Tag Archives: South Atlantic League

Vols, Inc.: New Ownership to Save Nashville Baseball, Conclusion

For the 1959 season, the team finished second by ½ game to Birmingham in the first half of the split season, and fifth in the second half. The combined record of 84-64 would have been good enough for third place had the season not been split into halves, and would have finished 5 ½ games out of first place.

Attendance increased by 37,000 to just over 129,000. With Sisler’s strong on-field leadership, and McCarthy’s front office skills, it should have been a perfect combination. But when Sisler was named manager of the Seattle Rainers (Pacific Coast League – Class AAA) and Bill McCarthy, concessions manager Bill Lambie, Jr., and trainer Chuck Swope all resigned[27], it was not because they had not performed well.

Sisler and McCarthy had grown to dislike each other.

“Sisler precipitated the explosion when he informed President Greer in Chicago that he would not consider returning as manager unless McCarthy was removed as general manager. Dick’s friends say McCarthy’s failure to provide players needed caused the rift. His detractors say Sisler wanted both jobs. The final result was elimination of both.”[28]

But the Vols, Inc. board of directors had one more ace up their sleeve. In a surprise move for everyone in organized baseball, 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.

It was reported that Turner’s salary will be $17,500, and he would assume all duties previously performed by Sisler and McCarthy. Turner hired Bill Giles, Jr., the 25-year-old son of National League president Bill Giles to be his assistant, and Lem (Whitey) Larkin as operations supervisor.[29] Turner was expected to sell tickets, too, both by his presence and his efforts.

With a lineup that included Jim Maloney, Jack Baldschun, and Jim Bailey on the pitching staff, and Johnny Edwards behind the plate and future New York Met Rod Kanehl holding down the defense, the club won 71 and lost 82, and finished in sixth place.

When Gabe Paul, Cincinnati Reds vice-president and general manager, announced on August 29 that the Reds six-year working agreement would not be renewed with Nashville effective December 15, it was a blow to the local team.

The reason given by Paul is because the Southern Association “does not allow the use of Negro players”. It was enough for Jim Turner, especially when the club failed to draw 100,000, falling short by 279.

Vols, Inc. continued through 1961 with Joe Sadler and Cleo Miller as president, but when it was announced that through 21 home dates Nashville had drawn 19,228 fans for an average of 915 per game, and first-year general manager Bill Harbour estimated the team would have to approximate last year’s attendance of 99,721 to break even, the writing was on the wall. Nashville drew just over 500 fans a game.

On January 24, 1962 the Southern Association suspended operations due to a lack of enough major league working agreements. Nashville was without a team in 1962.

Returning to organized baseball in 1963 as member of the South Atlantic League, after a one-year absence, the season began with a loss to Macon, 15-4. The opening day home game drew 7,987 Vols fans; that one game’s attendance would turn out to be 15% of the entire season’s draw.

But as the year ended facing a deficit of almost $22,000 on final season attendance figures of 52,812 fans, the directors of Vols, Inc. surrendered their South Atlantic League franchise without a dissenting vote. Board chairman Jack Norman assigned a committee to investigate the feasibility of retaining Sulphur Dell, which would mean a continuation of the corporation which owns the ballpark.

Sulphur Dell sat silent in 1964, but in 1965 Country Music star Faron Young led a group that purchased the ballpark and converted it into a race track. Sulphur Dell Speedways lasted only a few months, and Young’s syndicate turned the keys of the property back to Vols, Inc. and paid a rental fee.

With no prospects for a minor league franchise and with the neglected ballpark left with no upkeep, Vols, Inc. leased the property to the City of Nashville and it was used as a tow-in lot. The ballpark was razed in 1969 when Gregg Industries purchased the property for $255,000 from Vols, Inc. The intent was to construct a merchandise mart. When the mart was never built, the land stood idle for nearly fifty years until First Tennessee Park was built beginning in 2014.

On April 4, 1969, the Nashville Tennessean reported that Herschel Greer, now vice-president of the ownership group, said every Vols, Inc. stockholder would be paid 100-cents on the dollar, if they could provide a copy of their stock certificate.

As of March 1972, $50,000 was still on deposit in First American National Bank, most of it belonging to stockholders who had passed away, moved away, or had forgotten about their stock. Even if all of them claimed their ownership stake, there would still be $12,000 on hand for the corporation that still existed at that time even though it was out of business.In 13 years, some of the 4,876 investors received their money back – not a terrible investment that offered challenges at nearly every turn. But the challenge of the original issue of stock was a completely successful feat.

Epilogue: The grand experiment that was Vols, Inc., was a master plan for the future; but it was not the first.

“In 1956, the St. Louis Cardinals were preparing to relocate the Red Wings, their financially ailing Triple A farm club. Morrie Silver, a local businessman, sold shares in the club to fans at $10 each. The grassroots campaign raised $300,000 — enough to buy the team from the Cardinals and keep it in Rochester.”[30]

The Wisconsin Timer Rattlers (Midwest League – Class A), and Syracuse Chiefs and Toledo Mud Hens (International League – Class AAA) have similar ownership operations.[31]

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.

Special thanks to Davidson County/Metro Archives and Tennessee State Library & Archives

© 2018 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.




Nipper, Skip (2007) “Baseball in Nashville”. Charleston, South Carolina: Arcadia Publishing


Wright, Marshall D. (2002) “The Southern Association in Baseball, 1885-1961″. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Co., Inc.

[27] F. M. Williams. “Giles, Larkin Added to Vols’ Front Office,” Nashville Tennessean, November 6, 1959, 50.

[28] F. M. Williams, “Front Office Key To Nashvols Future,” Nashville Tennessean, October 2, 1960, 67.

[29] Ibid.

[30] Bruce Felton, “MINDING YOUR BUSINESS; Buy Me Some Peanuts, And Shares in the Team,” The New York Times, July 7, 1996, http://www.nytimes.com/1996/07/07/business/minding-your-business-buy-me-some-peanuts-and-shares-in-the-team.html, accessed March 7, 2018.

[31] Leo Roth, “Stock repurchases keep the ‘Rochester’ in Red Wings,” Democrat & Chronicle (Rochester, NY), May 19, 2017, https://www.democratandchronicle.com/story/sports/2017/05/19/rochester-red-wings-shareholders-new-york-abandoned-property/101766040/, accessed March 10, 2018.

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Vols, Inc.: New Ownership to Save Nashville Baseball, Part 3

In September Gilbert had announced that the Vols were ending their three-year working agreement with the New York Giants, and had signed a working agreement with the Cincinnati Reds beginning with the 1955 season.

“I told Ted last fall I wanted to get out,” Larry said via long distance phone yesterday. “Gertie (Mrs. Gilbert) has had a bad hip since early in the fall and now she has a broken ankle. She needs me to be with her. I haven’t been feeling too good, either.”[5]

That was only part of the reason.  On May 21, 1955 Gilbert sells out for $125,000.00 and Murray owns the Vols lock, stock, and barrel[6]. It ends a relationship from November of 1938, when his grandfather Fay Murray brought Gilbert to Nashville and named him manager, general manager, and vice president, giving him ½ share in the team.

Gilbert’s last day with the club is set for June 1, when he will move to his lakefront estate in New Orleans.[7] As part of the Reds affiliation, his son Charlie is not retained as assistant general manager. The younger Gilbert played for Nashville under his father in 1939, 1943, and 1948, and had joined him in management of the club after his playing career.

At the suggestion of Cincinnati GM Gabe Paul, Columbia Reds (South Atlantic League – Class A) general manager Bill McCarthy will take over the same position in Nashville.

According to sports writer F. M. Williams, Ted never cared for owning the Nashville club. “If memory serves me correctly, he was in Sulphur Dell only three times last year, yet he drew a salary of five figures, not out of the ball club but out of the concessions.”[8]

Now Ted finds himself in dire straits. But saving the ball club from dying was a priority for several like-minded civic leaders had the same idea.

This is Part 3 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.




[5] Johnson, “Owner Change,” Nashville Tennessean, January 23, 1955, 29.

[6] Murray Buys Gilbert’s Half,” Nashville Tennessean, May 22, 1955, 29.

[7] Johnson, May 22, 1955, 29.

[8] Ibid.

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1962 Savannah and Charlotte Experiment at Sulphur Dell Foiled

July 3, 1962 – A meeting of the executive committee of Vols, Inc., held to make plans for a regular season, three-game series between South Atlantic League rivals Savannah and Charlotte at Sulphur Dell, proves fruitless.

Savannah had been seeing low ticket sales due to the boycott of Negro fans who protested segregated seating arrangements, and club owner Bill Ackerman was hopeful to gauge fan interest for baseball returning to Nashville. However, in a conference call with SALLY league president Sam Smith, he related that Ackerman had decided not to pursue the matter.

Officials of Vols, Inc. had been receptive, as long as funds currently in the corporate treasury were not used, and under the following conditions:

        • Nashville would provide the ballpark, lights, water, and bathroom facilities at no charge.
        • Vols, Inc. would retain all concession profits.
        • The Savannah ball club would be allowed $2,000 in expense and all profits beyond that would be split 50-50 with the Nashville ownership group

Jack Norman, chairman of the board, said Vols, Inc. will remain open to discussions with Savannah. Joe Sadler, president, announced that he had been in contact with former Nashville general manager Bill Harbour about the possible transfer of the Portsmouth (Virginia) franchise in the South Atlantic League to Sulphur Dell for 1963.

The city is without professional baseball after the decline of the Southern Association the previous season; Nashville had been a member of the league during its entirety from 1901-1961.

Note: Due to continued failing attendance, Ackerman will move Savannah’s last eight home games to Lynchburg to gauge fan interest. The club will move to the Virginia city for the 1963 season.

© 2017 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.


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Nashville Tennessean



The Sporting News


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Ghosts of Sulphur Dell

The last week of the 1963 season was hardly going to be a great send-off for Nashville’s fabled ballpark. A 15-word sentence, seemingly an afterthought in an article about a player who had been sent to Tulsa of the Texas League, pronounced the beginning of the end.nashville-tennessean-09-01-1963-sulphur-dell

nashville-tennessean-09-08-1963-sulphur-dell-barney-ballard-article-apBut the oldest ballpark in existence was given special attention on September 8, 1963, when Associated Press sports writer Barney Ballard published his epitaph of Nashville’s Sulphur Dell. On that day the final professional game was scheduled for the quaint, quirky ballpark. Ballard’s prediction on fan attendance was true: 971 faithful people passed through the turnstiles. It was the lowest season attendance in the history of the ball club, as only 54,485 bothered to journey down to Sulphur Dell for the entire year.

The Vols won both games on that special Sunday, 6-3 and 2-1 over Lynchburg. But the spirit of the old ballpark seemed to want to hang on, to keep the saga alive, to give up one more home run down right, 262 feet from home plate.

And it happened.

The second game went into extra innings before the historic day ended with an appropriate feat, as Nashville outfielder Charlie Teuscher lifted a fly ball over the right field wall to end the game.


Teuscher slapped three home runs in the two games, but his game-ending achievement also began the final demise of one of Baseball’s most beloved, cherished, and endearing ballparks of all time.

Relinquishing its hold on professional baseball in Nashville, the city took over management of the facility. Relegated to a final flurry of amateur softball and baseball games, wrestling matches, concerts, and the rodeo in 1964, the park was eventually shuttered after becoming a race track in 1965, and demolished in 1969.

It was soon after the final season that happy thoughts were stirred once again, resurrecting flashbacks of a better day, a better time, when things were different. Tennessean cartoonist Charles Bissell gave one final inscription to thoughts of Sulphur Dell.


Bissell’s cartoon appealed to Mrs. Henry Justice, who penned a special memory in a letter to the editor a few weeks later. Reckon the ghosts are still there, after all?



Nashville Tennessean


© 2016 by 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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Bye Bye SALLY, Hello Emptiness

GoodBye.fwThe last day of professional baseball at Sulphur Dell was September 8, 1963 as the Vols faced the Lynchburg White Sox in a double header.  Nashville outfielder Charlie Teuscher belted three home runs as Nashville won by scores of 6-3 and 2-1.

A total of 971 fans attended the two games that day, innocent witnesses to what would be the beginning of the end for Sulphur Dell.

Two years prior the Southern Association disbanded. Nashville had been a stalwart member of the league since its inception in 1900, fielding a team each year from 1901-1961. The legendary league silently refrained from allowing Negro players, and with integration on due course in the majors the Southern did not take a stand on reform.

Nashville experienced rapid attendance depletion between 1947 (when organized baseball was integrated) until 1960 when the death knell began to sound for the league. The rumblings of change were heard a few years before.

On August 29, 1960 Gabe Paul, Cincinnati vice-president and general manager, announced that the Reds six-year working agreement would not be renewed with Nashville.  His reason was quite clear.

“(The Southern Association) does not allow the use of Negro players.”

Nashville’s ownership and the directors of the Southern Association must not have heard quite clearly enough, as they continued another season under the same miserable whispers of the status quo.

The Minnesota Twins agreed to replace the Reds as major league affiliate for 1961, but that failed to revive the team or fan attendance as a mere 64,460 bothered to show up for the season. Diminishing upkeep on Sulphur Dell was taking its toll, too.

At a board meeting held in Charlotte in January of 1962 the directors announced that the league would officially suspend operations on February 15. There was to be no baseball in Nashville in 1962.

A resurrection took place in 1963, however, as the up and coming South Atlantic (SALLY) League accepted Chattanooga and Nashville as new franchises. The directors of Vols, Inc., a public corporation formed in 1959 to keep the club solvent, hired a new general manager and gave the ballpark a face lift.

Formerly a general manager with the Washington Senators, Ed Doherty was brought on board to revive the franchise. His hiring seemed to be just the thing the ball club needed as he salvaged a limited working agreement with the Los Angeles Angels.

The team was integrated, which was a remarkable feat. The SALLY league had no expressed rule against integration, and on the first day of the season on April 19 in Knoxville, Eddie Crawford stepped to the plate to become the first African-American to appear in a Vols uniform. Four batters later, Henry Mitchell would join Crawford as the second in that distinction. The squad included future major leaguers Aubrey Gatewood, Duke Sims, and Marv Staehle.

Even though season ticket sales were the worst in the history of the club, Doherty predicted a crowd of 7,000 for Nashville’s opening day, and on April 25 a Sulphur Dell home crowd of 7,987 saw the Macon Peaches win over the Vols 15-4. It was the largest turnout for opening day since 1948.

Success was fleeting, as interest waned once again and by season’s end the team had drawn less than 53,000. Nearly 15% of season attendance had viewed the first game of the home season.

And the team was not very good, finishing with a record of 53-86 and in last place 27 ½ games behind the pennant-winning Macon Peaches.

With three home runs on the final day of pro ball at Sulphur Dell Charlie Teuscher may have brought visions of towering home runs by Bob Lennon, Charlie Gilbert, Chuck Workman, and Jay Partridge. But a week later and with a deficit of almost $22,000 for the season, the directors of Vols, Inc. surrendered their South Atlantic League franchise. There was no dissenting vote.

Board chairman Jack Norman assigned a committee to look into the feasibility of retaining Sulphur Dell, but it was the last hurrah for the famous park. Amateur baseball was played at Sulphur Dell in 1964, and in 1965 it became a speedway before being converted into an automobile tow-in lot for Metro Nashville.

The storied ballpark was demolished in 1969, leaving the recollections of fans and players to honor the historic hallowed grounds of Sulphur Dell.

© 2015 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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