Tag Archives: Nashville Volunteers

Too Little, Too Late

Integration did not come to the Southern Association until a 1954 experiment by Atlanta Crackers owner Earl Mann, when Nat Peeples was inserted as a pinch hitter in the Crackers’ season opener in Mobile. A week later, he was sent down to Jacksonville after appearing in two games and coming to the plate four times.

Reportedly, Mann considered the same action the previous season with a different negro player who was playing in Jacksonville: Henry Aaron. For whatever reason, the future Hall of Famer was not selected and had an outstanding season with the South Atlantic League club.

There was no Southern Association rule that kept rosters segregated. But with teams in New Orleans (the franchise would cease to exist after 1959, replaced by Little Rock), Nashville, Memphis (replaced by Macon after 1960), Birmingham, Atlanta, Shreveport, Mobile, and Chattanooga, civil rights issues were just coming to the forefront of American culture, and integration never occurred.

However, a Birmingham city ordinance prohibited integrated games from taking place on city-owned fields, and Louisiana state law did not allow different races to participate in sporting events together.

One occurence brought attention to the situation: in August of 1960, after six years as the parent organization of the Nashville Volunteers, Cincinnati withdrew its affiliation. Without negro players, said Reds GM Gabe Paul, development of potential players could not properly take place.

In his August 30, 1960 Sports Showcase column, Nashville Tennessean sports writer F. M. Williams quotes Paul on the issue:

“Having a team in the farm system, at Double A level, where Negro players cannot perform creates a void that hinders the entire player development program, he says. Player development is expensive at best, and it becomes even more so when there is one link in the chain that does not help the best young players.”

Williams’ opening lines in his column predict a dim future for the trouble league, emphasizing a rule (unwritten or not) of segregation and acknowledging the tension in race relations:

“If Gabe Paul’s thinking is in line with that of other major league executives, time is running out on Double A baseball.

“Paul took a public stand against the Southern league’s policy of not using Negro players. This is the first time, to my knowledge, that any big league executive has used the racial issue to establish farm policy.

“Eventually it could lead to a Southern boycott.”

On August 31, the Tennessean published an Associated Press story that the American League announced plans to expand to 10 teams by 1962.[1] The National League had previously agreed to absorb up to four teams of the proposed Continental League, but followed suit with an announcement during the World Series that Houston and New York would become members of the league.[2]

nashville-tennessean-08-30-1960-gabe-paul-quote-cincinnati-reds-nashville-vols-08-29-1960If Gabe Paul knew of the plans, which certainly would change the course of developing players, it appears he did not let the directors of the Nashville club know.

Minnesota Twins* farm director Sherry Robertson offered an affiliation proposal to Vols general manager Bill Harbour on January 20, 1961. The agreement was ratified by Nashville board members on February 9.

Vice-President Lyndon Johnson was invited to throw out the first pitch at Sulphur Dell on April 8, and the Southern Association began its final season. Team owners did nothing to integrate the storied league, but waning attendance was the final culprit in its demise.

By season’s end, one of Williams’ predictions had come true, as time ran out on Double A baseball. Nashville drew only 64,450 for the entire season.

Attempts to revive the league went for naught, even though on October 31 a federal judge ruled that Birmingham, Alabama, laws against integrated playing fields were illegal, eliminating the last barrier against integration in the Southern Association.

On January 24, 1962, the Southern Association suspended operations “due to a lack of enough major league working agreements.”

*The original Washington Senators, now relocated to Minneapolis-St. Paul; a new expansion team was set in Washington as a replacement.

[1] Corrigan, Ed. Associated Press. “AL Votes to Expand to 10 Teams by ’62”. Nashville Tennessean, August 31, 1960

[2] McCue, Andy and Thompson, Eric. “Mis-Management 101: The American League Expansion for 1961”. Published in The National Pastime: Endless Seasons: Baseball in Southern California, 2011. Phoenix: Society for American Baseball Research, 42

SOURCES

baseball-reference.com

Nashville Tennessean

newspapers.com

Paper of Record

sabr.org

© 2016 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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What’s In a (Nick)Name?

Over the years baseball cities have had nicknames for their teams. Fans have enjoyed rooting for more than just “the Nashvilles”, for example; to have a team name that has a connection to a city helped to build loyalty and has given newspapers a reason for added creativity to sports writing.

OLS_V_FINALNashville’s baseball team had no official team name until Grantland Rice held a contest in the Nashville Tennessean and “Volunteers” won out, far out-distancing the other two options: the Rocks and the Lime-Rocks. Nineteenth century teams had been known as the Americans, Blues, Seraphs, and Tigers.

When the Southern Association was formed in 1901, newspaper accounts refer to Nashville’s team was simply the Nashville Baseball Club. When Grantland Rice announced that “Volunteers” had won out as the official name, he wrote,

“The days of The Fishermen, The Finnites, The Boosters, The Dobbers, etc., are over…”.

Newt Fisher, Mike Finn, and Johnny Dobbs had been early managers and reporters used the managers last name with “ers” added as a connection of the team to the city’s fans.

Here is a partial list of team nicknames during the history of the Southern Association between 1901 through 1961, based on several references to team names:

ATLANTA: Firemen (1902); Crackers (1903-61)

BIRMINGHAM: Barons (1901-61); Coal Barons (1902?)

CHATTANOOGA: Lookouts (01-02, 10-61)

KNOXVILLE: Smokies (1932-44)

LITTLE ROCK: Travelers (1901-09, 15-58, 60-61)

MACON: Peaches (1961)

MEMPHIS: Egyptians (1901-07); Frankfurters (1902 – Manager was Charles Frank); Turtles (1908-11); Chickasaws/Chicks (1912-60)

MOBILE: Sea Gulls (1908-17); Bears (1918-31, 44-61)

MONTGOMERY: Black Sox (1903); Senators (1904-08); Climbers (1909-10); Billikens (1911, 14); Rebels (1912-13, 43, 56)

NASHVILLE: Volunteers (1901-03); Gray Sox (1902?); Volunteers/Vols (04-61)

NEW ORLEANS Pelicans (1901-59)

SELMA: Christians (1901)

SHREVEPORT: Giants (1901, 03); Pirates (1902, 04-07); Sports (1959-61)

© 2014 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

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The Pride of Nashville, Jim Turner

On October 27, 1959​ New York Yankees pitching coach Jim Turner was named field manager and general manager of the Nashville Vols for the 1960 season. The announcement caught the Nashville media and Vols fans by surprise, as Turner had nurtured a successful Yankees pitching staff between 1949 until 1959.

ImageDuring that span the Yankees won a run of nine American League pennants and seven World Series Championships.

The board of directors of Vols, Inc., the public ownership corporation formed to run the Nashville club, pulled off the hiring of Turner behind the scenes. With the announcement of Turner’s hiring it was reported that his salary would be $17,500.

Born in the Antioch community of Nashville, Jim Turner was raised on the family-owned dairy farm, earning him the nickname “Milkman Jim”. His demeanor both on and off the field also earned him another nickname: “Gentleman Jim”.

The 1960 season would not be a successful one, and even though Turner was popular in the community fans did not support the team in great numbers at the turnstiles. After his lone season he resigned and accepted the pitching coach position with the Cincinnati Reds.

The Reds won the National League pennant in 1961 with a pitching staff which included Bob Purkey, Jim O’Toole, Jim Maloney, Claude Osteen, Joey Jay, Jay Hook, and Jim Brosnan. Maloney had been one of Turner’s players in Nashville and has given credit to Turner for his success on the mound.

Born on August 6, 1903, Jim Turner passed away on November 29, 1998. Up until his death could often be seen at Nashville Sounds games at Greer Stadium where he was a season ticket holder.

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