Tag Archives: Charles Frank

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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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.

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