Tag Archives: Dick Loftus

Nashville Bugs, Builders, and Ballpark Construction

Nashville’s shiny new ballpark, soon to open on Friday, April 17th, is being constructed in the vicinity of its predecessor, historic Sulphur Dell. The original name is attributed to Grantland Rice who wrote in his Nashville Tennessean column in 1908 “…will be known as Sulphur Spring Dell, and not Sulphur Spring Bottom, as of yore.”

Rice immortalized the name in rhyme which sealed the name that fans (Rice called them “bugs”) adopted for the ages. The poem expressed the significance of having a stadium ready in time for Opening Day, too:

In Sulphur Dell 

There as a sound of revelry by day

In Sulphur Dell with axes swinging free –

And every fan there passed, yelled “Hip-Hooray –

Lay on McDuff, and give one punch for me.

And from afar the echo rolled in glee –

“The Nashville grandstand’s being torn away.”

 

Sweet are the songs which Madame Calve sings

But not so sweet as that of falling axe

In Sulphur Dell where every echo rings

With timbers falling under mighty whacks

Keep up the good work – break your blooming backs’

“Keep up the good work – break your blooming necks

We’ll give a cheer each time the axlet swings.

This was not the first instance of bringing the ballpark up to standards for the baseball season. As early as the spring of 1885 when Nashville’s first professional team came into existence, on March 24th it was reported that an extra force of workmen was put to work on the grounds of Athletic Park, grading the field and laying off the diamond before Nashville’s Southern League season would begin a few weeks later.

That did not stop games from being played: on March 30th and 31st, Nashville hosted a team from Indianapolis, and on April 1 over 1,500 spectators watched Nashville beat the Clevelands 15-7 and 3-2 the next day. On May 6th the Nashville club begins its home season with Chattanooga and 2,000 fans are in attendance as Nashville loses 9-7.

In 1897 the old bleachers on the east side were torn away and in their place were erected a large number of seats “such as are used in curcuses (sic).”

In 1901 when Nashville’s baseball team entered the newly-formed Southern Association, upgrades to the ballpark took place again, although as late as the first of April there were reports that dressing rooms for the players had yet to be constructed. Seating capacity was being increased to 2,500 with 1,000 seats available in the grandstand.

Newt Fisher, owner-manager of the Nashville club, announced on October 1, 1903 that the grandstand would be increased by 500 seats. Fisher was beginning his plans well in advance after what had been a profitable year for him. Fisher had made $10,000 over the course of the season.

When the ballpark was turned around for the 1927 season, the old grandstand was demolished and a new steel-and-concrete design was chosen to replace it. Winter weather and rain interrupted the process more than once, and in February, the contractor was offered a bonus of $5,000.00 to complete the structure for the March exhibition season.

Once again, games were played no matter the conditions of the grandstand. With the playing field in optimum shape and workmen continuing their work, on March 25th the first contest is held in the new ‘turned-around’ ballpark. It was an exhibition game played between the Nashville Vols and Minneapolis Millers, the Millers winning 5-3 as the visiting team’s right-fielder Dick Loftus hits the first home run in the new park.

It would be a while before more upgrades would take place. A new scoreboard was added in left-centerfield, but that would be the extent of new construction until a few cosmetic modernizations would happen. When fans arrived on Opening Day April 17, 1951, they saw a remodeled facade, new turnstiles, brick walls, wider exists and other improvements. Unchanged were the “dumps” in the outfield and the short right field fence.

On Easter Sunday, April 1, 1956 between 2-5 PM, the Nashville Vols management held an open house for the “renovated” ballpark. The playing field of the ancient park was altered somewhat by the smoothing out of the right field “porch”. Additional improvements consisted of a new coat of green paint for the stadium seats, except for the reserved seats section which were painted orange.

For the 1958 season a left-field bleacher section was torn down and a weather-damaged fence replaced, but no additional changes were made to Sulphur Dell during the demise of the facility and baseball in Nashville.

After selling light fixtures, stadium seats, and other items that had some remaining value, on April 16, 1969 the ballpark was demolished and filled in; the remains of the recent demolition of the Andrew Jackson Hotel (to make room for the Tennessee Performing Arts Center) was deposited on the site.1stTennPark

Other than rainouts and spring floods, there are no instances when Opening Day did not proceed as planned. Nashville games have begun on time, and there is plenty of confidence that the same will hold true this season.

Besides, April 17th is just around the corner, and we “bugs” will have to trust those who “break their blooming backs”. I believe we will be there.

 © 2015 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

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Old/New Construction at Sulphur Dell (We’re Talking 1927)

In local baseball circles, I can attest to the fact that conversations are all about the new First Tennessee Park being built for the Nashville Sounds. Outside of those circles there is probably plenty of talk on the subject, too.

With an April 2015 opening planned, and construction at the site well on its way, there is but a smattering of talk about potential delays. But that was not the case in 1927, when old Sulphur Dell was turned around.

But why turn around a ballpark? It’s a little hard to put one’s finger on the real reason.

Some say that without lights (the first major league night game would not happen until 1935) the late afternoon sun was always in the batter’s face since the ballpark was facing the southwest. To make it easier on the home team, the park was relocated so the batter’s back was to the State Capitol. Problem eliminated.

Another reason for the reconfigured ballpark: new ownership. On October 1, 1926 four owners took over the Nashville Baseball Club and split 535 shares of stock:

Rogers Caldwell, a local horse breeder

J. H. “Jack” Whaley, co-publisher of Southern Lumberman, a regional publication

Stanley P. Horn, also co-publisher of Southern Lumberman

Jimmy Hamilton, manager of the Nashville Vols since 1923. In 1925 he had purchased the Raleigh club in the Piedmont League

With a season attendance of 178,000 in 1925, the team had generated $80,000 in profit. There is no published profit amount of 1926, but even with attendance down to 135,000 the reported amount was still “five figures” and ownership was lucrative.

The first week of December the new owners announced a new steel & concrete structure would be built – a little unusual, with two of the owners producing a publication about the wood industry in the southeast – and the new ballpark was expected to be one of the best ballpark facilities in baseball for its size.

J. B. Hanson Co. was awarded the construction contract. The architect was Marr & Holman.

Perhaps the new owners wanted to show local fans how committed they were to advancing the prestige of Nashville. They certainly allowed Jimmy Hamilton free reign on signing new players. He was a personal friend of Connie Mack, Wilbert Robinson, Ty Cobb, and other major league managers and sought their advice in bringing in a team built for the new ballpark.

While attending baseball’s winter meetings the past December, Hamilton scheduled major league squads to play in Nashville as they left their spring training locations, heading north to begin the regular season.

Then it happened, as it had happened nearly every other spring: the first week of January, rains poured and grounds were flooded under 16 feet of water, delaying progress of construction for three weeks.

In February, the contractor was offered a bonus of $5,000.00 to complete the structure for the March exhibition season. Spring exhibitions against big-league teams were important money-makers, and three construction shifts were utilized to speed the process. During this period, the Nashville Vols practiced at Vanderbilt’s baseball field and played a few games against the Commodores.

Was construction completed in time? You be the judge: the image below has a date of March 24, 1927. The first game was played on March 25 against the Minneapolis Millers of the American Association. The Millers won 5-3 and Minneapolis right-fielder Dick Loftus hit the first home run in the new park.

Tennessee State Archives Image

Tennessee State Archives Image

The following day, Toledo visited Sulphur Dell and Casey Stengel hit a triple for the Mud Hens.

Additional games took place over the next weeks. On April 2, the Milwaukee Brewers of the American Association came to town and the Cincinnati Reds played on April 3 and 4th. The team that would become known as “Murderers Row”, the New York Yankees, visited on April 7 and lost 10-8 to the 1926 World Series champion St. Louis Cardinals.

Nashville Vols fans celebrated the new ballpark on Opening Day, April 12 with an attendance of 7,536. Season attendance would finish at 176,000, a few thousand less than two years previous. For comparison’s sake, Sulphur Dell would have a record season attendance of 270,000 in 1948, manager Larry Gilbert’s final season.

With the quirky, colorful contour of Sulphur Dell’s confines, the ballpark became a storied home to the Nashville Vols and for a time, the Negro League’s Nashville Elite Giants.

© 2014 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

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The “Dell”, Turned Around

Known as Athletic Park in Sulphur Springs Bottom up until 1908, every visiting team despised having to play on a field that resembled a “drained-out washtub”.  But that was not all: the configuration of Sulphur Dell was such that batters had to face the pitcher and look into the sun.

1927 Construction

Courtesy Tennessee State Library and Archives

At the end of the 1926 season, it was determined that the ballpark would be turned around so that the afternoon sun would not come into play for hitters.  Of course, it would now create a challenge for outfielders who would have to manage balls hit into the air, but it was less of a crisis.

Over the winter ballpark construction consisted of tearing down the existing wooden grandstand, but a new state-of-the-art steel-and-concrete structure would take its place.  Built to hold 7,500 fans, the construction was barely finished when the team came home to play exhibition games before the beginning of the regular season.

The first game in the newly-turned-around Sulphur Dell was an exhibition game played against the Minneapolis Millers of the American Association on March 25, 1927.  The Millers won 5-3 in the game that lasted 2 hours and 5 minutes.

Dick Loftus, right fielder for the Millers, hit the first home run in the new configuration.  Blinky Horn, sportswriter for the Nashville Tennessean, referred to right field as the “right center dump” in his account of the game the next day, calling attention to not only the unusual design of the ball park but acknowledging the smell that the nearby city dump offered to the lingering odor in the air.

On April 1st John Black, pinch-hitting for the pitcher in the fourth inning of an exhibition game versus the Milwaukee Brewers, hit a home run to become the first Nashville player to hit one over the fence in the new Sulphur Dell.  Horn wrote that the ball “cleared the wall beyond the old Fourth Avenue entrance to the bleachers.”

After additional exhibition games were played, the Nashville Vols returned to Sulphur Dell for the opening game of the 1927 Southern Association against the Atlanta Crackers. With the Vols losing 10-2, Atlanta’s George “Mule” Haas became the first player to hit a home run during the regular season in the new layout, a first-inning shot followed by a fourth-inning blast by Walter Gilbert, also of the Crackers. Attendance was announced at 7,535 fans.

Colorful, quirky Sulphur Dell’s reputation was just beginning to build.

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