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New Friends, Old Friends, and Ballpark Notes

SD OutsideApril 17, 2015 will always be a special memory for me; so many great things happened that day. Some were expected, many were not, but with the opening of First Tennessee Park near the site of the Sulphur Dell ballpark all were a dream come true.

Here are a few observations, special memories, and special people who were there. I’ll remember these for a long time:

  • Carol Yochem, president, Middle Tennessee Region, First Tennessee Bank. We were able to speak for a few minutes before the ribbon cutting. It was our second meeting; the first was at the unveiling of the new ballpark concept. Carol, thank you for your kind words in person and in your Tennessee Voices column of Friday’s Tennessean, and thank you for being the driving force behind our beautiful new ballpark.
  • My wife Sheila, my son Chris and grandson Brody, my father Virgil and brother Jim. We were able to attend Opening Day together. These are the special people in my life who have supported my research and writing for many years. Thanks for being there to share wonderful memories.
  • Dave Ammenheuser, Tennessean Sports Columnist. We were able to hear stories from Nashville Vols Buddy Gilbert, Larry Taylor, Roy Pardue, and Bobby Durnbaugh. Wasn’t that one of the best baseball moments? You are a true professional, but your recent friendship means more than a walk off grand slam homer over the Sulphur Dell right-field fence.
  • Farrell Owens, Andy Lane, and Eddie Dempsey. Friends extraordinaire, it was great to relive stories of baseball history with you while we were navigating the new ballpark.
  • Toby Compton. You have become the reliable face of the Nashville Sports Authority. Your ability to alleviate concerns for building costs and traffic issues has been top-notch.
  • Ushers and operations staff at First Tennessee Park. When the ushers wipe the seats off before letting fans sit in them, that’s a professional service that was missed at Greer Stadium. Food and beverage service? You bet it was.
  • Thomas Trotter and the grounds crew. These guys do not get enough accolades. Yes, it was a new field, but Thomas and his team were able to perfect it for their specifications. It was perfect.
  • Media coverage. The number of reporters and cameras along “media row” on the third base concourse gave credence to the importance of this historic event.
  • Families and friends of Nashville Vols players Bobby Durnbaugh, Larry Taylor, Buddy Gilbert, and Roy Pardue. Getting these guys to the ballpark to share their stories are nearly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. How great was it to see these Sulphur Dell idols together?
  • Sulphur Dell marquee. Not the original but a great testament to what once was, no doubt. Just thinking about the memories that are stirred by seeing this iconic marker. Wow.

© 2015 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.


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From My Bookshelf: “The Greatest Game Ever Played in Dixie”

Dixie coverWith the descriptive sub-title of “The NASHVILLE VOLS, Their 1908 SEASON, and the CHAMPIONSHIP GAME“, John A. Simpson’s book (2007, McFarland & Company, Inc. Jefferson, North Carolina & London) gives a true account of an especially historic game at the end of an especially historic season.

It did not take nearly eight years from when first published for me to read this book nor review it. Actually, I found it to be such an amazing account from first reading that I reread it, finishing it again a few days ago.

Since I thirst for anything about Nashville baseball, I could not help myself. Now it’s time for me to tell you what I think about it.

The title of the book comes from a description by Nashville Tennessean sports writer Grantland Rice about the last game of the 1908 season, played for the Southern Association championship between the Nashville Vols and New Orleans Pelicans at the Vols’ home field, Athletic Park.

Simpson’s research of Nashville baseball in the early 20th Century comes through in great detail, as he writes of events leading up to this final game. His ability to set the stage for the season, then ending with specific line scores, playing careers of the ballplayers, and a final argument about Nashville player Jake Daubert’s Hall of Fame credentials summarize his wonderful volume.

John takes his reader from explicit reasons for Nashville’s involvement in professional baseball from its roots, with an early description  of the ballpark which would also become known as Sulphur Dell in 1908 (once again, named by Rice in a sports article and immortalized in prose), to the detail surrounding the game.

The game itself is described by inning-by-inning as players come to bat, pitchers’ throw their pitches, and umpires make their calls. The fans number over 10,000 according to Rice, and they jeer and cheer and boo and hiss, giving atmosphere to the challenge of the competing teams attempting to win that last game and earn the right to the pennant.

Well-respected Nashville manager “Berny” Bill Bernhard assembled a special team for the season, including speedy Harry “Deerfoot” Bay, Wiseman, and Daubert to complement pitchers Hub Purdue, Vedder Sitton, Win Kellum, George Hunter, and Johnny Duggan. Bernhard gets in the action from time-to-time, too, and proves a valiant leader and mentor in the championship drive.

Gathering information and data from a myriad of sources has allowed Simpson to accurately detail players’ families, attitudes, and idiosyncrasies even up until each one’s death. In the end, the chapter named “Life After Baseball” helps Simpson’s readers command a deeper understanding of what happens when players’ careers are finished and how they deal with being away from The Game.

He summarizes each players’ life from an objective genealogy and statistics perspective, but also gives compassion to those whose life does not necessarily end in happiness. Players’ careers are also indexed by year and by team, so one can easily see how Nashville was often one of many stops in the move up or down the baseball ladder.

Included is a familiar relationship that he gained through the Julius “Doc” Wiseman family in Cincinnati, who opened their homes and family albums to John. This incredible opportunity is not taken lightly by the author and once again offers a compassionate look at Wiseman’s remarkable career inside and outside of baseball.

Wiseman was revered by his teammates and his fans, as his playing career ended having played for 11 seasons with Nashville.

Limited images do not deter the storytelling of early Nashville baseball or detract from the detail within the chapters. He weaves an important story in great respect; to take it all in, one needs only to accept this book as a history book, and a fine one it is for others who thirst a deeper understanding.

The legacy of Nashville and southern baseball is told in this wonderful book. I have read it twice, I have referred to it a hundred times, and I highly recommend it.

 © 2015 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.




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Birth of the Elites

On March 26, 1920, Nashville’s Thomas T. Wilson and seven others took a bold step that set in motion the establishment of a Negro League team in Wilson’s home town.

With the assistance of investors T. Clay Moore, J. B. Boyd, Marshall Garrett, Walter Phillips, W. H. Pettis, J. L. Overton, and R. H. Tabor a corporation was chartered with the State of Tennessee named “Nashville Negro Baseball Association and Amusement Company”, “for the purpose “of organizing base ball clubs and encouraging the art of playing the game of baseball according to high and honorable standards and of encouraging the establishment of a league of clubs in different section(s) of the state; and also of furnishing such amusements as usually accompanying base ball games and entertainments. Said corporation to be located in Nashville, Tennessee, and shall have an authorized capital stock of $5,000.00”.

133052a_lgWilson had become owner of the local semi-pro team, the Standard Giants, which had been founded in 1907 as a member of the Capital City League by J. W. White, C. B. Reaves, and W. G. Sublett.

These organizations were the predecessors to what would become the Nashville Elite (pronounced ‘ee-light’) Giants. Ever the entrepreneur, Wilson dropped “Standard” from his team’s name in 1921, substituted it with “Elite”, and sought membership in the Negro National League. He built his own 8,000-seat ballpark in Nashville in 1928 and the team played in the Negro Southern League until 1930.

Granted membership in the Negro National  League Wilson signed Satchel Paige for his drawing power, but Wilson moved his club to Cleveland and renamed them the Cubs for one season before returning to Nashville. Eventually he would move club to Cleveland, Columbus, Washington, D. C., and finally to Baltimore.

Wilson would serve as president of the Negro National League from 1938-1946.

The illustrious history of the Elite Giants includes players from Nashville: Henry Kimbro, Jim Zapp, Sydney Bunch, Clinton “Butch” McCord, Jim “Junior” Gilliam. Sam Bankhead and Hall of Famer Ray Dandridge spent time with the Nashville club.

That same history beckons us to honor all those who played “The Game”. Tom Wilson’s dream for Negro League baseball evolved from a Nashville vision to a national treasure. Ninety-five years ago today, March 20, 1920, was a key date in that vision.

Hail to you, Tom T. Wilson, a visionary for the ages.

© 2015 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

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Sweat Equity: 1950 Southern Association Doubleheaders

1950 Schedule FrontOne of my prized possessions is a 1950 Nashville Vols pocket schedule. I could not tell you if the Nashville baseball club printed these and sold advertising in the center or if the owner of Hagey’s (“The Complete Store”, 2521 Clarksville Highway, Ph: 4-7589) had them printed on their own as an advertising piece.

I have seen no other like it for 1950, so I would guess that Mr. Hagey’s was the only one for that year. Hopefully the Vols management put their stamp of approval on it, although in those days any promotion paid for by someone else would probably be blessed by the Nashville club staff.

The 154-game season schedule printed on it shows an equal number of home games as away games, 77, and 11 games against each member of the Southern Association at home and 11 games on the road against the same opponent.

It is notable that the schedule lists 12 doubleheaders at Sulphur Dell for Nashville, and 10 at opposing ballparks.  On Sunday, July 2nd Nashville hosts Chattanooga and two days later plays the visiting Lookouts on a 4th of July Tuesday doubleheader.

The schedule reciprocated in favor of the Lookouts near the end of the season. On Sunday, September 3rd, the Vols were scheduled against Chattanooga at Engel Stadium and followed up there with another twin bill on Labor Day. There were twenty-two doubleheaders scheduled for the Vols in 1950. There were twenty-two Sundays in the season.1950 Schedule Back

For comparison, in 2013 there were 25 doubleheaders played in the major leagues.


How in the world did those guys play 154 games in 1950, much less with Sunday doubleheaders in the heat of the season, with no PEDs, no indoor stadiums, no energy drinks, no uniforms or caps made from moisture-absorbing materials to cool them?

I’ll tell you how: there were towels soaking in rubbing alcohol-laced ice water in a cooler to wrap around one’s blistering neck; maybe a fan or water cooler in the dugout. And maybe a chance to play at a higher level. Or for pride, or for honor.

Or maybe they just loved it that much.


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Did Washington Use a Cherry-tree Bat?

“We are pretty much certain that Abner Doubleday is not the inventor of baseball,” the man sitting next to me said.

I had just met Tim Wiles at the Doubleday Café in Cooperstown. I had stopped in for one beer before turning in after a full day of visiting the National Baseball Hall of Fame several years ago.

Tim was sitting next to another person, and when his friend left I introduced myself. Tim told me he was Director of Research at the museum, and since it was my first visit I was completely fascinated to have met someone who had “all the answers”.

As I recollect, I did not stop at one beer.

That’s when I first heard that Abner Doubleday was nowhere near Phinney’s farm, that he was actually enrolled in the United States Military Academy at West Point in 1839, the year that Cadet Doubleday supposedly laid out the field and devised the first rules of early baseball.

In a recent Bryant Curtis article published on the internet website (Septemer 18, 2013 – In Search of Baseball’s Holy Grail, How one man is rewriting the history of the game — one diary at a time), Curtis writes about David Block, a curious researcher and author who wrote Baseball Before We Knew It.

Block has determined that baseball (spelled “base-ball” in the early days) was played as early as the 18th century, and actually predates the game of “rounders” that was popular in England but was considered to be the original game from which base-ball came. Block cites publications from 1744, 1747, and 1755 to prove it.

I would have to agree with him, but from only one paragraph I read myself in another publication. Although I neither have the energy, resources nor will to research as Block has, I did come across one interesting reference in a book I recently finished.

GWFrom “Washington” by Ron Chernow, p.292:

“Much of the power of Washington’s presence derived from his fluid gait, the antithesis of the stiff, wooden image Gilbert Stuart grafted on the American imagination. The quintessential man of action, he moved like a national icon long before he became one. The sculptor William Rush recalled his smooth, unruffled movements: “I have been in battle immediately under his command. I have viewed him walking, standing, sitting. I have seen him at a game of ball for several hours,” and in all these activities he exhibited “the most manly and graceful attitudes I ever saw.”

(Excerpt From: Chernow, Ron. “Washington.” PENGUIN group, 2011-10-21. iBooks. This material may be protected by copyright.)

This discovery begs the question: Reckon the father of our country used a cherry-tree bat?

Note:  Tim Wiles recently announced he was leaving the Hall of Fame & Museum and moving to a library position in a new city. His kind demeanor and friendliness to me is most certainly appreciated.

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Merry Christmas!


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December 25, 2013 · 7:39 pm

The Birth of Jesus, Luke 2: 1-20

Eve2 In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. 2 (This was the first census that took place while[a] Quirinius was governor of Syria.) 3 And everyone went to their own town to register.

4 So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. 5 He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. 6 While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, 7 and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.

8 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night.9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah,the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger.17 When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.

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