Category Archives: Research

P. T. Barnum, “The Greatest Showman”, in Nashville

Many recall the Shrine Circus at Sulphur Dell; how it entertained with clown parades and performers in the three rings laid out in the ball field. The finale was usually the Human Cannonball, and spectators oohed and aahed with the explosion of the cannon shot as his body hurtled through the air to a net, erected to catch him before he landed on his head in the ballpark outfield and keep him from bouncing over the right field fence into the ice house across the street in case of a miscalculated trajectory.

A reminder of those special nights comes in the form of a 2017 movie, The Greatest Showman, based on the life of P. T. Barnum, founder of the Barnum & Bailey Circus. It has garnered a 3.5/4 review from film critic Sheila O’Malley[1] and is widely accepted as a success.

P. T. Barnum with Tom Thumb

Barnum proclaimed himself, “…a showman by profession…and all the gilding shall make nothing else of me…”[2] This king of the circus loved money so much, that he is often credited with having said, “There’s a sucker born every minute,” which meant he was happy to separate anyone from the money in one’s pockets. His fame includes bringing a dwarf, General Tom Thumb, and the “Swedish Nightingale”, Jenny Lind, to his circus. His entourage toured Europe, and many cities and towns in the United States in the middle of the 19th Century.

Nearly 40 years before it was known as Sulphur Dell, the low-lying area north of Nashville’s downtown was called Sulphur Spring Bottom. It had a natural salt lick and sulphur spring, and many years before the city was founded, the area teemed with wildlife, especially buffalo and deer who came to lick the mineral salt.

In the 1860s the area was the city’s recreational grounds. It was there that baseball found its home, evacuated it 100 years later, and then reclaimed it in 2015 when the Nashville Sounds opened their new ballpark.

But in 1872, wild animals returned in the form of one of Barnum’s excursions named his “World’s Fair.”[3]

The exposition set up tents on Tuesday, November 12 for two days of performances after traveling from nearby Columbia where Nashville’s Republican Banner said “A very large number of people attended Barnum’s show at Columbia yesterday. It is said that his mammoth tents were well filled.[4]

With a warning that “The ‘Digger Indian’ in Barnum’s circus leaped down from his stand, while on exhibition at Elizabethtown, Kentucky, the other day, and gave a negro who had insulted him a sound drubbing”[5], the same newspaper gave a glowing recommendation by reporting “Barnum’s big show is now a topic of much discussion. It is likely to be better attended than anything of the kind that has appeared for years.”[6]

The newspaper also gave another warning on November 10.

“Reliable information has been received at Police headquarters to the effect that a large troupe of thieves, burglars, pickpockets, ebony legs and every conceivable kind of dishonest men are following Barnum’s circus around and as this will exhibit at Nashville Tuesday and Wednesday next, we are requested to warn our citizens in time that they may be on the look out [sic] for the visits of such characters as above alluded to.”[7]

Everyone expected thrills for adults from Barnum’s entourage, but it was the imagination of the young that brought great expectation.

The opening was a wonderful success, and certainly made an impression on the minds of youth.

“Barnum’s big show is agitating the hearts of juveniles.”[8]

The Nashville Union and American also lavished praise on Barnum’s creation “a brilliant and elaborate exposition that attracted universal attention and admiration” and “Great is Barnum”.[9]

But there was one Republic Banner report was did not initially seem positive in the substance of the exhibits.

“The stuffed whale, and that more stupendous stuff, the Cardiff Giants, were hardly worth transportation. Those “cannibals,” sentenced to death, from which fate the generous Barnum is to rescue them by the sacrifice of the pitiful $15,000 bond he is under to return them to the irate King of the Feejees; that “beautiful” Caucassian [sic], captured from some New York harem-scarem; the “sleeping beauty” (in wax) and other absurdities, were as cheap “curiosities” (as the interpreter of the ring phrazes [sic] it) as the little wooden automatons on Barnum’s portrait gallery.”[10]

In closing, the newspaper had to acknowledge the popularity of the big show and the mastery of Barnum’s ability to promote his business.

“And yet it drew like a house on fire. It drew because it was well advertised, and good people who protest that their business, which is genuine, does not draw, while Barnum’s, which is not so legitimate, does, should consult P. T., and see “what he knows about advertising.”

Soon reviews out of Columbia did not hold the same manner of respect for Barnum; not for his exhibits, but for the crooks who followed the circus from town to town.

On the same day as the report of the Columbia newspaper, support for Nashville’s police force was made public. Perhaps Nashville’s finest had heeded the warning from the city Barnum had visited only days earlier.

Sadly Barnum’s New York museum and menagerie burned on the morning of December 24. Two elephants and a camel were the only animals to survive. Barnum was still on tour in New Orleans; his losses were estimated at over $100,000.[11]

P. T. Barnum, who was known primarily as a circus man, was an author, a newspaper publisher, politician, businessman, and certainly, a showman. He did not establish his circus until 1871, a year before it appeared in Nashville.[12]

Barnum died in 1891 at the age of 80. Perhaps in his only visit to Nashville, nearly 150 years ago he once constructed his circus on the grounds we now hallow as Nashville’s historical baseball home.

Note: My wife Sheila and I saw “The Greatest Showman” on January 3, 2018. We thoroughly enjoyed it, and though not a professional film critic, I give the movie the best review I can: it’s a home run, hit far over the fence and out of the park.

© 2018 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

[1] Sheila O’Mally, “The Greatest Showman”, RogerEbert.com, https://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/the-greatest-showman-2017, accessed January 3, 2017.

[2] Kunhardt, Philip B., Jr.; Kunhardt, Philip B., III; Kunhardt, Peter W. (1995). P.T. Barnum: America’s Greatest Showman. Alfred A. Knopf., 6.

[3] “Barnum’s Mammoth Show, Nashville Republican Banner, November 13, 1872, 4.

[4] “Sidewalk Notes.,” Nashville Republican Banner, November 9, 1872, 4.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] “Burglars, Thieves and Pickpockets,” Nashville Union and American, November 19, 1872, 4.

[8] “Sidewalk Notes.,” Nashville Republican Banner, November 13, 1872, 4.

[9] “Barnum’s Show.,” Nashville Union and American, November 14, 1872, 4.

[10] “What He Knows About Advertising.,” Nashville Republican Banner, November 14, 1872, 4.

[11] “New York. Barnum’s Menagerie Burned Again,” Nashville Union and American, December 25, 1872, 1

[12] Sarah Maslin Nir and Nate Schweber. “After 146 Years, Ringling Brothers Circus Takes Its Final Bow,” https://www.nytimes.com/2017/05/21/nyregion/ringling-brothers-circus-takes-final-bow.html, accessed January 4, 2018.

Leave a comment

Filed under Biography, History, Opinion, Research

Waiting for the New Season

As the cold winds blow outside from this winter’s blast, we tend to seek asylum between our blankets, in front of our fireplaces, or under layers of warm clothing with thought of spring’s early sunrises and warm glows. That helps to while away the time, but there is nothing like rejoicing in the Pastime that it brings.

Since baseball’s creation, revelers in the gentle sport have waited patiently for the new season to bring the cracking sound of bat on ball and thump of ball in mitt.

For years and years in towns and cities across the country during winter’s cruel and harsh term, there has been enthusiasm for new grass on dry fields and fetching of equipment from trunks and bags to expose them to warmth of sunlight.

On January 2, 1909, a piece was published by sports writer Billy W. Burke in the Nashville Tennessean under the column heading “Sportoscraps”, which brought assurance to baseball fans that spring was right around the corner.

It was a cue like the one most often credited to Rogers Hornsby, a Hall of Famer who reportedly once said, “People ask me what I do in winter when there’s no baseball. I’ll tell you what I do. I stare out the window and wait for spring.”

Since staring out the window will only bring one a cold nose, dreams of America’s favorite sport will bring out good thoughts of energy, youth, and sunshine. Hold onto those happy clues, as it’s all just around the corner: major league pitchers and catchers report six weeks from today, and the home opener for our Nashville Sounds is only 99 days away from today.

Stay warm and certainly stay away from the window, but stay on course for a new spring and a new season. It will be unmasked soon; then let the revelry begin!

Note: I have suspicion that Billy W. Blanke is a pseudonym for Grantland Rice. A few of Blanke’s articles appear in the theater section of the Nashville Tennessean, a task which Rice also had. I have nothing that gives proof to my doubt, other than columns attributed to him are between 1908 and 1910. Rice left Nashville for an opportunity with the New York World in late 1910, a time when Blanke disappears from the local newspaper. I can find no “Billy W. Blanke” in other publications or geneolgy sites. In the least, Blanke must have been an apprentice to Rice; I am open to any proof that Billy was a real person, and will be happy to correct my questioning of his existence. 

© 2018 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

Leave a comment

Filed under Current, History, Opinion, Research

Manly Baseball Coquet or Womanly Croquet?

Happy New Year! As an opening post for 2018, I offer for your consideration a statement of the worth of Nashville baseball, albeit in an unusual context.

With no certainty to the Nashville Union and American’s intent, a letter published on May 12, 1870 admonishes the editors for not publicizing the “womanly” game of croquet. Was the missive in response to the report of a base ball game between the “Lucks” and “Washingtons” six days earlier (won by the former by a score of 28-8) which ends the description with “Verily, the base ball fever rageth”?

Or, is the unnamed writer actually a newspaper editor, satirically extolling the importance of croquet in jest, perhaps in reaction to unpublished feedback from a female writer, or maybe his own wife at home?

Here is the entertaining newspaper entry in its entirety.  Should you choose to accept the task of deciding if this is an actual letter from a concerned reader, or a parody from a sports writer, take your time. You have the entire year to come to ponder your decision and come to a conclusion before letting me know what you think. Make it a great year!

© 2018 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under History, Opinion, Research

Hub Perdue’s First Managing Job


October rings in the close of each baseball season, as the National League and American League champions move on to the best-of-seven World Series. Once a champion is determined, players tuck away their cleats, gloves, and bats for winter, unless opportunity allows them to continue in barn-storming exhibitions to pick up some winter cash. Otherwise, stadiums are locked down until the wisp of spring sets in once again.

Minor league teams finish their seasons much sooner than the big-league clubs, and it was no different in 1913 when the Atlanta Crackers won the regular season Southern Association championship by ½ game over the Mobile Sea Gulls. Bill Schwartz’s Nashville Vols were 19 ½ games behind in the standings with a 62-76 record, good enough for seventh place.

Having completed its season, Atlanta secured the pennant on September 7, as Mobile lost to last-place New Orleans, thereby giving the Georgia club the flag. Most eyes soon focused on the major’s culmination series, taken by Connie Mack’s Philadelphia Athletics as they vanquished Mugsy McGraw’s New York Giants in five games. One would believe that was all the baseball to be played for the year, as football was gaining traction. Games were already being played at Sulphur Dell by high school teams and Fisk University.

Even with no minor league playoffs in those days, Nashville was still in the baseball business. Its own regular season finished, Sulphur Dell hosted a game on the same day as the Crackers pennant clinch. It featured an all-star team from the not-to-distant Kitty (Kentucky-Illinois-Tennessee) League, mostly players on the Clarksville and Hopkinsville teams. Only a few hundred fans viewed the contest won by Nashville, 4-1.[1]

Once Mack’s Athletics had captured the World Series crown on October 11, it was time for one final game in Nashville. Sportswriter Jack Nye made the announcement in the October 13 edition of the local newspaper.

“With the closing of the world’s series the obituary of the baseball season is usually written throughout the country but Nashville fans will have one more opportunity to witness an exhibition game before the old winter league sets in.

“Arrangements have been made for a game at the Athletic park next Sunday afternoon between an all-amateur and an all-professional team, chosen from the baseball talent of this city…”.[2]

Named to pitch for the pros were Roy Walker, a pitcher from the New Orleans club, Detroit’s Charlie Harding, who was 12-6 for the Tigers’ Winston-Salem club, and Nashville native Bill McTigue. Native Nashville pro Bob Fisher, who had spent the past season as the Brooklyn Superbas shortstop, would play third base and join Nashville’s John Lindsay (shortstop) and Bill Schwartz (second base) in the infield, while Johnson City’s Tige Garrett would hold down first base.

Earl Peck, catcher for the Henderson Hens, was to man chores behind the plate. The remainder of the pro roster would include outfielders Johnny Priest, who had been a member of the Yankees a few years prior, Knoxville’s James Burke and another Nashville-born slugger, Tiny Graham. Graham had batter .370 during the season for Morristown in the Appalachian League.

Hub Perdue, from nearby Sumner County and nicknamed the “Gallatin Squash” by sportswriter Grantland Rice during his local tenure a few years ago, was to be the featured star for the amateurs even though Perdue had been a professional since 1906. Perdue had played for Nashville 1907-1910 (he was 16-10 on the Vols’ 1908 championship club) and had been a member of the National League’s Boston Braves for the past three years. It was rumored that he had been signed by the Giants’ McGraw to play on a barn-storming tour around the world during the winter.[3]

The balance of the amateur staff would be made up by Payne, catcher; Tally, first base; Lynch, second base; Sawyers, shortstop; Harley, third base; O. Schmidt, left field; Sutherland, center field; Conley, right field; and Gower, substitute.

Two days before the game was to take place on Sunday, October 19, the Friday edition of the Nashville Tennessean and Daily American announced lineup changes. Two professionals with ties to Nashville, Wilson Collins, pitcher for the Boston Braves, and Clarence “Pop Boy” Smith, of the Chicago White Sox, were set to join players previously set to play.

“Collins will play centerfield for the professionals, while Smith has agreed to assist Hub Perdue in pitching for the amateurs. It will be Collins’ first professional appearance in Nashville, and his presence in the line-up is sure to prove a big drawing card, especially among the Vanderbilt students. Smith married a Nashville girl some months ago, and is at present visiting in the city. He declared that he would be glad to take part in the contest, and says his arm is as strong as during the middle of the American league season.[4]

Also added to the pross roster as substitute was Munsey Pigue, who had previously played third base for Clarksville and Cairo, and who had made Nashville his residence.

The day before the game, Perdue was touting his ability to perform, quoted about his willingness to pitch to the best of his ability. “Tell ‘em I’ll show ‘em some pitching tomorrow afternoon,” said Hurling Hub Perdue last night. “I am going to pitch my old arm off to win that game.”[5]

Perdue was a promoter, that’s for certain, but whether due to a small turnout of only 200 fans or in truth suffering from a sore arm, he did not pitch in the game. And the pros took it on the chin, too.

“Hub Perdue was there, but did not pitch on account of a sore arm. However, the son of Sumner took his place on the coaching lines, and was one of the big attractions of the afternoon’s entertainment.”[6]

Held hitless by pitcher “Crip” Springfield through eight innings, the pros could not collect a run until the bottom of the ninth when they had two hits to force across the tying run, sending the game into the tenth inning. Springfield, who had a lame leg, won the game when the amateurs scored a run in the bottom of the tenth and the pros could not respond.

It was Springfield’s triple in the eighth that drove in the amateurs’ first run, but it was his brilliant mastery of the pros that had the sportswriters buzzing.

“Crip Springfield, of the Rock City league, is the name of the hero of the post-season game, which drew the bugs out in spite of the chilly weather and he came near having a no-run, no-hit game to his credit.”[7]

Perdue would play two more seasons in the majors, with Boston (1914) and the St. Louis Cardinals (1914-1915).  He would not return to the majors, but he remained in the minors for another seven seasons. Fighting through lingering arm troubles and wrenching his back slipping on a wet mound, even a spiking incident could not keep him from finishing his minor league career with 168 wins against 129 losses. He even returned to Nashville for a short time in 1920.[8]

In 1921 he was given another chance to manage a team, eight years after his first foray of leading a squad of amateurs. Named manager of the Nashville Vols, the season did not go well, as Perdue’s club finished in sixth place, a distant 41 ½ games behind pennant-winning Memphis. It was his second opportunity to manage, and his last.

Did his previous bid to lead a club in 1913 foretell his managing misfortune?

© 2017 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

Sources

Baseball-reference.com

Newspapers.com

Sabr.org

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

[1] Jack Nye, “Kitty League All Stars Beaten,” Nashville Tennessean and Daily American, September 8, 1913, 10.

[2] Nye, “One More Baseball Game Here Before Old Winter League Begins,” Nashville Tennessean and Daily American, October 13, 1913, 10.

[3] Ibid.

[4] “Two More Major League Stars To Play,” Nashville Tennessean and Daily American, October 17, 1913, 10.

[5] “Will  Pitch My Arm Off, Says Perdue,” Nashville Tennessean and Daily American, October 19, 1913, 34.

[6] “Professionals Held To Two Hits,” Nashville Tennessean and Daily American, October 20, 1913, 10.

[7] Ibid.

[8] John Simpson, “Hub Perdue,” SABR Bio-Project, https://sabr.org/bioproj/person/584e9b10, accessed October 10, 2017.

Leave a comment

Filed under Biography, History, Research, Uncategorized

Can You Help Tell Nashville’s Baseball Story?

For over two years, Joshua Maxwell and I have collaborated on a film project to tell Nashville’s baseball history (you can read my previous post here). We continue to work on production of our documentary, and we are seeking your help.

We are interested in acquiring any film footage, photographs, mementos, or memorabilia that you might be willing to share.

Anything Nashville baseball-related is of interest: Nashville Vols and Sulphur Dell; Negro League history, including the Nashville Elite Giants, Black Vols, and Stars, and Tom Wilson Park; City League, Tri-State, Larry Gilbert, and other amateur Leagues; high school and colleges; and of course, professional players born or living in the area. It is a daunting task, we know, but there are gems out there that would greatly add to our project. Hidden treasures are often found in attics, trunks, and photograph albums; but we especially need rare film footage!

Besides interviews already conducted, we have heard from someone who was the contractor in tearing down Sulphur Dell in 1969, a player on the 1955 Nabrico (Nashville Bridge Company) City League team (who owns a baseball signed by players on the league’s all-star team), an umpire with great stories of local baseball, and a part-time assistant at WKDA who worked with Nashville Vols announcer Larry Gilbert.

These are the stories we need to hear. But there is so much more.

Full credit will be given to anyone who provides information produced in our documentary, and we will be extremely grateful. Please contact me at 262downright@gmail.com if you have anything you feel may be of interest or are willing to allow us to use in the documentary.

If you feel  you can help, have questions, or need more information, you may also give me a call at 615-483-0380. Thanks!

Note: We are grateful to local sports writer Mike Organ who included our call for assistance in his Sunday, September 17, 2017 column of The Tennessean ( read Mike’s column here).

© 2017 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

Leave a comment

Filed under Current, History, Opinion, Research

Lottery Lineups

Whether a yarn to fool a sportswriter hungry for the next story in the Billy Martin saga, or a truth about an unconventional way to choose a batting order, in April of 1977 New York Daily News sports writer Dick Young wrote about how Martin had made his lineup selection a few weeks earlier.

Young said he believed it. “Now, the more Yankees I talk to the more I’m convinced it really happened – either that or we have the greatest conspiracy since Watergate.”[1]

“Billy leaves the bench around the fifth inning,” (Reggie) Jackson said. “It’s the day we’re losing to Toronto, our fifth in a row.”

Clubhouse man Pete Sheehy corroborates Jackson’s story.

“He comes in the clubhouse during the game. I don’t know what he has in mind but I write the names down like he tells me, on these yellow slips, and put them in the hat.”

“Billy comes back on the bench and tells me to pick out the names: it’s gonna be tomorrow’s lineup,” Jackson said.

Reggie pulls them one-by-one. Randolph, Munson, Jackson, Nettles, Rivers, DH, White, White, Chambliss. Two Whites?

“That’s right,” Jackson said. “I said to Billy, there’s a mistake. He said set the second White aside and we’ll see. After Chambliss’ name, I said, hey, you forgot Dent. So we decided to put Bucky ninth.”

The next day, the lottery lineup won. Then won again, and again. Six consecutive games, until Martin subbed Marty Perez for Nettles at third, and Baltimore won 6-2.

Fifty years earlier, in 1915, Mobile Seagulls manager Charley “Boss” Schmidt used the same trick to determine his batting order against Nashville. This one was no yarn.

On August 19, the Vols visited Mobile to begin a three-game set. Nashville was in fourth place, chasing front-runner New Orleans, seven games behind the Pelicans in the standings. Mobile was in sixth place with a 52-64 record, but had won only five while losing 11 during the month and had no hope of finishing in the top-half of the standings. Nashville had won three previous games in the gulf city and six at Sulphur Dell, leading the season series nine games to seven.

With 12 hits against nine (Leonard Dobard had three) Mobile out-hit the Vols in the first game of the series, but it took Rube Kissinger’s strike out of pinch hitter Carter Hogg with the bases loaded in the ninth to seal the win for the Nashville, 4-1. Mobile had now lost 10 games with the Vols on the year, four in a row going back to their last visit to Sulphur Dell.

Schmidt was ready to try anything. And he did; he allowed the players to draw lots to determine batting positions. The lineup for the game of August 20 was this: Dobard (shortstop), Northen (right field), Neiderkorn (catcher), Perry (third base), Holmquist (pitcher), Burke (left field), Calhoun (first base), Miller (centerfield), and Flick (second base).

Even though pitcher Jeff Holmquist allowed only nine hits, and batted in the fifth spot in the lineup with four of Mobile’s 12 hits, the Vols won again, 7-5. Schmidt’s grand experiment ended when he inserted himself back in the lineup as catcher, and the Gulls won over Nashville and their ace Tom Rogers, 6-0.

In reporting Mobile’s second loss in the August 21 edition of the Nashville Tennessean and Daily American, sports writer Blinkey Horn gives credit to his newspaper for Boss Schmidt’s idea to juggle his lineup accordingly. Horn suggests that when the Seagulls visited Nashville a few weeks ago, the Mobile chief may have read an article in the paper about Alex Pearson, manager of Uniontown (Pennsylvania-Ohio-Maryland League, Class D), who summoned his lineup by drawing numbers from a hat in 1907.[2]

The account had appeared in Nashville’s newspaper on August 8, and was attributed to Frank G. Menke, sports writer for Hearst newspapers through the International News Services (INS).

“Some of the big league clubs who are in a hitting slump might imitate the experiment made with wonderful results a few years ago by a minor league manager.

“Alexander Pearson is the manager under discussion. He was handling the Uniontown, (Pa.), club and the team was doing everything but winning ball games. Pearson shifted his batting order a half dozen times in the hope that the change would lift the team out of a batting slump. But to no avail.

“Whereupon, Pearson put the names of all his players on a slip of paper and deposited them in a hat. Then he withdrew them for batting position, the first name withdrawn to be the lead-off batsman, the second name to bat second and so on. The club, with its juggled lineup, won the game that day and followed it with seventeen more victories, all in a row.”[3]

With several lineup changes during the season, Billy Martin’s Yankees won the 1977 American League pennant and World Series. Boss Schmidt’s 1915 Sea Gulls finished seventh in the Southern Association. Pearson’s 1907 Uniontown Coal Barons finished second in the POML with a 64-43 record, and without those 17 consecutive wins, would have finished much worse.

It is probably best to leave lottery picks to yarns and the lottery, and not to baseball lineups.

© 2017 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

Sources

Baseball-reference.com

Newspapers.com

Paper of Record

Sabr.org

Sumner, Benjamin Barrett (2000). Minor League Baseball Standings: All North American Leagues, Through 1999. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Co.

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

[1] Dick Young. “Lottery Lineup Wave of the Future?,” Press and Sun-Bulletin (Binghamton, New York), April 27, 1977: 34.

[2] Blinkey Horn. “Sporting Views,” Nashville Tennessean and Daily American, August 21, 1915: 8.

[3] Frank G. Menke. “Try This, Bill Schwartz,” Nashville Tennessean and Daily American, August 8, 1915: 23.

Leave a comment

Filed under History, Research, Vintage

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.

Leave a comment

Filed under History, Opinion, Research