Tag Archives: Racine Belles

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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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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