Category Archives: Negro League

Grantland Rice Named “Sulphur Dell” On This Day

From humble beginnings as Nashville’s city park, even P. T. Barnum pitched his city of tents on the grounds of Sulphur Spring Bottom in November of 1872. Throughout its history the proximity of this lovely piece of ground was not so beautiful after late-winter’s rainfalls filled the low-lying basin.

Escalating interest in the game of “base ball” led to the formation of Nashville’s first professional team to play in the inaugural Southern League season in 1885. The grounds at Athletic Park were often in such poor condition that games were postponed, moved to another ball field at Peabody or Vanderbilt, or cancelled.

The African-American community took to the emerging National Game and cheered on their local favorites. As early as June of 1907 the semi-professional Nashville Standard Giants played at Athletic Park; renamed the Negro League Nashville Elite Giants in 1920, Sulphur Dell was often the home playing field for the team.

Grantland_RiceIn his sports column published in the Nashville Tennessean on this day, January 14, 1908, Grantland Rice referred to the local ballpark as “Sulphur Spring Dell”. In later years Nashville Banner sports editor Fred Russell intimated that Rice couldn’t find anything to rhyme with “Sulphur Spring Bottom”, as the area had been known, thus the new moniker for Nashville’s baseball home.

In subsequent columns Rice shortened the name to “Sulphur Dell”, and fans and players adopted it when referring to their beloved ballpark. When Grantland Rice first typed out the words “Sulphur Dell”, how could he have known that time would etch the name into the minds of baseball folk, casual fans, players and sportswriters across the country.

After the 1926 season ended new ownership of the Southern Association’s Nashville Volunteers decided to turn the ballpark around so fans would not be squinting in the afternoon sun. One of the visitors to the new “turned around” Sulphur Dell was player-manager Casey Stengel and his Toledo Mud Hens; Stengel hit a triple in the exhibition game against Nashville.

A few weeks later on April 7, the 65th General Assembly of Tennessee adjourned early to see Babe Ruth and the New York Yankees play the St. Louis Cardinals at Sulphur Dell. The two teams had faced each other in the past World Series with the Cardinals winning four games to three.

A resolution had been adopted to invite Ruth to address the Senate the morning of the game, but he sent word that it would be impossible for him to appear because of a lack of time. Undoubtedly the Legislature had time and observed the Cardinals beat the Yankees that day 10-8.

The first night game was played at Sulphur Dell on May 18, 1931 as the Vols lost to Mobile 8-1.

On April 12, 1932 attendance was 14,502; with seating capacity of 8,000 in the grandstands the outfield was lined off with rope to accommodate the crowd. It was the largest crowd to see a game at Sulphur Dell.

After arriving from Memphis by team bus at 4 PM on May 8, 1946 the Racine Belles checked into the Noel Hotel then made their way to Sulphur Dell to play against the Muskegon Lassies. The Belles won 8-5.

On opening day April 17, 1951, Nashville’s Sulphur Dell celebrated 24 years of service to local citizens with a new look that included a remodeled façade, new turnstiles, brick walls, wider exits and other improvements.  Unchanged were the “dumps” in the outfield and the short right field fence.

The last professional baseball game was played at Sulphur Dell on September 8, 1963, as the Vols of the South Atlantic League faced Lynchburg in a double header.  Nashville outfielder Charlie Teuscher belted three home runs as the Vols won over Lynchburg 6-3 and 2-1.

It was the last hurrah of the famous park. Amateur baseball was played at Sulphur Dell in 1964 and in 1965 it was turned into a speedway. After becoming a tow-in lot for Metro Nashville, Sulphur Dell was demolished in 1969.

Today’s recollections of great players, games, and teams honor the memory of the hallowed grounds of Sulphur Dell thanks to the “Dean of American Sportswriters”, Grantland Rice.

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This Week in Nashville Baseball History: January 4 – January 10

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January 4, 1899 – John Sneed’s death is announced in Jackson, Tennessee. A member of Nashville’s first professional baseball club, the Americans of the newly-formed Southern League, he was a utility player who also pitched. Sneed also played for the Memphis Grays, Memphis Browns, and New Orleans Pelicans in the Southern League. He was born in Shelby County near Memphis in 1861

January 5, 1908 – Bill Bernhard(t) is named as manager of the Nashville Baseball Club. “Strawberry Bill” had pitched for the Philadelphia Phillies and Cleveland Indians beginning in 1899, retiring at the end of the 1907 season with a major league record of 116 -81. Bernhard will manage Nashville for three seasons while continuing to pitch. Leaving the Vols after the 1910 season, he would move to Memphis and manage there from 1911 to 1913 and return to active pitching in Salt Lake City in 1914 and Chattanooga in 1915. After being out of baseball for two years he will return to Salt Lake City as manager in 1916, retiring from pro ball in 1917

January 6, 1897 – Today is the birthday of Byron “By” Speece. The right-handed submariner was 85-60 for Nashville from 1932-1938. He had previously pitched for Washington and Cleveland in the American League in 1924-26 and the Philadelphia Phillies in 1930. After his stint with the Vols Speece moved to the Pacific Coast League, pitching for Portland and Seattle from 1940-1946

January 7, 1882 – Heinie Berger, pitcher for Nashville in 1914 (20-17) and 1915 (12-7), is born in LaSalle, Illinois. After his 1915 season with the Vols, Berger retired from baseball. The 5’9” right hander had previously pitched for Cleveland in the American League from 1907-1910 where Berger had a cumulative major league record of 32-29 with a 2.60 ERA. On September 16, 1907 Berger tossed a one-hitter against the New York Highlanders

January 8, 1914 – Judge A. B. Neil awards a temporary injunction to Nashville manager Bill Schwartz that prevents club president W. G. Hirsig from voting certain sharts of stock at the Nashville Baseball Club stockholders meeting called for January 13.  The 26 shares in question are said to be in the name of W. B. Lee, a prominent Nashville specialist, and had been voted by Hirsig in previous meetings.  Schwartz claims to hold Dr. Lee’s written proxy to vote the shares at the meeting

January 9, 1938 – Larry Gilbert, who will be leaving tomorrow with his wife and youngest son Tookie for Nashville to take over his new duties as manager of the Vols, is given a going-away party at his home in New Orleans.  Over 100 family member and friends visited and presented the Gilberts with a variety of gifts

January 10, 1947 – Tom Wilson, owner of the Baltimore Elite Giants formerly located in Nashville, is ousted as president of the Negro National League. Wilson had held the post since 1938

© 2015 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

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Ernie Banks: Remembering Sulphur Dell

During Hall of Famer Ernie Banks’ recent visit to Nashville, he recalled playing at Sulphur Dell for the Kansas City Monarchs. Banks was on the Negro League team during the 1950 and 1953 seasons (he served in the military during 1951-1952).

“Do you remember the date?” I asked him.

“I believe it would have been 1953, but I can’t tell you what month. I do remember hitting a fly ball up on the hill in right field,” he responded.

Knowing that it would not have been entirely unusual for there to be an announcement about a Negro League game in one of Nashville’s mainstream newspapers, previous research told me that it would be unusual for the game to have been reported in the sports section.

Nor would there be a chance of a box score or any other information to have been printed.

“I’d like to find a box score or some other reference to the game”, I said. “Any thing you could remember about playing here would be helpful.”

I did not want Banks to think he was being interrogated, but experience told me that it might be helpful if he could remember which team was the Monarchs’ opponent for the game.

“Do you remember what team you were playing?” I asked.

Banks thought for a moment, looking straight at me as if he was really wanting to remember any clue he had about the game.

“I believe we were playing the Indianapolis Clowns,” he said. “If you find anything, let me know.”

Hoping I could find some reference to Ernie Banks playing with the Monarchs in Nashville, another research quest was added to my list. Perhaps some reference to a Monarchs game at Sulphur Dell could be found.

I found it. At least, I believe I did. After searching various resources I found a reference to the Kansas City Monarchs playing the Indianapolis Clowns in Nashville. It is only a small write-up and line score of a Negro League game played on August 7 – Banks is not mentioned – but nevertheless there it was. It is from the Kansas City Times, August 8, 1953:

Kansas City Times, August 8, 1953

Often it only takes a tidbit of information (and a little bit of diligence, too) to find that hidden gem. To me, it is about connecting our present to our past, and any tip, hint, or clue whets my appetite for helping to make that connection.

Since Ernie Banks recalled that the Monarchs played the Clowns, it made the difference. I hope to contact him and with the information in the article and perhaps it will produce new memories about his visit to Nashville’s Sulphur Dell.

© 2014 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

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

Do You Have a “Most Memorable” Baseball Moment Like Butch McCord?

I am in possession of a questionnaire filled out by my friend Clinton “Butch” McCord. Butch was a wonderful source for baseball history. Not only did he know everything there was to know about players and history in the Negro Leagues, he knew about everything “baseball”. He was a wealth of knowledge during our Saturday morning conversations.

The questions, and Butch’s answers:

1. Favorite team and year? Baltimore Elite Giants 1949, Denver Bears 1954 (Western League), Victoria Rosebuds 1959 (Texas League)

2. Your favorite city or stadium to play? Columbus Jets Stadium 1956

3. Who had the biggest influence on your career? Lou Gehrig and local persons in Nashville

4. Who were the greatest players in the Negro Leagues? There were too many: 1. Paige 2. Gibson 3. Leonard 4. Oscar Charleston 5. Mays

5. How would Reggie Jackson have compared to those players? He would have done well. He had the personality. He should have been a Yankee all of his career. He was a natural Yankee

6. Your most memorable moment in baseball? 1. Getting a triple off Satchel Paige at 16-years-old 2. Winning two Silver Gloves 3. Second year in organized ball they had a night for me (Harry Carey came to honor me) 4. I had too many to settle for one

God bless him, this is Butch at his best. He was proud of his race, proud of his accomplishments, proud that he had made it through the slings and arrows of integrated baseball.Butch

To me, the most telling answer of this questionnaire is “local persons in Nashville”. Butch passed away in 2011, so we can’t ask him who those persons were. I think they were his father, his wife Christine, Elite Giants owner Tom Wilson, and fellow Negro Leaguer Henry Kimbro.

Getting a triple off of Satchel Paige at the age of 16 is no easy feat, either. But the second most telling answer to me?

“I had too many to settle for one”.

For previous posts about Butch McCord:

https://262downright.wordpress.com/2013/09/22/butch/

https://262downright.wordpress.com/2013/10/29/missing-memories/

https://262downright.wordpress.com/2013/10/05/squinting/

© 2014 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

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

“Butch”

One of the most passionate baseball people I ever met was Clinton “Butch” McCord. We became friends after my dad and I were invited to join the Old Timers Baseball Association of Nashville.

Butch’s first words to me included his admiration for Jackie Robinson and what he had done for “us”.  We began to speak on the phone on an on-going basis.

“Did you see the Braves win last night?”, he would ask. Or, “did you listen to the (Nashville) Sounds game on the radio?” Often he would turn to a teaching moment: “When I played…”

He loved to tell his baseball stories about playing for the Nashville Black Vols and the Baltimore Elite Giants. Moving to the white organized leagues, he played in places like Paris, Illinois in the beginning of his career and Victoria, Texas near the end.

In between he won two Silver Gloves as the best first baseman in the minor leagues, playing in Louisville, Denver, and Richmond.

imageHe would freely express what he had experienced and how “The Game” impacted his life. The pains and joys of baseball helped him measure the quality of his life.

It took a while, but he had moved away from the bitterness it had brought to him.

Sometimes it was hard to hear the truth, and Butch spoke the truth. It must have been difficult to tell. He had been bitter. It had been hard to deal with. Sleepless nights, sometimes with fits of anger, too often permeated the peace he found on the ball field.

What made him a great man was how he reacted. Baseball changed him. He no longer expressed any resentment, saying “That’s just the way it was”. Later in life it was more important to let children learn from his understanding.

I was fortunate to know Butch while he was with us. I learned from him. Those baseball conversations continued through the fall of 2010.  He became seriously ill around that time, and passed away on January 27, 2011.

And I miss his calls.

© 2013 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

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Filed under Biography, Current, History, Negro League