tigers, and Nashville Standard Giants. Fisk and Pearl High School ball fields were hosting games on a regular basis, and often Negro League teams traveled to Nashville to challenge the best local teams.

On Tuesday, February 19, 1907, a meeting was held at the residence of J. W. White to organize the Standard Giants Base Ball club as reported in the February 22, 1907 edition of the Nashville Globe:

“Manager White called the house to order and Mr. C. B. Reaves was made President: Mr. J. W. White Manager, and W. G. Sublett, Secretary, and by unanimous voice of the house Mr. Howard Petway who did stunts for one of the professional teams of Chicago last season, was elected captain…

“…Standards will travel extensively, having arranged games with Memphis, Hot Springs, Little Rock…playing all the leading teams, Chattanooga, Atlanta, Birmingham, Macon, New Orleans, and Beaumont, Texas…One peculiarity is that every member claims Nashville as his home. It is composed exclusively of home talent, a characteristic no other team can boast of, and it is certain that every member will put up a fight for the glory of his home.”

NSG_By 1910 the Capital City League was the premier league for African-American teams, with the Standard Giants and other league members playing at Greenwood Park and Athletic Park. The Black Sox, Nationals, Baptist Hill Swifts, Athletics and Eclipse were established teams.

In 1918 the Standard Giants club was purchased by Thomas T. Wilson, a native of Atlanta who had moved with his family to Nashville where his parents studied medicine at Meharry Medical College. As a young man Wilson had accumulated wealth through his interests in entertainment, a local rail line, and ownership in local night clubs.

On March 26, 1920, Wilson and seven investors pooled $5,000.00 and chartered a Tennessee corporation, Nashville Negro Baseball Association and Amusement Company, for the purpose “of organizing base ball clubs and encouraging the art of playing the game of baseball according to high and honorable standards and of encouraging the establishment of a league of clubs in different section(s) of the state.”

Wilson contributed to the baseball success of his players, namely Eddie Noel, Walter Campbell, Henry O’Neal, Joe Bills, Haywood Rhodes, and Blaine Boyd. New teams continued to form and included the White Sox and Maroons; one of the prominent players in the 1917 Capital City League played for the Black Sox was Herbert T. “Hub” McGavock. Playing for the Standard Giants in 1920, after a stint in the Army he returned to play with a New Orleans club where he was a teammate of future Hall of Famer “Turkey” Stearnes.

A best-of-three Negro League “North vs. South” All Star series was held at Sulphur Dell in the fall of 1934. In the first game of a double header on Sunday, October 7, Norman “Turkey” Stearnes of the Kansas City Monarchs hit a home run in the 12th inning to seal the win for the North by a score of 2-1. The North All Stars also won the second game 8-1.

The South lineup came from Birmingham, Memphis, Monroe, and New Orleans; Nashville, Kansas City, Pittsburgh, and House of David stars represented the North. Felton Snow, Sammie Hughes, Tommy Dukes, Jim Willis and Andy Porter were chosen from the Nashville Elite Giants.

Born in Nashville in 1901, Stearnes was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2000. Future Hall of Fame members Willie Wells, Mule Suttles, Cool Papa Bell, Satchel Paige, and Josh Gibson were teammates on the North squad.

Wilson renamed the Negro League Nashville Elite Giants in 1921, and announced that manager J. A. Newton would play “all-comers” including white-only teams. In 1928 a new ballpark had been constructed by Wilson to hold 8,000 fans. Located in Trimble Bottom, the largest Negro community in Nashville, Wilson Park would not only host games but community events, both white and black.

TWP2Tom Wilson Park was often used by the Nashville Vols and many times pre-season games were held versus the Elite Giants.

The Elites played in the professional Negro Southern League until granted membership in the Negro National League for 1930. Just coming off the Great Depression several teams pulled out of the league, including the Birmingham Black Barons who sold one of their stars to Wilson as a drawing card. With Satchel Paige in the Elite Giants fold, however, Wilson moved his club to Cleveland (becoming the Cubs) but returned to Nashville for 1931 when the NNL folded.

Reorganizing the Negro Southern League in 1932, Gus Greenlee’s Pittsburgh Crawfords were scheduled for the home opener, drawing a large crowd from throughout Nashville’s populace.

“In 1932 with Joe Hewitt as manager, the Elite Giants were second half champions and played Chicago American Giants in the World Series,” relates Bill Plott, a former sports writer whose book The Negro Southern League is an exhaustive research authority . “World Series is a very arbitrary designation by Chicago and Nashville newspapers; “Postseason Series” is probably more accurate. Chicago won 4 games to 3.”

For 1933 a new Negro National League was restructured and the Elite Giants remained a member of the league through 1947. Wilson moved the club to Columbus, Ohio in 1935, Washington, D. C. in 1936-37, and Baltimore in 1938-1950.

When the Elites relocated to Baltimore the team would still hold spring training in Nashville, and a minor league club was formed to feed the parent club with players. On April 6, 1947 the Nashville Cubs beat their parent Baltimore Elite Giants at Sulphur Dell 5-1 in the first exhibition game of the season.

Nashville’s Butch McCord is first baseman for the winning team. A bevy of successful players have connections to Nashville and the Elite Giants.

Norman Thomas “Turkey” Stearnes was a native Nashvillian who began his career in Nashville in 1920 after attending Pearl High. He later played 10 seasons for the Detroit Stars in the Negro National League and was noted as a prolific home run hitter; reportedly he slugged 144 home runs in 585 games. After joining the Chicago American Giants in 1932, Stearnes played in the inaugural East-West All Star Game in 1933.

Henry Kimbro was a member of the Elite Giants for 12 seasons beginning in 1937, playing in All-Star games from 1943-1947. Born in Nashville in 1912, he grew up on the sandlots of his hometown and played for 17 years in the Negro Leagues. Known for his strong outfield arm and speed around the bases, he retired following the 1953 season with the Birmingham Black Barons and owned a taxi service and a gas station in Nashville.

Born in Alabama in 1905, Felton Snow’s family moved to Louisville and by 1929 he was playing for several local teams. Known as a good fielder, baserunner, and hitter he eventually joined Tom Wilson’s Nashville Elites and became an outstanding third baseman.

Snow played in two Negro League All-Star games, batting .670 in the 1935 All-Star game. His team mates included Satchel Paige, Josh Gibson and Cool Papa Bell on the 1936 West All Star team.

Managing and playing for the Baltimore Elite Giants in the 1940s, Snow’s highest batting average in seven seasons as manager-player was .333. He became manager of the Nashville Cubs and retired from baseball in 1950 with over 21 seasons.

Catcher Bruce Petway was known as having superb arm strength during his Negro League career with the Leland Giants, Philadelphia Giants, Chicago American Giants, and Detroit Stars.

Born December 23, 1885 in Nashville, Petway was manager and a team mate of Turkey Stearnes in Detroit between 1923-1925.

Clinton “Butch” McCord began his baseball career in 1947 when he signed with his home town Nashville Cubs out of Tennessee State University. The next season McCord was with the Baltimore Elite Giants. Born in Nashville, Tennessee, the ball field at Tennessee State University is named in his honor.

Born in 1924 in Nashville, Jim Zapp played on Naval teams in Pearl Harbor and Staten Island during World War II. Upon discharge his professional career began with the Baltimore Elite Giants but had a notable season in 1948 as a member of the Birmingham Black Barons.

In Game 5 of the league playoffs Zapp hit a towering home run in the bottom of the ninth inning to tie the score before his team beat the Kansas City Monarchs.

Sidney Bunch began his career with the Baltimore Elite Giants, too, then signed with the Brooklyn Dodgers affiliate in Billings, Montana in 1951 and was expected to move up the ranks before his Marine unit was called up during the Korean War.

Hometown favorite Jim “Junior” Gilliam was an All Star for the Elite Giants in 1948-1950 before signing with the Brooklyn Dodgers. Gilliam was National League Rookie of the Year in 1953, became a coach with the Dodgers in 1965 and remained with the club until his death in 1978.

The street in front of Nashville’s First Tennessee Park was named Junior Gilliam Way in 2015 in his honor.

© 2016 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

Author’s note: To assume the complete history of Black baseball in Nashville can be told is not the aim of this article. Attempts to reasonably research the subject can be frustrating and are often futile as information is often not there. Let’s assume there is more that lays hidden in someone’s journal, scrapbook, or trunk, waiting to be opened.

 

2 Comments

Filed under Current, History, Negro League, Research

Junior Gilliam Way: A Fitting Tribute

Today a ceremony will be held at First Tennessee Park, home of the Nashville Sounds, to rename Jackson St. “Junior Gilliam Way” in honor of the former Los Angeles Dodgers player. Gilliam was born in Nashville near Sulphur Dell which was in the vicinity of Nashville’s new ballpark, and Jackson Street leads to the home plate entrance of the park.Junior Gilliam Way

It is a fitting tribute for one of Nashville’s favorite sons from the baseball’s post-integration era. But who was this man, born James William Gilliam on October 17, 1928?

His first baseball glove was given to him by his mother, a housekeeper, when he was 14 years old. Sulphur Dell was near his home, and groundskeeper Willie White is credited with allowing young Gilliam into the ballpark so he could hone his skills.

“He was one of my lambs around Sulphur Dell, a bashful fellow,” White once recalled. “He was a member of the Sulphur Dell Giants and we played games when the Vols were on the road.

“He was a natural from the very start. He was fast and could do everything, so I changed him into an infielder quick.”

At the age of 17 he signed to play for the Nashville Black Vols, an affiliate of the Negro League Baltimore Elite Giants. Gilliam continued to blossom as a player, learning to become a switch-hitter, and was known for his determination, bat control, and smart approach to the game.

Moving to the parent Elites, his manager was George “Tubby” Scales, who gave him his nickname “Junior”.

The Brooklyn Dodgers acquired Gilliam for their minor league Montreal club for the 1952 season. It was the same team which Jackie Robinson was sent to when Dodgers general manager Branch Rickey signed him to integrate baseball. Gilliam was to play second base for the Royals, and at season’s end his batting average was .278 and he had driven in 73 runs.

GilliamHe was selected as the International League’s MVP and his statistics were impressive: a .303 batting average and 109 RBI. Promoted to the parent club for the 1953 season, he was made the second baseman on a team which had won the National League pennant the previous season.

When the Dodgers broke from spring training and made their exhibition trek towards Brooklyn to begin the season, one of the stop-overs was at Sulphur Dell in Nashville. The Dodgers defeated the Milwaukee Braves 3-1 on April 5, 1953 as 12,059 fans turned out to see their hero Jim “Junior” Gilliam.

Warren Spahn was the losing pitcher as the Braves mustered only one run on catcher Ebba St. Claire’s home run over the high right field wall. The Dodgers’ Dick Williams doubled off the left field wall and droves in two runs.

But it was their hometown favorite they came to see, and he did not disappoint. The African-American community turned out in great numbers for the game, mostly taking a seat on the rolling hills of Sulphur Dell’s outfield as Gilliam was 2-for-4 at the plate.

On December 23, 1953 was named National League Rookie of the year The Sporting News. Brooklyn had won the pennant again and Gilliam had contributed two home runs in the World Series in a losing cause to the New York Yankees.

Once again as the club headed north to start the 1954 season, Brooklyn made a visit to Nashville. On April 4, 1954 before 12,006 fans at Sulphur Dell, the Milwaukee Braves defeated Brooklyn 18-14. Nine ground-rule doubles were called on balls hit among those seated on the outfield hills.

Carl Furillo smacked a grand-slam, and George “Shotgun” Shuba, Duke Snider, and Ed Mathews each hit homers. Roy Campanella pinch-hit and works the last inning behind the plate as Junior Gilliam played third, batted lead-off, and had two doubles and scored three runs.

The Dodgers moved to Los Angeles before the 1958 season, and Gilliam moved with them. The versatile athlete would eventually play most outfield and infield positions in his career and would become a favorite of Dodgers manager Walt Alston (who was his manager at Montreal). When Gilliam’s major league career ended after 14 seasons as a player, Alston added him to the Dodgers coaching staff.

Alston retired after the 1976 campaign and two candidates were considered as a replacement, Gilliam and Tommy Lasorda. When named to the position, Lasorda immediately asked Gilliam to remain on the coaching staff.

On September 15, 1978 Gilliam suffered a cerebral hemorrhage. He passed away on October 8. He was 49. The National League title was won by the Dodgers the next day.

Gilliam’s tribute today not only calls attention to a great player but is a continuation of baseball’s capability to shorten the gap from the segregation and integration eras. There are others whose contributions to Nashville’s baseball history are honorable, too: Henry Kimbro, Hall of Famer Norman “Turkey” Stearnes, Sydney Bunch, Jim Zapp, Clinton “Butch” McCord, and others should be worthy mentions.

Mayor Karl Dean and Sounds owner Frank Ward will host the festivities beginning at 6:30 PM (Central) prior to Nashville’s game with the Iowa Cubs at 7:05. A special video message from longtime Dodgers broadcaster Vin Scully will be played.

© 2015 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

Note: Much of this information came from Jeff Angus’ excellent article on Jim Gilliam published on SABR’s (Society for American Baseball Research) Baseball Biography Project and may be accessed here: Jim Gilliam. Thank you Jeff.

Additional sources include the Tennessean, Nashville Banner, and The Sporting News.

Should you wish to become a member of SABR (I highly recommend it as the resources are invaluable in researching) you may access more information here: Join SABR

Leave a comment

Filed under Biography, Current, History, Negro League, Opinion, Research, Uncategorized

Listening In With Butch and Me

After developing http://www.sulphurdell.com 13 years ago I was invited to participate in a panel discussion at the Metro Archives in Green Hills, “Play Ball: A Look at Nashville Baseball“. Others on the panel included former Negro Leaguers Jim Zapp, Sydney Bunch, and Butch McCord along with former Nashville Vols Larry Taylor, Roy Pardue and a few others. After some discussion visitors were able to ask questions and casually view the exhibit of photographs, documents, and information on display.

The discussion helped to kick off renewed interest in the history of Nashville’s illustrious baseball past including Sulphur Dell. I will always be grateful for Metro Archives director Ken Fieth for his direction, and archivists Debie Oeser Cox and Linda Center, both since retired, for their assistance in making the event happen.

My father Virgil and I had become members of the Nashville Old Timers Baseball Association about that time, and Butch McCord was a member of the organization, too. Butch and I seemed to hit it off at the Archives and our relationship grew at Old Timers board meetings and events.

ButchMcCordI was invited to his home where I met his lovely wife, Christine, and on that first visit he told story after story, shared his books and newspaper clippings about the Negro Leagues, and told about what Jackie Robinson did for the African-American community. Subsequent visits to his home brought more stories, more books, and more clippings, and more Jackie Robinson.

On returning from a trip I took to the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City he told me how proud he was that I took an interest in Negro League history. I told him it began with him.

Often during the baseball season he would call me on Saturday mornings and we would continue our discussions. A Nashville Sounds season ticket holder, Butch would always mention something over the phone that had happened at a Sounds’ game during the week.

Butch loved to talk about the past, but his love of baseball allowed him to continue his interest in his hometown Nashville club.

If the Sounds had played an away game on Friday night, the first thing he would say when I answered my phone was, “Did you listen to the game last night?”

Saying I had, we would discuss the game; if I hadn’t we would still discuss the game, as Butch wanted to tell about it and use it as a lesson about baseball. That’s the kind of fan he was.

Listening to baseball broadcasts was something my dad, my brother Jim and I shared over the years. Television had pushed me  away from that, but Butch helped bring me back to it.

I listen to the radio every chance I get, and tonight as the Nashville Sounds new season kicks off in Colorado Springs, I get another chance to hear my hometown Nashville club’s game. I’m anxious to know more about this club, the new players, and the new West Coast affiliation with the Oakland Athletics.

Nashville Sounds games are broadcast live in Middle Tennessee on 102.5 The Game (WPRT-FM) and online at http://www.thegamenashville.com/.

Won’t you join me as I “root, root, root for the home team” by listening to Sounds play-by-play announcer Jeff Hem’s broadcast of our favorite club? Game time is 7:35 P.M.

Butch passed away on January 27, 2011. I’ll be listening and thinking of him a little bit, knowing he’d be proud of me.

He’d be proud of you, too. Won’t you join us?

© 2015 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

Leave a comment

Filed under Biography, Current, History, Negro League

A Baseball Museum for Nashville?

On more than one occasion I have visited the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York; every baseball fan should visit in one’s lifetime. Exhibit displays are excellent (rotated often), library and research opportunities abound, and the ambiance of the quaint village is rarely paralleled.

Hiking, boating, and golf are just a few outside opportunities available, too, and should your son be on a team playing in a tournament nearby, that’s even better. Doubleday Field and the Cooperstown Dreams baseball complex host amateur games for youngsters and adults, and there is a Fantasy Week offered for those who want to learn from former pros such as Ozzie Smith and Phil Niekro.

My visits have included traveling with business associates and friends, and once I visited alone to do research in the library at the tutelage of Tim Wiles, who recently left as Director of Research at the Hall of Fame to become Executive Director of Guilderland Public Library some 60 miles away. Tim was able to access files on Nashville baseball which help immensely in my ability to tell local baseball history more completely.

Even with Tim’s valued assistance, those files were pretty thin.

All of those things aside, I often wonder why the National Baseball Hall of Fame is even in Cooperstown? In 1939 it was determined by the Mills Commission that a century before, Abner Doubleday invented The Game in Phinney’s field in the village named after the family of author James Finnemore Cooper. I get that.

2DayCome to find out, Doubleday was nowhere near Phinney’s field at that time; he was at West Point where he had entered the United State Military Academy the previous year. Doubleday never claimed to be the father of baseball, although he did have a relative by the same name who lived in the area in the early 1800s.

To boot, Cooperstown only has about 2,000 residents, is 4 1/2 hours away from New York City, and is in the middle of nowhere except for the beautiful countryside.

Some may like it that way, but I’m guessing that the location is a detriment to mass visits. The village may not be able to cater to more than those who currently stop by for a tour of the museum, take advantage of the library, or visit another venue.

So, why is “Cooperstown” in Cooperstown?

In reality, the Hall of Fame and Museum is not going anywhere even if I were to remotely suggest that Nashville would make a better and more accommodating home.

The question is this: Would local citizens and visitors to Nashville support a baseball museum, even if it was about regional baseball history only?

For one, I think they would. Baseball was not born in Nashville, and southern baseball has roots in many communities below the Mason-Dixon Line. However, as Nashville continues to experience rapid growth and with visitor momentum continuing to accelerate, new venues of opportunity are needed.

And everyone loves baseball.

Can two Halls of Fame exist? Yes. In Kansas City there is the Negro League Baseball Museum, and in Birmingham construction is underway for another one to emphasize African-American participation in the illustrious history of the Negro Leagues.

Besides, our “Athens of the South” calls out not only to the many local colleges and universities, it really is a testament to our being a center of learning. Locally, the Country Music Hall of Fame, Songwriters Hall of Fame, Johnny Cash Museum are in full measure, with newly-announced George Jones and African-American Music museums on the horizon.

Wouldn’t a museum entrusted to the documents, images, oral and visual histories, and opportunity to view those traditions of yesteryear make sense, a repository of southern baseball history?

We have a new ballpark that will soon open near the site of beloved Sulphur Dell, which was once known as baseball’s oldest ballpark in existence. Games were played there as early as 1862. We have ownership and management of the Nashville Sounds who will be immortalizing a part of local history within the stadium, and a city whose leadership will allow for the same throughout the greenway outside the stadium.

The Old Timers Baseball Association of Nashville continues to promote baseball with scholarships, an annual award banquet, and monetary support to area ball fields and programs, too.

1DaySuccessful baseball programs at Vanderbilt, Lipscomb, Belmont, Trevecca, and nearby Cumberland are also a tribute to baseball roots in the area. Toss in local baseball  at the high school and youth league levels, and we can easily say “We know our baseball”.

19th Century baseball has taken a foothold, too; what began as a two-team league in Franklin and Nashville, in three short years the Tennessee Association of Vintage Base Ball has expanded in middle Tennessee to Knoxville and Chattanooga.

This great opportunity to provide a location for the study of baseball and to view its visual and oral merits, all within a day’s driving distance from much of the United States, should not be overlooked.

I am sure we had an Abner Doubleday in our town once, too.

© 2015 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

1 Comment

Filed under Current, History, Negro League, Opinion, Research