Category Archives: Research

No Vote, No Ultimatum, No Protest: Setting Nashville and the Southern Association Free

In August of 1960, Nashville’s return to the Southern Association for another season looked dim when Cincinnati withdrew the six-year affiliation it had with the Vols. In fact, the entire league had no assurance it would return for another year. It recovered by adding the Macon Peaches to fill the void that was left when Memphis exited.

The return of the Southern Association for 1962 looked even more bleak. Attendance went from 780,316 in 1960 to 647,831 in 1961, a decline of 17%. Television and air conditioning are often blamed for the lower turnout, but there may have been a deeper, more profound reason.

Gabe Paul, general manager of the Reds, explained the decision to drop Nashville from the farm system in no uncertain terms. Bottom line: No negro players equals no proper development of potential players equals the agreement ends.

For an entire year, no stance was taken by Nashville nor any other ball club in the league. There would be no integrating of the Southern. There was no vote taken either way, no ultimatum passed down from league or team leaders, no public protests by fans that would discourage continued segregation.

What saved the Vols franchise for one last season in the Southern Association? Enter the Minnesota Twins. Formerly the Washington Senators and relocated to the Twin Cities, the major league club was so profitable in their new home that stockholders received a $2-a-share dividend[1]. Not exactly keen on Nashville or its ballpark, Sulphur Dell, farm director Sherry Robertson had not given up hopes that Montreal, not the Vols, would be the new affiliate for the Twins.

“We would go into the Southern Association only as a last resort,” he told the Minneapolis Star. “In the first place, the Southern is a double A league and we need a triple A farm. Nashville’s park isn’t good place to develop players.

“And then, and this is important: The Southern bars Negroes, and we have several. That is one of Nashville’s biggest problems in getting an agreement. If a club can’t send its Negro players there, it doesn’t want the tieup[sic].[2]

He was right, sort of. Although there was no edict to “ban” or “bar” black players, there certainly was no edict to the opposite. And this is 15 years after Jackie Robinson had signed to play for the Brooklyn Dodgers.

Twins management offered a deal on January 23, 1961 to partner with the Nashville ballclub and stock the team with players. Not only did the arrangement save the Vols, it saved the Southern Association. The agreement included points which league president Hal Totten hoped would be a part of future major league affiliations in the Southern.

To provide a training site, and give it an identity as a member of the parent organization.

To absorb the training expenses of all players, except those invited to camp by Nashville

To house, feed, and instruct those players owned by the minor league club at a cost of slightly more than $4 a day

To pay all above $500 a month in salaries of optioned players

To pay all above $650 a month in salaries of players assigned outright to the minor league club

To pay part of the field manager’s salary, provided the major league club appoint him from their organization

According to the previous agreement with Cincinnati, Nashville had been paying up to $750 a month for optioned players’ salaries, and all salaries of players on outright assignment.[3]

The 1961 season was salvaged, but by August Nashville wallowed in the bottom half of the Southern Association standings. The club featured a makeshift roster, as the team featured only five players who had seen, or would see, action in the big leagues: Buddy Gilbert, Gene Host, Rod Kanehl, Joe McCabe, and John Romonsky.

On the night of August 11, Twins Executive Vice-President Joe Haynes and Robertson visited Sulphur Dell (for the first time) to take stock of Nashville’s players. The major league club was looking for those worthy to call up to the fold, as the Twins were going nowhere but seventh place in the 10-team American League.

It turned out to be a special night for Vols left fielder Joe Christian, who had been sailing along with a .329 batting average and had eight home runs. He added another home run and two singles for four RBI, and now had 220 total bases for the year. Ev Joyner added a home run and single, driving in four runs, and Gilbert hit two doubles, a single, and a sacrifice fly, good enough for five RBI.

None of the three were the property of the Twins.

The Vols won the game over the Birmingham Barons, 16-7, and even though they were out-hit 22-12, Nashville pulled off five double plays to seal the win, the Vols’ fifth straight. There were 721 paid admissions in the stands.

The attendance nor final score were the most important news of the night. Comments by the Twins’ Robertson were.

He told Nashville Tennessean sports writer F. M. Williams the future of the minor leagues looks good, except for two leagues. When Williams asked which ones were in trouble, Robertson identified the Southern and Western Carolina leagues.

“You people have got to play Negroes to remain in business,” he added.

Williams asked if the unofficial ban were to be lifted, would the outlook change. Robertson’s answer?

“Definitely.”

“Robertson said it is too early to discuss continuation of the working agreement with Nashville. But he intimated the Twins do not have enough ball players to staff a Double A club in the coming years.”[4]

What he was saying was the Twins did not have enough white players to send down to Double A.

Finally, the 50-man board of directors of Vols, Inc., representing 4,876 stockholders, heard him loud and clear, and acted on the controversial measure.

Meeting at Nashville’s Noel Hotel on September 2, the board voted unanimously to use Negro players in 1962, although a few grumbled about the matter.[5] But even those few were not going to jeopardize Nashville’s chance to go fail, possibly risking their investments in Vols, Inc. stock.

In the meantime, Robertson was certain some arrangement could be made to save Nashville.

“We can’t afford to let the Southern League die. We don’t have enough ball players to furnish a team in Nashville, but we will work something out, I am sure, at the meeting of farm directors tomorrow morning.”[6]

Robertson offered up a new idea to include Nashville as a part of the Twins organization. It involved a dual working agreement with the Pittsburgh Pirates. When the Pirates reneged and Columbus showed interest in placing a team in the league to replace Macon, Minnesota suddenly joined up with the Georgia club. Macon was a victim of big operating losses in 1961.

Birmingham decided to pull its club over the use of Negroes; the Detroit Tigers, the Barons major league affiliate, had little choice but to associate with Nashville should the team and league stay in business in 1962. It did not happen, and one player did not get a chance to integrate Nashville or the Southern Association.

A few months after the end of the 1961 season, minor league clubs met in Tampa for their annual winter meetings, and Nashville general manager Bill Harbour stood by the his board’s decision to include Negro players. John Dee Griffin, a catcher who appeared in 76 games and had a .183 batting average for Fox Cities in the Three-Eye League (Class – B), was drafted by the Vols.[7]

When the Vols went defunct for the 1962, Griffin ended up with Elmira (Eastern League – Class A). He had a 10-year career, all in the minor leagues, reaching as high as Class AAA ball with Rochester, Oklahoma City, and Arkansas (Little Rock) from 1963-1965, even playing in the Southern League with Chattanooga in 1965 and Macon in 1966. He finished his professional career in 1967 with Amarillo (Texas League, Class – AA) and Salem, Virginia (Class – A).

The Southern Association met its end, never to be resurrected again. After one season with no professional baseball, Nashville returned in 1963 as a member of the South Atlantic “SALLY” League (Class – AA), which was integrated. It was that year that Eddie Crawford and Henry Mitchell, both Negroes, were on the Vols roster; the first two and only of their race to perform for the team.

Hall of Fame baseball executive Branch Rickey, who signed Robinson to his Dodger’s contract, once said, “Ethnic prejudice has no place in sports, and baseball must recognize that truth if it is to maintain stature as a national game.”[8]

The teams in the Southern Association, Nashville included, missed an opportunity to boost the inevitable integration of minor league baseball in their cities until it was too late. The truth, as we now know, set them all free.

© 2017 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

Sources

Baseball-reference.com

Newspapers.com

Paper of Record

Sabr.org

Southernassociationbaseball.com

Wright, Marshall D. (2002). The Southern Association in Baseball, 1885-1961. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Co.

Notes

[1] Raymond Johnson. “One Man’s Opinion,” Nashville Tennessean, January 20, 1961, 28.

[2] “Nashville Seeking Tieup With Twins,” Minneapolis Star, January 19, 1961, 36.

[3] F. M. Williams. “Twins Tieup Rescues Nashvols,” Nashville Tennessean, January 24, 1961, 11.

[4] Williams. “Southern Outlook Bleak – Robertson,” Nashville Tennessean, August 12, 1961, 15.

[5] Williams. “Vol Directors Vote To End Ban On Negro Players in Sulphur Dell,” Nashville Tennessean, September 3, 1961, 27.

[6] Williams. “Dual Agreement Expected for Nashvols,” Nashville Tennessean, November 29, 1961, 18.

[7] “Vols Draft Negro Player,” Nashville Tennessean, November 28, 1961, 18.

[8] “Branch Rickey Quotes,” Baseball-Almanac.com, http://www.baseball-almanac.com/quotes/quobr.shtml, accessed August 14, 2017.

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Nashville Attendance and the Ebb, Flow of Minor League Baseball

On September 8, 1963, only 971 fans attended a double header between Nashville and Lynchburg at Sulphur Dell. It would be the final professional games played at the historic ballpark.

The end had been foretold by attendance numbers for several years. The Vols’ best year at the turnstiles had been in 1948, when 269,893 watched Nashville play, but the numbers never came close again until the death of the club. In 1954, the last of a three-year affiliation with the New York Giants, the total was 89,470. That was the year when Nashville slugger Bob Lennon hammered 64 home runs, but even that achievement was not enough to drive fans to the ballpark.

Nashville was not alone.

Fan support dwindled across the entire country during the decline of minor league baseball in the 1950s. By 1960, there were 22 minor leagues; in 1950 there had been 58.[1]

In his book, Leveling the Playing Field, Paul C. Weiler puts it in perspective.

“In the late 1940s there were more than 450 minor league teams drawing more than 40 million fans to their game – a team average of 90,000 a season. Then television arrive in American homes, drastically reducing the demand for minor league baseball. By the late 1950s attendance had plummeted to around 15 million, where it remained for the next 20 years.”[2]

The issue was such a concern to Nashville Vols co-owner Larry Gilbert that he sold his 50% ownership to his partner, Ted Murray. Soon in debt with the ball club, Murray looked for buyers, too, and in 1958 area civic leaders banded together to form Vols, Inc., a publicly-held company with intent to purchase the Vols from Murray.

Try as they may, in subsequent years fans did not show up, leading to the demise of the franchise after that fateful double header in 1963. The club drew 52,812 for their final year.

Even before World War II, when attendance waned after a sensational 1940 season. Nashville led the league from opening day, won the Southern Association regular season and playoffs pennants, then won the Dixie Series against the Houston Buffaloes. Attendance stood at 138,602 even though war was looming.

During the war years, attendance remained respectable:

1941      97,282

1942      96,934

1943      76,570

1944      146,945

In 1945, turnout was 83,014; an honorable figure as soldiers were returning home.

Sports writer Raymond Johnson, in his “One Man’s Opinion” column in the Nashville Tennessean, often addressed the issue. He could see the decline coming, and in 1952 gave his view of the matter for that season’s crowds.

“Unless the fans turn out in larger numbers when Those Vols return home Friday than they have been averaging this season, Nashville will finish last in league attendance for the first time since 1931…That was the last time Nashville finished in the cellar and the season when Those Vols set their all-time losing record of 102 games.”[3]

Baseball devotees stepped up somewhat; attendance figures ended at 113,193 for 1952.

But Johnson compared the waning appearance of fans to 1931, when totals were only 67,338. The club won only 51 games that season. He understood that fans liked to see winning baseball.

“That was the first season for night baseball in Nashville…But even the uniqueness of nocturnal ball failed to lure the fans out to see a ball club that was as interesting to watch as two black cats fighting on a moonless night.”[4]

Night baseball did not bring out fans. Neither did Bob Lennon’s remarkable home run season. Even Nashville’s unbelievable 1940 season did not relate to more fans in the seats. The 1948 season record attendance mark at Sulphur Dell occurred in Larry Gilbert’s final season as manager, then only fell to 238,034 in a Rollie Hemsley-led Vols repeat championship performance.

From then on, the challenge was a changing America: inventive television productions, expanding highways, and automobiles being produced instead of tanks.

The revival of baseball began in the late 1970s. Larry Schmittou was instrumental in bringing professional baseball back to Nashville after a 15-year drought, and was part of that revitalization.

Weiler tells how significant the interest was across the country.

“Then came the resurgence in interest in minor league (as well as major league) baseball among baby boom families who did not feel like staying home every night to watch television. By the late 1990s total minor league attendance had reached 35 million, an average of about 200,000 a season for each of the nearly 175 teams.”[5]

2016 regular season attendance for 160 teams in 14 minor leagues (including only teams affiliated with major league baseball) was just over 37 million.[6] That averages to just over 3,000 fans per game. Nashville Sounds attendance at First Tennessee Park was 504,060 in 2016[7].

Raymond Johnson, Larry Gilbert, Ted Murray, and the 4,876 stock holders of Vols, Inc. would have been happy with those numbers.

© 2017 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

Sources

Newspapers.com

Paper of Record

Sabr.org

Notes

[1] Ian Kahanowitz. “A Brief History of The Minor League’s Reluctance to Integrate (Part 3),” 27outsbaseball.com, http://www.27outsbaseball.com/uncategorized/a-brief-history-of-the-minor-leagues-reluctance-to-integrate-part-3/, accessed August 10, 2017.

[2] Weiler, Paul C. (2009) Leveling the Playing Field. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

[3] Raymond Johnson. “Vols Last in Attendance First Time in 21 Years,” One Man’s Opinion column, Nashville Tennessean, August 26, 1952, 15.

[4] Johnson.

[5] Weiber.

[6] Graham Knight. “Minor League Baseball Attendance in 2016,” Baseballpilgrimages.com, http://www.baseballpilgrimages.com/attendance/minor-leagues-2016.html, accessed August 10, 2017.

[7] “Pacific Coast League: Attendance,” milb.com, http://www.milb.com/milb/stats/stats.jsp?y=2016&t=l_att&lid=112&sid=l112, accessed August 10, 2017.

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Consecutive One-Hitters and Four Strikeouts in an Inning: Nashville’s Bernie Boland

In 2012, Nashville’s R. A. Dickey of the New York Mets finished the year with a 20-6 record, started 33 games and completed five of them, pitched in 232 innings, had 230 strikeouts, and faced 927 batters. In each of these categories, Dickey was tops, and he was named National League Cy Young Award winner as the best pitcher in the league.

He joined another elite group, too. Only 10 pitchers in Major League history have held the opposition to only one hit in consecutive games. R. A. was the last to accomplish the deed, when he held Tampa Bay and Baltimore to one hit in consecutive starts during his fantastic season.

Here’s the complete rundown of pitchers who have accomplished the feat[1]:

Hugh Daily, Chicago Browns, Union Association, July 7 & July 10, 1884

Toad Ramsey, Louisville Colonels, American Association, July 29 & July 31, 1886

Charlie Buffinton, Philadelphia Phillies, National League, August 6 & August 9, 1887

Rube Marquard, New York Giants, National League, August 28 & September 1, 1911

Lon Warneke, Chicago Cubs, National League, April 16 & April 22, 1934

Mort Cooper, St. Louis Cardinals, National League, May 31 & June 4, 1943

Whitey Ford, New York Yankees, September 2 & September 7, 1955

Sam McDowell, Cleveland Indians, American League, April 25 & May 1, 1966

Dave Stieb, Toronto Blue Jays, American League, September 24 & September 30, 1988

R. A. Dickey, New York Mets, National League, June 13 & June 18, 2012

Almost a century before Dickey did it, in 1914, another pitcher with a Nashville connection did the same thing as a member of the Vols in the Southern Association. Pitcher Bernie Boland pitched consecutive game one-hitters, joining the knuckleballing Dickey, who is currently a member of the Atlanta Braves, in making history.

Born Bernard Anthony Boland in Rochester, New York on January 21, 1892 to Patrick and Catherine Boland, Bernie honed his pitching skills in the sandlots of his hometown. Playing in a semi-pro league in Rochester in 1911, by mid-July his reputation as a fire-balling right hander was well-known. The 19-year-old had pitched 34 scoreless innings for the Orange Blossoms[2] when he faced the Lyons Cubs on July 23. The Cubs spoiled Bernie’s scoreless streak, but he struck out 12, gave up eight hits, and banged out two singles of his own[3] as his club won, 10-4.

By September, he won every game he had pitched in.[4]

Boland joined the Akron Giants (Central League, Class-B) for the 1912 season. He was a dependable starter for manager Lee Fohl, and won 10 games while losing 14 on the year. He returned to the club in 1913 and his reputation began to shine, culminating in his domination of a baseball immortal as the league began to collapse in July.

Although he began to suffer from a sore arm in early June,[5] Bernie had recovered quickly, holding Youngstown to four hits in a 12-0 whitewashing of the Steelmen.[6] On July 2, he pitched a four-hitter against Steubenville. One of the hits was by the second batter Bernie faced, Ernest Calbert, who socked a fly ball over the head of Akron centerfielder Arch Osborne. Calbert circled the bases to score. It was the lone run, as the Giants won 5-1.[7]

But three thousand fans packed the Akron ballpark on July 15 when the American League’s Cleveland Naps came to town for an exhibition game. Boland was selected to start the game, and he although he gave up 11 hits, the Naps won, 4-3. Cleveland great Joe Jackson faced Boland four times, hitting a triple in the sixth inning. Bernie struck him out twice.

“In the first inning Joe Jackson walked to the plate. The fans all had a feeling of sympathy for Bernie Boland, the youngster, who was facing the American League’s premier slugger. But Jackson failed to connect, and when he missed the third strike he hurled his bat almost to the Akron bench. Joe was an easy out again in the fourth, got the longest hit of the day in the sixth, a triple to deep center, and fanned again in the eighth.”[8]

When the Central League disbanded a few weeks later, Boland’s contract was purchased by Nashville (Southern Association, Class – AA). He decided to hold out, but when the Vols agreed to his terms, he joined the club.[9]

In his first start for the Vols on August 5 in Birmingham, Bernie lasted into the seventh. He gave up 11 hits and six runs and was removed from the game with an injured hand.[10] Nashville lost the game at Rickwood Field, 9-4. On August 10 at Sulphur Dell against Atlanta, he once again left the game, this time in the fifth inning, as he had torn the cuticle on his index finger from his curve ball. Nashville was ahead 3-1 at the time, and ended up losing 5-4 in extra innings.[11]

In six games during the year, Bernie won 2 games and lost 3, appearing in 31 innings. Only 5’8” and 168 pounds, the diminutive curve baller was expected to contribute at a greater level in 1914. Due to his speed and fielding ability, manager Bill Schwartz even considered making him an outfielder.[12]

Boland was named starter against Boston in an April 1 exhibition game at Vanderbilt’s Dudley Field (Sulphur Dell was deemed too wet to play on). After retiring lead-off batter Harry Hooper, Clyde Engel singled and future Hall of Famer Tris Speaker slapped a home run into the trees beyond right field.

Hooper returned the favor to Bernie, snagging Bolahd’s long drive in right field in the second inning. The game ended in favor of the American League team, 8-2. Boland had pitched five innings, allowing 4 runs and seven hits.[13]

Once the regular season began, Boland was joined by Heinie Berger, Floyd Kroh, Forrest More, and Erwin Renfer in the starting rotation. Tom Rogers, who would become the ace of the ball club and toss a perfect game in 1916, was in his first year with Nashville.

On July 28, Boland and pitcher Roy Walker, who was born in Lawrenceburg, Tennessee, pitched against each other in an intense duel in the Pelican’s ballpark. Nashville lost to New Orleans, 3-2 in 10 innings, as Walker struck out 11 and Bernie had 10 of his own. But Bernie accomplished a rare feat by striking out four batters in the eighth inning.

“In the eighth Tim Hendrix led off for the Pelicans and Boland fanned him. Charlie Starr (formerly with the Bisons) likewise swung and missed three successive times but was not out until Catcher Smith had thrown to first, as Smith dropped the ball after the third strike. Then Walter Barbare, the fleet Pelican shortstop, came to bat and he struck out. But Walter, for some reason, chose to swing on a wide on his third attempt and both he and Catcher Smith missed it. Result: Walter got to first in safety. Shortly afterward, too, he stole second and then third. Otto Burns was at bat and a hit would have won the game. Otto tried hard to deliver, but failed, and after three tries was out. Hence Boland’s four strike outs in one inning[14].

At the time Boland achieved his rarity, only four major league pitchers had done it:[15]

Ed Crane, New York Gothams, National League, October 4, 1888

Hooks Wiltse, New York Giants, National League, May 15, 1906

Orval Overall, Chicago Cubs, National League, October 14, 1908

Walter Johnson, Washington Senators, American League, April 15, 1911

On August 8 at Sulphur Dell against Memphis, Boland gave up a walk and only one hit as his team beat the Chicks 3-0. Through eight innings Bernie kept the opposing hitters in check, but opposing catcher George “Admiral” Schlei slapped a hit between first and second for a clean hit, spoiling a no-hit bid. It was the only hit allowed by Boland in the game, which was played in one hour and 30 minutes.

He started his next game in Atlanta on August 12, and gave up four runs to the Crackers. But after only 1 ½ innings had been played, the game was cancelled due to rain. Since the game was a washout and had not gone the minimum of 4 ½ innings to be considered a complete game, none of the hits or runs counted.[16]

His second one-hitter came on August 13 in the second game of a double header in Atlanta. After Nashville scored ten runs in the first inning of game one, 11-1, Boland held the Crackers to a single hit in 11 innings, as Nashville pushes a run across in the top of the 11th to win, 1-0.

Nashville sports writer Jack Nye explained.

“In his last two games Boland has allowed but two hits and no runs. In his one-hit affair against Memphis he gave up but one base on balls, but yesterday his control was not quite so good, five Crackers working him for passes. In the pinches, however, he had enough stuff to pull him out, fanning eight opposing batsmen.

“As far as can be learned, these two consecutive one-hit games set a new Southern league record. Bernie has now pitched twenty-three innings without a run being score on him. Though four runs were made in the first inning of Wednesday’s game at Atlanta, this does not go in the records, as the game was call in the second inning on account of rain.”[17]

The 22-year-old Boland finished the season 17-14 as Nashville finished in fifth place with a 77-72 record. The Detroit Tigers had seen something they like in Bernie, and Nashville sold his services to the American League club on August 28 for $5,000.00.[18]

He made his major league debut on April 14, 1915, relieving starter Harry Coveleski against Cleveland at Detroit’s Navin Field. He had no decision, but allowed no hits in two innings as the Tigers fell, 5-1.

He worked his way into the starting lineup and finished the year 13-7 with a 3.11 ERA. The club won 100 games, but lost the American League pennant to the Boston Red Sox, who had won 101.

In Detroit, his teammates included Ty Cobb, Sam Crawford, and Bobby Veach. Cobb set the season stolen base record of 96 in 1915 that was not broken until Maury Wills of the Los Angeles Dodgers stole 104 in 1962.

Boland stayed with the Tigers for six more years, and had his best season in 1917 when he was 16-11 and an ERA of 2.68. The next season, as World War I was raging in Europe, major league baseball played a short season, and when it ended he served in the Army until war was over.

In seven years he was 67-49 for Detroit, and finished his career as a member of the St. Louis Browns in 1921 when he was 1-4 in seven appearances. His final game was on June 17 against Washington at Griffith Stadium, when he started for one last time. After giving up nine hits and five runs in five innings, he was given his unconditional release by the Browns.

Bernie married Grace Belle Russelo on May 22, 1917 in Detroit, and together they had four children: Patrick, Mary Anne, John, and Rita. After baseball, he entered the construction business, opening Tiger Construction Company. He later became a construction foreman in Detroit’s Department of Public Works before retiring in 1957.[19] He died on September 12, 1973 in Detroit, and is buried in St. Hedwig Cemetery in Dearborn Heights, Michigan.

As a member of the Nashville Vols, his claim on the baseball record books includes a couple of near-impossible feats: striking out four in an inning, and tossing two consecutive one-hitters. As rare as those feats are, his right to assert his mark on baseball will remain in the annals of Nashville baseball history.

Sources

Baseball-reference.com

Newspapers.com

Paper of Record

Retrosheet.org

Sabr.org

Southernassociationbaseball.com

Wright, Marshall D. (2002). The Southern Association in Baseball, 1885-1961. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Co.

© 2017 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

Notes

[1] “1-Hit Games Records,” baseball-almanac.com, http://www.baseball-almanac.com/recbooks/1-hit_games_records.shtml, accessed August 8, 2017

[2] “Among The Semi-Professionals.,” Democrat and Chronicle (Rochester, New York), July 23, 1911, 25.

[3] “Orange Blossoms On Top,” Democrat and Chronicle, July 24, 1911, 15.

[4] “Game for the Orange Blossoms,” Democrat and Chronicle, September 20, 1911, 19.

[5] “Saturday’s Game,” Akron Beacon Journal, June 9, 1913, 9.

[6] “Even “Red” Ainsworth Was Unable to Check Slugging of the Giants,” Akron Beacon Journal, June 13, 1913, 16.

[7] “Slugging Giants Continue To Climb,” Akron Beacon Journal, July 3, 1913, 9.

[8] “When He Fanned.,” Akron Beacon Journal, July 16, 1913, 9.

[9] Jack Nye. “Weak Spots To Be Bolstered Up Soon,” Nashville Tennessean, July 31, 1913, 10.

[10] Nye. “Bill Prough Beats Vols And Makes It Nine Straight Wins,” Nashville Tennessean, August 6, 1913, 10.

[11] Nye. “Eleven-Inning Game Goes To Crackers,” Nashville Tennessean, August 11, 1913, 8.

[12] Nye. “New Players In Line-Up Tomorrow,” Nashville Tennessean, March 21, 1914, 10.

[13] Nye. “Speakers Hitting Helps Beat The Vols,” Nashville Tennessean, April 2, 1914, 10.

[14] “Struck Out Four In Single Inning,” Buffalo Commercial, July 30, 1014, 8.

[15] “Four Strikeouts in One Inning,” baseball-almanac.com, http://www.baseball-almanac.com/feats/feats19.shtml, accessed August 8, 2017

[16] Dick Jemison. “Rain Stopped Opening Game With Crackers Leading 4-3; Two Double-Headers Now,” Atlanta Constitution, August 13, 1914, 6.

[17] Nye. “Back In First Division; Pennant Hopes Revived,” Nashville Tennessean, August 14, 1914, 5.

[18] “Tigers Buy Boland, Nashville Pitcher; Reports Sept. 15,” Detroit Free Press, August 29, 1914, 10.

[19] Lee, Bill. (2003) The Baseball Necrology: The Post-Baseball Lives and Deaths of More Than 7 ,600 Major League Players and Others. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Co., Inc.

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Fracas at the Ballpark: Firemen and Policemen Battle at Sulphur Dell

In 1919, with the uncertainty of Nashville being able to play games on Sunday, Southern Association magnates published a schedule for the season which included games on the Sabbath[1]. Printed within the published league calendar where the words, “Southern League Will Take Chances In Playing Sunday Baseball”.

In fact, John D. Martin, president of the Southern Association, arrived in Nashville on March 27, just a few days after the schedule was approved, to urge the State Supreme Court to render an early decision in allowing Sunday baseball games[2]. He got his wish on April 12, when the Tennessee Supreme Court rendered their decision permitting Sunday baseball in the state. The court held that the blue laws of 1893, which were the basis for banning baseball on Sunday, do not apply to baseball as the game was not then being played[3].

On the day of Martin’s visit, Nashville’s spring training began at Sulphur Dell. It was going to be a long year.

By July 29 the ball club was mired in eighth and last place in the standings. With 39 wins and 52 losses, the Vols were facing a lengthy 12-day road trip beginning in Chattanooga, then New Orleans, Birmingham, and Mobile, finally returning home after a final road trip game on August 9 in Atlanta.[4]

In the meantime, Sulphur Dell did not sit idle.

Nashville’s amateur Volunteer League was comprised of eight teams: Rigo Chemical, Acorn Brand, Nashville Garage, Haury Selects (formerly known as Sparkman Bros.), L. Jonas & Co., Grandview, Postoffice [sic}, and the Orioles[5].

There was also a Commercial League: Gray & Dudley, Nashville Railway & Light Co., Telephone Company, National Casket Co., City Hall, Fourth & First National Bank, N. C. & St. L. Railway, and E. & N. Mfg. Co.[6]

The leagues mostly used Shelby Park’s two diamonds, ball fields at the Railway Company’s property, and a diamond at Centennial Park for games. But if the Vols were out of town, Sulphur Dell (often referred to as “Fifth and Jackson”) was included as a venue.

A game was played on Sunday, August 3 at Sulphur Dell between the Nashville police and fire department. Proceeds from the game were to go to their “Combined Benefit Fund” sick and death association.

The lineup for the Policemen included “Drennan, right field; Lonnie Martin centerfield; Lowe, third base; Dickie Swint, shortstop; “Give-Me” Rainey, left field; “Fourth Ward” Bracey, second base; Glennon, first base; “Tick” Robinson catcher; Cummings, pitcher. Subs for the Police: Varner and “Little Bracy [sic].”

Nashville Fire Department Team

Batting for the Firemen were “Hog Head” Goodwin right field; “Round Head” Farrell, centerfield; “Dough Boy” Dillard, third base; “Dutch” Eckhart, shortstop; “Cheese Head” Laitenburger, left field; “Red” Carter, second base’ “Gabby” Garrett, first base; “Piggy” Pegrum, catcher; “Old Head” Scruggs, pitcher. Subs were Davis and White.

As one can tell from the nicknames for many of the players, the day’s events were going to be lighthearted. Besides the game, a boxing match was to be held between Mayor Gupton and Chief of Police Alex Barthell, with Al Robinson as referee, along with a race between “Kidney Foot” Ferriss, Chris Kreig, and others following the game.

Besides the game, the highlight of the frivolities was to be a high-dive exhibition.

“Chief A. A. Rozetta of the fire department, George Drennan of the police force and “Sergeant” Tom Glenn, market house office, will attempt to excite the fans with a diving stunt. These three men, dressed in dainty bathing suits of the latest make-up, will dive headon [sic] from the top of the grandstand into a tank of water, twenty-five feet below.”[7]

With a batting assault that included 19 hits, the Police won, 13-1. Around 3,000 fans enjoyed the festivities. But the Firemen were not going to let the Policemen get away with another beating in a repeat performance, as reported in the August 4 edition of the Nashville Tennessean.

“After the game, the firemen met at headquarters and made a complete set of rules to be used in next year’s fracas. They are:

  1. All policemen must bat with their clubs
  2. The firemen must be allowed six outs to an inning
  3. Firemen must have nine runs before the game starts, and young “Boliver”  Cummins can’t pitch

To these rules the three outfielders of the Policemen’s team added:

4. Three beds must be placed in gardens for the policemen outfielders to take regular   naps on. They don’t need to be awake

  1. “Subject to change without notice.)[8]

The results of the boxing match, race, or diving are not reported.

© 2017 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

[1] “Playing Managers Favorites In Dixie,” The Sporting News, March 13, 1919, 10.

[2] “Martin Optimistic Over Sunday Games Case In Tennessee,” Atlanta Constitution, March 28, 1919, 8.

[3] “Sunday Baseball In State Allowed By Supreme Court,” Nashville Tennessean, April 13, 1919, 1

[4] “Vols Leave On Road Trip Of 12 Games,” Nashville Tennessean, July 29, 1919, 12.

[5] “Volunteer League,” Nashville Tennessean, August 28, 1919, 9.

[6] “Managers Commercial City League Meet Monday,” Nashville Tennessean, May 5, 1919, 10.

[7] “Firemen and Policemen Meet in Ball Game This Afternoon,” Nashville Tennessean, August 3, 1919, 35.

[8] “Policement Slaughter Ladder Lizards 13-1; Red Eye Cheers Firemen,” Nashville Tennessean, August 4, 1919, 11.

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“Bittersweet Goodbye: The Black Barons, the Grays, and the 1948 Negro League World Series”

A new book, “Bittersweet Goodbye: The Black Barons, the Grays, and the 1948 Negro League World Series (The SABR Digital Library) (Volume 50)” has been published and is now available. I am fortunate to be a contributing writer to this publication.

Released at SABR’s 20th annual Jerry Malloy Negro League Conference last week in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, all available copies of “Bittersweet Goodbye” quickly sold out at that event.

1948 is often considered by many the last, great season of the Negro Leagues. Jackie Robinson’s signing with Brooklyn in 1946, then becoming a member of the Dodgers in 1947, was the impetus that ended segregation in the majors. The popularity of the Negro Leagues began to diminish, as all eyes turned to Robinson and his successes on and off the field.

Edited by Frederick C. Bush and Bill Nowlin and associate editors Carl Riechers and Len Levin, this book includes biographies on the owners, managers, and players from the Homestead Grays and Birmingham Black Barons, and describes the detail of the final playoffs between the two teams to determine a final Negro World Series champion.

It also includes information on the two East-West All-Star Games, the Negro National League and Negro American League playoffs, along with the World Series.

Nashville-born Jim Zapp was a member of the Black Barons that season, along with 17-year-old Willie Mays.

Some of these biographies and histories are written by close friends. Friends of Rickwood members Jeb Stewart and Clarence “Skip” Watkins, both knowledgable resources for Birmingham baseball history, and friend and fellow Grantland Rice-Fred Russell (Nashville) SABR chapter member Peggy Gripshover, are included.

My biography is on Grays pitcher Bill “Willie” Pope. Born in Birmingham, his father moved the family to Pennsylvania where Willie played baseball and boxed, and ultimately became a strong, competitive right-handed thrower in the Pittsburgh area sandlots. His professional career took him to Pittsburgh and Homestead in the Negro Leagues, then to organized baseball in Canada at Farnham and St. Hyacinthe, Colorado Springs (Colorado) and Charleston (West Virginia), and winter ball in Mexico.

Standing 6’4” and weighing 247 pounds, his ultimate dream was to play for the Chicago White Sox. That opportunity passed him by, but his season with the magical Homestead Grays would be his legacy.

“Bittersweet Goodbye” is available from Amazon by clicking here.

Or, if you area  member of SABR (Society for American Baseball Research), it may be downloaded for free here at SABR’s Digital Library.

Not a SABR member? I encourage you to consider joining! An annual SABR membership is $65 (which works out to about $5 a month), with discounts available for three-year rates and for anyone under the age of 30 or over 65. Family memberships are also available. More information is here.

I hope you will enjoy reading about Willie Pope, Willie Mays, Jim Zapp, and many others who deserve our thanks for being the final bastions of Negro League history.

Note: Previous contributions to SABR publications include biographies on Sam Narron, published in “Sweet ’60: The 1960 Pittsburgh Pirates” (SABR, 2013); Hank Schenz, published in “The Team That Time Won’t Forget: The 1951 New York Giants” (SABR, 2015); John Mitchell, published in “The 1986 New York Mets: There Was More Than Game Six” (SABR, 2016); and R. A. Dickey, published in “Overcoming Adversity: The Tony Conigliaro Award” (SABR, 2017).

A biography on Jack Scott in “20 Game Losers” is to be published soon. Profiles on former major league players Jim Turner, Charlie Mitchell, Sherman Kennedy, Bobby Durnbaugh, Jerry Bell, and Buddy Gilbert are ongoing, as well as Nashville Old Timers board member bios published here.

I continue to publish here and update www.sulphurdell.com on a regular basis.

© 2017 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

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Lucky Number 17 for Nashville’s Bob Kelly

In 1976, Atlanta Braves owner Ted Turner encouraged some of his players to use a nickname on the back of their jerseys, above the number. One of them was pitcher Andy Messersmith, who wore number 17, and Turner had “Channel” added. The problem was, that was the cable television station owned by the media mastermind, and commissioner Bowie Kuhn put a stop to it (Messersmith chose “Bluto” instead).[1]

The first team to wear numbers on the back of their uniforms were the New York Yankees on June 30, 1929. Numbers were chosen based on the players’ batting position, and that’s why Babe Ruth wore number 3 and Lou Gehrig 4. Other teams followed suit; the Cleveland Indians were next a few weeks later. By 1931 all teams had begun the standard we know today, although numbers were chosen for a variety of reasons, not according to batting order.[2]

Researching Nashville Vols player numbers according to game program lineups has been a fun project. My friend Tony Roberts has been doing in for several years, and we have each been creating a database to keep up. Any time  we can get our hands on a score card, we go into “check the numbers” mode.

It is interesting to find that a player who started the season with one number may not have held on to that same number throughout the year. For example, if a player was out for a few games or went on the DL (disabled list), upon his return he may have found that a teammate liked that number a little better, and chose to wear the returning player’s jersey; especially if that new jersey was the worn when a special home run was hit or a great play was made.

One of the most peculiar changes in number was by Vols pitcher Bob Kelly for his game on July 20, 1957. After failing to gain his 17th win in three consecutive starts, he switched his jersey number from 16 to 17.

Kelly struggled through 11 innings, but the Vols took the win 7-6 over Chattanooga, breaking Nashville’s losing streak at 5 games, the Lookouts winning streak at 6, and giving Kelly his desired win number 17.

One change made in the game did not hinder his effort: he was forced to remove his undershirt in the third inning, as Lookouts manager Cal Ermer protested to umpires that it was too loose, and hampered his player’s vision at the plate.

Let’s give Kelly his win based on a new jersey number and not for having to remove his baseball undershirt.

By the way, having previously pitched for the Chicago Cubs (1951-1953) and Cincinnati Reds (1953), he would lead the Southern Association with a 24-11 record in 1957. He would return to the majors with Cincinnati and Cleveland in 1958 before retiring.

Note: Are players superstitious? Neither Tony nor I have found a Nashville player to have worn number 13.

[1] Paul Lukas. “Where the jerseys have no name,” http://www.espn.com/espn/page2/story?page=lukas/041202, accessed July 20, 2017.

[2] David Hill. “Yankees History: Yankees First Team to Number Uniforms,” http://www.foxsports.com/mlb/story/yankees-history-yankees-first-team-to-number-uniforms-012217, accessed July 20, 2017.

Sources

Baseball-reference.com

Nashville Banner

Nashville Tennessean

Newspapers.com

Wright, Marshall D. (2002). The Southern Association in Baseball, 1885-1961. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Co.

© 2017 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

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McCall’s Near Shutout, English’s Eight RBI, and Brewster’s Behind-the-Back Flip

Eyeing a second pennant in three years, Nashville begins a 10-day home stand by winning an important double header over Birmingham on July 19, 1942 in Sulphur Dell. After a first-game slug fest, in the second contest Vol left fielder Cal Chapman barely misses snagging a long fly ball, nullifying Dutch McCall’s potential second straight shutout. In his previous start, McCall allowed only three Memphis hits in a 1-0 whitewash of the Chicks, also at Nashville’s home ballpark.

The last time a Nashville pitcher tossed two shutouts in the same season at Sulphur Dell was Ace Adams in 1940. Two major league scouts are in attendance to see McCall’s performance and watch slugging center fielder Charley Workman, who had only one hit but leads the Southern Association with 18 home runs.

Gus Dugas, who had his 16th homer in the opener, drove in two runs in each game, increasing his total to 95, and Charley English added eight to finish with 88 RBI. He had three singles, two doubles, and a home run to accomplish his brilliant performance.

In the two games, shortstop Charlie Brewster started three double plays, but the highlight play was in the nightcap when he nabbed a drive over second and flipped the ball behind his back to second baseman Johnny Mihalic for a force out. In the first game, Mihalic had nine chances and six putouts, while Brewster contributed five hits on the day.

With two wins against the Barons, 11-10 and 10-1, Nashville closes to within ½ game of Little Rock and Atlanta, who are tied for first place in league standings.

Sources

Nashville Tennessean

newspapers.com

Raymond Johnson, “Vols Closer to Rim Now Than Any Time Since April 20,” One Man’s Opinion  column, Nashville Tennessean, July 20, 1942, p. 10.

Raymond Johnson, “Vols Kick Barons Twice, Move Within Half-Game of Top,” Nashville Tennessean, July 20, 1942, p. 10

© 2017 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

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