Tag Archives: Nashville Baseball Club

This Week in Nashville Baseball History: January 4 – January 10

January45678910

January 4, 1899 – John Sneed’s death is announced in Jackson, Tennessee. A member of Nashville’s first professional baseball club, the Americans of the newly-formed Southern League, he was a utility player who also pitched. Sneed also played for the Memphis Grays, Memphis Browns, and New Orleans Pelicans in the Southern League. He was born in Shelby County near Memphis in 1861

January 5, 1908 – Bill Bernhard(t) is named as manager of the Nashville Baseball Club. “Strawberry Bill” had pitched for the Philadelphia Phillies and Cleveland Indians beginning in 1899, retiring at the end of the 1907 season with a major league record of 116 -81. Bernhard will manage Nashville for three seasons while continuing to pitch. Leaving the Vols after the 1910 season, he would move to Memphis and manage there from 1911 to 1913 and return to active pitching in Salt Lake City in 1914 and Chattanooga in 1915. After being out of baseball for two years he will return to Salt Lake City as manager in 1916, retiring from pro ball in 1917

January 6, 1897 – Today is the birthday of Byron “By” Speece. The right-handed submariner was 85-60 for Nashville from 1932-1938. He had previously pitched for Washington and Cleveland in the American League in 1924-26 and the Philadelphia Phillies in 1930. After his stint with the Vols Speece moved to the Pacific Coast League, pitching for Portland and Seattle from 1940-1946

January 7, 1882 – Heinie Berger, pitcher for Nashville in 1914 (20-17) and 1915 (12-7), is born in LaSalle, Illinois. After his 1915 season with the Vols, Berger retired from baseball. The 5’9” right hander had previously pitched for Cleveland in the American League from 1907-1910 where Berger had a cumulative major league record of 32-29 with a 2.60 ERA. On September 16, 1907 Berger tossed a one-hitter against the New York Highlanders

January 8, 1914 – Judge A. B. Neil awards a temporary injunction to Nashville manager Bill Schwartz that prevents club president W. G. Hirsig from voting certain sharts of stock at the Nashville Baseball Club stockholders meeting called for January 13.  The 26 shares in question are said to be in the name of W. B. Lee, a prominent Nashville specialist, and had been voted by Hirsig in previous meetings.  Schwartz claims to hold Dr. Lee’s written proxy to vote the shares at the meeting

January 9, 1938 – Larry Gilbert, who will be leaving tomorrow with his wife and youngest son Tookie for Nashville to take over his new duties as manager of the Vols, is given a going-away party at his home in New Orleans.  Over 100 family member and friends visited and presented the Gilberts with a variety of gifts

January 10, 1947 – Tom Wilson, owner of the Baltimore Elite Giants formerly located in Nashville, is ousted as president of the Negro National League. Wilson had held the post since 1938

© 2015 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

Leave a comment

Filed under History, Negro League, Research, Vintage

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.

Leave a comment

Filed under Current, History, Research, Vintage

Collecting: Another Way to “Enjoy the Game”

Building a memorabilia collection is a great way to reflect on the past. I have been fortunate to build a small collection, either by trade, purchase or gift, and am always looking for that special item. I have my eye out for Nashville Vols, Nashville Elite Giants, or anything else that correlates to Sulphur Dell, but the pickings are getting pretty slim.

IMAG0410My most prized possession is a 1903 season ticket booklet for the Nashville Baseball Club. Inside there are four remaining tickets. I have not seen another like it, at least not for Nashville. There are others out there for other teams, I’m sure.

Photographs are much easier to collect, especially from internet images, as sometimes it just takes the energy to “right-click, save to” with one’s mouse. One must be careful to not illegally publish something that is copyrighted.

Signed baseballs and bats, programs and other ephemera, and souvenirs are not quite as accessible, but they can be found with a bit of research and diligence.

IMAG0409A collection is never complete, either. I have been able to collect Nashville Vols programs from 1938 through 1963, for example, but am open to any program that is of better quality than the one in my possession. Autographed programs, scored or unscored, are all considerations to make my collection better.

Baseball cards are relatively easy to accumulate. I have collected cards of players who have a connection to Nashville baseball, and by keying in on that area has kept my collection simple and uncluttered with cards that have no meaning. That’s not to say I would pass up on an opportunity to purchase the right card at the right price, but scrutinizing the cost is always at the forefront of any purchase.

Jerseys, pennants, miniature bats, mini-baseballs, lapel pins, and baseball banks are other items in my collection. I will be sharing images of those items in later blog entries.

In the meantime, I encourage anyone to find a subject of interest, filter through yard sales, flea markets and on-line auctions, and key in on items of interest. They do not always have to have a monetary value, either, and small items are easily archived when larger ones are not.

Just be aware of those who may be offering an item that is counterfeit or stolen. Especially difficult to spot are fake autographs, so be wary. There are unscrupulous collectors out there, too.

Your very first consideration: determine your budget and stick to it.

If you have an item that you would like for me to see, whether you wish to sell it or not, I would be happy to take a look. If I can give you personal assistance in valuing an item, feel free to let me know about that. Mostly I would hope that you would find collecting as enjoyable as I do.

As far as baseball goes, collecting is another way to “Enjoy the Game.”

© 2014 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

2 Comments

Filed under History, Research, Vintage

Sulphur Dell: A Brief History

“Sulphur Springs Bottom” was the name given to Nashville’s recreational area after the city became Tennessee’s capitol. Although base-ball had been played in the city as early as the 1850s, during the Civil War the area was where Union soldiers first taught Nashville citizens how to play the style of their “northern game”. In 1870 the area was referred to as Athletic Park, and in 1885 it became the home of Nashville’s first professional baseball team, the Americans in the newly-formed Southern League.

Located north of downtown and bordered by Fourth Ave., Fifth Ave., Jackson St., and a railroad spur, the park was so named because a natural sulphur spring was nearby. Residents would fill empty containers with the odorous liquid to use for medicinal purposes, or just take a drink right from the spring.

Grantland Rice re-named the ballpark “Sulphur Dell” in 1908 while working as a newspaper reporter in Nashville. He also held a contest to determine a team name for the Nashville Baseball Club; the name “Volunteers” won, and was often shortened to “Vols”.

The original configuration of the ballpark faced the south toward the State Capitol. After the 1926 season a new steel and concrete grandstand was built and the field reconfigured so that the sun would no longer be in the batter’s eyes as he faced the pitcher looking northward. The center fielder faced home plate to the south in the new “turned-around Sulphur Dell”.

Beginning in 1927 Sulphur Dell had these unusual outfield dimensions due to the shape of the city block in which the ballpark was located: Left Field, 334′; Center Field, 421′; and Right Field, 262′.

The distance from the grandstands to first base was only 42 feet, and to third base was 26 feet. But that was not all: the playing surface was below street level and there was an embankment around the entire outfield that was part of the playing field. The embankment in left field began at 301 feet from home plate, but the right field embankment began at 224 feet from home plate, rising at a 45-degree angle towards the fence, ending at 262 feet. Full View

The right fielder, if standing at the base of the fence, was 22 1/2 feet above the infield!

The outfield fence was made of wood and was 16 feet high. The fence ran from the right field foul pole to a point 186 feet toward center field; there the fence was capped by a screen that added an additional 30 feet of height but decreased to 22 1/2 feet high midway to center field. In later years the screen height remained the same, but a second tier of signage was added in right field.

In its 100-year existence, Nashville’s professional baseball teams called Sulphur Dell “home”: the Americans, Seraphs, Tigers, Vols, and Negro League Elite Giants all played at the famous ballpark. The Nashville Vols played their final game at Sulphur Dell on September 8, 1963 as a member of the South Atlantic League after 61 years in the Southern Association from 1901 through 1961.

Sulphur Dell was completely demolished in 1969.

© 2014 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

Leave a comment

Filed under History

The Gloomy Side of Nashville Baseball

RIPAt some point the glory of playing the game of baseball takes a turn. Nashville has not been excluded from the realities of the gloomy side of baseball.

One of the earliest records includes a resolution passed on May 9, 1867 at a called meeting of the Nashville Baseball Club. Although there is no detail regarding his passing, the resolution of tribute is for James Maguire, a worthy and esteemed member of the club who had just died suddenly. Members voted to wear the usual badge of mourning at all matches in which their club is a party to during the current season.

The first on-field fatality involving a professional baseball club in Nashville occurred in the first season of the Nashville Americans.  On August 14, 1885, Louis Henke of the Atlanta baseball team hit a hard grounder towards Nashville’s first baseman Charles Marr. The players collided at the bag and Henke’s liver was ruptured from the force of Marr’s head hitting Henke in his abdomen.

Admitted to an Atlanta hospital, Henke died from his injuries the next day. Sadly, Marr and Henke were boyhood friends and Marr was greatly impacted by the death of his friend.

The semi-pro Nashville Maroons lost the team’s star pitcher on October 9, 1891 Pat Milliron when he was shot by well-known horse owner and trainer William Amacher. Amacher called Milliron to the stable door at West SidePark in Nashville and without warning, shot Milliron. Supposedly, the trouble occurred over a woman, and the day after the murder Amacher had not been captured.

On June 18, 1916, Nashville pitcher Tom Rogers hit Mobile third baseman Johnny Dodge with a pitch in the seventh inning of that day’s game, striking Dodge in the face, fracturing his skull.

A teammate of Rogers’ the previous season on the Nashville ball club, Dodge passed away the next day.

Another incident related to Nashville baseball occurred on September 7, 1925. Evelyn Burnette, niece of Nashville baseball club president J. A. G. Sloan, was killed when the car driven by her uncle overturned on a curve of the Dixie Highway in Tullahoma, Tennessee en route to Chattanooga for that day’s ball game.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized