Tag Archives: Nashville Tennessee

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.

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Baseball Shrines

Sulphur Dell was the baseball home of not only the Nashville Vols, but also the Negro League Nashville Elite Giants, Black Vols, Stars, and Cubs. Major league teams played exhibition games there, too,  as they moved north from spring training. Amateur league and high school games were often played at the famous park, especially when it came to all star games and tournaments.baseball_resized

What is not so well known is the ballpark was used as a venue for other types of entertainment: professional wrestling matches, donkey races, concerts, and circuses. After baseball was gone, Sulphur Dell “the ballpark” became Sulphur Dell “the speedway” when it was turned into a racetrack for a few weeks in 1965.

To me, Sulphur Dell was a ballpark, so I don’t give much credit to other forms of entertainment that took up brief residence. Nashville Banner sports editor Fred Russell once wrote that the ballpark was even a tourist destination, as some visitors to Nashville just had take in the famous outfield and short right field fence.

I have been fortunate to visit baseball shrines around the country.  Off the top of my head, this is my list, limited to major league ballparks and special venues in no particular order.  Which ones have you been to, and which one was your favorite to visit?

  • Baseball Hall of Fame, Cooperstown
  • Field of Dreams movie site, Dyersville Iowa
  • Louisville Slugger Museum, Louisville
  • Wrigley Field, Chicago
  • US Cellular Ballpark, Chicago
  • Fenway Park, Boston
  • Yankee Stadium, New York City
  • Veterans Stadium, Philadelphia
  • Riverfront Stadium, Cincinnati
  • Great American Ballpark, Cincinnati
  • Reds Hall of Fame & Museum, Cincinnati
  • Sportsman Park, St. Louis
  • Busch Stadium I, St. Louis
  • Busch Stadium II, St. Louis
  • Three Rivers Stadium, Pittsburgh
  • Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, Atlanta
  • Turner Field, Atlanta
  • Royals Stadium, Kansas City
  • Negro League Baseball Museum, Kansas City
  • The Ballpark at Arlington
  • Texas Rangers Hall of Fame
  • Angels Stadium, Anaheim
  • Memorial Stadium, Baltimore
  • Astrodome, Houston
  • Chase Field, Phoenix

			

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Nashville Ballpark Votes Will Be Historic

The Metropolitan Nashville/Davidson County Council will hold a special meeting tonight to consider the approval of a new ballpark for the Nashville Sounds on third and final reading. Tomorrow the Metro Sports Council will meet to do the same.

Both votes seem to be forthcoming with little or no discussion against, and certainly no mounting protest from any neighborhood group or other civic organization.

When the final tallies are in, Nashville government leaders will have finally put a stamp of approval on several things:

Marquee White1.) The current Nashville Sounds ownership

2.) Mayor Karl Dean’s backing to see that a new ballpark is built during his tenure

3.) A return of minor league baseball to the area once known as “Sulphur Dell, Baseball’s Most Historic Park Since 1870.”

4.) New development in an area that has been neglected for over 50 years.

It has been a long, hard road to get to this point. When http://www.suphurdell.com was begun in 2002, no one was talking about a new ballpark for the Nashville Sounds, as Greer Stadium was sufficiently hosting the minor league club. In 11 years, the impetus germinated by the website, merely by calling attention to the history, tradition, and glory of the old ballpark area, began taking hold and had some impact on the thoughts of many.

Today and tomorrow, Nashville baseball fans will be able to celebrate at long last. The only question that remains:

Will the old ballpark lose its history, tradition, and glory?

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The Decline of 1954

Poor attendance at Sulphur Dell began to plague the Nashville Vols in 1954, the third year of a three-year affiliation with the New York Giants. The team was well-stocked with power hitting slugger Bob Lennon (64 home runs, 210 hits, 161 runs batted in)  and steady first baseman Larry DiPippo (.298, 132 hits, 20 homers), but the pitching staff would have only one starter to finish the season with a winning record, Joe Margoneri (14-10).

Buster Boguskie would play 50 games at second base, 17 at shortstop, and 24 games at third as manager Hugh Poland attempted to find the infield combination that set a record for double plays in a season with 202 just two years prior.

Nothing was going right at the gate, either. After eighteen home games attendance was 21,626, compared to 23,762 in 1953. It was a downward trend that would continue throughout the season. Minor league baseball would suffer the worst overall attendance since 1945.

Mini-BallAs a way of boosting attendance, at the June 3, 1954 game at Sulphur Dell, the Nashville baseball club gave away 1,000 miniature baseballs; 700 of those ‘small balls’ bore the signatures of major league players, and 300 of them had the autographs of Vols players.

Through June 3rd, Nashville was in fifth place with a 20-24 record, 8 ½ games behind Atlanta.

A few days later in the June 8, 1954 edition of the Birmingham Post-Herald, sports editor Naylor Stone wrote that Knoxville will replace Nashville in the Southern Association in 1955. Stone stated that the deal was done and Knoxville was assured a berth in the league even “before it erected its new $500,000 Municipal Stadium.”

“This season Knoxville re-enterd the Class B Tri-State League with the understanding it would be released from Tri-State territory if a Southern Association franchise became available,” Stone wrote.

Knoxville had been a member of the Southern between 1932 and 1944 when the franchise was given to Mobile.

On June 11, 1954, Nashville club general manager and vice-president Larry Gilbert declared that rumors of the team being sold to Knoxville interests for $200,000 were untrue, stating that should the club be sold a Nashville investor would be the first consideration. He further stated that any sale would be a package deal to include the team and ballpark.

Nashville would end the 1954 season with a total attendance tally of 89,470 fans. On January 22, 1955 Ted Murray and Larry Gilbert, co-owners of Nashville, confirmed that they faced the loss of their franchise that the city had held since the league was organized in 1901. A 30-day option for the purchase of Sulphur Dell, the city’s ball park, had been obtained from them by a syndicate in Nashville.

Reportedly, the plan of the syndicate was to sell the property for business purposes and demolish the grandstand. It was rumored that interested parties in Knoxville, Tampa, and Jacksonville were anxious to obtain the franchise.

None of those things materialized, although Gilbert sold his interest in the club and moved back to New Orleans where he had maintained a home.

The decline of the Nashville franchise, however, would continue until 1961 when the Southern Association closed up shop. A new franchise was resurrected for one season in 1963 in the South Atlantic (SALLY) League, but the attempt was fruitless and Nashville had no professional baseball for fifteen years when the Nashville Sounds were formed for the 1978 season.

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Don’t Just Build A New Stadium at Sulphur Dell

September 8th marks the fiftieth anniversary of the last game played at Sulphur Dell.  It was actually the last two games, as the Nashville Vols completed a season-ending doubleheader against Lynchburg, winning twice 6-3 and 2-1.

The seating capacity in the grandstands at Sulphur Dell was 7,000, but only 970 turned out to view the final games.

Left-handed hitter Charles Teuscher hit three home runs in both games to lead the Vols, with two of his round-trippers coming in the second game.  Larry Del Margo was the winning pitcher, his eighth win of the season.

“The last homer by Teuscher was a perfect epitaph to the famous Dell, ending it’s 103rd year as the city’s official host to baseball people from coast-to-coast.”, F. M. Williams wrote in the Tennessean.

In his “One Man’s Opinion” column in the morning’s Tennessean, Raymond Johnson quoted various fans about the demise of the team and beloved ballpark.  One of them, Charles Brasleton, said it best:

“If we expect ever again to have baseball, we must keep Sulphur Dell.”

But we did not keep it.

Known for its peculiar outfield hills and short right field fence, colorful and quirky Sulphur Dell sat silent to baseball games until finally being torn down in 1969.  The rubble of the demolished Andrew Jackson Hotel was used to fill the giant hole.

Nashville turned its back on one of the grand old ballparks in the United States.  Now we have a mayor with a vision to return Nashville to the glory of the early days.

Home plate at the new ballpark does not have to be placed in the precise location of the old ballpark.  The design of Sulphur Dell will never again be duplicated.

But we can relive our memories, love of baseball and Nashville, by bringing back the location of the ballpark to where history and tradition intended.  It is already an exciting opportunity for the rebirth of a neglected section of Nashville, but it will be even more exciting to finally see a ballpark that thousands of area baseball fans deserve.

We can never bring back old Sulphur Dell.  A new stadium for the Nashville Sounds will return some of that lost glory, but with the proposed library and archives in the plan it may also make sense to include a place for Nashville’s storied baseball history to be on display.

A museum where information may be made available to researchers, historians, and baseball fans could be a key draw.  Even here in the “Athens of the South”, a great learning center of the country, Nashville’s baseball traditions stretch from amateur teams to Negro Leagues to the majors and people want to read about it, see about it, and learn about it.

If this idea is not already on the minds of those who are planning the revitalization of the Sulphur Dell area, it should be.  If we do not hold on to some of the treasures of the past, they will be lost forever.

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