Tag Archives: Bill Rodda

It Happened on This Day in Nashville: April 7

This day holds a special place in the history of Nashville baseball, and includes exhibitions between the hometown Vols and various major league clubs, a regret from baseball’s iconic Babe Ruth, and a rare perfect game:

April 7, 1904
Nashville and Boston of the National League meet at Athletic Park as the major leaguers win 8-3.

April 7, 1925
The Chicago White Sox win over the Nashville Vols 12-6. It is the 16th consecutive spring training game for the major league club in as many days.

April 7, 1927
The 65th General Assembly of Tennessee adjourns early to see Babe Ruth and the New York Yankees play the St. Louis Cardinals at Sulphur Dell. A resolution had been adopted to invite Ruth to address the Senate, but he sent word that it would be impossible for him to appear because of a lack of time.  The Cardinals beat the Yankees 10-8 in a rematch of the 1926 World Series clubs.

April 7, 1934
Charles Dressen’s Vols wins against the New York Yankees 5-4 in a game at Sulphur Dell. Before a crowd of 3,000, the Yankees are stymied by the pitching of Hal Stafford, who relieved in the 5th inning and allows only four hits through the last five innings, striking out five.

James P. Dawson, New York Times reporter, describes Sulphur Dell’s unique feature as “the right field here is cut out of a hill and is terraced, making it necessary for a fly-chaser to combine hill-climbing ability with speed and accuracy in fielding the ball“. Dawson also reports that Babe Ruth “almost broke one of his legs catching (Bill) Rodda’s fly on the climb in the first. The Babe slipped and stumbled but climbed on and came up with the ball“. Ruth is two for four, as is Lou Gehrig.

April 7, 1953
Mickey Mantle hits a 420-foot two-run double in the seventh inning as the New York Yankees beat the hometown Vols 9-1 before 2,693 fans. Louis Effrat, reporting in The New York Times, quotes one Yankee player as describing playing in Sulphur Dell as “It’s like playing in a telephone booth“, and quoted Casey Stengel, New York manager, recalling that in 1912 when he was playing with Montgomery in a game at Sulphur Dell, “I dragged the ball and it went over the right-field fence for a homer“.Turner_1953

Yankee pitching coach Jim Turner, a native of Nashville, is honored at home plate before the game by Governor Frank G. Clement who appointed Turner a Tennessee Colonel on the Governor’s staff.

April 7, 1957
The Cincinnati Reds defeat Washington 9-7 before 5,842 fans after the Nats lose a 5-0 lead. Joe Nuxhall, Hal Jeffcoat and Raul Sanchez pitch for the Reds, while Roy Sievers belts a triple and homer, driving in three runs. Herb Plews and Pete Runnels get two hits each for Washington.

April 7, 2003
Right-hander John Wasdin pitches the first perfect game in Nashville Sounds history in his first start of the season against the Albuquerque Isotopes.  The 4–0 win is only the second nine-inning perfect game in PCL history.

In ten days a new era begins: April 17th is Opening Night for the Nashville Sounds at new First Tennessee Park near the site of famous Sulphur Dell!

© 2015 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

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12th Annual Southern Association Conference at Birmingham’s Rickwood Field

Rickwood Field, Birmingham’s historic ballpark, is preserved through the efforts of the Friends of Rickwood and maintains Rickwood, built in 1910 as home to the Barons and used by the Negro League Birmingham Black Barons.

Over 200 amateur games are still played there, and each year the AA Southern League’s Barons host a regular season turn-back-the-clock contest dubbed the “Rickwood Classic”; this year’s game will be played on Wednesday, May 27th, as the Barons host the Jacksonville Suns at 12:30 PM. Former New York Mets star Darryl Strawberry will be the featured guest.

2015 ProgramA visit to Rickwood should be on every baseball fan’s list of places to visit. The ballpark hails a time when Sunday doubleheaders were played in the sweltering heat and future major leaguers hoped to move up the ranks to the majors. Each time I visit I think of what it must have been like for Nashville Vols Buster Boguskie, Lance Richbourg, Tom Rogers, Phil Weintraub, Bill Rodda, Boots Poffenberger, and Babe Barna to have played there. And how proud they’d be that it is still there.

It is such an iconic picture of baseball’s past that Rickwood has been used for commercials and movies.

The movie about Jackie Robinson, “42” utilized the ballpark during filming.

Like baseball? Like history? Like the history of southern baseball? Then you’ll need to remember this for the future: the Friends of Rickwood group sponsors an annual conference dedicated to the history of the Southern League (1885-1899) and Southern Association (1901-1961). It is a gathering of historians, writers, fans, and players who are interested in sharing their research, stories, and memorabilia.

The 12th Annual Southern Association Conference was held this past Saturday on March 7 after an informal gathering the evening before.

P1011126What took place? Well, the usual shaking of hands, pats on the backs, and hugs from friendships gained over previous conferences. But that’s not all.

The 28 attendees were treated to presentations on the birth of the Southern League (1884-1885); a perspective on Atlanta’s Henry W. Grady, an integral leader in the formation of the 19th Century league; an image of the 1885 Nashville Americans; a summary of a new book on the horizon about the Negro Southern League; and images and film about the Birmingham Barons.

P1011127Of particular interest to me was film presented by Birmingham and Memphis historian Clarence “Skip” Watkins which included color footage of a game between the Memphis Chicks and Nashville Vols. In color. Wow.

During the all-day event, we were treated to viewings of memorabilia collections and discussions about the old ballparks, teams, and what the future holds for southern professional baseball.

David Brewer, director of Friends of Rickwood, and Watkins came up with the idea in 2003, and the program has been ongoing since that time. The setting has changed from time-to-time, too: Chattanooga, Atlanta, and Nashville have hosted the conference and there may be opportunity to be in New Orleans in 2016.

P1011129Which leads me back to my original questions: if you are interested, you cannot go wrong. New Orleans or Birmingham, the Rickwood Classic or just a visit to the grand old ballpark in Birmingham. If you get your chance, take it in.

You can always ride with me.

 © 2015 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

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A Daughter’s Memory of Her Father, Vols Pitcher Byron Speece

When someone writes to me to tell about their connection to Sulphur Dell or to share a memory or two, I am honored.  Often the memories are described in only a few words in an email.

Every once in a while I have received a handwritten letter. One of the most descriptive ones came from Irene Speece Thoren some years ago. I was so moved by her memory, I gave her a call and we had a delightful discussion about her life and the years that her father spent playing for the Nashville Vols.BySpeece

Byron Speece was one of the stalwarts of the Vols pitching staff in the 1930s. His won-lost record was 95 – 60 and he pitched in 217 games and 1159 innings. His daughter Irene shared very special memories about her father’s Nashville playing days.

“I remember when my Dad played with the Vols in Nashville, I was in the 4th grade in 1932. We usually went to school in West Baden Springs, Indiana and then traveled down to Nashville for the summer. We did this every year up through 1937.

“We enjoyed going to the home games. Mother would take us out of school early so we could get to the game a little before batting practice ended. We were allowed to have one ten-cent concession per game. Usually we chose popcorn. We would bet that this would be a ball, a strike, a hit, a grounder, a fly ball, a home run, etc. We passed the popcorn back and forth during the game. I remember the concession man who sold hot dogs walking through the stands singing, “Red hots, red hots, they’re already ready and they’re all red hot, with a pickle in the middle and an onion on top, red hots, red hots.” We got one of those to eat about once per week. I have such fond memories of Sulphur Dell and the baseball games there.

“There was one ball game we played with the New Orleans team. They had a catcher named Charles P. George. He slid into second base on a hit and spiked the second baseman. Later in the game one of our players slid into home and spiked him at the plate. Nothing was done by the umpires for this. Seemed fair to them, I expect.

“Some of the players I remember were Hank Leiber and Phil Wintraub who went up to the major leagues from Nashville. Hank Leiber was so young and good looking. I, of course, thought he was wonderful. I heard that a number of years later he was hit in the head while at bat. It caused major problems for him. The baseball league set up an apartment for him in the Los Angeles area with a valet to care for him for the rest of his life. I don’t know if that is true or not but hope it was so. That was before batting helmets were invented.

“Others were manager Lance Richbourg, Bill Rodda, shortstop Ray Starr, pitcher James Brillheart, and others I forget today but will remember tomorrow.”

Irene Speece Thoren passed away on March 3, 2013.

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George Scharein

November 21, 1914 is the birthday of George Scharein, infielder for Nashville during 1935 and 1936. His brother Art Scharein spent three seasons in the majors with the St. Louis Browns and 13 seasons in the minor leagues.

Playing for Beckley in the Middle Atlantic League at the beginning of 1935 where he was hitting only .217, the Vols recalled him in July. GeoScharein Nashville owned Scharein’s contract and had shipped him around from Durham, North Carolina (Piedmont League), Pine Bluff (East Dixie League) and Beckley. In 1933 Nashville manager Charlie Dressen had said that Scharein reminded him of major leaguer Ossie Bluege, an All Star infielder who spent years with the Washington Senators.

A slick shortstop, he was an instructor at Dressen’s baseball school in Decatur, Illinois in October (“Room and board $8 per week, Bats and Baseballs provided free”). Scharein was born in Decatur.

By July of 1936, Scharein’s batting average had improved to .309, and when the Vols Bill Rodda was moved to second base in 1936 after two seasons at shortstop, Scharein took his place.

Although he committed 26 errors, Scharein hit for a .288 average. On September 7th the New York Giants purchased Scharein and placed him on the 40-man roster.  He was to report to the major league club in the spring, but on December 8th Scharein was traded by the Giants with cash to the Philadelphia Phillies for Lou Chiozza.

He became the Phillies shortstop, a position he held for two years. Scharein remained with the Phillies until May 3, 1940 when he was sent to the New York Yankees to complete an earlier deal made in March.  Schareirn became the proverbial “player to be named later” in a deal with the Yankees for Ham Schulte.

The former Nashville Vols player never played for the Yankees, as he was sent to the New York affiliate Newark in the International League for two seasons, then to Kansas City during 1942 and 1943.  Scharein joined the military and served with the Army’s 65th Infantry Division, then made a comeback in Kansas City in 1946 when he hit .303 but his next five years showed a decline in games played and average each season. He retired after the 1950 season.

Scharein passed away on December 23, 1981 at the age of 67.

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