Tag Archives: Nashville

Vols, Inc.: New Ownership to Save Nashville Baseball, Part 2

A similar transaction nearly took place four years earlier. On January 14, 1955, an agreement was signed by Murray, along with business partner Larry Gilbert, to sell to a syndicate represented by Fred C. Rule, president of F. C. Rule Construction, and headed up by J. D. Jackson. Reportedly, the plan of the syndicate was to demolish the grandstand and sell the property for business purposes. A new location was to be sought to build a new ballpark, and even though the syndicate had no plans to move the franchise, it was reported that Knoxville, Tampa, and Jacksonville were anxious to obtain the franchise.

“We want a modern baseball plant,” Rule stated yesterday. “We want one that will seat something like 10,000. We believe a new park would be the best think we could do for baseball.”[3]

On January 22, 1955, co-owners Murray and Larry Gilbert confirmed that they faced the loss of their franchise. The last year for the club to show a profit was 1950; in 1948, the best year for Nashville attendance with 269,843, was the last year Gilbert was manager. At the end of that season, another syndicate tried to buy, and he refused. Now Gilbert is desperate to sell his half-interest in the club and retire full-time to his native town of New Orleans.

All this after Nashville Vols outfielder Bob Lennon won the Southern Association triple crown with 64 home runs, hit for a .354 average, and knocked in 161 runs. But only 89,470 fans attended the games at Sulphur Dell that season, a decrease of 50,000.

This is Part 2 of the ongoing story. Read more about the events that led to the sale of the Nashville ball club in 1959 in the next installment.

Note: This Nashville baseball history was presented on Saturday, March 3, 2018 at the 15th annual Southern Association Conference at Rickwood Field in Birmingham, Alabama.

© 2018 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

[3] Raymond Johnson, “One Man’s Opinion – Baseball Business Brisk Despite City’s Winter Weather,” Nashville Tennessean, January 25, 1955, 16.

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Manly Baseball Coquet or Womanly Croquet?

Happy New Year! As an opening post for 2018, I offer for your consideration a statement of the worth of Nashville baseball, albeit in an unusual context.

With no certainty to the Nashville Union and American’s intent, a letter published on May 12, 1870 admonishes the editors for not publicizing the “womanly” game of croquet. Was the missive in response to the report of a base ball game between the “Lucks” and “Washingtons” six days earlier (won by the former by a score of 28-8) which ends the description with “Verily, the base ball fever rageth”?

Or, is the unnamed writer actually a newspaper editor, satirically extolling the importance of croquet in jest, perhaps in reaction to unpublished feedback from a female writer, or maybe his own wife at home?

Here is the entertaining newspaper entry in its entirety.  Should you choose to accept the task of deciding if this is an actual letter from a concerned reader, or a parody from a sports writer, take your time. You have the entire year to come to ponder your decision and come to a conclusion before letting me know what you think. Make it a great year!

© 2018 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

 

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MLB in Nashville? Nope

Jesse Spector, national baseball writer for Sporting News, published an online article on July 11, 2017, regarding potential cities for MLB expansion:

Eight cities that make sense for MLB expansion.

In his view, eight cities should be on target: Montreal, Charlotte, Portland, San Juan, Las Vegas, Mexico City, San Antonio, and Nashville.

Nashville? Here we go again. Hasn’t this story been written repeatedly?

I realize it is pure conjecture, but I think we have a long way to go, way down the road. We have no organized movement, no one with big bucks to step up to the plate (pun intended), and no place to play. So how can Nashville be on the list?

Sure, there could be an opportunity for a team to move, but the most logical choices are the Oakland A’s and Tampa Bay Rays. Both are in talks to build new stadiums. The Marlins are for sale for $1 billion. Know anyone who wants to buy them and move the franchise to Nashville?

And what would an expansion team cost? More than that.

Music City has only been a “big” city for a very short time, having just recently passed Memphis with Tennessee’s largest population, but there is always the chance of a crash as the growth has happened so fast. MLB would never take a chance on that in the short-term.

Since Atlanta, St. Louis, and Cincinnati are within 4 1/2 hours driving distance, it is doubtful MLB would want to dilute those fan bases. With those three cities being in the National League, Nashville could only become an American League city at that.

One never knows which cities are on the radar for team relocation or expansion unless it is heard straight from the commissioner. He did that yesterday during a press conference in Miami at the 2017 All Star Game:

MLB expansion won’t happen right away but Rob Manfred has three cities in mind

Montreal, Charlotte, and Mexico City top MLB commissioner Manfred’s list. Nashville? Not mentioned…

Lastly, The Tennessean published a story by USA Today’s Getahn Ward about another important subject: the cost of residing in our fair city, which now takes a salary of $70,150 to live in Nashville today:

Nashville ranked nation’s hottest single-family housing market

Nashville ranks as the No. 1 single-family housing market, according to the source in the article; the other the top five cities include Orlando, Fla., and Fort Worth, Dallas and San Antonio, Texas.

Key words: “single-family”. Which means, “on a budget”. To take it a step further, which single families are taking the crew to a major league game right now? According to statista.com, the average price of a ticket to an MLB game is $31.00. People on a budget certainly are not; according to baseball-reference.com, attendance is declining.

Remember, the NFL Tennessee Titans and NHL Nashville Predators are already here, battling for the same pro sports bucks versus each other. That’s without taking into consideration another potential major sports franchise, Major League Soccer, which would make ticket sales even more competitive.

Don’t get me wrong, I would love to see the New York Yankees come to Nashville for a regular-season game, but I’m afraid it won’t happen in my lifetime.

Here’s my advice for lovers of professional baseball in Nashville: go watch the Nashville Sounds at First Tennessee Park. They are here, and now. For a while.

© 2017 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

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All-American Girls Baseball at Sulphur Dell

Penny Marshall’s delightful movie A League of Their Own, one of the all-time classic baseball films, tells the story of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League. As World War II is raging, and attendance at major league games declining, Chicago Cubs owner Phil Wrigley organizes the concept in 1943 to counter the loss of revenue of his club and bring attention to a new brand of the sport[1].

The league began in four cities: Kenosha Comets, Racine Belles, Rockford Peaches, and South Bend Blue Sox. Spring training was held at Wrigley Field, and after a 108-game season, Kenosha and Racine participated in a five-game championship series. Racine took the league crown. Attendance stood at 176,612 for the inaugural season.

Unexpected success of the ladies’ loop gave rise to more teams, as the Milwaukee Chicks club was added in 1944. After spring training was held in Peru, Illinois, the league was up and running for a second season. Milwaukee won the regular season and playoff championships in 1944, as attendance grew to 249,000. A new team was added, the Fort Wayne Daisies, in 1945. Rockford was the top team that season, and year-long attendance stood at 450,000.

In 1946, Pascagoula, Mississippi, was chosen as spring training home, and two cities more joined the league: the Muskegon Lassies and Peoria Red Wings. Racine captured the championship at the end of the season, as attendance climbed to over 750,000.

But as the teams had broken camp from Pascagoula in May to head north to begin the season, exhibition games were scheduled in various cities, just as the major-league clubs. One of those cities was Nashville, and Sulphur Dell was the venue. The game was sponsored by the Davidson County Parent-Teacher Association.

1946 Muskegon Lassies: AAGPBL.org image

On May 8, the Racine Belles and Muskegon Lassies played before a crowd estimated at between 1,500 – 1,800 spectators. Arriving from Memphis by team bus at 4 p.m., the Belles quickly checked into the Noel Hotel before making their way to Sulphur Dell to play against the Lassies. The game began at 8:15 p.m.[2]

Muskegon infielder Dorothy “Monty” Montgomery was from Chattanooga, Tennessee. Her teammate Dorothy “Mickey” Chapman lost her first husband in overseas combat while she was playing for Grand Rapids in 1945, and Gladys “Terrie” Davis was the league’s first batting champion in 1943, hitting for a .332 average.

Doris “Sammye” Sams was from Knoxville, Tennessee, and was one of the league’s stars. In 1941, she played in the American Softball Association (ASA) Nationals in Detroit with her Tennessee team. A pitcher and outfielder, she would become league Player of the Year in 1947 and 1949, and an All-Star for six of her eight years in the league.

Racine’s Joan “Joanie” Winter was one of the original players chosen to participate in the league in 1943. At the end of her eight-year career, all with the Belles, she would be one of seven pitchers to have won 100 or more games, with 133. She would go on to become a member of the LPGA, and in 2005 would be inducted into the National Women’s Baseball Hall of Fame.

1946 Racine Belles: AAGPBL.org image

One of the rare female boxers of her day (then known as “Tuffy”), Irene Hickson was from Chattanooga. A catcher, Hickson played eight of her nine years in the AAGPBL with Racine. Edyth “Edie” Keating would play her entire eight-year career with the Belles during which she would steal 481 bases.

The Belles won the game 8-7; a Nashville Tennessean error reported the game as between “softball” teams[3]. In 1943, league president Max Carey had been quoted as to his take on where the “Girls” began and “Softball” ended: “Femininity is the keynote of our league; no pants-wearing, tough-talking female softballer will play on any of our four teams…”[4]

Muskegon manager, Ralph “Buzz” Boyle, would become a scout for the Cincinnati Reds and participate in spring training with the 1955 Nashville Vols.[5]

By 1948, attendance had reached nearly 1 million, and two Illinois teams were added: the Chicago Colleens and Springfield Sallies. But ultimately, teams shut down and attendance waned until the league closed shop in 1954.[6]

Although there is no review of the one recorded AAGPBL game played at Sulphur Dell, the fan-favorite movie always delivers the excitement and competitive spirit of the women of the “All American League”.

© 2017 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

[1] “All American Girls Professional Baseball League: League History,” https://www.aagpbl.org/index.cfm/pages/league/12/league-history, retrieved May 7, 2017.

[2] “Girls Baseball Teams to Play in Dell Tonight,” Nashville Tennessean, May 8, 1946: 21.

[3] “Racine Belles Edge Muskegon Lassies,” Nashville Tennessean, May 9, 1946: 21.

[4] Bill Francis, “League of Women Ballplayers, http://baseballhall.org/discover/league-of-women-ballplayers, retrieved May 9, 2017.

[5] F. M. Williams, “Vols Skipper Praises Left Handed Hitters,” Nashville Tennessean, March 13, 1955: 38.

[6] “The All American Girls Professional Baseball League,” http://www.seanlahman.com/baseball-archive/womens-baseball/, retrieved May 8, 2017.

Sources

Aagpbl.org
Baseballhall.org
Newspapers.com
Seanlahman.com

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1904 Baseball Banter, Southern Style

Southern Association moguls met at the Peabody Hotel in Memphis on March 8, 1904 to discuss league matters, analyze the previous seasons attendance figures, and approve the season schedule for the year ahead. Those attending, and city represented, included M. J. Finn, Little Rock; Newt Fisher and J. M. Palmer, Nashville; Charles Frank, New Orleans; Lew Whistler and Caruthers Ewing, Memphis, Abner Powell, Atlanta; Coffee Jackson and Thomas O’Brien, Birmingham, James M. Foster and Robert E. Gilks, Shreveport; and Barry Holt and William Stickney, Montgomery.[1]

After approving league president and treasurer Judge W. M. Kavanaugh’s financial accounts, the group heard the executive committee’s report that confirmed the sound economic status of the organization. The report included a final tally of 627,602 fans who had attended games the previous season. Only four leagues (out of 21 across the nation[2]) had higher attendance: the National League, American League, American Association, and Eastern League.

The schedule was approved as drawn up by a special committee that had met in Memphis on January 22 and 23[3]. The 1904 playing calendar included 140 games, an additional 14 contests per club from 1903, and opening day would be held April 21.[4] There was some slight protest by Nashville’s Newt Fisher, as his club would host no holiday games, but “… utmost good feeling prevailed, and it was the consensus of opinion with baseball magnates and managers that the season soon to open would be the best and most prosperous in the history of Southern baseball.”[5]

But there was banter between sports writers. Newspapers often included articles of pre-season predictions, but those prognostications were not always about the teams in the newspaper’s own city; whether in jest or otherwise, there was often a quick retort from the newspaper of the offended city. With no claim by a particular sports writer, the Nashville Daily American published a story on March 10 that answered Birmingham’s razzing.

“The sage of Slagtown (see author’s note below), alias the baseball writer of the Birmingham Ledger who has a penchant for dealing out groggy dope, has bobbed up again as foolish and unmuzzled [sic] as ever. This time he comes forth with the bold bad delf (author’s note: abbreviation for deflection?) that New Orleans is “the strongest team in the league and Nashville about the weakest.” They ought to fix up a pension and a padded cell and keep them in readiness.

“The strangest thing of all is that nobody outside of Birmingham has ever figured the slag caters as being other than a tailender [sic]. The fact is, Birmingham is about the best team in the Southern League, except seven (there were eight teams in the league).

And then, it got a little personal.

“The Hams would be stars on the Red Onion Circuit, but they are useful by the Southern League principally to fill in and make up the necessary number of teams to keep the league going.”

When asked to respond, at first Nashville’s Fisher took the high road.

“What’s the use? It is actually wasting time to stop their howling. They do it every year before the season opens, and it takes about one swing around the circuit to get them quiet.”

But the even-tempered Fisher did not let the opportunity to further provoke the matter go totally to waste.

“Birmingham has not only had the pennant won every year before the league season opened, but has packed the flag away in camphor balls for the following season. Results are what count. We won the pennant twice and finished fifth the third time. I am not ashamed of this record. I would just like to ask the young man on the Ledger where the Birmingham team finished those three years. It was below Nashville each time.”[6]

At season’s end, Fisher could not boast about his club; Nashville finished in fifth place (second baseman Justin Bennett led the league with 166 hits, and pitcher Wiley Piatt led with 22 losses and 44 appearances)[7]. The nemesis of his team and the Nashville Tennessean, Birmingham, finished in fourth place. The Barons were two games ahead in the final standings. But for the fourth year the pennant remained on Tennessee soil as the Memphis Egyptians defended their 1903 title.

Otherwise, Fisher would not consider it a bad year. It had been reported he had cleared $10,000 profit on the ball club the previous year, and it was estimated that he would pocket $4,000 for the 1904 season.

It was a favorable year for the Southern Association, with Nashville, Birmingham, New Orleans, Memphis, and Atlanta all making money. Little Rock was reported to have shown a small profit, but things were less positive in Montgomery and Shreveport.[8] Even those clubs may have made some money.[9]

Soothed by profits of a successful season, the bosses of southern baseball saved their banter for another year of razzing.

© 2017 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

Author’s Note: ”Slagtown” is in reference to Birmingham’s steel-making industry. Beyond the outfield walls of West End Park, often called the “Slag Pile”, was a hill of slag, a by-product of making steel.[10]

[1] New Orleans Times-Democrat, March 9, 1904, p. 12.

[2] Atlanta Constitution, March 9, 1904, p. 2.

[3] New Orleans Times-Democrat, March 9, 1904, p. 12.

[4] Nashville American, March 9, 1904, p. 7.

[5] New Orleans Times-Democrat, March 9, 1904, p. 12.

[6] Nashville American, March 10, 1904, p. 7.

[7] Wright, Marshall D. (2002). The Southern Association in Baseball, 1885-1961. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Co.

[8] Atlanta Constitution, September 19, 1904, p. 7.

[9] Ibid., September 26, 1904, p. 9.

[10] Watkins, Clarence (2010). Baseball in Birmingham. Charleston, South Carolina: Arcadia Publishing.

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14th Annual Southern Association Conference at Rickwood Field

scan0001Yesterday, I attended the 14th annual Southern Association Conference in Birmingham, and want to take this time to encourage you to be a part of this event next year. The Rickwood Field SABR chapter put on quite a conference, led by David Brewer and Clarence Watkins; but the opportunity to visit Rickwood Field is great in itself – it is truly one of America’s historic ballparks.

To be able to hear presentations about baseball in the South, among friends in a casual setting, was great. To wax poetic: Baseball was literally “in the air”.  Attendees came from Mobile, Memphis, Nashville, Birmingham, Montgomery, and Atlanta; we heard presentations about baseball in Montgomery (and pitcher Roy “Goat” Walker), Selma, the Southern Association, and vintage player A. T. Pearsall, but sidebar conversations were ongoing beyond.

An added treat was lunch with former Montgomery Rebels player and minor league manager Ted Brazell. One could literally hear and feel the passion Ted has with his love of the game of baseball. It was inspiring.

More than anything, the friendships rekindled and friendships made were more than worth the trip. The date could change, but put the first Saturday of March, 2018 on your calendar. You won’t be disappointed.

© 2017 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

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Sulphur Dell: What was in the Water?

nashville-republican-banner-short-version-june-1-1841-j-h-bransford In the late 1700s, pioneers discovered a special place on the banks of the Cumberland River where a natural sulphur spring flowed, and deer and other wildlife licked the mineral salt. Named French Lick Branch, the creek ran through “Sulphur Spring Bottom”, a low-lying section of Nashville which soon became the city park. A ball field was established where games could be played, and picnics, horse racing, and other leisurely events were held.

In 1841, the Republican Banner reported that J. H. Bransford, a partner in the dry goods business of Maulding & Bransford, found opportunity to refit the spring for bathing purposes. The city allowed Bransford to take on the project, but in return he agreed to not charge patrons for its use. Being the entrepreneur that he was, however, J. H. would certainly offer “fruit, cigars, &c.”[1] for sale.

1828-fwIn a newspaper notice of June 1 to announce his venture, Bransford noted a chemical analysis on the water at the spring had been performed by a “Professor Bowen” in 1827. The analyzer was most certainly, George T. Bowen, Professor of Chemistry at the University of Nashville. Per a November 18, 1928 death notice in the Hartford Courant, young Dr. Bowen had passed away at the age of 28[2]. Hopefully, his demise did not come about from inhaling the pungent sulphur during his assessment.

nashville-republican-banner-long-june-1-1841-j-h-bransfordNonetheless, the examination was repeated by Dr. Gerard Troost, Tennessee State Geologist, who moved to the area in 1928 from Indiana to become professor of mineralogy and chemistry at the University of Nashville. and was probably a colleague of Bowen. Undoubtedly, Troost suffered no ill health from his inspection of the sulphur spring, as he died in 1850 as a result of a cholera outbreak in Nashville.[3]

The Republican Banner article goes on to lists the results of both distinguished chemists. Dr. Troost’s results proved the close resemblance of Nashville’s sulphur spring composition to that of Harrogate Springs in England. Today, the establishment is the oldest bottler of water, dating back to the 16th century.[4] By comparing the mineral content of a world-famous sulphur spring, to one discovered only a few decades before, Bransford was establishing the quality of the resort he was to build.

Bransford, Bowen, nor Troost could have conceived, yet even imagined, the historical significance of what would become Nashville’s Sulphur Dell. The magicial springs gave way to the ballpark’s mysterious smell, flavor, and mystique for years to come.

© 2017 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

[1] Nashville Republican Banner, June 1, 1841, p. 2.

[2] Hartford Courant, November 18, 1828, p. 3.

[3] Gerard Troost (1776-1850) , Geologist. http://faculty.evansville.edu/ck6/bstud/troost.html, retrieved February 28, 2017.

[4] Harrogatespring.com. http://www.harrogatespring.com, retrieved February 28, 2017.

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