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Nashville’s Original Hot Chicken: Nelson “Chicken” Hawks

Nelson “Chicken” Hawks, also known as “the Little Chinese Boy”, was an outfielder-first baseman for the Vols during the 1923 and 1924 seasons. He was born in San Francisco on February 3, 1896.

A product of the local sandlot Ambrose Tailors team[1], as a 21-year-old Hawks’ first professional season was in 1918 as a member of the Oakland Oaks (Pacific Coast League – AA). Playing in 64 games before going into the Army that year, he was back with Oakland for one game in 1919 but refused to sign in a salary dispute.[2]

He managed a semi-pro El Dorado squad[3] and later became a member of the Richmond Elks, a semi-pro team which claimed the “championship of Northern California”. Once the season ended, Hawks continued playing during the winter in the St. Dominic and Tribune leagues.[4] It was an off-season regimen to return to semi-pro leagues for many players from the west coast.[5]

Turning down an offer to play for the New York Giants, he signed to play for Calgary (Western Canada League – B) in 1920. By mid-season he was leading the league at .355[6]. After a league-leading .359 average[7] Hawks was signed to play for the New York Yankees.

Considered one of the fastest players but with one of the weakest arms in the American League[8], Hawks was a reserve outfielder for Miller Huggins’ Yankees and hit .288 in 41 games.[9] His major league debut came on April 14, 1921 at the Polo Grounds against the Giants, pinch hitting for future Hall of Fame pitcher Waite Hoyt in the top of the eighth and getting a hit, driving in one run.

New York won their first American League championship season in 1921 but Hawks did not appear in the World Series which the New York Giants won 5 games to 3.

At his own request[10] he was released to the Vernon Tigers (PCL – AA) in January of 1922.[11] He hit a modest .279 while riding the bench due to the abundance of outfielders on manager Bill Essick’s team.[12]

Chicken Hawks 2 But the Yankees-Vernon transactions were considered troublesome as rumors of some sort of cover up had taken place[13] and in June of 1923, while a member of St. Paul (American Association – AA), Commissioner Judge Landis made him a free agent.[14] Hawks had been purchased by the Saints in February and had been hitting a weak .273 while suffering from a variety of injuries.

Rumored to have been sought by Baltimore (International League – AA)[15], he signed with Nashville (Southern Association – A) because it was the best offer he received[16]. Hawks only played in 47 games for the Vols but had 84 hits in 248 appearances and produced a .339 average. Although he had played first base for the Saints, Vols manager Jimmy Hamilton needed help in the outfield and Hawks made the transition even though Hawks was known to have a weak throwing arm.

Hawks moved to first base for the 1924 season with the Vols, batting .336 with 27 doubles, often coaching at third base.[17] He earned a spot on the 1925 Phillies roster and by June he was leading the National League with a .409 average and holding down the first base spot for Philadelphia[18], replacing Walter Holke.

Falling to a .322 average on the season, he was sent to Newark (International League – AA) where his average continued to dip. As captain of the Bears, he only hit .287 for 1926[19] and became expendable as Newark shipped him to Denver. Hawks refused to report and remained with the Bears.[20]

At mid-season of 1927 and hitting only .272 he was traded in an even swap for Jim “Rube” Parham to league rival Reading[21] a Chicago Cubs affiliate. He joined the club on July 24.

When he returned his contract to the Reading club on Monday, February 6, 1928, he enclosed a letter to Keystones secretary Walter Ludwig.

“I am all set for spring training and know I’m going to have a big year,” he said in his letter. “Last season I didn’t have a bit of spring conditioning and I believe I was hurt on that account. I’ll be all right this year.”[22]

He played for two more seasons there, hitting .339 in 1928 and .316 with 44 doubles in 1929, but at the end of 1929 it was reported that he asked for his release to become player-manager of the Allentown team in the Eastern League (A).[23] In December manager Harry Hinchman sold Hawks to Buffalo (International League – AA).

In 1930 he hit .301 for the year and had a 21-game hitting streak to begin the season at which time he was hitting at a .375 clip.[24] Returning to Reading in an early season series, Hawks was 9-for-21[25], but in April of 1931 he was given his release.[26]

Given a workout with San Francisco (PCL – AA) in April, Hawks was signed by the Seals on June 12, 1931[27] His tenure did not last long, as he replaced George Burns as manager of the Mission Reds a month later[28], but at season’s end he was released by the Missions.[29]

In 1933 Hawks was signed to play semi-pro ball again for the Alameda Elks team for a Tribune tournament to be held in August and September.[30] 1934, named an umpire in a major/minor league exhibition game at Oakland’s ballpark.[31]

Hawks died on May 26, 1973, in San Rafael, California and is buried at Cypress Lawn Memorial Park in Colma, California.

© 2016 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

[1] Oakland Tribune, June 13, 1931, p. 10

[2] Ibid. April 12, 1925, p. 72

[3] Ibid. April 18, 1919, p. 19

[4] Ibid. October 22, 1919, p. 11

[5] Ibid. December 7, 1924, p. 33

[6] Ibid. July 29, 1920, p. 21

[7] “1920 Western Canada League Batting Leaders”. Baseball-Reference. Sports Reference.

[8] Pittsburgh Daily Post, September 26, 1921, p. 8

[9] Oakland Tribune, January 31, 1923, p. 13

[10] Ibid. January 17, 1922, p. 25

[11] Washington Herald, January 7, 1922, p. 8

[12] Oakland Tribune, May 21, 1922, p. 34

[13] Sporting News, December 16, 1926, p. 2

[14] Ibid. June 14, 1923, p. 5

[15] Ibid.

[16] Oakland Tribune, April 12, 1925, p. 72

[17] Sporting News, February 26, 1925, p. 4

[18] Hutchinson News, June 6, 1925, p. 3

[19] Reading Times, July 25, 1927, p. 11

[20] Ibid, May 6, 1929, p. 14

[21] Ibid.

[22] Reading Times, February 9, 1928, p. 19

[23] Brooklyn Daily Eagle, November 3, 1929, p. 48

[24] Reading Times, May 15, 1930, p. 20

[25] Ibid. May 6, 1930, p. 16

[26] Ibid.

[27] Oakland Tribune, June 13, 1931, p. 10

[28] El Paso Herald-Post, July 9, 1931, p. 15

[29] Sporting News, November 12, 1931, p. 6

[30] Oakland Tribune, August 8, 1933, p. 28

[31] Ibid. October 14, 1934, p. 14

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Yogi in Nashville

It wasn’t him they came to see.

Mickey Mantle had left the New York Yankees and returned home to Commerce, Oklahoma to treat a skin rash. His last time to the plate was as a pinch hitter on March 29, and manager Casey Stengel was not very happy when it was reported that Mantle had been spending time fishing near his home town.

But all was well when Mantle rejoined his team in Nashville on April 7, 1953 to face the Vols. He made up for lost time by slugging a 420-foot, 2-run double in the seventh inning. New York won the game 9-1 before 2,693 Sulphur Dell fans.

Yankee pitching coach Jim Turner, a Nashville native, was honored at home plate before the game by Governor Frank G. Clement who appointed Turner a Tennessee Colonel on the Governor’s staff.

As was often the case, Yogi Berra crouched silently behind the plate that day. His contribution to the Yankee cause include participating in one double play with Phil Rizzuto and adding a single and scoring a run. He was later spelled by utility catcher Charlie Silvera and the box score and news articles tell of no further heroics by the 1951 American League Most Valuable Player that day:

New York Yankees vs Nashville Vols 04-07-1953 Yogi Berra

On the season Berra would hit for a .296 average, drive in 108 runs, have 27 home runs and 161 hits, and finish second to Cleveland’s Al Rosen for the 1953 MVP award. In 1954 and 1955 he would add the MVP trophies to his book case.

Berra retired as an active player in 1965, but returned to the Yankees in 1976 as a member of manager Billy Martin’s staff. When the Nashville Sounds and New York began their major-minor league affiliation in 1980 the two teams were scheduled to play an exhibition before the regular season began. Those plans were thwarted when an eight-game strike delayed the remainder of the spring training season.

On April 16, 1981 the Yankees did return to Nashville to play an exhibition game versus the Sounds. A standing room crowd of 17,318 fans attended the game as the major league team won by a score of 10-1.

“You couldn’t have put another fan in Greer Stadium with a shoe horn,” says Farrell Owens, general manager of the local club on that day.

In June of 1981 another strike occurred and caused the loss of scheduled games between June 12 and August 9. During that time owner George Steinbrenner sent his coaches to various minor league affiliates to scout and instruct players at those locations.

Owens remembers those days, too. “Yogi Berra came to Nashville for about 10 days. He wore his Yankees uniform and sat in the dugout during the games. I even had my picture taken with Yogi down on the field.

FO_Yogi

“He didn’t say a “Yogi-ism” or anything out of the ordinary as he was known to do.

“But I wish he had.”

In Berra’s last season as a coach for New York, the Yankees invaded Nashville once again. On April 28, 1983 New York had a four-run lead going into the bottom of the ninth inning, but a five-run rally with two outs pushed the Nashville Sounds to a 5–4 victory. The attendance was 13,641.

Yogi would become the manager for a second time in 1984.

Fast forward to about 2012. I was called to the home of another collector to view a box of Yankees memorabilia he was selling. I saw a few things I wanted: a few World Series tickets, a Joe DiMaggio mini-bat, and some programs. After agreeing on a price, I placed the box in my car and headed home.

Yogi_BallLater that day I found an autographed baseball at the bottom of the box, and it was a real treasure. Inscribed on the side was “It ain’t over ‘till it’s over” and signed “Yogi Berra”. As a life-long New York Yankee fan, I proudly added the ball to my collection.

Today we have learned of the death of Yogi Berra. We are familiar with many of his famous quotes, and whether he actually ever uttered all of them is no matter. We lost a living, breathing treasure; one for the Yankees, for baseball, and for adoring fans.

For all those great things you said and all those great plays you made, Yogi, you can now rest in peace. And it will never be over.

© 2015 Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

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Nashville’s Slugging Combinations

In 1927 Babe Ruth hit a remarkable 60 home runs for the New York Yankees. Lou Gehrig had 47, and for many years their two-man total of 107 was the benchmark for home runs by two team mates.

In 1961 Roger Maris of the Yankees hit 61 for the season, breaking Ruth’s single-season record, and Mickey Mantle hit 54 to give the duo a total of 115. The Maris-Mantle record still stands.

In comparison, when Barry Bonds hit his record-breaking 73 homers in the 2007 season, team mate Rich Aurilia’s 37 round-trippers gave them a total of 110.

Nashville had a few tandem sluggers, too. In 1930 first baseman Jim Poole slugged 50 home runs and second baseman Jay Partridge added 40 to set a Southern Association record of 90. Two years later Moose Clabaugh and Stan Keyes combined for 67 but fell far short of the Poole-Partridge tally.

Workman_GilbertBut in 1948 Charlie Workman and Charlie Gilbert hit 96 home runs combined; Workman had 52 and Gilbert added 44. It was an especially notable feat in that the entire club hit only 60 the previous season.

The pair had previously played for Nashville with very little home run success. Gilbert roamed the outfield hills for his manager-father Larry Gilbert in 1939 and 1943 and had 21 total. Workman played for the senior Gilbert in 1941 and 1942. His production increased from 11 to 29 those two seasons, but both players especially found the Sulphur Dell fences to their liking during 1948.

In 1949 two new sluggers appeared on the scene and immediately chased the record of the previous season. Catcher-outfielder Carl Sawatski, with 45, and outfielder Herman “Babe” Barna with 42 gave the Nashville club an added season of slugging success with 87 combined.

The Southern Association record for home runs by one player came in 1954 when Nashville’s Bob Lennon hit 64. Nearly reaching the 1932 combined record of Clabaugh and Keyes all by himself, the second place slugger for the Vols was Larry DiPippo who had 20. His and Lennon’s output totaled 84.

Taking the comparison one step further, the major league record of 165 home runs by four players on the same team in a single season is the 1961 New York Yankees: Maris with 61, Mantle with 54, Bill Skowron with 28, and Yogi Berra with 22.

Next is 147 by the 2001 San Francisco Giants: Barry Bonds with 73, Rich Aurilia with 37, Jeff Kent with 22, and Marvin Benard with 15.

Nashville had two teams with impressive homer stats that are not too far off from those major league totals; both the 1948 and 1949 club tallied 129:

Home Runs by 4

In both of those seasons the quadruplets hit for a combined .351 average and led Nashville to Southern Association pennants. Those feats were never accomplished again; even with Bob Lennon’s excellent record-setting season, the 1954 team tied for seventh place:

Home Runs by 4 1954

In the history of Nashville baseball, none could match the slugging combinations of 1948 and 1949.

© 2015 Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

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It Happened on This Day in Nashville: April 8

Another special day in the history of Nashville baseball is April 8. The New York Yankees, New York Giants, Brooklyn Dodgers, Milwaukee Braves, Cincinnati Reds, and Cleveland Indians all appear at Sulphur Dell on this day through the years, and Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig play at the historic park:

April 8, 1901
Nashville is scheduled to play Vanderbilt in their first exhibition game before the Southern League season begins. It will be the first of three games with Vanderbilt, followed by games versus Suwanee <sic>, Cumberland and Jake Benes’ St. Louis team.

April 8, 1915
Nashville Vols lose to the National League New York Giants by a score of 4-2 in an exhibition game at Sulphur Dell.

April 8, 1934
Before a crowd of 5,000, the Vols beat Joe McCarthy’s New York Yankees 6-5 for the second straight day. James P. Dawson reports the game for The New York Times, saying that two home runs at Sulphur Dell “cleared the high fence and a 30-foot wire extension on the abbreviated mountain in right field“. Babe Ruth goes two for three, Lou Gehrig is one for two, and Bill Dickey is hitless in five at-bats.

April 8, 1946
Today’s exhibition game at Sulphur Dell between the New York Yankees and Brooklyn Dodgers is cancelled due to morning rains and a downpour which comes 45 minutes before today’s scheduled start. The outlook for the game called for 7,500 fans to turn out as all reserved seats were sold out, and 4,000 fans are turned away.

April 8, 1953
During an exhibition game at Sulphur Dell, Giants rookie Daryl Spencer is hit in the face by a pitch from Cleveland Indians hurler Mike Garcia.

April 8, 1956
The Brooklyn Dodgers win over the Milwaukee Braves 12-2 before an overflow crowd of 11, 933. Gil Hodges hits a home run and the Dodgers collect a total of 17 hits in the win. Del Rice, catching for the Braves, lifts a high fly over the right-center-field wall for a homer.

April 8, 1958
Jay Hook, bonus baby right-hander signed out of Northwestern University by the Cincinnati Reds, is assigned to Nashville.

April 8, 1960
Nashville’s Sulphur Dell hosts an exhibition game between the Milwaukee Braves and the Cincinnati Reds.

Reds Braves ticket_FB

© 2015 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

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Nashville’s Jim Turner: Player, Coach, Manager, Fan

Born in August 6, 1903 in Antioch, Tennessee, James “Jim” Riley Turner began his journey in baseball in March of 1922. Trying out for the hometown Nashville Vols as a catcher in the presence of manager Larry Doyle, pitcher Red Lucas, outfielder Mike Burke, and third baseman Hap Morse, Turner was told “come back next year”. He spent the rest of the year playing semipro ball in the Nashville area.

Turner’s brother Bryant was usually the pitcher on their teams, and when Bryant failed to show up for a game for Nolensville, Jim pitched the game and struck out 18 Gladeville batters. He was a pitcher from that time on. One of the spectators told Little Rock manager Kid Elberfeld about Turner and on the team’s next visit to Nashville Little Rock signed him to a contract for $175 a month.

In March Little Rock sent Turner to Paris, Tennessee in the Kitty League where he played in 1923 and 1924. He won 14 games the first year and 16 games the next. Sent to Winston-Salem in 1925, for the next five seasons Turner had stops in Greensboro, Portsmouth, Norfolk, Selma, and back to Greensboro. During the winter of 1929-1930, Turner was sold to Hollywood in the Pacific Coast League where he played for three seasons. He spent four seasons in Indianapolis winning 18 games in 1936.

He had spent 14 years in the minor leagues before his break into major league ball when he was sold to the Boston Braves. As a 32-year-old rookie in 1937, Turner won 20 games, had a National League-best ERA of 2.38, led the league in shutouts with five and complete games with 24. The next season he was selected to the 1938 National League All Star team. Two years later he pitched in the 1940 World Series for the Cincinnati Reds. In 1942 he spent part of the season in Newark after having been sent to the New York Yankees where he ended his playing career at 41 years of age in 1945.

He signed to manage Beaumont in the Texas League in 1946 where his team finished fifth with a record of 70-83. In Portland the next two seasons, he finished third and fifth, winning 97 and losing 89 in 1947 and winning 89 and losing 99 in 1948. When Casey Stengel was named manager of the Yankees, Turner became pitching coach in 1949.

During his 11-year tenure with the Yankees, he developed the pitchers who led the Yanks to nine pennants and seven world championships.

Jim Turner Banner ProfileIn 1960, “Milkman Jim” (a nickname given to him because he always returned to the family farm during the off-season) returned to Nashville as general manager and field manager of the Nashville Vols. In the winter of 1958, a campaign had been initiated to organize a group to take over the financially-distressed Nashville Vols. Led by civic leaders Herschel Greer, Dr. Cleo Miller, country music star Eddie Arnold, Vols, Inc. was formed and shares in the new venture were sold at $5.00 per share. Nashville had been led on the field by manager Dick Sisler during the previous three seasons, but attendance at the gate had begun to dwindle. In 1959 the team lost only $2,300.00, but in a move that was enormously popular in Music City, Jim Turner was offered the reins of the ball club not only to improve the performance of the team on the field, but also to improve paid attendance.

The decision to attain Turner almost did not happen. “It was necessary to act quickly to get Jim Turner,” said Vols, Inc. board member Jack Norman told the Nashville Tennessean, “Jim has had several attractive offers. One particularly was pressing closely. It was therefore necessary to make an immediate decision.” Turner never divulged the offers that he had received.

With full control of the team, Turner managed the Cincinnati Reds-affiliate Vols with a roster that include catcher Johnny Edwards, utility man Rod Kanehl, and pitchers Jim Maloney and Jack Baldschun.  Turner’s 1960 Vols team finished sixth in the Southern Association, with 71 wins and 82 losses. The crowds continued to decline throughout the season, and Turner resigned at the end of the year.  He returned to the majors with assignments by the Reds that included becoming pitching coach in 1961 until his retirement in 1973.

Returning to Nashville, he continued to attend local college and amateur games, and was a season ticket holder with the Nashville Sounds with their inception in 1978 until his passing on November 29, 1998.

© 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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Old/New Construction at Sulphur Dell (We’re Talking 1927)

In local baseball circles, I can attest to the fact that conversations are all about the new First Tennessee Park being built for the Nashville Sounds. Outside of those circles there is probably plenty of talk on the subject, too.

With an April 2015 opening planned, and construction at the site well on its way, there is but a smattering of talk about potential delays. But that was not the case in 1927, when old Sulphur Dell was turned around.

But why turn around a ballpark? It’s a little hard to put one’s finger on the real reason.

Some say that without lights (the first major league night game would not happen until 1935) the late afternoon sun was always in the batter’s face since the ballpark was facing the southwest. To make it easier on the home team, the park was relocated so the batter’s back was to the State Capitol. Problem eliminated.

Another reason for the reconfigured ballpark: new ownership. On October 1, 1926 four owners took over the Nashville Baseball Club and split 535 shares of stock:

Rogers Caldwell, a local horse breeder

J. H. “Jack” Whaley, co-publisher of Southern Lumberman, a regional publication

Stanley P. Horn, also co-publisher of Southern Lumberman

Jimmy Hamilton, manager of the Nashville Vols since 1923. In 1925 he had purchased the Raleigh club in the Piedmont League

With a season attendance of 178,000 in 1925, the team had generated $80,000 in profit. There is no published profit amount of 1926, but even with attendance down to 135,000 the reported amount was still “five figures” and ownership was lucrative.

The first week of December the new owners announced a new steel & concrete structure would be built – a little unusual, with two of the owners producing a publication about the wood industry in the southeast – and the new ballpark was expected to be one of the best ballpark facilities in baseball for its size.

J. B. Hanson Co. was awarded the construction contract. The architect was Marr & Holman.

Perhaps the new owners wanted to show local fans how committed they were to advancing the prestige of Nashville. They certainly allowed Jimmy Hamilton free reign on signing new players. He was a personal friend of Connie Mack, Wilbert Robinson, Ty Cobb, and other major league managers and sought their advice in bringing in a team built for the new ballpark.

While attending baseball’s winter meetings the past December, Hamilton scheduled major league squads to play in Nashville as they left their spring training locations, heading north to begin the regular season.

Then it happened, as it had happened nearly every other spring: the first week of January, rains poured and grounds were flooded under 16 feet of water, delaying progress of construction for three weeks.

In February, the contractor was offered a bonus of $5,000.00 to complete the structure for the March exhibition season. Spring exhibitions against big-league teams were important money-makers, and three construction shifts were utilized to speed the process. During this period, the Nashville Vols practiced at Vanderbilt’s baseball field and played a few games against the Commodores.

Was construction completed in time? You be the judge: the image below has a date of March 24, 1927. The first game was played on March 25 against the Minneapolis Millers of the American Association. The Millers won 5-3 and Minneapolis right-fielder Dick Loftus hit the first home run in the new park.

Tennessee State Archives Image

Tennessee State Archives Image

The following day, Toledo visited Sulphur Dell and Casey Stengel hit a triple for the Mud Hens.

Additional games took place over the next weeks. On April 2, the Milwaukee Brewers of the American Association came to town and the Cincinnati Reds played on April 3 and 4th. The team that would become known as “Murderers Row”, the New York Yankees, visited on April 7 and lost 10-8 to the 1926 World Series champion St. Louis Cardinals.

Nashville Vols fans celebrated the new ballpark on Opening Day, April 12 with an attendance of 7,536. Season attendance would finish at 176,000, a few thousand less than two years previous. For comparison’s sake, Sulphur Dell would have a record season attendance of 270,000 in 1948, manager Larry Gilbert’s final season.

With the quirky, colorful contour of Sulphur Dell’s confines, the ballpark became a storied home to the Nashville Vols and for a time, the Negro League’s Nashville Elite Giants.

© 2014 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

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