Tag Archives: Milwaukee Brewers

First Nashville Professional Games in 1884

Area amateur baseball had flourished since the end of the Civil War, and the “Nashvilles” were the premier local team. But with the expansion of professional ball clubs throughout the south, it was necessary to stock a club with players who played for pay.

Paying players moved a team a step closer to winning championships, which up to that time had been mythical (such as “the champions of Tennessee”) with no bearing on anything except for proper boasting at the local tavern and in newsprint. But as professional baseball was growing, challenges to championship caliber teams would necessitate an upgrade in the roster.

The only way, was to pay. Improving the quality of play would also bring a successful club to the attention to those who were considering forming a southern league, as there were moves to organize leagues across the country.

An article in the Nashville Daily American on October 9, 1884, described the formation of a professional baseball team for Nashville, the first for the city.

“Recently a stock company has been formed of reliable and business men of the city, who have decided to get a team for Nashville of professional base-ball players who can meet the best clubs of the country and cope with them in a game of which the audiences would not leave the ground disappointed or disgusted.

“On Monday of this week the stock company had a meeting, decided definitely to get such a team, and immediately sent Mr. Will C. Bryan, whose base-ball record is familiar to all who know of base-ball in the city, to Cincinnati to consummate arrangements with players with whom he has for some time been in correspondence. At the same meeting the stockholders decided to call the club “The American” Base ball nine, in honor of the daily which bears that name. Mr. Bryan was also elected Manager of the new club, and was instructed to hire first-class material, regardless of cost.”[1]

So off went Will Bryan, not only to engage the services of players, but also to schedule a game with a top-quality club to introduce their brand of the game to Nashville’s spectators. He engaged the Cincinnati Unions to visit Nashville right away, as a game was scheduled for Friday, October 10.

The Unions were also known as the Outlaw Reds (their owner was Justus Thorner who had previously owned the Red Stockings) and had played in the Union Association during the season. The 12-team league included the St. Louis Maroons, Milwaukee Brewers, Kansas City Cowboys, and Wilmington Quicksteps.

Considering that Nashville held potential as a member of the Union league for 1885, Thorner agreed to take his club south, and on October 10 the first professional game for a Nashville ball club was played at the fairgrounds.

A banner across the top of the American’s page 4 heralded to event.

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Bryan secured the majority of this new ball club from a distance away, and the newspaper gave detail about each one.

“The “American” Club is composed of the following material: Baker, the pitcher, is from Springfield, where he has made a very fine record…Lang, the catcher, was for awhile one of the crack battery of the Atlantas, but left them for a more prominent position…Collins, who holds first base, is taken from the Louisvilles…Bryan, who is well known to Nashvillians, will play on second base…Reccius, one of the most widely known players in the country, has been engaged from the Trentons and will play third base…Meyers, of the Portsmouth Blue, will play in the position of short stop.

“Rhue, the left fielder, comes from the Springfield Club, Hungier in center from the St. Louis Club, and Hellman in right from the Terre Hautes.”[2]

Noting that the local club had not practiced together beforehand, the American reported an audience of between 1,250 and 1,500 persons watched them lose to the visitors by a score of 6-3. The Unions had to score three runs in the eighth inning and two in the ninth to secure the win after falling behind 3-1. The game took 1 hour and 45 minutes to complete. Game rules included “seven balls being required to give a batter his base, and fouls being out on first bounce.[3]

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The next day’s game was not a close one. Nashville scored two runs in the eighth inning and lost 11-2.

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Without no announcement about Nashville’s chances in the Union Association (the league, in fact, folded after playing only one season), another club, the “Georgetowns” concluded the Americans’ three-game home stand by winning over the locals 4-1.

Losing three games gave reason for Nashville to reorganize its roster. Added to the lineup were new players who would become the nucleus of the Americans first team in the newly-formed Southern League for 1885. Joining Will Bryan and Norm Baker would be Charles Marr, Ollie Beard, and Billy Crowell of the Evansvilles.

Potential games were announced in the American to conclude the 1884 exhibition season.

“Georgetowns, Oct. 19; Cincinnatis, American Association, Oct. 26 and 27, Dayton, Champions of Ohio State League, Nov. 2 and 3, Kansas City Unions, Nov. 22 and 23, Louisville, Nov. 29 and 30.”[4]

The article concludes with high expectations to be met by the new professionals.

“…the Nashville public may expect some excellent base-ball continues.”[5]

PostScript: Interestingly enough, one of the Cincinnati Unions players in the two games in Nashville, George Bradley, would become manager for Nashville for a short period of time during the 1887 season. Bradley had also pitched during his tenure with the Unions in 1884, winning 25 and losing 15.

© 2016 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

SOURCES

Baseball-reference.com

Newspapers.com

[1] Nashville Daily American, October 9, 1884, p. 5

[2] Nashville Daily American, October 10, 1884, p. 8

[3] Nashville Daily American, October 11, 1884, p. 4

[4] Nashville Daily American, October 14, 1884, p. 4

[5] Ibid.

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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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