Tag Archives: Abner Powell

1904 Baseball Banter, Southern Style

Southern Association moguls met at the Peabody Hotel in Memphis on March 8, 1904 to discuss league matters, analyze the previous seasons attendance figures, and approve the season schedule for the year ahead. Those attending, and city represented, included M. J. Finn, Little Rock; Newt Fisher and J. M. Palmer, Nashville; Charles Frank, New Orleans; Lew Whistler and Caruthers Ewing, Memphis, Abner Powell, Atlanta; Coffee Jackson and Thomas O’Brien, Birmingham, James M. Foster and Robert E. Gilks, Shreveport; and Barry Holt and William Stickney, Montgomery.[1]

After approving league president and treasurer Judge W. M. Kavanaugh’s financial accounts, the group heard the executive committee’s report that confirmed the sound economic status of the organization. The report included a final tally of 627,602 fans who had attended games the previous season. Only four leagues (out of 21 across the nation[2]) had higher attendance: the National League, American League, American Association, and Eastern League.

The schedule was approved as drawn up by a special committee that had met in Memphis on January 22 and 23[3]. The 1904 playing calendar included 140 games, an additional 14 contests per club from 1903, and opening day would be held April 21.[4] There was some slight protest by Nashville’s Newt Fisher, as his club would host no holiday games, but “… utmost good feeling prevailed, and it was the consensus of opinion with baseball magnates and managers that the season soon to open would be the best and most prosperous in the history of Southern baseball.”[5]

But there was banter between sports writers. Newspapers often included articles of pre-season predictions, but those prognostications were not always about the teams in the newspaper’s own city; whether in jest or otherwise, there was often a quick retort from the newspaper of the offended city. With no claim by a particular sports writer, the Nashville Daily American published a story on March 10 that answered Birmingham’s razzing.

“The sage of Slagtown (see author’s note below), alias the baseball writer of the Birmingham Ledger who has a penchant for dealing out groggy dope, has bobbed up again as foolish and unmuzzled [sic] as ever. This time he comes forth with the bold bad delf (author’s note: abbreviation for deflection?) that New Orleans is “the strongest team in the league and Nashville about the weakest.” They ought to fix up a pension and a padded cell and keep them in readiness.

“The strangest thing of all is that nobody outside of Birmingham has ever figured the slag caters as being other than a tailender [sic]. The fact is, Birmingham is about the best team in the Southern League, except seven (there were eight teams in the league).

And then, it got a little personal.

“The Hams would be stars on the Red Onion Circuit, but they are useful by the Southern League principally to fill in and make up the necessary number of teams to keep the league going.”

When asked to respond, at first Nashville’s Fisher took the high road.

“What’s the use? It is actually wasting time to stop their howling. They do it every year before the season opens, and it takes about one swing around the circuit to get them quiet.”

But the even-tempered Fisher did not let the opportunity to further provoke the matter go totally to waste.

“Birmingham has not only had the pennant won every year before the league season opened, but has packed the flag away in camphor balls for the following season. Results are what count. We won the pennant twice and finished fifth the third time. I am not ashamed of this record. I would just like to ask the young man on the Ledger where the Birmingham team finished those three years. It was below Nashville each time.”[6]

At season’s end, Fisher could not boast about his club; Nashville finished in fifth place (second baseman Justin Bennett led the league with 166 hits, and pitcher Wiley Piatt led with 22 losses and 44 appearances)[7]. The nemesis of his team and the Nashville Tennessean, Birmingham, finished in fourth place. The Barons were two games ahead in the final standings. But for the fourth year the pennant remained on Tennessee soil as the Memphis Egyptians defended their 1903 title.

Otherwise, Fisher would not consider it a bad year. It had been reported he had cleared $10,000 profit on the ball club the previous year, and it was estimated that he would pocket $4,000 for the 1904 season.

It was a favorable year for the Southern Association, with Nashville, Birmingham, New Orleans, Memphis, and Atlanta all making money. Little Rock was reported to have shown a small profit, but things were less positive in Montgomery and Shreveport.[8] Even those clubs may have made some money.[9]

Soothed by profits of a successful season, the bosses of southern baseball saved their banter for another year of razzing.

© 2017 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

Author’s Note: ”Slagtown” is in reference to Birmingham’s steel-making industry. Beyond the outfield walls of West End Park, often called the “Slag Pile”, was a hill of slag, a by-product of making steel.[10]

[1] New Orleans Times-Democrat, March 9, 1904, p. 12.

[2] Atlanta Constitution, March 9, 1904, p. 2.

[3] New Orleans Times-Democrat, March 9, 1904, p. 12.

[4] Nashville American, March 9, 1904, p. 7.

[5] New Orleans Times-Democrat, March 9, 1904, p. 12.

[6] Nashville American, March 10, 1904, p. 7.

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

[8] Atlanta Constitution, September 19, 1904, p. 7.

[9] Ibid., September 26, 1904, p. 9.

[10] Watkins, Clarence (2010). Baseball in Birmingham. Charleston, South Carolina: Arcadia Publishing.

Leave a comment

Filed under History, Research

(Rain) Check, Please

Abner Powell, along with Nashville’s Newt Fisher and Memphis’ Charlie Frank, organized the Southern Association that began play in 1901. Powell had played and managed New Orleans beginning in 1888 and played for Nashville’s Southern League team for eighteen games in 1894.

He managed New Orleans in 1901 and 1902 and Atlanta’s entry in the new league in 1903 and 1904, and in 1905 sold his interest in his team and purchased a share of the Nashville club. In those days, loyalty to a particular team, especially when a player, was often trumped by investment power.

Powell is credited for introducing knothole gangs and ladies’ days to boost attendance at baseball games during his early years in New Orleans. And he invented one key item that became known as the “rain check”, the detachable stub on printed tickets.[1]

RaincheckRain outs have been the bane of team owners, players, and fans across the nation. Long before concessions and attendance added to the bottom line, paid attendance paid the bills.

Sulphur Springs Bottom was Nashville’s area for recreation and games were played at Athletic Park, later known as Sulphur Dell. It was a low-lying area just north of the city center, prone to flooding especially during spring rains. There have been many rain outs in Nashville, and the phrase “Rain, rain, go away” has been sounded for years, especially during baseball season.

Teams organized in the 19th Century and were at the mercy of the skies. On July 6, 1875 as W. T. Lincks and Morgans played to a 2-2 tie at Sulphur Springs Bottom before being rained out and the May 4, 1879 game between the Memphis club and a team from Nashville is rained out and postponed indefinitely.

Suspended games, postponements, and cancellations were the result. On June 26, 1895 Nashville played an unusual number of games in one day, three games against Little Rock due to the previous day’s double header being rained out. The first game is scheduled for 10 AM when only two opposing players show up and umpire Cline calls a forfeit in favor of Nashville as manager Dick Gorman explains that his team refuses to play three games in one day. The afternoon games are won by Nashville 17-7 and 8-5, and the Seraphs and manager George Stallings are credited with three Southern League wins.

More than 2,500 fans stood in line for nearly an hour on May 1, 1945 before Nashville’s home opener was called due to rain, and the next year on April 8 the exhibition game between the New York Yankees and Brooklyn Dodgers was cancelled due to morning rains and a downpour which came 45 minutes before the scheduled start. The outlook for the game had called for 7,500 fans to turn out, as all reserved seats were sold out and 4,000 fans were turned away.

Rain checks came in handy without rain on April 23, 1956 in a 12-8 loss to New Orleans when only 438 Nashville fans show up in 46-degree weather. Each was rewarded by general manager Bill McCarthy who announced the club would honor their rain checks for any future Vols game during the season. There was no rain, but the detachable ticket gave loyal rooters a way to attend another game free of charge.

Abner Powell was a visionary who gave many things to baseball that continue today: the rain check, ladies’ day, and knothole gangs. But his greatest invention may have been one that today’s players and fans take for granted: He innovated the covering of the playing field with a tarpaulin to keep the surface dry.

Team owners probably do not take that one for granted.

[1] Taggart, Caroline. Right as Rain: The Meaning and Origins of Popular Expressions. Great Britain: Michael O’Mara, 2013

© Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

Leave a comment

Filed under Biography, History, Research

It Happened On This Day: December 6 – December 21

Marquee_On_This-DayDecember 6, 1925 – Today is the birthday of former Nashville player Rance Pless. A third baseman, Pless won the Southern Association batting championship in 1952 with the Vols with a .364 average

December 7, 1914 – Nashville Baseball Club president Clyde Shropshire announces he has scheduled exhibition games with various major league teams in the spring of 1915.  Among the games to be played are a three-game set with the Chicago Cubs April 4, 5 and 6, and the New York Giants April 7 and 8.  The Detroit Tigers and Boston Red Sox will also play games against the Vols but the dates have not been set

December 7, 1928 – Outfielder Blackie Carter and left-handed pitcher George Milstead are purchased by Nashville from Toledo. Nashville also sells catcher Leo Mackey to Mobile and trades left-handed pitcher Oscar Fuhr to New Orleans for outfielder-first baseman Beans Minor

December 8, 1948 – Rollie Hemsley is named manager of the Nashville Vols, succeeding Larry Gilbert who moves to the front office

December 9, 1930 – Today is the birthday of Nashville outfielder Bob Hazle who batted for .314 during 1955 for the Vols. Hazle played briefly for the Cincinnati Reds, Milwaukee Braves, and Detroit Tigers but spent most of his career in the minors

December 10, 1957 – Pitcher Hal Kleine, who earned a 4-4 record during the 1949 season with Nashville, passes away in St. Louis. Kleine appeared in fourteen major league games with Cleveland in 1944-45 but had a 10-year minor league career until retiring after the 1950 season

December 11, 1888 – Fred Toney is born in Nashville. As one of the outstanding pitchers in the National League from 1915 to 1921, Toney led the league in saves in 1918 and won 20 games in 1917 and 1920

December 12, 1947 – Larry Gilbert announces that the Vols will spend spring training in Pensacola, Florida in 1948

December 13, 1923 – Vols catcher Paul Eiffert is traded to London, Ontario of the Michigan-Ontario League for catcher Leo Mackey

December 14, 2004 – Rod Kanehl, former Nashville Vol player, passes away in Palm Springs, California. Kanehl was the first New York Mets player to hit a grand slam home run when he accomplished the feat on July 6, 1962. Kanehl was the only former Mets player to attend the funeral of Casey Stengel

December 15, 1860 – Today is the birthday of Abner Powell, who along with Nashville’s Newt Fisher and Memphis’ Charlie Frank organized the Southern Association that began play in 1901. Powell had played and managed New Orleans in 1888 and played for Nashville’s Southern League team for eighteen games in 1894. Managing New Orleans in 1901 and 1902 and Atlanta’s entry in the new league in 1903 and 1904, he sold his interest in his team and purchased a share of the Nashville club in 1905. Powell is credited for introducing rain checks, knothole gangs, and ladies days to baseball, and innovated the covering of the playing field with a tarpaulin to keep the surface dry

December 15, 1920 – Former Nashville pitcher and future Hall of Famer Waite Hoyt is traded by the Boston Red Sox to the New York Yankees. During the next 10 years Hoyt will win 157 games for the Yankees

December 16, 1934 – Today is the birthday of Jim Bailey, southpaw pitcher for Nashville in 1958 (10-11), 1959 (10-6), and 1960 (7-10). He pitched in three games for the Cincinnati Reds in 1959. Born in Strawberry Plains, Tennessee, he is the brother of major league catcher Ed Bailey

December 17, 1975 – Kerby Farrell passes away in Nashville. In 1943 he played in 85 games for the Boston Braves and returned to the majors with the Chicago White Sox in 1945. He managed one season in the majors for Cleveland during 1957

December 18, 1897 – Nashville Vols manager and player Lance Richbourg is born in DeFuniak Springs, Florida. Richbourg spent six seasons with Nashville, managing from 1934-1937

December 19, 2003 – Former Nashville outfielder Carmen Mauro passes away in Carmichael, California. In his only season at Sulphur Dell in 1948 he accumulated a .284 batting average in 85 games

December 20, 1915 – Nashville acquires 3 players from the Quincy club of the Illinois-Indiana-Iowa (III) League: outfielder Roy Sherer, catcher George Boelzle, and pitcher Louis Tretter. All are secured under optional agreement

December 21, 1925 – Bob Rush, who had a 13-season career in the majors and spent part of one season with Nashville, is born in Battle Creek, Michigan. Called up mid-season after posting a 6-1 record for Des Moines in the Western League, Rush was 9-7 with the Vols in 1947 and ended the season with a 3.40 ERA

© 2014 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

Leave a comment

Filed under History, Research

Nashville Held a Prominent Postion in the Southern Association

Newt FisherThe Southern Association of Baseball Clubs was organized at the Morris Hotel in Birmingham, Alabama on October 20, 1900 by Abner Powell, Charley Frank and Newt Fisher. Franchises were granted to six cities: Nashville, Chattanooga, Memphis, Shreveport, New Orleans, and Birmingham. Powell would become an owner in New Orleans along with Isidore Newman, Fisher would have a stake in the Nashville club, and Frank would own Memphis, further setting in motion the importance of the main founders.

Applications were also received from Atlanta, Montgomery, Little Rock, and Mobile. Later Little Rock and Atlanta are named as the two remaining clubs for the inaugural season. Meeting in Memphis on February 28, 1901, the Southern Association franchise originally awarded to Atlanta is transferred to Selma. The league’s schedule is also finalized.

Nashville’s team was off and running in the new league, winning the first two regular season pennants in 1901 and 1902.

After attempts to form a new league fail by disgruntled owners, on September 8, 1902 an agreement is signed in Memphis that the 1903 Southern League cities will include New Orleans, Mobile, Birmingham, Montgomery, Savannah, Memphis, Atlanta, and Nashville, with Little Rock, Shreveport, and Chattanooga eliminated.

1908 Nashville Vols FB

1908 Nashville Vols

In 1908 the Volunteers won their third Southern Association crown, followed by another in 1916. On July 11th of the Vols fourth championship season, Tom Rogers pitched a perfect game against Chattanooga, striking out 4. The game time was one hour and 25 minutes.

In 1918 many of the Southern Association teams were struggling as World War I impacted commerce and fan attendance, a shortened season was played and the directors of the league considered shutting down. Nashville’s attendance that season was 24,119, down from 79,018 the previous year. Ironically, 79,014 attended Nashville games at Sulphur Dell in 1918.

Sunday games had not been allowed in Tennessee well into the second decade of the Southern Association, creating an obstacle to scheduling. On March 28, 1919 John D. Martin, president of the Southern Association, arrived in Nashville to urge the State Supreme Court to render an early decision in allowing Sunday baseball games.

The Tennessee Supreme Court announced its decision on April 12, 1919 to permit baseball to be played on Sunday. The Court held that the blue laws of 1893 did not apply to baseball, as the game was not then being played.

In 1920 league attendance passed 1 million for the first time since teams began keeping accurate records in 1915. The league drew a total of 1,215,367 fans; Nashville’s home attendance was 102,529.

In 1931 Fay L. Murray, part-owner of the American Association Minneapolis Millers, purchased the Nashville Volunteers. In November of 1938 Murray would lure New Orleans manager Larry Gilbert to Nashville to become manager and general manager. Gilbert would also become a part-owner of the Vols.

Larry Gilbert

Larry Gilbert

In 1940 Gilbert’s Nashville club won the Southern Association pennant, followed up with the top spot again in 1943and 1948, Gilbert’s final season as a manager.

Larry Gilbert had an upstanding reputation. He was often called upon to meet with major league representatives during National Association meetings and was named one of the coaches for a game in Cooperstown, New York to commemorate the 100th anniversary of baseball. He also made out the Southern Association schedule.

On August 25, 1941, Southern Association president Trammell Scott postponed Nashville’s home contest against Little Rock out of respect to the family of Larry Gilbert, Jr., son of the Vols manager. The younger Gilbert had passed away the previous day from heart failure.

Led by manager Rollie Hemsley the Vols captured another regular season league crown in 1949.

Into the 1950s, Nashville was just one of many minor league clubs experiencing poor attendance. From a club record 269,893 in 1948 down to 92,199 in 1958, without fan support the league would not survive.

The New Orleans Pelicans owners announced on March 15, 1960 that the team was folding and would not field a team in the Southern Association. A charter member of the league, New Orleans would become the largest city in the US without a professional baseball team.

On August 29, 1960, Cincinnati Reds vice-president and general manager Gabe Paul announced that the Reds six-year working agreement would not be renewed with Nashville, effective December 15.  The reason given by Paul was because the Southern Association “does not allow the use of Negro players”.

RIPThe Southern Association suspended operations on January 24, 1962 due to “a lack of enough major league working agreements”; however, during the 1961 season average attendance for all games is less than 1,000 fans.

Nashville had drawn just over 500 fans per game during the 1961 and had been unable to secure a major league affiliation. With the announcement, organized minor league baseball is reduced to only 19 leagues for the 1962 season, from a high of 59 leagues in 1949.

Nashville was without baseball in 1962. Although the Vols were resurrected in the South Atlantic League for the 1963 season, poor attendance and a deficit of almost $22,000 forced the ownership group to surrender their South Atlantic League franchise without a dissenting vote from its board of directors.

© 2014 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

1 Comment

Filed under History, Research, Vintage

I Love Detroit, Lucille Ball, and Carrier. Baseball? Not So Much

The Southern Association of Baseball Clubs was organized in 1900 by Newt Fisher, Charles Frank, and Abner Powell. At a meeting in Birmingham on October 20 of that year, franchises are granted to six cities to begin playing in 1901: Nashville, Chattanooga, Memphis, Shreveport, New Orleans, and Birmingham.

Fisher represented Nashville (his hometown), Powell had played in New Orleans since 1886, and Charles Frank was from Memphis.

Applications for putting a team in the new league were also received from Atlanta, Montgomery, Little Rock, and Mobile. Little Rock and Atlanta were eventually accepted, but in February of 1901 the Atlanta franchise was awarded to Selma.

Thus began the illustrious history of the Southern Association, a league which would last 60 years until folding at the end of the 1961 season. Why would a league fail after surviving two World Wars, the Depression, the Korean Conflict, multiple franchise re-location, and decaying grandstands?

The most obvious explanation is segregation. There was no league rule that anyone has discovered that said teams could not use black players. In 1953, Atlanta experimented with integrating the Crackers by inserting Nat Peeples in a game as a pinch hitter Mobile (the owner of Atlanta, Earl Mann, was not quite brave enough to let Peeples play in Atlanta). The next day Peeples played the entire game, but after a week was sent back down to Jacksonville.

Nashville attendance at Sulphur Dell began to wane in the early 1950s, but the last straw may have come in 1960 when Gabe Paul, Cincinnati Reds vice-president and general manager, announced the Reds six-year working agreement with Nashville would not be renewed. The reason given was the Southern Association “does not allow the use of Negro players”.

Because segregation was a serious topic in southern cities, that could be the reason for minor league baseball teams shutting down. But by 1962, organized minor league baseball is reduced to only 19 teams from a high of 59 teams in 1949 all across the country, not just in the south.

The segregation of teams was not an issue in many other cities (Jacksonville, for example, which has had minor league baseball since 1946). So, what else could be the reason?

LucyThere are three: the automobile, television, and air conditioning.

One-sixth of the work force in the United States worked directly or indirectly in the automobile industry in 1960. The growth of automobile sales could be attributed to the widening of the city limits in a growing nation. It was no longer necessary to live within walking distance of the ballpark; just hop in your new four-door sedan, and a family could be rooting for the home team in a matter of minutes.

That also meant there was another option: Lucy and Desi were on. So were George and Gracie and a host of other stars who made people laugh all from the comfort of home. No need to go sit in the stadium for entertainment. The family couch was just fine.

And it was hot at the ball game. Sunday was when the ball club played double headers. It wasn’t too bad when games were scheduled at night, but at 1 PM for a double header or an evening game in the sweltering heat? The players might have to be there, but spectators did not.

Where it was not hot was at home. Over a million air conditioning units were sold in 1953. Watching “I Love Lucy” in the comfort of one’s own den was a lot more relaxing.

Attendance at Nashville games at Sulphur Dell fell from a record-high of 269,893 in 1948 to 99,271 in 1960. Why head out to the ballpark to root for the Vols when it was a twenty-minute drive and there was a cost to park and it was going to be hot and muggy?

Besides, didn’t “Father(s) Know(s) Best”?

© 2014 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

1 Comment

Filed under History, Opinion