Tag Archives: Nashville Elite Giants

1921 Negro League Team Names: Giants, Pirates, EE-lites

My friend and fellow SABR (Society for American Baseball Research) member Mark Aubrey, who resides in Seymour, Tennessee and plies various research opportunities on Knoxville baseball, presented me with a question today regarding the name of a negro league team in 1921, the Knoxville Pirates. He has often seen the team referred to as “Giants”; “Pirates” was a new reference to him.

The reference came from a clipping in the Nashville Tennessean published on August 11, 1921:

Negro League baseball earned its place in the south in 1920, when the Negro Southern League was formed. Nashville’s entry in the Negro Southern League was named the White Sox, changed to Elite (pronounced EE-lite) Giants by team owner, Tom Wilson, the next season. Many details are sketchy concerning final standings, but it is generally accepted that Nashville played .500 ball for the entire season, finishing with a record of 40 wins and 40 losses.[1]

Knoxville was also a member in the inaugural season of the NSL, finishing first in league standings according to one report which gave the east Tennessee team a record of 55 wins and 21 losses. Bill Plott, another fellow SABR member and author of The Negro Southern League, writes that without explanation, wins were forfeited by Knoxville.

“Fred Caulfield, the New Orleans manager, told the (Alabama) Journal that Knoxville was going to have to forfeit games.”[2]

The Alabama Journal printed final standings with Knoxville at 34-30 on the season.

Returning to Mark’s original question, I became curious about the team name for Knoxville, especially from this February 19 newspaper clipping:

To add to the mystery, another clipping explained that while Knoxville baseball was dead (apparently referring to “white” ball) while giving hope that a Negro team was to be formed. Booker Washington Field was the home to black baseball in Knoxville.

Today’s research offered the conclusion that “Pirates” was simply an error by the newspaper. In fact, Plott’s book does not mention the team name; Knoxville “Giants” is correct. It took a little time to return the results, but Nashville Tennessean accounts of games played between August 12 through August 15 use “Giants” and “Pirates” interchangeably. The same is done for “Sulphur Dell” and the prior name of Nashville’s ball park, “Athletic Park”. Both are one in the same.

In total, Nashville took four out of the five games played: 4-2, 11-0, 8-0, and 4-2 before losing in the second game of a double header on August 15, 4-3. Of special interest, and a piece of history that has eluded me, is Nashville’s 18-game winning streak that was halted in the loss to Knoxville. That will be a research project on the near horizon.

Thank you, Mark, for allowing me to participate in the Knoxville mystery; it pointed to new questions seeking answers. In researching baseball, that is usually the case.

Sources

Nashville Tennessean

Newspapers.com

Sabr.org

Notes

Plott, William J., (2015) The Negro Southern League. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company.

[1] William J Plott, The Negro Southern League, A Baseball History, 1920-1951, (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, 2015), 21.

[2] Ibid. 22.

© 2018 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

Leave a comment

Filed under History, Research, Uncategorized

Boguskie: Most Popular Nashville Vols Player Ever?

Sulphur Dell played host to many teams, mostly the Nashville Vols but also the Negro League Nashville Elite Giants, Nashville Cubs, and Nashville Stars. With games played there through 1963, fans are bound to have a favorite player or two.

In January of 2014 I wrote a blog entry that asked the hypothetical question, “The Nashville Vols Era: Did You Have a Favorite?” which led me to add an unscientific poll on http://www.sulphurdell.com with no parameters other than listing a few of my own. Buster Boguskie, Buddy Gilbert, Bobby Durnbaugh, Jack Harshman, Jim O’Toole, and Jim Maloney are the players that I receive the most questions about, so they were added to the poll but there was also an option for “write-ins” by clicking on the “Other” selection.

The poll ended at 7 PM tonight, and it’s time to share the results:

poll2

The overwhelming selection is Buster Boguskie. Always a fan favorite, Boguskie played for Nashville from 1947 through 1954 and due to his longevity and popularity was often called “The Mayor of Sulphur Dell”. Read a previous blog entry about Boguskie by clicking here.

A few observations about the poll:

I should have been more specific in asking the question about player popularity. “Who was your favorite player you ever saw play at Sulphur Dell?” would have disqualified some of the entries received. Hall of Famers Waite Hoyt and Kiki Cuyler played for the Vols in the 1920s and it is doubtful that anyone still living would have seen them play. The same goes for Boots Poffenberger (1940, 1941), Frank Duncan (1942), and probably Hal Jeffcoat (1946, 1947), and Butch McCord (Nashville Cubs 1947).

However, legitimate players named included Chico Alvarez, George Schmees, Bob Lennon, and Earl Averill, Jr.

Soon there will be a new poll to select players, owners, managers, coaches and others to a Sulphur Dell Hall of Fame. Be looking for it, and be sure to vote for your favorite. This poll will have selections by decade beginning in the 19th Century and will include a short biography to aid in learning about each nominee.

In the meantime, congratulations to the spirit of Buster Boguskie and his selection as “fan favorite”!

© 2015 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

Leave a comment

Filed under History, Uncategorized

This Ballpark Belongs to Us

1stTnParkToday marks a new day in the calendar of Nashville baseball history. Future timelines might read something like this:

April 17, 2015 – Nashville’s new ballpark, First Tennessee Park, opens in the vicinity of beloved Sulphur Dell. It marks the traditional locale of the city’s baseball history beginning in the 1860s through amateur and professional teams until 1963

Finally.

Junie McBride used to tell stories about growing up around Sulphur Dell. He was proud of having been able to warm up Hall of Famer Honus Wagner in the 20s when Pittsburgh came to town for an exhibition game heading north after spring training.

He joked and laughed about sneaking into Sulphur Dell through an ice chute as a youngster long before the ball park was turned around in the opposite direction following the 1926 season. He not only spoke of seeing games at Sulphur Dell and Greer Stadium, he hoped to live to see a new Nashville ballpark.

Negro Leaguer Butch McCord loved to tell his baseball stories, to relate what he experienced and how The Game impacted his life, expressing the pains and joys of baseball but then moving away from the bitterness it brought to him. The ballparks he played in were not always places of baseball glory.

He wanted to see a new ballpark for Nashville, too.

My dad Virgil Nipper gave a history lesson about Sulphur Dell seated next to me on an airplane as we returned from our first visit to Wrigley Field in 2002. The conversation sparked my interest in studying and writing about it. A website, a book, a blog and a renewed interest in the history of Nashville baseball were the result.

To Junie, Butch, and dad: I am grateful for your stories. Thank you.

There are two others who are owed a debt of gratitude.

A fan of baseball as well as being mayor of Nashville, Karl Dean has heard stories such as those told to me. Placing the city in a prominent position in the world of minor league baseball was a hard road, as the idea of a new ballpark has gone through a political process that seemed endless.

His vision for a ballpark was kick started when he responded to Nashville Sounds owner Frank Ward’s statement to him on Opening Day at Greer Stadium in 2013, “Let’s go build a ballpark at Sulphur Dell.

It took only a few words from Dean. “Let’s do it.

Frank Ward purchased the Nashville ball club in 2009. Herschel Greer Stadium was its home; the ballpark was outdated, rusty, and confined. A new place for his ball club was in order. Four years later he said those words to the mayor and the commitment was off and running.

Mayor Dean and Frank, thank you. My Nashville cap is off to you both, as by working together the ball began to roll towards the completion of the ballpark the citizens and fans deserve.

Today it will be known as the finest minor league ballpark in the land. That’s quite an accomplishment.

In attending tonight’s first game my thoughts will be about so many things. My dad. Junie McBride. Nashville Vols manager Larry Gilbert and Vols owner Fay Murray. Negro Leaguers Jim Zapp, Turkey Stearnes. Jim Gilliam. Larry Schmittou and Farrell Owens and the original owners from the Sounds. Nashville Elite Giants teams. Butch McCord. The Nashville Old Timers. Radio broadcaster Larry Munson. Sports writers Grantland Rice, Fred Russell, and George Leonard. Bat boys and scoreboard operators.

Former Vols Larry Taylor, Roy Pardue, Buddy Gilbert, and Bobby Durnbaugh will be attending, too. It must be a special night for them.

Sadly, Junie McBride and Butch McCord did not live to see this day. But I will take a look around more than once and observe those who are celebrating the most.

The fans.

We waited a long time for this. We hoped and prayed for this. We looked over the plans, attended meetings, heard the gossip, wondered when, watched the camera, and even held our breath. Through it all, we never gave up.

Frank Ward and Mayor Dean, for all you have done you deserve our thanks. You can claim this ballpark as part of your legacy.

But this ballpark is ours. And we are going to enjoy this for a long, long time.

© 2015 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

1 Comment

Filed under Current

Birth of the Elites

On March 26, 1920, Nashville’s Thomas T. Wilson and seven others took a bold step that set in motion the establishment of a Negro League team in Wilson’s home town.

With the assistance of investors T. Clay Moore, J. B. Boyd, Marshall Garrett, Walter Phillips, W. H. Pettis, J. L. Overton, and R. H. Tabor a corporation was chartered with the State of Tennessee named “Nashville Negro Baseball Association and Amusement Company”, “for the purpose “of organizing base ball clubs and encouraging the art of playing the game of baseball according to high and honorable standards and of encouraging the establishment of a league of clubs in different section(s) of the state; and also of furnishing such amusements as usually accompanying base ball games and entertainments. Said corporation to be located in Nashville, Tennessee, and shall have an authorized capital stock of $5,000.00”.

133052a_lgWilson had become owner of the local semi-pro team, the Standard Giants, which had been founded in 1907 as a member of the Capital City League by J. W. White, C. B. Reaves, and W. G. Sublett.

These organizations were the predecessors to what would become the Nashville Elite (pronounced ‘ee-light’) Giants. Ever the entrepreneur, Wilson dropped “Standard” from his team’s name in 1921, substituted it with “Elite”, and sought membership in the Negro National League. He built his own 8,000-seat ballpark in Nashville in 1928 and the team played in the Negro Southern League until 1930.

Granted membership in the Negro National  League Wilson signed Satchel Paige for his drawing power, but Wilson moved his club to Cleveland and renamed them the Cubs for one season before returning to Nashville. Eventually he would move club to Cleveland, Columbus, Washington, D. C., and finally to Baltimore.

Wilson would serve as president of the Negro National League from 1938-1946.

The illustrious history of the Elite Giants includes players from Nashville: Henry Kimbro, Jim Zapp, Sydney Bunch, Clinton “Butch” McCord, Jim “Junior” Gilliam. Sam Bankhead and Hall of Famer Ray Dandridge spent time with the Nashville club.

That same history beckons us to honor all those who played “The Game”. Tom Wilson’s dream for Negro League baseball evolved from a Nashville vision to a national treasure. Ninety-five years ago today, March 20, 1920, was a key date in that vision.

Hail to you, Tom T. Wilson, a visionary for the ages.

© 2015 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Grantland Rice Named “Sulphur Dell” On This Day

From humble beginnings as Nashville’s city park, even P. T. Barnum pitched his city of tents on the grounds of Sulphur Spring Bottom in November of 1872. Throughout its history the proximity of this lovely piece of ground was not so beautiful after late-winter’s rainfalls filled the low-lying basin.

Escalating interest in the game of “base ball” led to the formation of Nashville’s first professional team to play in the inaugural Southern League season in 1885. The grounds at Athletic Park were often in such poor condition that games were postponed, moved to another ball field at Peabody or Vanderbilt, or cancelled.

The African-American community took to the emerging National Game and cheered on their local favorites. As early as June of 1907 the semi-professional Nashville Standard Giants played at Athletic Park; renamed the Negro League Nashville Elite Giants in 1920, Sulphur Dell was often the home playing field for the team.

Grantland_RiceIn his sports column published in the Nashville Tennessean on this day, January 14, 1908, Grantland Rice referred to the local ballpark as “Sulphur Spring Dell”. In later years Nashville Banner sports editor Fred Russell intimated that Rice couldn’t find anything to rhyme with “Sulphur Spring Bottom”, as the area had been known, thus the new moniker for Nashville’s baseball home.

In subsequent columns Rice shortened the name to “Sulphur Dell”, and fans and players adopted it when referring to their beloved ballpark. When Grantland Rice first typed out the words “Sulphur Dell”, how could he have known that time would etch the name into the minds of baseball folk, casual fans, players and sportswriters across the country.

After the 1926 season ended new ownership of the Southern Association’s Nashville Volunteers decided to turn the ballpark around so fans would not be squinting in the afternoon sun. One of the visitors to the new “turned around” Sulphur Dell was player-manager Casey Stengel and his Toledo Mud Hens; Stengel hit a triple in the exhibition game against Nashville.

A few weeks later on April 7, the 65th General Assembly of Tennessee adjourned early to see Babe Ruth and the New York Yankees play the St. Louis Cardinals at Sulphur Dell. The two teams had faced each other in the past World Series with the Cardinals winning four games to three.

A resolution had been adopted to invite Ruth to address the Senate the morning of the game, but he sent word that it would be impossible for him to appear because of a lack of time. Undoubtedly the Legislature had time and observed the Cardinals beat the Yankees that day 10-8.

The first night game was played at Sulphur Dell on May 18, 1931 as the Vols lost to Mobile 8-1.

On April 12, 1932 attendance was 14,502; with seating capacity of 8,000 in the grandstands the outfield was lined off with rope to accommodate the crowd. It was the largest crowd to see a game at Sulphur Dell.

After arriving from Memphis by team bus at 4 PM on May 8, 1946 the Racine Belles checked into the Noel Hotel then made their way to Sulphur Dell to play against the Muskegon Lassies. The Belles won 8-5.

On opening day April 17, 1951, Nashville’s Sulphur Dell celebrated 24 years of service to local citizens with a new look that included a remodeled façade, new turnstiles, brick walls, wider exits and other improvements.  Unchanged were the “dumps” in the outfield and the short right field fence.

The last professional baseball game was played at Sulphur Dell on September 8, 1963, as the Vols of the South Atlantic League faced Lynchburg in a double header.  Nashville outfielder Charlie Teuscher belted three home runs as the Vols won over Lynchburg 6-3 and 2-1.

It was the last hurrah of the famous park. Amateur baseball was played at Sulphur Dell in 1964 and in 1965 it was turned into a speedway. After becoming a tow-in lot for Metro Nashville, Sulphur Dell was demolished in 1969.

Today’s recollections of great players, games, and teams honor the memory of the hallowed grounds of Sulphur Dell thanks to the “Dean of American Sportswriters”, Grantland Rice.

Leave a comment

Filed under History, Negro League, Research

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

Greer Stadium Legacy to End

In 1959 Herschel Lynn Greer, Sr. was instrumental in forming Vols, Inc. and served as the first president of the organization, established to keep professional baseball in Nashville as support of the historic Nashville Vols club was waning.

When Nashville’s baseball stadium was built to house the Southern League Nashville Sounds in 1978, Larry Schmittou and the Sounds ownership posthumously honored Greer by naming the facility after him. An avid baseball fan, Herschel Greer, Sr. passed away in 1976.

Greer_Stadium_View_From_CenterThe ballpark has been home to the Nashville Sounds, Nashville Xpress, Belmont University, and numerous amateur and high school games.  Stadium capacity is 10,139.

The Nashville Sounds have continued the heritage begun by the Nashville Vols, Nashville Elite Giants, and Nashville Xpress, and although Greer Stadium has served baseball fans well, those fans can look forward to a convenient state-of-the-art ballpark that will give the hometown team an exciting place to play.

When the 2015 season begins Nashville will celebrate a new downtown ballpark at the old Sulphur Dell site and will be a footprint to development of Jefferson Street beginning at the Cumberland River.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized