Tag Archives: Nashville Sounds

Documentary: Sulphur Dell

Sulphur Dell was Nashville’s storied ballpark, but the claim of its significance went far beyond local fans’ love for baseball. Its bis3wide-ranging notoriety was asserted on the famous marquee’ atop the entrance: “Baseball’s Most Historic Park Since 1870”.

For 100 years the ballpark hosted ballgames, concerts, circuses, and rodeos. When it was demolished in 1969, the memories remained through photos and other images; many recollections remained in the hearts and minds of those who witnessed the events that took place.

A few months ago I met Joshua R. Maxwell, and over lunch we began to discuss the possibility of producing a documentary about Sulphur Dell. Joshua is co-author with Kevin D. McCann of The Kitty League (2012, Arcadia Publishing). He also wrote, directed, and produced a recent documentary about the league, The KITTY League: Hometown Heroes.

Hopper-Kitty-PosterThe movie premiered at the Alhambra Theatre in Hopkinsville, Kentucky on May 29. It is an impressive film from an impressive young man.

A second meeting led us to a concept that will result in a documentary about Sulphur Dell. Together we have the research capability, knowledge, and experience that will produce an impressive story in a format for generations to come. We have already begun to accumulate our interview list, images library, and scripts.

The Nashville Sounds have agreed to assist us as we frame the old ballpark with the new First Tennessee Park.

A Kickstarter campaign has been developed for funding to get us up and running (click here to access). There are pledge levels that include various premiums in exchange for monetary support. Our goal is to raise $5,500.00 and we have 30 days to do it.

If you would join us in our endeavor, we would greatly appreciate your support. There is a brief summary on the funding site, but we know you may have additional questions. We are willing to answer any questions you may have:

Skip Nipper                         skip@sulphurdell.com

Joshua Maxwell                westkyvideo@gmail.com

© Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

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Pete Rose and a Baseball Stain

One of my great memories as a father is having played catch with my kids. One particular day my youngest son Chris wanted to throw and went to his room to get a baseball. He was playing in Little League and was a strong, hard throwing left-hander. His throws could more aptly be called “scorchers” instead of “tosses”.

As we separated about 40 feet from each other, he hummed his first pitch to me but it took a couple of hops (“worm burners” my dad used to call them) and went under my reach. I turned and retrieved the ball and took a look at the grass stain on it. It had an autograph on it.

grass stained baseball“Pete Rose” was clearly legible as the grass stain had not perpetrated the autograph. Pete’s signature was clear as a bell.

I said, “Chris, you brought a ball that has Pete Rose’s autograph. Don’t you want to hold on to it?” He shrugged, as it was more important that we have a ball to catch than not.

I examined the ball for more autographs, and found another: “Bill Boner”. The Nashville mayor’s signature was not as legible since a green smear came over the “er”.

A decision had to be made. Do I rescue the icon of baseball lovers everywhere by stopping our backyard encounter with the National Pastime, or do I continue to play catch?

Impatient during the delay, Chris finally yelled, “C’mon dad, throw it!” Our throwing to each other continued.

In 1987 Greer Stadium hosted a two-game exhibition series between the Montreal Expos and the Cincinnati Reds, the parent club of the Nashville Sounds. As my uncle Walter Nipper was a member of the ownership group of the Nashville club, he invited my dad, me, and my children onto the field to watch batting practice and shake hands with players.

Uncle Nip gave each of my boys a baseball to collect autographs. My oldest son Doug was able to get the signatures of a couple of the Reds players, most notably Barry Larkin (who would be named to the Hall of Fame in 2012) and Chris had to settle for Pete Rose and the mayor (I specifically remember Chris asking Ron Dibble to sign his ball, but Dibble told him “no”, that Chris didn’t even know who he was).

All this leads me to yesterday’s announcement that evidence had been found that Pete Rose had gambled on baseball games (including his own team, the Cincinnati Reds) while he was a player. Since then mainstream media, radio talk shows, and social medial posts have been rampant both critically and in support of Rose’s potential reinstatement to Baseball by MLB commissioner Rob Manfred. I have bantered back and forth with Facebook friends today, and here is my take on it.

Is Rose eligible for reinstatement because he finally confessed?

No. He knew the rule. It’s Rule 21 under the heading “Misconduct”, instituted for good reason: to keep players from taking payouts to affect the outcome of a game and ruining the nature of The Game. Rose knew the rule but chose to ignore it.

Many people compare Rose’s gambling issue to the Chicago Black Sox scandal (which lead to Rule 21), but there was no such rule in 1919 when the Black Sox scandal occurred. Chicago player Joe Jackson, who was banned from baseball in 1921 by commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis, was a great player who Babe Ruth patterned his hitting stance on. Jackson often has been mentioned in the same sequences of support as for Rose.

Another contention questions whether Rose’s actions are as bad as PED users including Barry Bonds, Alex Rodriquez, Ryan Braun and others, along with questions of the character of Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth, and Mickey Mantle.

Really? Aren’t these entirely different sets of circumstances?

To put anything into one’s body to enhance athletic performance has long been considered “against the rules”. No matter that former MLB commissioner Bud Selig took so long to address the issue (remember, Sosa and McGwire were swatting long home runs, and lots of them, while “juiced”), the PED issue became a distraction and subsequent steroid use has been banned.

That banishment has left many fans with a bad taste in their mouth, including me. I see no reason to include known steroid-users from Hall of Fame selection. And the argument that other moral issues should keep outstanding players out of Cooperstown should hold no bearing, either, if there was no rule against it.

Otherwise, does Joe Jackson get tossed into the A-Rod, Ryan Braun, etc. category?

When Cobb and Ruth were playing there was no National Baseball Hall of Fame and I doubt they were too worried about what people thought of their lives beyond the ball field. When Mantle was playing, he thought he was going to die at a young age and did some things that may have been morally wrong but I don’t believe were against baseball rules.

Even if Rose were to be reinstated, which he won’t, he will never be elected to the Hall of Fame. That conversation, his appeals, and consideration for anything but being a proven liar over and over, should end.

Hall of Fame selection is an honor. A great player? Yes. Charlie Hustle? You bet. But according to the rules for voting on players by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America for Hall of Fame membership, there is one glaring rule that can never be overlooked:

5. Voting: Voting shall be based upon the player’s record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played.

I suppose three out of six ain’t bad.

Pete does not need the money that Hall of Fame membership brings. He makes plenty of money right now signing baseballs and memorabilia. Let him ponder his own flaws that will keep him from Hall of Fame selection forever.

If he can only be honest with himself.

© 2015 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

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It Happened On This Day in Nashville Baseball: April 24 – April 27

BaseballinNashvilleApril 24, 1885 – Nashville loses to Macon 13-4 as the Americans give up a wild pitch and three passed balls

April 24, 1897 – From today’s edition of the Nashville Banner:

“The Nashville fans will have a chance of securing a line on the players which will represent the city in the Central League next Monday, when they meet Vanderbilt at Athletic Park. It will be the first game of the local team, and the playing of Manager Work’s men will be closely watched. Vanderbilt has a fast team this season, and they promise to prove quite troublesome to the professionals. 

“Building Inspector Henry Klein has examined the repairs done on the stands, and he now pronounces them able to hold as many people as can be crowded into the space without the least danger. The old bleachers on the east side have been torn away and in their place will be erected a large number of seats such as are used in curcuses <sic>.” 

April 24, 1956 – Nashville general manager Bill McCarthy announces there will be incentives for various slugging feats during the season:  a steak dinner awarded for each home run, $25 for hitting a sign in right field, a set of tires for any drive going through a hole in a tire on another advertiser’s sign and another $25 for clearing a sign in left field

April 25, 1916 – With an Opening Day crowd of 7,000 in attendance at Sulphur Dell, Nashville falls to Chattanooga 3-0 on only three hits

April 25, 1948 – At Mobile, Buster Boguskie of Nashville and the Bears’ George Shuba are ejected for scuffling at second base after Shuba’s hard slide in an attempt to break up a double play.  As the two were rolling in the infield dirt, Mobile’s Stubby Greer, who had been at second, runs home. When Nashville coach George Hennessey protests umpire Red McCutcheon’s decision to count the run, Hennessey is tossed

April 25, 1952 – The start of today’s game in Nashville is delayed by twelve minutes due to the belated appearance of umpires Walt Welaj and Andy Mitchell, explaining they “were rubbing up baseballs”.  Nashville strands 17 runners and loses to Atlanta 8-6

April 25, 1958 – Nashville southpaw pitcher Gene Hayden is hit in the head when a line drive by Birmingham’s Don Griffin ricochets off his glove and knocks him to the ground.  The unconscious Hayden is transported to Baptist Hospital to undergo tests

April 26, 1897 – Nashville’s new entry in the Central League wins over Vanderbilt 7-4 at Athletic Park.

April 26, 1951 – In trouncing Chattanooga 14-4, eleven of Nashville’s seventeen hits are for extra bases.  Rube Novotney leads the charge with a triple, two doubles, and a single for the Vols

April 26, 1952 – Nashville manager Hugh Poland is ejected from his first game during an argument with umpire Andy Mitchell

April 26, 1978 – The Nashville Sounds play their first home game, a 12–4 victory, against the Savannah Braves in front of a sellout crowd of 8,156 fans

April 27, 1910 – Judge John Morrow passes away at his Nashville home at the age of 59. Morrow was a former president of the Southern League

April 27, 1956 – Nashville pitcher Rick Botelho goes 6-for-6 and hits two homers driving in eight runs to lead Nashville to a 23-6 slaughter of Mobile. The win halts a nine-game losing streak for the Vols

April 27, 1957 – Southpaw Jerry Davis of Nashville, attempting to win his third consecutive game, loses to Birmingham 4-3 on Dolph Camilli’s grand slam in the eighth inning

© 2015 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

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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.

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Listening In With Butch and Me

After developing http://www.sulphurdell.com 13 years ago I was invited to participate in a panel discussion at the Metro Archives in Green Hills, “Play Ball: A Look at Nashville Baseball“. Others on the panel included former Negro Leaguers Jim Zapp, Sydney Bunch, and Butch McCord along with former Nashville Vols Larry Taylor, Roy Pardue and a few others. After some discussion visitors were able to ask questions and casually view the exhibit of photographs, documents, and information on display.

The discussion helped to kick off renewed interest in the history of Nashville’s illustrious baseball past including Sulphur Dell. I will always be grateful for Metro Archives director Ken Fieth for his direction, and archivists Debie Oeser Cox and Linda Center, both since retired, for their assistance in making the event happen.

My father Virgil and I had become members of the Nashville Old Timers Baseball Association about that time, and Butch McCord was a member of the organization, too. Butch and I seemed to hit it off at the Archives and our relationship grew at Old Timers board meetings and events.

ButchMcCordI was invited to his home where I met his lovely wife, Christine, and on that first visit he told story after story, shared his books and newspaper clippings about the Negro Leagues, and told about what Jackie Robinson did for the African-American community. Subsequent visits to his home brought more stories, more books, and more clippings, and more Jackie Robinson.

On returning from a trip I took to the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City he told me how proud he was that I took an interest in Negro League history. I told him it began with him.

Often during the baseball season he would call me on Saturday mornings and we would continue our discussions. A Nashville Sounds season ticket holder, Butch would always mention something over the phone that had happened at a Sounds’ game during the week.

Butch loved to talk about the past, but his love of baseball allowed him to continue his interest in his hometown Nashville club.

If the Sounds had played an away game on Friday night, the first thing he would say when I answered my phone was, “Did you listen to the game last night?”

Saying I had, we would discuss the game; if I hadn’t we would still discuss the game, as Butch wanted to tell about it and use it as a lesson about baseball. That’s the kind of fan he was.

Listening to baseball broadcasts was something my dad, my brother Jim and I shared over the years. Television had pushed me  away from that, but Butch helped bring me back to it.

I listen to the radio every chance I get, and tonight as the Nashville Sounds new season kicks off in Colorado Springs, I get another chance to hear my hometown Nashville club’s game. I’m anxious to know more about this club, the new players, and the new West Coast affiliation with the Oakland Athletics.

Nashville Sounds games are broadcast live in Middle Tennessee on 102.5 The Game (WPRT-FM) and online at http://www.thegamenashville.com/.

Won’t you join me as I “root, root, root for the home team” by listening to Sounds play-by-play announcer Jeff Hem’s broadcast of our favorite club? Game time is 7:35 P.M.

Butch passed away on January 27, 2011. I’ll be listening and thinking of him a little bit, knowing he’d be proud of me.

He’d be proud of you, too. Won’t you join us?

© 2015 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

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It Happened on This Day in Nashville: April 7

This day holds a special place in the history of Nashville baseball, and includes exhibitions between the hometown Vols and various major league clubs, a regret from baseball’s iconic Babe Ruth, and a rare perfect game:

April 7, 1904
Nashville and Boston of the National League meet at Athletic Park as the major leaguers win 8-3.

April 7, 1925
The Chicago White Sox win over the Nashville Vols 12-6. It is the 16th consecutive spring training game for the major league club in as many days.

April 7, 1927
The 65th General Assembly of Tennessee adjourns early to see Babe Ruth and the New York Yankees play the St. Louis Cardinals at Sulphur Dell. A resolution had been adopted to invite Ruth to address the Senate, but he sent word that it would be impossible for him to appear because of a lack of time.  The Cardinals beat the Yankees 10-8 in a rematch of the 1926 World Series clubs.

April 7, 1934
Charles Dressen’s Vols wins against the New York Yankees 5-4 in a game at Sulphur Dell. Before a crowd of 3,000, the Yankees are stymied by the pitching of Hal Stafford, who relieved in the 5th inning and allows only four hits through the last five innings, striking out five.

James P. Dawson, New York Times reporter, describes Sulphur Dell’s unique feature as “the right field here is cut out of a hill and is terraced, making it necessary for a fly-chaser to combine hill-climbing ability with speed and accuracy in fielding the ball“. Dawson also reports that Babe Ruth “almost broke one of his legs catching (Bill) Rodda’s fly on the climb in the first. The Babe slipped and stumbled but climbed on and came up with the ball“. Ruth is two for four, as is Lou Gehrig.

April 7, 1953
Mickey Mantle hits a 420-foot two-run double in the seventh inning as the New York Yankees beat the hometown Vols 9-1 before 2,693 fans. Louis Effrat, reporting in The New York Times, quotes one Yankee player as describing playing in Sulphur Dell as “It’s like playing in a telephone booth“, and quoted Casey Stengel, New York manager, recalling that in 1912 when he was playing with Montgomery in a game at Sulphur Dell, “I dragged the ball and it went over the right-field fence for a homer“.Turner_1953

Yankee pitching coach Jim Turner, a native of Nashville, is honored at home plate before the game by Governor Frank G. Clement who appointed Turner a Tennessee Colonel on the Governor’s staff.

April 7, 1957
The Cincinnati Reds defeat Washington 9-7 before 5,842 fans after the Nats lose a 5-0 lead. Joe Nuxhall, Hal Jeffcoat and Raul Sanchez pitch for the Reds, while Roy Sievers belts a triple and homer, driving in three runs. Herb Plews and Pete Runnels get two hits each for Washington.

April 7, 2003
Right-hander John Wasdin pitches the first perfect game in Nashville Sounds history in his first start of the season against the Albuquerque Isotopes.  The 4–0 win is only the second nine-inning perfect game in PCL history.

In ten days a new era begins: April 17th is Opening Night for the Nashville Sounds at new First Tennessee Park near the site of famous Sulphur Dell!

© 2015 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

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Today’s Visit to First Tennessee Park

A month ago assistant general manager Doug Scopel gave me a nice tour of the new Nashville Sounds ballpark. With the on-going construction we side-stepped pipes, boards, and electrical supplies along with the workers who were bustling about their business. I had been given a similar tour when Autozone Park was built in 2000, so I knew how important it was to watch my step.

I was honored that Doug would be so kind, and he was more than accommodating in providing information and answering questions that I had. I’ve got to be honest that I wasn’t sure what I my perception was going to be, but once I was there I couldn’t have been more impressed. There were plenty of options for the Sounds management team to consider, such as how large to make the dugouts, how wide to build the concourse, and how much emphasis to place on the players’ batting cage and swing areas.

And the view, oh my, fans are going to love the view.

Since my visit to First Tennessee Park was “off the record” I was not able to take photographs, although I did get to sneak this one in as I was leaving:

IMAG0163

Today, I revisited First Tennessee Park with a media group. Once again Doug lead the tour and allowed everyone plenty of time to take photographs and ask questions. Sounds general manager Garry Arthur, owner Frank Ward, Nashville Mayor Karl Dean, and groundskeeper Thomas Trotter were there, too, and each one was available for questions and answers.

Mayor Dean and Frank Ward did the honors of putting home plate in place at its new home in the ballpark. Not just any home plate, however; Greer Stadium’s home plate had been saved just for that purpose. It wasn’t so much a ceremony, but I have to admit it was touching as if to say a final “so long” to Greer.

This time I took plenty of photos and even recorded the Mayor’s address to the media from behind the plate. The helicopter buzzing above was a little disconcerting, but I believe he was able to establish once again how happy he is with how things have turned out. Images will be forthcoming, but there is one that I took just before leaving the infield; big difference from a month ago, wouldn’t you say?

IMAG0101

And before heading out of the construction zone, I was able to reach down and scoop up a pocketful of infield dirt  mix, too. That will be tucked away for the ages.

IMAG0121

© 2015 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

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