Tag Archives: Birmingham

Southern Baseball Moguls Prepare for 1909 Season

The 1909 baseball season was just around the corner. It would be March before spring training began for most teams, but many players arrived early to jump-start their daily regimens.

The St. Louis Cardinals would be training 55 miles away in Little Rock, but outfielder Joe Delahanty, who had played in the Southern Association with Memphis and New Orleans in 1903, joined pitcher Johnny Lush as among the first to appear in Hot Springs, Arkansas, on February 21; the next day, St. Louis Browns infielder Jimmy Williams, New York Yankees outfielder Charlie Hemphill, and Cincinnati Reds pitcher Art Fromme. They met six players from the Brooklyn Superbas who also gathered to begin their exercise routines: second baseman Whitey Alpermann, outfielders Al Burch and Jimmy Sebring, and pitchers George Bell and Jim Pastorius, and even manager Harry Lumley.[1]

The Pittsburgh Pirates and Boston Red Sox were scheduled to hold workouts in Hot Springs beginning in early March. Boston had agreed to rent Majestic Stadium for the next five years.[2]

The Cubs were scheduled to spend time there, too, before heading to West Baden, Indiana, for final preseason activities. From there they would hit the exhibition game travel circuit on their way to Chicago in time for the regular season. All the other major league clubs did same from their own training sites.

Meanwhile, in preparation for the upcoming season, Southern Association directors gathered in Mobile, Alabama at the Battle House Hotel on Monday, February 22 for their own spring meeting. Nashville was coming off a championship, with the pennant captured on the last game of the year against New Orleans in what Grantland Rice dubbed, “The Greatest Game Ever Played in Dixie”.[3]

The win gave the Vols a .002-percentage point lead over the Pelicans: .573 to .571.[4]

President William Kavanaugh had already done some of his official duties. Before the meeting in Mobile, he had previously hired his umpiring staff for the year. Four would be returning from the 1908 season: Dan Fitzsimmons, Augie Moran, William Carpenter, and Dan Pfenninger, who would be calling balls and strikes in the Southern Association for a fifth straight year.[5]

They would be joined by Frank Rudderham, who had served in the National League in 1908, and former New England League umpire, J. O. O’brien. Although little is known about O’Brien, in the off-season Rudderham ran a bowling alley, Fitzsimmons and Pfenninger were union workers. Moran, who calls Philadelphia his home, runs a department at Wanamaker’s Department Store. Carpenter was from Cincinnati.[6]

 

League directors attending the meeting included league president Kavanaugh and secretary Clark Miller, Mobile president H. T. Inge and secretary Charles Z. Collson, New Orleans manager Charles Frank, Atlanta manager Billy Smith and president J. W. “John” Heisman (the Heisman Trophy is named for him), Little Rock manager Mike Finn, Birmingham president R. J. Baugh and manager Carleton Molesworth, Montgomery manager Ed Gremminger and team president R. J. Chambers, Memphis president Frank Coleman and his manager Charlie Babb, and Nashville president Ferdinand E. Kuhn and manager Bill Bernhard.

The main course of action was to approve the dates for the 1909 schedule. A preliminary calendar had been mailed to each club prior to the summit and was quickly approved with a few minor changes. It was decided that opening day would take place on April 15, with Memphis hosting Little Rock, New Orleans hosting Mobile, Atlanta hosting Birmingham, and Montgomery meeting Nashville at Sulphur Dell.[7]

For the first time, Nashville was given both opening and closing home dates, as well as the July 5 Holiday and September 6 Labor Day games.

An additional item on the docket was the case of Mobile pitcher Otis Stockdale. In 1908 he accused his 1907 Memphis manager Charlie Babb of having thrown a few games.[8]

Stockdale appeared before the board members and apologized, and after shaking hands with Babb, was promptly reinstated. Interestingly, once the reinstatement was made, Birmingham offered Mobile $1,000 for Stockdale, but the Sea Gulls turned down the offer.

Two rule changes were considered and approved[9]:

  1. Postponed games must be played the following day as a double-header unless the two clubs mutually agree upon a future date and so notify the president before playing the next game.
  2. All admissions paid by the ladies on ladies’ day shall be equally divided with the visiting club.

Nashville president Kuhn made a motion that the league enter a contract with Western Union that stated the telegraph company would not furnish any information of games to pool rooms or gamblers, but the company would furnish home ball clubs with details of other games. League approval was made.[10] It was also determined to allow Mobile and Montgomery to maintain separate gates for admission of colored patrons during the season.[11]

At the end of the 1909 season, the Atlanta Crackers ball club would be crowned champions with a 5 ½ game lead over the defending Nashville Vols.

© 2018 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

SOURCES

Baseball-reference.com

Newspapers.com

SABR.org

[1] “Early Birds At Spring Training,” Chicago Tribune, February 23, 1909, 12.

[2] “Red Sox At Hot Springs,” Daily (Little Rock) Arkansas Gazette, February 28, 1909, 9.

[3] Simpson, John. (2007). The Greatest Game Ever Played in Dixie: The Nashville Vols, Their 1908 Season, and the Championship Game. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Co., Inc.

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

[5] “Six Umpires For Southern,” Atlanta Constitution, January 31, 1909, 7.

[6] “Umpires For The Southern League,” Nashville Tennessean, February 16, 1909, 6.

[7] “Southern Moguls,” Nashville Tennessean, February 23, 1909, 12.

[8] “Stockdale Declares Babb Threw Games,” Nashville Tennessean, June 3, 1908, 7.

[9] “Southern Moguls.”

[10] “Baseball Moguls Meet At Mobile,” Atlanta Constitution, February 23, 1909, 4.

[11] “Stockdale Is Reinstated,” Nashville American, February 23, 1909, 6.

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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.

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14th Annual Southern Association Conference at Rickwood Field

scan0001Yesterday, I attended the 14th annual Southern Association Conference in Birmingham, and want to take this time to encourage you to be a part of this event next year. The Rickwood Field SABR chapter put on quite a conference, led by David Brewer and Clarence Watkins; but the opportunity to visit Rickwood Field is great in itself – it is truly one of America’s historic ballparks.

To be able to hear presentations about baseball in the South, among friends in a casual setting, was great. To wax poetic: Baseball was literally “in the air”.  Attendees came from Mobile, Memphis, Nashville, Birmingham, Montgomery, and Atlanta; we heard presentations about baseball in Montgomery (and pitcher Roy “Goat” Walker), Selma, the Southern Association, and vintage player A. T. Pearsall, but sidebar conversations were ongoing beyond.

An added treat was lunch with former Montgomery Rebels player and minor league manager Ted Brazell. One could literally hear and feel the passion Ted has with his love of the game of baseball. It was inspiring.

More than anything, the friendships rekindled and friendships made were more than worth the trip. The date could change, but put the first Saturday of March, 2018 on your calendar. You won’t be disappointed.

© 2017 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

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Too Little, Too Late

Integration did not come to the Southern Association until a 1954 experiment by Atlanta Crackers owner Earl Mann, when Nat Peeples was inserted as a pinch hitter in the Crackers’ season opener in Mobile. A week later, he was sent down to Jacksonville after appearing in two games and coming to the plate four times.

Reportedly, Mann considered the same action the previous season with a different negro player who was playing in Jacksonville: Henry Aaron. For whatever reason, the future Hall of Famer was not selected and had an outstanding season with the South Atlantic League club.

There was no Southern Association rule that kept rosters segregated. But with teams in New Orleans (the franchise would cease to exist after 1959, replaced by Little Rock), Nashville, Memphis (replaced by Macon after 1960), Birmingham, Atlanta, Shreveport, Mobile, and Chattanooga, civil rights issues were just coming to the forefront of American culture, and integration never occurred.

However, a Birmingham city ordinance prohibited integrated games from taking place on city-owned fields, and Louisiana state law did not allow different races to participate in sporting events together.

One occurence brought attention to the situation: in August of 1960, after six years as the parent organization of the Nashville Volunteers, Cincinnati withdrew its affiliation. Without negro players, said Reds GM Gabe Paul, development of potential players could not properly take place.

In his August 30, 1960 Sports Showcase column, Nashville Tennessean sports writer F. M. Williams quotes Paul on the issue:

“Having a team in the farm system, at Double A level, where Negro players cannot perform creates a void that hinders the entire player development program, he says. Player development is expensive at best, and it becomes even more so when there is one link in the chain that does not help the best young players.”

Williams’ opening lines in his column predict a dim future for the trouble league, emphasizing a rule (unwritten or not) of segregation and acknowledging the tension in race relations:

“If Gabe Paul’s thinking is in line with that of other major league executives, time is running out on Double A baseball.

“Paul took a public stand against the Southern league’s policy of not using Negro players. This is the first time, to my knowledge, that any big league executive has used the racial issue to establish farm policy.

“Eventually it could lead to a Southern boycott.”

On August 31, the Tennessean published an Associated Press story that the American League announced plans to expand to 10 teams by 1962.[1] The National League had previously agreed to absorb up to four teams of the proposed Continental League, but followed suit with an announcement during the World Series that Houston and New York would become members of the league.[2]

nashville-tennessean-08-30-1960-gabe-paul-quote-cincinnati-reds-nashville-vols-08-29-1960If Gabe Paul knew of the plans, which certainly would change the course of developing players, it appears he did not let the directors of the Nashville club know.

Minnesota Twins* farm director Sherry Robertson offered an affiliation proposal to Vols general manager Bill Harbour on January 20, 1961. The agreement was ratified by Nashville board members on February 9.

Vice-President Lyndon Johnson was invited to throw out the first pitch at Sulphur Dell on April 8, and the Southern Association began its final season. Team owners did nothing to integrate the storied league, but waning attendance was the final culprit in its demise.

By season’s end, one of Williams’ predictions had come true, as time ran out on Double A baseball. Nashville drew only 64,450 for the entire season.

Attempts to revive the league went for naught, even though on October 31 a federal judge ruled that Birmingham, Alabama, laws against integrated playing fields were illegal, eliminating the last barrier against integration in the Southern Association.

On January 24, 1962, the Southern Association suspended operations “due to a lack of enough major league working agreements.”

*The original Washington Senators, now relocated to Minneapolis-St. Paul; a new expansion team was set in Washington as a replacement.

[1] Corrigan, Ed. Associated Press. “AL Votes to Expand to 10 Teams by ’62”. Nashville Tennessean, August 31, 1960

[2] McCue, Andy and Thompson, Eric. “Mis-Management 101: The American League Expansion for 1961”. Published in The National Pastime: Endless Seasons: Baseball in Southern California, 2011. Phoenix: Society for American Baseball Research, 42

SOURCES

baseball-reference.com

Nashville Tennessean

newspapers.com

Paper of Record

sabr.org

© 2016 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

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A Baseball Museum for Nashville?

On more than one occasion I have visited the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York; every baseball fan should visit in one’s lifetime. Exhibit displays are excellent (rotated often), library and research opportunities abound, and the ambiance of the quaint village is rarely paralleled.

Hiking, boating, and golf are just a few outside opportunities available, too, and should your son be on a team playing in a tournament nearby, that’s even better. Doubleday Field and the Cooperstown Dreams baseball complex host amateur games for youngsters and adults, and there is a Fantasy Week offered for those who want to learn from former pros such as Ozzie Smith and Phil Niekro.

My visits have included traveling with business associates and friends, and once I visited alone to do research in the library at the tutelage of Tim Wiles, who recently left as Director of Research at the Hall of Fame to become Executive Director of Guilderland Public Library some 60 miles away. Tim was able to access files on Nashville baseball which help immensely in my ability to tell local baseball history more completely.

Even with Tim’s valued assistance, those files were pretty thin.

All of those things aside, I often wonder why the National Baseball Hall of Fame is even in Cooperstown? In 1939 it was determined by the Mills Commission that a century before, Abner Doubleday invented The Game in Phinney’s field in the village named after the family of author James Finnemore Cooper. I get that.

2DayCome to find out, Doubleday was nowhere near Phinney’s field at that time; he was at West Point where he had entered the United State Military Academy the previous year. Doubleday never claimed to be the father of baseball, although he did have a relative by the same name who lived in the area in the early 1800s.

To boot, Cooperstown only has about 2,000 residents, is 4 1/2 hours away from New York City, and is in the middle of nowhere except for the beautiful countryside.

Some may like it that way, but I’m guessing that the location is a detriment to mass visits. The village may not be able to cater to more than those who currently stop by for a tour of the museum, take advantage of the library, or visit another venue.

So, why is “Cooperstown” in Cooperstown?

In reality, the Hall of Fame and Museum is not going anywhere even if I were to remotely suggest that Nashville would make a better and more accommodating home.

The question is this: Would local citizens and visitors to Nashville support a baseball museum, even if it was about regional baseball history only?

For one, I think they would. Baseball was not born in Nashville, and southern baseball has roots in many communities below the Mason-Dixon Line. However, as Nashville continues to experience rapid growth and with visitor momentum continuing to accelerate, new venues of opportunity are needed.

And everyone loves baseball.

Can two Halls of Fame exist? Yes. In Kansas City there is the Negro League Baseball Museum, and in Birmingham construction is underway for another one to emphasize African-American participation in the illustrious history of the Negro Leagues.

Besides, our “Athens of the South” calls out not only to the many local colleges and universities, it really is a testament to our being a center of learning. Locally, the Country Music Hall of Fame, Songwriters Hall of Fame, Johnny Cash Museum are in full measure, with newly-announced George Jones and African-American Music museums on the horizon.

Wouldn’t a museum entrusted to the documents, images, oral and visual histories, and opportunity to view those traditions of yesteryear make sense, a repository of southern baseball history?

We have a new ballpark that will soon open near the site of beloved Sulphur Dell, which was once known as baseball’s oldest ballpark in existence. Games were played there as early as 1862. We have ownership and management of the Nashville Sounds who will be immortalizing a part of local history within the stadium, and a city whose leadership will allow for the same throughout the greenway outside the stadium.

The Old Timers Baseball Association of Nashville continues to promote baseball with scholarships, an annual award banquet, and monetary support to area ball fields and programs, too.

1DaySuccessful baseball programs at Vanderbilt, Lipscomb, Belmont, Trevecca, and nearby Cumberland are also a tribute to baseball roots in the area. Toss in local baseball  at the high school and youth league levels, and we can easily say “We know our baseball”.

19th Century baseball has taken a foothold, too; what began as a two-team league in Franklin and Nashville, in three short years the Tennessee Association of Vintage Base Ball has expanded in middle Tennessee to Knoxville and Chattanooga.

This great opportunity to provide a location for the study of baseball and to view its visual and oral merits, all within a day’s driving distance from much of the United States, should not be overlooked.

I am sure we had an Abner Doubleday in our town once, too.

© 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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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.

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