Tag Archives: Nashville

Calling For a Ball Park?

Nashville clubs, desiring to take their game to the mythical four corners of earth to establish hierarchy in the great stadium of sport, issued challenges that were easily accepted. Hopeful for an outcome of superiority, rivals anxiously consented for an opportunity to “vanquish” the opponent.

This was 1870s “base ball”, and challenges came from every club instead of the regular scheduling of games, as who was to know who the best club was without the continual jousting between clubs for superiority:

     The Independent Chick Base Ball Club challenges any club in the city, whose members are 16 years of age, to a match game.

     The North Nashville Club has been challenged by a club, the name of which, owing to the crookedness of the chirography, no fellow can find out.

     The N. Jacobus boys vanquished the G. F. Akers by a score of 17-12, giving them three goose eggs.

     The North Nashville Base Ball Club have cleaned up and leveled their grounds for the battle soon to come off with the Lincks.

     The South Nashvilles are anxious for a chance at the H. Drexlers.[1]

meatball-sepia-fwA cleared lot or field was no longer the acceptable location for a game. “Home field advantage”, became an important draw, and that meant an adequate ball field included considerations for spectators. The safety of crowds, especially in drawing ladies to games, added to the reasoning; to draw a crowd, “cleaned up and leveled” grounds were necessary.

The North Nashville and W. T. Lincks teams were the premier clubs in 1876, and each one’s challenges were not taken lightly. Teams on either side were expected to bat and field with their best ability, but at some point appearance became an important ingredient to a team’s superior class. Whether a part of the arrogance, aristocracy, or patronizing of one club over another, soon all clubs joined in on the regalia:

     The long looked for match of base ball between the noted Lincks and the North Nashvilles will be played to-morrow on the grounds of the North Nashvilles, near Mr. Felix Cheatham’s residence. The game will be called promptly at 3:30, and a large crowd is expected to be on hand, as this game will be the event of the season. Seats will be provided for all, and everybody is cordially invited, the ladies especially. A strong and sufficient force of police will be on duty to preserve order. Both clubs will appear in their new and beautiful uniforms.[2]

Two days later an account of the game, won by the Lincks 12-6, suggested between 2,500 and 3,000 spectators were on hand; about 600 of them were ladies. Eloquent description of the contest allowed for one interjection for the decades to come:

     Never since base ball was introduced have we seen such admirable playing. What a pity we have not a Base Ball Park.[3]

Was this the first call for what would become Nashville’s Athletic Park, affectionately known as Sulphur Dell to future generations?

© 2016 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

[1] Nashville Daily American, August 23, 1876, p. 4

[2] Ibid., August 27, 1876, p. 4

[3] Ibid., August 29, 1876, p. 4

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One Day, Three Wins: Nashville’s 1895 Tripleheader

Rain interfered with Nashville’s home doubleheader with Little Rock on June 25, 1895, as the first game was postponed after three innings when field conditions were too poor to continue. Nashville was leading 2-1, but not enough innings had been played for it to have been a complete game.

George StallingsThe game scheduled for the next day, June 26, was the last visit Little Rock was to have made to Athletic Park for the remainder of the season, creating an unusual circumstance for completing the series. It was the home team’s prerogative to reschedule games, but when Seraphs manager George Stallings decided to play three games in one day to complete the series, the decision did not set well with the visiting team.

Sending word to the opposing club that the first of three games would take place at 10:30 AM, Little Rock’s manager, Richard Gorman, protested to Southern League President J. B. Nicklin that the Travelers should not have to play more than two games in one day. Nicklin did not exactly side with Gorman; he sent a telegram that the choice to play in three games was optional.

Even though Gorman refused to play the morning game, he and two of his players showed up anyway. At game time, umpire Ed Cline yelled “Play ball” and Nashville’s Eddie Daniels toed the rubber. With no batter at the plate, the Nashville pitcher threw three lazy curves to catcher Mike Trost. Cline turned to the 900 spectators and declared the game a 9-0 forfeit in favor of the Seraphs.

When play began in the second game, players from either side had to alternate the umpiring chores for the first three innings as Cline had misunderstood the starting time, set for 2:30 PM.

Nashville committed nine errors but the Seraphs won over Little Rock 17-7. Travelers pitchers Buttons Briggs and Jack Fifield allowed 18 hits, one a home run by Seraphs left fielder Frank Butler, but only seven of the runs were earned.

Sam Moran was the starting pitcher for Nashville. He had a 7-4 record the previous season when the team was known as the Tigers, and would end the season with a 22-12 record. He would become a member of the Pittsburgh Pirates pitching staff at year’s end.

In the middle game of this day, he pitched all nine innings in the two hours it took to lead his team to the win.

The third game of the day was ended after seven innings due to darkness with Nashville having the upper hand, 8-5. Moran was chosen starting pitcher in the final game by manager Stallings. Lackung the speed he possessed in the previous game, Moran gave up only eight hits and two walks as Nashville completed the trifecta.

Atlanta Constitution 06-28-1895 Three Games Triple Header Nashville Little Rock

Nashville remained in third place in the Southern League with the three wins with a 30-18 record, just behind second-place Atlanta (33-17) and league-leading Evansville (33-16). At seasons end, Atlanta secured the pennant with a one-game lead over Nashville. The season was not without problems, as Montgomery, Memphis, and Little Rock did not finish the year.

When the Travelers ball club disbanded in late July, Nashville acquired the contract of Richard Gorman.

Although rare, there are records of other tripleheaders being played. One was played five years earlier on Labor Day, September 1, 1890, between Brooklyn and visiting Pittsburgh. Unlike the Nashville-Little Rock series, all three games were played with no forfeit, with Brooklyn winning 10-9, 3-2, and 8-4.[1]

In 1896, three games were also played in one day. No reason is given, but the tripleheader was played on Labor Day in Baltimore on September 7. The visiting Louisville Colonels lost 4-3, 9-1, and 12-1 with the final game ending after eight innings due to darkness.[2]

Several years would pass before another tripleheader be played. The games were scheduled to determine third-place in the National League, and were the last games of the season. This time, on October 20, 1920, the Cincinnati Reds visited Pittsburgh and won 13-4 and 7-3 before losing 6-0 in a game shortened by darkness. Cincinnati had clinched third place with the first two wins, but the third game was played anyway.[3]

Three games played in one day gave Nashville an uncommon footnote in the history of baseball.

Sources

www.baseball-reference.com

www.newspapers.com

Nashville American

Atlanta Constitution

[1] Suehsdorf, A. D. “The Last Tripleheader”. SABR Research Journal, http://research.sabr.org/journals/last-tripleheader. Accessed June 20, 2016.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Willard, Jim. “Baseball’s last triple-header was certainly one for the record books. http://www.reporterherald.com/ci_19435586. November 30, 2011. Accessed June 16, 2016.

© 2016 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

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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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(Rain) Check, Please

Abner Powell, along with Nashville’s Newt Fisher and Memphis’ Charlie Frank, organized the Southern Association that began play in 1901. Powell had played and managed New Orleans beginning in 1888 and played for Nashville’s Southern League team for eighteen games in 1894.

He managed New Orleans in 1901 and 1902 and Atlanta’s entry in the new league in 1903 and 1904, and in 1905 sold his interest in his team and purchased a share of the Nashville club. In those days, loyalty to a particular team, especially when a player, was often trumped by investment power.

Powell is credited for introducing knothole gangs and ladies’ days to boost attendance at baseball games during his early years in New Orleans. And he invented one key item that became known as the “rain check”, the detachable stub on printed tickets.[1]

RaincheckRain outs have been the bane of team owners, players, and fans across the nation. Long before concessions and attendance added to the bottom line, paid attendance paid the bills.

Sulphur Springs Bottom was Nashville’s area for recreation and games were played at Athletic Park, later known as Sulphur Dell. It was a low-lying area just north of the city center, prone to flooding especially during spring rains. There have been many rain outs in Nashville, and the phrase “Rain, rain, go away” has been sounded for years, especially during baseball season.

Teams organized in the 19th Century and were at the mercy of the skies. On July 6, 1875 as W. T. Lincks and Morgans played to a 2-2 tie at Sulphur Springs Bottom before being rained out and the May 4, 1879 game between the Memphis club and a team from Nashville is rained out and postponed indefinitely.

Suspended games, postponements, and cancellations were the result. On June 26, 1895 Nashville played an unusual number of games in one day, three games against Little Rock due to the previous day’s double header being rained out. The first game is scheduled for 10 AM when only two opposing players show up and umpire Cline calls a forfeit in favor of Nashville as manager Dick Gorman explains that his team refuses to play three games in one day. The afternoon games are won by Nashville 17-7 and 8-5, and the Seraphs and manager George Stallings are credited with three Southern League wins.

More than 2,500 fans stood in line for nearly an hour on May 1, 1945 before Nashville’s home opener was called due to rain, and the next year on April 8 the exhibition game between the New York Yankees and Brooklyn Dodgers was cancelled due to morning rains and a downpour which came 45 minutes before the scheduled start. The outlook for the game had called for 7,500 fans to turn out, as all reserved seats were sold out and 4,000 fans were turned away.

Rain checks came in handy without rain on April 23, 1956 in a 12-8 loss to New Orleans when only 438 Nashville fans show up in 46-degree weather. Each was rewarded by general manager Bill McCarthy who announced the club would honor their rain checks for any future Vols game during the season. There was no rain, but the detachable ticket gave loyal rooters a way to attend another game free of charge.

Abner Powell was a visionary who gave many things to baseball that continue today: the rain check, ladies’ day, and knothole gangs. But his greatest invention may have been one that today’s players and fans take for granted: He innovated the covering of the playing field with a tarpaulin to keep the surface dry.

Team owners probably do not take that one for granted.

[1] Taggart, Caroline. Right as Rain: The Meaning and Origins of Popular Expressions. Great Britain: Michael O’Mara, 2013

© Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

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Opening at Home for the First Time

Nashville’s first home opener took place on May 4, 1885 against Columbus. The club had been on a lengthy road trip to open the Southern League season with visits to Macon, Augusta, Birmingham, and the team who was paying a visit to Athletic Park. The local club returned with a satisfactory 7-4 record.

Nashville’s Daily American May 4 edition urged locals to come out and support the new professional team, not only for the game of that day but for the entire season.

“They deserve a large attendance and a perfect ovation at the hands of Nashville people…large audiences should attend the games to encourage the club that is trying to win the pennant for Nashville.”

The next day’s account of the game began with a sour lead.

Daily American 05-05-1885 Opening Day Nashville First Home Professional game“The opening championship game for Nashville was a disastrous one. The Columbus club defeated the Americans by a score of 3-2. The scorer’s record will show that, with a few exceptions, an excellent fielding game was played. The defeat was evidently attributable to the light hitting of the locals.”

The box score proves it. Nashville was outhit 8-5, had 5 errors (Columbus had 4) while the opponents’ first baseman Charlie Hamburg had the only extra base hit, a double. Len Sowders, first baseman for the home team, would be shut out at the plate but when the season was over would lead all hitters with a .309 average.

Losing pitcher Alex Voss struck out four on his way to 210 for the year as he would finish with a 26-14 record. It would be an auspicious start as Nashville would build up to a 62-39 record at season’s end, good enough for third place in the inaugural Southern circuit.

It was the first of many season openers in Nashville.

© Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

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“Volunteers” the Pick

Team nicknames are commonplace today, but in the early days of baseball it was not so. Cities claimed their teams by including the name of the leagues they played in, such as New York Americans, St. Louis Nationals, and so on.

Tongue-in-cheek references by sports writers often caught on. “Trolley Dodgers”, for one, stood for exactly what it sounds like. It was shortened to “Dodgers” for the Brooklyn team in the National League and was carried with them to Los Angeles.

Nashville’s baseball team had an early name, “Americans”, but the team did not play in any sort of league with that name. The local newspaper, The Daily American, claimed the team’s name as it gave the most thorough coverage of Nashville’s first professional team in the newly-formed Southern League.

The Southern League failed and re-organized throughout the remainder of the 19th Century and names for resurrected Nashville clubs included “Seraphs”, “Blues”, and “Tigers”.

When the Southern Association began play in 1901, nicknames were not widely used except when sports writers used references in a variety of manners. Newt Fisher became manager and local scribes would call the team the “Fishermen”. Under Johnny Dobbs tutelage the club was given the moniker the “Dobbers”. When service clubs were formed to boost local commerce, the team was often known as “Boosters” due to the support of those organizations.

One flippant remark to the quality of the team’s performance in 1907 was “Hustlers”. Apparently, there was lack of it.

As ball club ownership in other cities began to appease the fan base by adding an official team name, Nashville management did not seem to notice the importance. After all, some clubs used more than one.

If management would not approve it, at least writers and fans could settle in on one name that was unofficial. In 1908 the three local newspapers held a contest among fans to give the Nashville club an official name. Nashville’s three newspapers, American, Banner, and Tennessean, accepted mail-in votes from readers during the month of February, sent to Nashville manager Bill Bernhard, choosing from three agreed upon selections: Lime Rocks, Rocks, and Volunteers.

Grantland Rice was sports editor of the Tennessean at the time and his personal choice was “Volunteers”. The proximity of the State Capitol to the recently named ballpark, Sulphur Dell (Rice gave it that name in a January 14 column six weeks prior) and his premise that the name suggested courage, gave him reason to support the name.

On February 29, Rice announced in a Tennessean sports page headline, “Volunteers Wins Out in Fan Vote”. His column validated that 950 votes were cast for “Volunteers”, far-outdistancing the other choices.

He even states the name will stick, “…no matter who the manager or owner may be.”

The name did stick: Nashville remained a member of the Southern association from until it closed up shop after the 1961 season. For those 54 years the team was known as “Volunteers”, often shortened to “Vols”. Even the ownership group that had been formed in 1959 took on “Vols, Inc.” for the name of the new corporation. The club was revived for one additional season in 1963 as a member of the South Atlantic League.

When fans failed to support the team, the team folded; the Nashville Vols would be no more.

Tennessean 02-29-1908 Grantland Rice Names Volunteers Vols

© 2016 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

Author’s note: Much of the information included in this article comes from John A. Simpson’s excellent book, “The Greatest Game Ever Played in Dixie”: The Nashville Vols, Their 1908 Season, and the Championship Game. It is a wonderful account which provides as a resource for Nashville’s baseball history beginning in the 1800s up to an incredible season posted by the Volunteers. It is available from Amazon and other sources. You may read my review from an earlier post here: https://262downright.com/2015/04/10/from-my-bookshelf-the-greatest-game-ever-played-in-dixie/

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The Up and Down Career of Gene Host

Eugene Earl Host was once one of the highest-rated mound prospects in the Detroit organization.  Born on January 1, 1933 in Leeper, Pennsylvania, the 5′ 11″, 190-pound hard-throwing left hander was signed as a 19-year-old free agent in 1952 by the Detroit Tigers.

Sent to Kingston of the Coastal Plains League in his first professional season, he was 26-7 with a 1.81 ERA and named to the league All Star team.

He spent the 1953 season with Montgomery in the South Atlantic League (A) where he was 10-13 with a 3.51 ERA and in 1954 bounced between three teams: Little Rock (Southern Association – AA), Wilkes-Barre (Eastern League – A), and Durham (Carolina League – B). His combined record was 7-7.

In 1955 he spent the entire season with Little Rock where he was 10-13 once again. In May he hit Chattanooga’s Lyle Luttrell with a pitch, breaking his jaw.

In 1956 he finished 13-15 with Charleston (American Association – AAA) before being called up to the Tigers where his contract with the major league club called for a salary of $4,200.

He pitched in one game for Detroit at Briggs Stadium on September 16, 1956 against Boston. Wearing number 19, he started the game and allowed four runs on nine hits in 4 2/3 innings. Two of those hits were home runs by Billy Klaus (in the 5th inning with one on and one out) and Jackie Jensen (also in the 5th inning, a solo shot with two out).

After a single by Jimmy Piersall and a walk to Norm Zauchin, manager Bucky Harris called on future Hall of Famer Jim Bunning to replace Host on the mound. Bunning won in relief, allowing one hit the rest of the way as the Tigers won 8-4.

On December Host was traded by the Tigers with Wayne Belardi, Ned Garver, Virgil Trucks and $20,000 to the Kansas City Athletics for Jack Crimian, Jim Finigan, Bill Harrington and Eddie Robinson.

Gene HostHost signed with Kansas City at a salary of $5,100 and appeared in 11 games for the Athletics in 1957, mostly in relief. His uniform number was 28. He started two games, at Comiskey Park on April 20 against the Chicago White Sox (his first game for Kansas City, no decision) and at Cleveland Stadium on May 10 against the Indians (his first loss of the season).

His second loss came on June 9 at home at Municipal Stadium. In relief of Tom Morgan with no one out and two on in the fifth inning Host retired the side with no outs. In the eighth he gave up a solo home run to Ted Lepcio. In the ninth inning Jimmy Piersall and Ted Williams hit home runs and Lepcio singled home Jackie Jensen. Boston won 8-4 as Kansas City’s offense gave no support to Host.

On June 14 at Kansas City versus the New York Yankees, Host came on in relief of Mickey McDermott. Facing Mickey Mantle with two out and Bobby Richardson on second, Mantle promptly homered. Finishing the game, Host allowed seven hits, three runs (all earned), and struck out one: Mantle in the ninth.

Host’s final game in the majors was on June 23 at Fenway Park in Boston where he allowed three runs on four hits in 1 1/3 innings.

Traded to Buffalo for Glenn Cox a few weeks later, Host pitched in three games for the Bisons before being obtained by the Denver Bears of the American Association in late July. Under the tutelage of manager Ralph Houk, Denver won their league title. Playing versus Buffalo in the Junior Series championships Host was removed from the 20-player limit but he shared in the players’ share of the winnings.

In September he was sent to Little Rock to end the season. He was 1-4 in five appearances for the Travelers before being assigned back to Buffalo for 1958.

Host never appeared for the Bisons, however, as he was purchased by Indianapolis (American Association – AAA) in April before the season began. Having made his home in Little Rock, he left the club for a week to return to Arkansas without explanation, then rejoined the team on April 24. In May the Indians sent him to San Antonio (Texas League – AA) who returned him to Buffalo in June.

Buffalo assigned him to Winona (Illinois-Indiana-Iowa League – Class B) but he refused to report and was placed on baseball’s suspended list.

Out of baseball in 1959, he returned the next season as a member of the Monterrey Sultans (Mexican League – AA) pitching staff. In the opening game he was the loser in a slugfest in Mexico City in front of 25,000 fans who saw the Reds win 13-8. His record with the Sultans was 2-5 as his ERA ballooned to 5.86.

Host was a member of the Nashville Vols in 1961, signed by the club in March. He appeared in 11 games, winning two and losing five. His first win came against Chattanooga on Monday, April 10 in the second game of the season as Nashville trounced the Lookouts 8-6. By May 3 Birmingham handed him his fourth consecutive defeat, but on May 7 he pitched brilliantly in a four-hit, 2-0 shutout as Nashville’s Gene Davis popped a two-run homer in the bottom of the ninth.

It was Host’s final win of his career. The May 31, 1961 edition of The Sporting News announced his release by Nashville.

Once his baseball career was over he became a bus driver for Continental Trailways, and in 1964 began working as a machinist at the Ford Motor Co. glass plant in Nashville. Host passed away August 20, 1998 at the age of 65 and was cremated.

© 2015 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

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