Tag Archives: Nashville Tennessean

Hank Aaron’s Professional Debut Was in Sulphur Dell

Henry Aaron was inducted to the Hall of Fame in 1982 after a career that included 25 All-Star appearances, at least a .300 batting mark in 14 seasons, hitting 30 home runs 15 times, and winning three Gold Glove Awards.

Aaron1Most notably renown for becoming baseball’s home run king on April 8, 1974 in passing Babe Ruth with his 715th, Aaron would still have more than 3,000 hits should his total of 755 home runs be removed from his hit total.

“Hammerin’ Hank” captured the National League MVP Award in 1957, won the league’s batting title in 1956 and 1959, and appeared in the World Series in 1957, 1958, and 1969.

Born on February 5, 1934 in Mobile, Alabama, the 18-year-old, 5’11” 170-lb sensation began his march to baseball immortality as a member of the 1952 Negro American League Indianapolis Clowns. The team held spring training in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, then traveled to several cities to play exhibition games between Buffalo and Kansas City.

The Kansas City Monarchs, Chicago American Giants, Birmingham Black Barons, Memphis Red Sox, and Philadelphia Stars were the other teams in the six-team league. The Clowns did not schedule games in Indianapolis, playing all games in other cities, but opening day was scheduled for May 11, 1952 as a double header against the Philadelphia Stars.

In Nashville, at Sulphur Dell. It would be Hank Aaron’s first regular-season game as a professional.

The Memphis World heralded the “newcomer Henry Aaron, the sensational 16 [sic]-year-old, will open at short…”

Memphis World 05-06-1952 Indianapolis Clowns Philadephia Stars Hank Aaron Rookie Sulphur Dell

But the Nashville Tennessean made no mention of Aaron in articles previous to and after the two games:

Tennessean 05-10-1952 Henry Aaron Sulphur Dell Indianapolis Clowns Philadelphia Stars 05-11-1952Tennessean 05-11-1952 Henry Aaron Sulphur Dell Indianapolis Clowns Philadelphia Stars 05-11-1952Tennessean 05-12-1952 Henry Aaron Sulphur Dell Indianapolis Clowns Philadelphia Stars 05-11-1952

With no report of his batting or field totals on that day in the historic ballpark, one can only guess that he began a string of games that included strategic hits and powerful blows that lent to his successful career.

Exactly one month later, on June 11, Aaron was leading the Negro American League with a .483 batting average on 15 hits, 51 total bases, five home runs, six doubles, 28 runs, and 24 RBI. On that day he was purchased by the Boston Braves for $10,000 and his major league career was off and running.

Sent to Eau Claire (Class C – Northern League), he ended his first season in organized baseball with a .336 average. In his first full year in the minors at Jacksonville (Class A – South Atlantic League) in 1953, Hank slammed 22 home runs and had 208 hits leading to a batting average of .362. He earned a trip to spring training where he caught on with the Braves who had left Boston for Milwaukee.

On April 4, 1954, Hank returned to Nashville and had two doubles, scored twice and had two RBI in an 18-14 exhibition win over the Brooklyn Dodgers. At Sulphur Dell one year later against Brooklyn, he hit a home run and a single, driving in two runs in the Dodgers 10-8 win.

In Brooklyn’s 12-2 win the next year on April 9, he had a double and an RBI. It would be four years before Aaron returned to Sulphur Dell, this time against Cincinnati before 6,763 in a 6-3 win over the Reds when he had a single and scored a run.

Aaron’s four appearances in Nashville as a member of the Braves were preceded by a particular date on the baseball calendar, May 11, 1952, when Hammerin’ Hank marked his official professional debut in the infield dirt at Sulphur Dell.

© Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

Special thanks to fellow researcher, Mark Aubrey (oldknoxvillebaseball.blogspot.com)

References

Bryant, Howard. (2010). The Last Hero: A Life of Henry Aaron. New York, New York. Pantheon Books.

Vascellaro, Charlie. (2005). Hank Aaron: A Biography. Greenwood. Westport, Connecticut.

Online Sources

http://coe.k-state.edu/annex/nlbemuseum/history/players/aaron.html

http://www.baseball-reference.com

http://www.baseballhall.org

http://www.crossroadstofreedom.org

http://www.georgiaencyclopeia.org

http://www.newspapers.com

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From My Bookshelf: “The Greatest Game Ever Played in Dixie”

Dixie coverWith the descriptive sub-title of “The NASHVILLE VOLS, Their 1908 SEASON, and the CHAMPIONSHIP GAME“, John A. Simpson’s book (2007, McFarland & Company, Inc. Jefferson, North Carolina & London) gives a true account of an especially historic game at the end of an especially historic season.

It did not take nearly eight years from when first published for me to read this book nor review it. Actually, I found it to be such an amazing account from first reading that I reread it, finishing it again a few days ago.

Since I thirst for anything about Nashville baseball, I could not help myself. Now it’s time for me to tell you what I think about it.

The title of the book comes from a description by Nashville Tennessean sports writer Grantland Rice about the last game of the 1908 season, played for the Southern Association championship between the Nashville Vols and New Orleans Pelicans at the Vols’ home field, Athletic Park.

Simpson’s research of Nashville baseball in the early 20th Century comes through in great detail, as he writes of events leading up to this final game. His ability to set the stage for the season, then ending with specific line scores, playing careers of the ballplayers, and a final argument about Nashville player Jake Daubert’s Hall of Fame credentials summarize his wonderful volume.

John takes his reader from explicit reasons for Nashville’s involvement in professional baseball from its roots, with an early description  of the ballpark which would also become known as Sulphur Dell in 1908 (once again, named by Rice in a sports article and immortalized in prose), to the detail surrounding the game.

The game itself is described by inning-by-inning as players come to bat, pitchers’ throw their pitches, and umpires make their calls. The fans number over 10,000 according to Rice, and they jeer and cheer and boo and hiss, giving atmosphere to the challenge of the competing teams attempting to win that last game and earn the right to the pennant.

Well-respected Nashville manager “Berny” Bill Bernhard assembled a special team for the season, including speedy Harry “Deerfoot” Bay, Wiseman, and Daubert to complement pitchers Hub Purdue, Vedder Sitton, Win Kellum, George Hunter, and Johnny Duggan. Bernhard gets in the action from time-to-time, too, and proves a valiant leader and mentor in the championship drive.

Gathering information and data from a myriad of sources has allowed Simpson to accurately detail players’ families, attitudes, and idiosyncrasies even up until each one’s death. In the end, the chapter named “Life After Baseball” helps Simpson’s readers command a deeper understanding of what happens when players’ careers are finished and how they deal with being away from The Game.

He summarizes each players’ life from an objective genealogy and statistics perspective, but also gives compassion to those whose life does not necessarily end in happiness. Players’ careers are also indexed by year and by team, so one can easily see how Nashville was often one of many stops in the move up or down the baseball ladder.

Included is a familiar relationship that he gained through the Julius “Doc” Wiseman family in Cincinnati, who opened their homes and family albums to John. This incredible opportunity is not taken lightly by the author and once again offers a compassionate look at Wiseman’s remarkable career inside and outside of baseball.

Wiseman was revered by his teammates and his fans, as his playing career ended having played for 11 seasons with Nashville.

Limited images do not deter the storytelling of early Nashville baseball or detract from the detail within the chapters. He weaves an important story in great respect; to take it all in, one needs only to accept this book as a history book, and a fine one it is for others who thirst a deeper understanding.

The legacy of Nashville and southern baseball is told in this wonderful book. I have read it twice, I have referred to it a hundred times, and I highly recommend it.

 © 2015 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

 

 

 

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Nashville Bugs, Builders, and Ballpark Construction

Nashville’s shiny new ballpark, soon to open on Friday, April 17th, is being constructed in the vicinity of its predecessor, historic Sulphur Dell. The original name is attributed to Grantland Rice who wrote in his Nashville Tennessean column in 1908 “…will be known as Sulphur Spring Dell, and not Sulphur Spring Bottom, as of yore.”

Rice immortalized the name in rhyme which sealed the name that fans (Rice called them “bugs”) adopted for the ages. The poem expressed the significance of having a stadium ready in time for Opening Day, too:

In Sulphur Dell 

There as a sound of revelry by day

In Sulphur Dell with axes swinging free –

And every fan there passed, yelled “Hip-Hooray –

Lay on McDuff, and give one punch for me.

And from afar the echo rolled in glee –

“The Nashville grandstand’s being torn away.”

 

Sweet are the songs which Madame Calve sings

But not so sweet as that of falling axe

In Sulphur Dell where every echo rings

With timbers falling under mighty whacks

Keep up the good work – break your blooming backs’

“Keep up the good work – break your blooming necks

We’ll give a cheer each time the axlet swings.

This was not the first instance of bringing the ballpark up to standards for the baseball season. As early as the spring of 1885 when Nashville’s first professional team came into existence, on March 24th it was reported that an extra force of workmen was put to work on the grounds of Athletic Park, grading the field and laying off the diamond before Nashville’s Southern League season would begin a few weeks later.

That did not stop games from being played: on March 30th and 31st, Nashville hosted a team from Indianapolis, and on April 1 over 1,500 spectators watched Nashville beat the Clevelands 15-7 and 3-2 the next day. On May 6th the Nashville club begins its home season with Chattanooga and 2,000 fans are in attendance as Nashville loses 9-7.

In 1897 the old bleachers on the east side were torn away and in their place were erected a large number of seats “such as are used in curcuses (sic).”

In 1901 when Nashville’s baseball team entered the newly-formed Southern Association, upgrades to the ballpark took place again, although as late as the first of April there were reports that dressing rooms for the players had yet to be constructed. Seating capacity was being increased to 2,500 with 1,000 seats available in the grandstand.

Newt Fisher, owner-manager of the Nashville club, announced on October 1, 1903 that the grandstand would be increased by 500 seats. Fisher was beginning his plans well in advance after what had been a profitable year for him. Fisher had made $10,000 over the course of the season.

When the ballpark was turned around for the 1927 season, the old grandstand was demolished and a new steel-and-concrete design was chosen to replace it. Winter weather and rain interrupted the process more than once, and in February, the contractor was offered a bonus of $5,000.00 to complete the structure for the March exhibition season.

Once again, games were played no matter the conditions of the grandstand. With the playing field in optimum shape and workmen continuing their work, on March 25th the first contest is held in the new ‘turned-around’ ballpark. It was an exhibition game played between the Nashville Vols and Minneapolis Millers, the Millers winning 5-3 as the visiting team’s right-fielder Dick Loftus hits the first home run in the new park.

It would be a while before more upgrades would take place. A new scoreboard was added in left-centerfield, but that would be the extent of new construction until a few cosmetic modernizations would happen. When fans arrived on Opening Day April 17, 1951, they saw a remodeled facade, new turnstiles, brick walls, wider exists and other improvements. Unchanged were the “dumps” in the outfield and the short right field fence.

On Easter Sunday, April 1, 1956 between 2-5 PM, the Nashville Vols management held an open house for the “renovated” ballpark. The playing field of the ancient park was altered somewhat by the smoothing out of the right field “porch”. Additional improvements consisted of a new coat of green paint for the stadium seats, except for the reserved seats section which were painted orange.

For the 1958 season a left-field bleacher section was torn down and a weather-damaged fence replaced, but no additional changes were made to Sulphur Dell during the demise of the facility and baseball in Nashville.

After selling light fixtures, stadium seats, and other items that had some remaining value, on April 16, 1969 the ballpark was demolished and filled in; the remains of the recent demolition of the Andrew Jackson Hotel (to make room for the Tennessee Performing Arts Center) was deposited on the site.1stTennPark

Other than rainouts and spring floods, there are no instances when Opening Day did not proceed as planned. Nashville games have begun on time, and there is plenty of confidence that the same will hold true this season.

Besides, April 17th is just around the corner, and we “bugs” will have to trust those who “break their blooming backs”. I believe we will be there.

 © 2015 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

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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.

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