Tag Archives: Memphis

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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(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.

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“Steamboat” Johnson: Umpire of Power and Authority

SJohnson

Steamboat Johnson

Umpire Harry Samuel Johnson had a reputation among players that even his whisper was as loud as the sound of a steamboat’s whistle. “Steamboat” Johnson also became famous in the annals of the Southern Association as one of the most colorful characters to ever don umpire’s gear.

Born in Pottsville, Pennsylvania on March 26, 1880 where his father owned a saloon, the family soon relocated to Elmira, New York where Harry played first base for his school team. His family moved to Wilkinsburg, Pennsylvania after graduation and he continued to play and manage in the sandlots.

As co-owner and manager of a team in 1909, Harry realized that the umpires he had been hiring were less than adequate. He decided that he could do a better job and began umpiring games in the fall.

Being an umpire came naturally, as Harry was not only a student of the game but honored impartiality in his judgments while knowing the rules inside-and-out. No matter that his voice was boisterous; his quick interpretations and honest decisions gave him a reputation that helped him to earn the trust of managers and players.

After a season in Pittsburgh semi-pro leagues he was hired by the Ohio and Pennsylvania League for 1911 and his professional umpiring career was off and running.

Moving up to the Western League in 1912 and the Three-I League in 1913, he found himself in the National League during the 1914 season. He worked 54 games as an extra umpire.  Disappointed that he was not retained for the next season, Steamboat was not deterred and worked in the New York State League from 1915 – 1917.

After one season in the International League in 1918, he saw his first tenure in the Southern Association for two years in 1919 and 1920. It was during the 1919 season, working a game in Atlanta, where the sports editor of the Atlanta Georgian wrote,

“None of us know where John D. Martin (president of the Southern Association) got this Umpire Johnson, but he has a voice like a Mississippi River steamboat. From now he is ‘Steamboat’ Johnson to Atlantans.”

The South Atlantic League president W. W. Walsh asked Johnson to umpire in 1921, as the league was known for rough players who felt they could frighten all umpires. Successful in bringing stability to the umpire corps, Johnson had a clause in his contract that he could return to the Southern Association and his second tenure there lasted from 1922 – 1946.

In 1935 his book Standing the Gaff was published. It documented much of Johnson’s professional life for 25 years. Harry determined that he had umpired over 4,000 games and made 1,000,000 decisions. A chapter of umpiring questions and answers was a guide for his readers, and gives testament to his authority on the game he loved. He held power in his knowledge of the game and throughout his career he was often called on to speak to umpire organizations.

Once his book was published, Harry would hire youngsters to sell copies before games in the southern ballparks in which he was umpiring. If his game decisions were not popular with local fans, they would often throw his own book at him.

Harry would simply gather up the books around him and resell them before the next game.

Johnson was extremely proud that he had never used tobacco or alcohol, and fans recall that after the final out of the final game of the season he would turn to the crowd and say, “God bless you.”

Between 1947 through 1949 Johnson became supervisor of umpires in the Southern Association. In 1950 he opened an umpiring school which lasted for one season before falling ill. A resident of Memphis, Johnson died on February 20, 1951 at the age of 70.

© 2014 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

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