Tag Archives: Southern Association

Saving Baseball Time?


An Act “to preserve daylight and provide standard time for the United States” was enacted by resolution of both Houses of Congress on March 19, 1918.[1] The law set standard set summer Daylight Saving Time to begin on March 31, 1918. *

With the announcement by Congress, Nashville Vols president Clyde Shropshire decided to change the starting time for games at Sulphur Dell during the early part of the season to 4:30, and after that to 5 o’clock.  By the added hour of daylight, he felt an opportunity would be presented to a large percentage of fans who had been denied that privilege through attachment to their work.

He thought the new plan would be a boon to his ball club since more fans would attend games as they would visit Sulphur Dell from work without missing the first hour of games. Sports writer Blinkey Horn had his own take on Shropshire’s edict.

“But the Vols should be able to collect a considerable supply of turnstile lubricant from that percentage of citizens freed sixty minutes of daylight sooner from the work.”[2]

The Southern Association season was scheduled to open on April 18, but Nashville was set to play in Birmingham for one game, then travel to Sulphur Dell the next day for the Vols first home game, also against the Barons.

Nashville took the game in Birmingham 7-0, but when the start time was announced for Opening Day in Nashville, it was set for 3:30 P.M.

Did Shropshire change his mind about the connection of time to money? Or did he have the same inkling that the newspaper did about how much savings there really would be?

* Observed for seven months in 1918 and 1919, Daylight Saving Time proved unpopular and was repealed, becoming a local option. It was instituted during World War II from February 9, 1942 to September 30, 1945 by President Franklin Roosevelt, called “War Time”.

Sources 

Energy.gov

Newspapers.com

Sabr.org

[1] Douma, Michael, curator. “Daylight Saving Time.” (2008). http://www.webexhibits.org/daylightsaving (accessed March 21, 2018).

[2]Vols To Start Games This Year An Hour Later,” Nashville Tennessean and American, March 21, 1918, 8.

© 2018 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

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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.

Sources

baseball-reference.com

newspapers.com

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

sabr.org

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 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

© 2018 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

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

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Southern Baseball Moguls Prepare for 1909 Season

The 1909 baseball season was just around the corner. It would be March before spring training began for most teams, but many players arrived early to jump-start their daily regimens.

The St. Louis Cardinals would be training 55 miles away in Little Rock, but outfielder Joe Delahanty, who had played in the Southern Association with Memphis and New Orleans in 1903, joined pitcher Johnny Lush as among the first to appear in Hot Springs, Arkansas, on February 21; the next day, St. Louis Browns infielder Jimmy Williams, New York Yankees outfielder Charlie Hemphill, and Cincinnati Reds pitcher Art Fromme. They met six players from the Brooklyn Superbas who also gathered to begin their exercise routines: second baseman Whitey Alpermann, outfielders Al Burch and Jimmy Sebring, and pitchers George Bell and Jim Pastorius, and even manager Harry Lumley.[1]

The Pittsburgh Pirates and Boston Red Sox were scheduled to hold workouts in Hot Springs beginning in early March. Boston had agreed to rent Majestic Stadium for the next five years.[2]

The Cubs were scheduled to spend time there, too, before heading to West Baden, Indiana, for final preseason activities. From there they would hit the exhibition game travel circuit on their way to Chicago in time for the regular season. All the other major league clubs did same from their own training sites.

Meanwhile, in preparation for the upcoming season, Southern Association directors gathered in Mobile, Alabama at the Battle House Hotel on Monday, February 22 for their own spring meeting. Nashville was coming off a championship, with the pennant captured on the last game of the year against New Orleans in what Grantland Rice dubbed, “The Greatest Game Ever Played in Dixie”.[3]

The win gave the Vols a .002-percentage point lead over the Pelicans: .573 to .571.[4]

President William Kavanaugh had already done some of his official duties. Before the meeting in Mobile, he had previously hired his umpiring staff for the year. Four would be returning from the 1908 season: Dan Fitzsimmons, Augie Moran, William Carpenter, and Dan Pfenninger, who would be calling balls and strikes in the Southern Association for a fifth straight year.[5]

They would be joined by Frank Rudderham, who had served in the National League in 1908, and former New England League umpire, J. O. O’brien. Although little is known about O’Brien, in the off-season Rudderham ran a bowling alley, Fitzsimmons and Pfenninger were union workers. Moran, who calls Philadelphia his home, runs a department at Wanamaker’s Department Store. Carpenter was from Cincinnati.[6]

 

League directors attending the meeting included league president Kavanaugh and secretary Clark Miller, Mobile president H. T. Inge and secretary Charles Z. Collson, New Orleans manager Charles Frank, Atlanta manager Billy Smith and president J. W. “John” Heisman (the Heisman Trophy is named for him), Little Rock manager Mike Finn, Birmingham president R. J. Baugh and manager Carleton Molesworth, Montgomery manager Ed Gremminger and team president R. J. Chambers, Memphis president Frank Coleman and his manager Charlie Babb, and Nashville president Ferdinand E. Kuhn and manager Bill Bernhard.

The main course of action was to approve the dates for the 1909 schedule. A preliminary calendar had been mailed to each club prior to the summit and was quickly approved with a few minor changes. It was decided that opening day would take place on April 15, with Memphis hosting Little Rock, New Orleans hosting Mobile, Atlanta hosting Birmingham, and Montgomery meeting Nashville at Sulphur Dell.[7]

For the first time, Nashville was given both opening and closing home dates, as well as the July 5 Holiday and September 6 Labor Day games.

An additional item on the docket was the case of Mobile pitcher Otis Stockdale. In 1908 he accused his 1907 Memphis manager Charlie Babb of having thrown a few games.[8]

Stockdale appeared before the board members and apologized, and after shaking hands with Babb, was promptly reinstated. Interestingly, once the reinstatement was made, Birmingham offered Mobile $1,000 for Stockdale, but the Sea Gulls turned down the offer.

Two rule changes were considered and approved[9]:

  1. Postponed games must be played the following day as a double-header unless the two clubs mutually agree upon a future date and so notify the president before playing the next game.
  2. All admissions paid by the ladies on ladies’ day shall be equally divided with the visiting club.

Nashville president Kuhn made a motion that the league enter a contract with Western Union that stated the telegraph company would not furnish any information of games to pool rooms or gamblers, but the company would furnish home ball clubs with details of other games. League approval was made.[10] It was also determined to allow Mobile and Montgomery to maintain separate gates for admission of colored patrons during the season.[11]

At the end of the 1909 season, the Atlanta Crackers ball club would be crowned champions with a 5 ½ game lead over the defending Nashville Vols.

© 2018 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

SOURCES

Baseball-reference.com

Newspapers.com

SABR.org

[1] “Early Birds At Spring Training,” Chicago Tribune, February 23, 1909, 12.

[2] “Red Sox At Hot Springs,” Daily (Little Rock) Arkansas Gazette, February 28, 1909, 9.

[3] Simpson, John. (2007). The Greatest Game Ever Played in Dixie: The Nashville Vols, Their 1908 Season, and the Championship Game. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Co., Inc.

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

[5] “Six Umpires For Southern,” Atlanta Constitution, January 31, 1909, 7.

[6] “Umpires For The Southern League,” Nashville Tennessean, February 16, 1909, 6.

[7] “Southern Moguls,” Nashville Tennessean, February 23, 1909, 12.

[8] “Stockdale Declares Babb Threw Games,” Nashville Tennessean, June 3, 1908, 7.

[9] “Southern Moguls.”

[10] “Baseball Moguls Meet At Mobile,” Atlanta Constitution, February 23, 1909, 4.

[11] “Stockdale Is Reinstated,” Nashville American, February 23, 1909, 6.

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Hub Perdue’s First Managing Job


October rings in the close of each baseball season, as the National League and American League champions move on to the best-of-seven World Series. Once a champion is determined, players tuck away their cleats, gloves, and bats for winter, unless opportunity allows them to continue in barn-storming exhibitions to pick up some winter cash. Otherwise, stadiums are locked down until the wisp of spring sets in once again.

Minor league teams finish their seasons much sooner than the big-league clubs, and it was no different in 1913 when the Atlanta Crackers won the regular season Southern Association championship by ½ game over the Mobile Sea Gulls. Bill Schwartz’s Nashville Vols were 19 ½ games behind in the standings with a 62-76 record, good enough for seventh place.

Having completed its season, Atlanta secured the pennant on September 7, as Mobile lost to last-place New Orleans, thereby giving the Georgia club the flag. Most eyes soon focused on the major’s culmination series, taken by Connie Mack’s Philadelphia Athletics as they vanquished Mugsy McGraw’s New York Giants in five games. One would believe that was all the baseball to be played for the year, as football was gaining traction. Games were already being played at Sulphur Dell by high school teams and Fisk University.

Even with no minor league playoffs in those days, Nashville was still in the baseball business. Its own regular season finished, Sulphur Dell hosted a game on the same day as the Crackers pennant clinch. It featured an all-star team from the not-to-distant Kitty (Kentucky-Illinois-Tennessee) League, mostly players on the Clarksville and Hopkinsville teams. Only a few hundred fans viewed the contest won by Nashville, 4-1.[1]

Once Mack’s Athletics had captured the World Series crown on October 11, it was time for one final game in Nashville. Sportswriter Jack Nye made the announcement in the October 13 edition of the local newspaper.

“With the closing of the world’s series the obituary of the baseball season is usually written throughout the country but Nashville fans will have one more opportunity to witness an exhibition game before the old winter league sets in.

“Arrangements have been made for a game at the Athletic park next Sunday afternoon between an all-amateur and an all-professional team, chosen from the baseball talent of this city…”.[2]

Named to pitch for the pros were Roy Walker, a pitcher from the New Orleans club, Detroit’s Charlie Harding, who was 12-6 for the Tigers’ Winston-Salem club, and Nashville native Bill McTigue. Native Nashville pro Bob Fisher, who had spent the past season as the Brooklyn Superbas shortstop, would play third base and join Nashville’s John Lindsay (shortstop) and Bill Schwartz (second base) in the infield, while Johnson City’s Tige Garrett would hold down first base.

Earl Peck, catcher for the Henderson Hens, was to man chores behind the plate. The remainder of the pro roster would include outfielders Johnny Priest, who had been a member of the Yankees a few years prior, Knoxville’s James Burke and another Nashville-born slugger, Tiny Graham. Graham had batter .370 during the season for Morristown in the Appalachian League.

Hub Perdue, from nearby Sumner County and nicknamed the “Gallatin Squash” by sportswriter Grantland Rice during his local tenure a few years ago, was to be the featured star for the amateurs even though Perdue had been a professional since 1906. Perdue had played for Nashville 1907-1910 (he was 16-10 on the Vols’ 1908 championship club) and had been a member of the National League’s Boston Braves for the past three years. It was rumored that he had been signed by the Giants’ McGraw to play on a barn-storming tour around the world during the winter.[3]

The balance of the amateur staff would be made up by Payne, catcher; Tally, first base; Lynch, second base; Sawyers, shortstop; Harley, third base; O. Schmidt, left field; Sutherland, center field; Conley, right field; and Gower, substitute.

Two days before the game was to take place on Sunday, October 19, the Friday edition of the Nashville Tennessean and Daily American announced lineup changes. Two professionals with ties to Nashville, Wilson Collins, pitcher for the Boston Braves, and Clarence “Pop Boy” Smith, of the Chicago White Sox, were set to join players previously set to play.

“Collins will play centerfield for the professionals, while Smith has agreed to assist Hub Perdue in pitching for the amateurs. It will be Collins’ first professional appearance in Nashville, and his presence in the line-up is sure to prove a big drawing card, especially among the Vanderbilt students. Smith married a Nashville girl some months ago, and is at present visiting in the city. He declared that he would be glad to take part in the contest, and says his arm is as strong as during the middle of the American league season.[4]

Also added to the pross roster as substitute was Munsey Pigue, who had previously played third base for Clarksville and Cairo, and who had made Nashville his residence.

The day before the game, Perdue was touting his ability to perform, quoted about his willingness to pitch to the best of his ability. “Tell ‘em I’ll show ‘em some pitching tomorrow afternoon,” said Hurling Hub Perdue last night. “I am going to pitch my old arm off to win that game.”[5]

Perdue was a promoter, that’s for certain, but whether due to a small turnout of only 200 fans or in truth suffering from a sore arm, he did not pitch in the game. And the pros took it on the chin, too.

“Hub Perdue was there, but did not pitch on account of a sore arm. However, the son of Sumner took his place on the coaching lines, and was one of the big attractions of the afternoon’s entertainment.”[6]

Held hitless by pitcher “Crip” Springfield through eight innings, the pros could not collect a run until the bottom of the ninth when they had two hits to force across the tying run, sending the game into the tenth inning. Springfield, who had a lame leg, won the game when the amateurs scored a run in the bottom of the tenth and the pros could not respond.

It was Springfield’s triple in the eighth that drove in the amateurs’ first run, but it was his brilliant mastery of the pros that had the sportswriters buzzing.

“Crip Springfield, of the Rock City league, is the name of the hero of the post-season game, which drew the bugs out in spite of the chilly weather and he came near having a no-run, no-hit game to his credit.”[7]

Perdue would play two more seasons in the majors, with Boston (1914) and the St. Louis Cardinals (1914-1915).  He would not return to the majors, but he remained in the minors for another seven seasons. Fighting through lingering arm troubles and wrenching his back slipping on a wet mound, even a spiking incident could not keep him from finishing his minor league career with 168 wins against 129 losses. He even returned to Nashville for a short time in 1920.[8]

In 1921 he was given another chance to manage a team, eight years after his first foray of leading a squad of amateurs. Named manager of the Nashville Vols, the season did not go well, as Perdue’s club finished in sixth place, a distant 41 ½ games behind pennant-winning Memphis. It was his second opportunity to manage, and his last.

Did his previous bid to lead a club in 1913 foretell his managing misfortune?

© 2017 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

Sources

Baseball-reference.com

Newspapers.com

Sabr.org

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

[1] Jack Nye, “Kitty League All Stars Beaten,” Nashville Tennessean and Daily American, September 8, 1913, 10.

[2] Nye, “One More Baseball Game Here Before Old Winter League Begins,” Nashville Tennessean and Daily American, October 13, 1913, 10.

[3] Ibid.

[4] “Two More Major League Stars To Play,” Nashville Tennessean and Daily American, October 17, 1913, 10.

[5] “Will  Pitch My Arm Off, Says Perdue,” Nashville Tennessean and Daily American, October 19, 1913, 34.

[6] “Professionals Held To Two Hits,” Nashville Tennessean and Daily American, October 20, 1913, 10.

[7] Ibid.

[8] John Simpson, “Hub Perdue,” SABR Bio-Project, https://sabr.org/bioproj/person/584e9b10, accessed October 10, 2017.

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No Vote, No Ultimatum, No Protest: Setting Nashville and the Southern Association Free

In August of 1960, Nashville’s return to the Southern Association for another season looked dim when Cincinnati withdrew the six-year affiliation it had with the Vols. In fact, the entire league had no assurance it would return for another year. It recovered by adding the Macon Peaches to fill the void that was left when Memphis exited.

The return of the Southern Association for 1962 looked even more bleak. Attendance went from 780,316 in 1960 to 647,831 in 1961, a decline of 17%. Television and air conditioning are often blamed for the lower turnout, but there may have been a deeper, more profound reason.

Gabe Paul, general manager of the Reds, explained the decision to drop Nashville from the farm system in no uncertain terms. Bottom line: No negro players equals no proper development of potential players equals the agreement ends.

For an entire year, no stance was taken by Nashville nor any other ball club in the league. There would be no integrating of the Southern. There was no vote taken either way, no ultimatum passed down from league or team leaders, no public protests by fans that would discourage continued segregation.

What saved the Vols franchise for one last season in the Southern Association? Enter the Minnesota Twins. Formerly the Washington Senators and relocated to the Twin Cities, the major league club was so profitable in their new home that stockholders received a $2-a-share dividend[1]. Not exactly keen on Nashville or its ballpark, Sulphur Dell, farm director Sherry Robertson had not given up hopes that Montreal, not the Vols, would be the new affiliate for the Twins.

“We would go into the Southern Association only as a last resort,” he told the Minneapolis Star. “In the first place, the Southern is a double A league and we need a triple A farm. Nashville’s park isn’t good place to develop players.

“And then, and this is important: The Southern bars Negroes, and we have several. That is one of Nashville’s biggest problems in getting an agreement. If a club can’t send its Negro players there, it doesn’t want the tieup[sic].[2]

He was right, sort of. Although there was no edict to “ban” or “bar” black players, there certainly was no edict to the opposite. And this is 15 years after Jackie Robinson had signed to play for the Brooklyn Dodgers.

Twins management offered a deal on January 23, 1961 to partner with the Nashville ballclub and stock the team with players. Not only did the arrangement save the Vols, it saved the Southern Association. The agreement included points which league president Hal Totten hoped would be a part of future major league affiliations in the Southern.

To provide a training site, and give it an identity as a member of the parent organization.

To absorb the training expenses of all players, except those invited to camp by Nashville

To house, feed, and instruct those players owned by the minor league club at a cost of slightly more than $4 a day

To pay all above $500 a month in salaries of optioned players

To pay all above $650 a month in salaries of players assigned outright to the minor league club

To pay part of the field manager’s salary, provided the major league club appoint him from their organization

According to the previous agreement with Cincinnati, Nashville had been paying up to $750 a month for optioned players’ salaries, and all salaries of players on outright assignment.[3]

The 1961 season was salvaged, but by August Nashville wallowed in the bottom half of the Southern Association standings. The club featured a makeshift roster, as the team featured only five players who had seen, or would see, action in the big leagues: Buddy Gilbert, Gene Host, Rod Kanehl, Joe McCabe, and John Romonsky.

On the night of August 11, Twins Executive Vice-President Joe Haynes and Robertson visited Sulphur Dell (for the first time) to take stock of Nashville’s players. The major league club was looking for those worthy to call up to the fold, as the Twins were going nowhere but seventh place in the 10-team American League.

It turned out to be a special night for Vols left fielder Joe Christian, who had been sailing along with a .329 batting average and had eight home runs. He added another home run and two singles for four RBI, and now had 220 total bases for the year. Ev Joyner added a home run and single, driving in four runs, and Gilbert hit two doubles, a single, and a sacrifice fly, good enough for five RBI.

None of the three were the property of the Twins.

The Vols won the game over the Birmingham Barons, 16-7, and even though they were out-hit 22-12, Nashville pulled off five double plays to seal the win, the Vols’ fifth straight. There were 721 paid admissions in the stands.

The attendance nor final score were the most important news of the night. Comments by the Twins’ Robertson were.

He told Nashville Tennessean sports writer F. M. Williams the future of the minor leagues looks good, except for two leagues. When Williams asked which ones were in trouble, Robertson identified the Southern and Western Carolina leagues.

“You people have got to play Negroes to remain in business,” he added.

Williams asked if the unofficial ban were to be lifted, would the outlook change. Robertson’s answer?

“Definitely.”

“Robertson said it is too early to discuss continuation of the working agreement with Nashville. But he intimated the Twins do not have enough ball players to staff a Double A club in the coming years.”[4]

What he was saying was the Twins did not have enough white players to send down to Double A.

Finally, the 50-man board of directors of Vols, Inc., representing 4,876 stockholders, heard him loud and clear, and acted on the controversial measure.

Meeting at Nashville’s Noel Hotel on September 2, the board voted unanimously to use Negro players in 1962, although a few grumbled about the matter.[5] But even those few were not going to jeopardize Nashville’s chance to go fail, possibly risking their investments in Vols, Inc. stock.

In the meantime, Robertson was certain some arrangement could be made to save Nashville.

“We can’t afford to let the Southern League die. We don’t have enough ball players to furnish a team in Nashville, but we will work something out, I am sure, at the meeting of farm directors tomorrow morning.”[6]

Robertson offered up a new idea to include Nashville as a part of the Twins organization. It involved a dual working agreement with the Pittsburgh Pirates. When the Pirates reneged and Columbus showed interest in placing a team in the league to replace Macon, Minnesota suddenly joined up with the Georgia club. Macon was a victim of big operating losses in 1961.

Birmingham decided to pull its club over the use of Negroes; the Detroit Tigers, the Barons major league affiliate, had little choice but to associate with Nashville should the team and league stay in business in 1962. It did not happen, and one player did not get a chance to integrate Nashville or the Southern Association.

A few months after the end of the 1961 season, minor league clubs met in Tampa for their annual winter meetings, and Nashville general manager Bill Harbour stood by the his board’s decision to include Negro players. John Dee Griffin, a catcher who appeared in 76 games and had a .183 batting average for Fox Cities in the Three-Eye League (Class – B), was drafted by the Vols.[7]

When the Vols went defunct for the 1962, Griffin ended up with Elmira (Eastern League – Class A). He had a 10-year career, all in the minor leagues, reaching as high as Class AAA ball with Rochester, Oklahoma City, and Arkansas (Little Rock) from 1963-1965, even playing in the Southern League with Chattanooga in 1965 and Macon in 1966. He finished his professional career in 1967 with Amarillo (Texas League, Class – AA) and Salem, Virginia (Class – A).

The Southern Association met its end, never to be resurrected again. After one season with no professional baseball, Nashville returned in 1963 as a member of the South Atlantic “SALLY” League (Class – AA), which was integrated. It was that year that Eddie Crawford and Henry Mitchell, both Negroes, were on the Vols roster; the first two and only of their race to perform for the team.

Hall of Fame baseball executive Branch Rickey, who signed Robinson to his Dodger’s contract, once said, “Ethnic prejudice has no place in sports, and baseball must recognize that truth if it is to maintain stature as a national game.”[8]

The teams in the Southern Association, Nashville included, missed an opportunity to boost the inevitable integration of minor league baseball in their cities until it was too late. The truth, as we now know, set them all free.

© 2017 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

Sources

Baseball-reference.com

Newspapers.com

Paper of Record

Sabr.org

Southernassociationbaseball.com

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

Notes

[1] Raymond Johnson. “One Man’s Opinion,” Nashville Tennessean, January 20, 1961, 28.

[2] “Nashville Seeking Tieup With Twins,” Minneapolis Star, January 19, 1961, 36.

[3] F. M. Williams. “Twins Tieup Rescues Nashvols,” Nashville Tennessean, January 24, 1961, 11.

[4] Williams. “Southern Outlook Bleak – Robertson,” Nashville Tennessean, August 12, 1961, 15.

[5] Williams. “Vol Directors Vote To End Ban On Negro Players in Sulphur Dell,” Nashville Tennessean, September 3, 1961, 27.

[6] Williams. “Dual Agreement Expected for Nashvols,” Nashville Tennessean, November 29, 1961, 18.

[7] “Vols Draft Negro Player,” Nashville Tennessean, November 28, 1961, 18.

[8] “Branch Rickey Quotes,” Baseball-Almanac.com, http://www.baseball-almanac.com/quotes/quobr.shtml, accessed August 14, 2017.

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Nashville Attendance and the Ebb, Flow of Minor League Baseball

On September 8, 1963, only 971 fans attended a double header between Nashville and Lynchburg at Sulphur Dell. It would be the final professional games played at the historic ballpark.

The end had been foretold by attendance numbers for several years. The Vols’ best year at the turnstiles had been in 1948, when 269,893 watched Nashville play, but the numbers never came close again until the death of the club. In 1954, the last of a three-year affiliation with the New York Giants, the total was 89,470. That was the year when Nashville slugger Bob Lennon hammered 64 home runs, but even that achievement was not enough to drive fans to the ballpark.

Nashville was not alone.

Fan support dwindled across the entire country during the decline of minor league baseball in the 1950s. By 1960, there were 22 minor leagues; in 1950 there had been 58.[1]

In his book, Leveling the Playing Field, Paul C. Weiler puts it in perspective.

“In the late 1940s there were more than 450 minor league teams drawing more than 40 million fans to their game – a team average of 90,000 a season. Then television arrive in American homes, drastically reducing the demand for minor league baseball. By the late 1950s attendance had plummeted to around 15 million, where it remained for the next 20 years.”[2]

The issue was such a concern to Nashville Vols co-owner Larry Gilbert that he sold his 50% ownership to his partner, Ted Murray. Soon in debt with the ball club, Murray looked for buyers, too, and in 1958 area civic leaders banded together to form Vols, Inc., a publicly-held company with intent to purchase the Vols from Murray.

Try as they may, in subsequent years fans did not show up, leading to the demise of the franchise after that fateful double header in 1963. The club drew 52,812 for their final year.

Even before World War II, when attendance waned after a sensational 1940 season. Nashville led the league from opening day, won the Southern Association regular season and playoffs pennants, then won the Dixie Series against the Houston Buffaloes. Attendance stood at 138,602 even though war was looming.

During the war years, attendance remained respectable:

1941      97,282

1942      96,934

1943      76,570

1944      146,945

In 1945, turnout was 83,014; an honorable figure as soldiers were returning home.

Sports writer Raymond Johnson, in his “One Man’s Opinion” column in the Nashville Tennessean, often addressed the issue. He could see the decline coming, and in 1952 gave his view of the matter for that season’s crowds.

“Unless the fans turn out in larger numbers when Those Vols return home Friday than they have been averaging this season, Nashville will finish last in league attendance for the first time since 1931…That was the last time Nashville finished in the cellar and the season when Those Vols set their all-time losing record of 102 games.”[3]

Baseball devotees stepped up somewhat; attendance figures ended at 113,193 for 1952.

But Johnson compared the waning appearance of fans to 1931, when totals were only 67,338. The club won only 51 games that season. He understood that fans liked to see winning baseball.

“That was the first season for night baseball in Nashville…But even the uniqueness of nocturnal ball failed to lure the fans out to see a ball club that was as interesting to watch as two black cats fighting on a moonless night.”[4]

Night baseball did not bring out fans. Neither did Bob Lennon’s remarkable home run season. Even Nashville’s unbelievable 1940 season did not relate to more fans in the seats. The 1948 season record attendance mark at Sulphur Dell occurred in Larry Gilbert’s final season as manager, then only fell to 238,034 in a Rollie Hemsley-led Vols repeat championship performance.

From then on, the challenge was a changing America: inventive television productions, expanding highways, and automobiles being produced instead of tanks.

The revival of baseball began in the late 1970s. Larry Schmittou was instrumental in bringing professional baseball back to Nashville after a 15-year drought, and was part of that revitalization.

Weiler tells how significant the interest was across the country.

“Then came the resurgence in interest in minor league (as well as major league) baseball among baby boom families who did not feel like staying home every night to watch television. By the late 1990s total minor league attendance had reached 35 million, an average of about 200,000 a season for each of the nearly 175 teams.”[5]

2016 regular season attendance for 160 teams in 14 minor leagues (including only teams affiliated with major league baseball) was just over 37 million.[6] That averages to just over 3,000 fans per game. Nashville Sounds attendance at First Tennessee Park was 504,060 in 2016[7].

Raymond Johnson, Larry Gilbert, Ted Murray, and the 4,876 stock holders of Vols, Inc. would have been happy with those numbers.

© 2017 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

Sources

Newspapers.com

Paper of Record

Sabr.org

Notes

[1] Ian Kahanowitz. “A Brief History of The Minor League’s Reluctance to Integrate (Part 3),” 27outsbaseball.com, http://www.27outsbaseball.com/uncategorized/a-brief-history-of-the-minor-leagues-reluctance-to-integrate-part-3/, accessed August 10, 2017.

[2] Weiler, Paul C. (2009) Leveling the Playing Field. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

[3] Raymond Johnson. “Vols Last in Attendance First Time in 21 Years,” One Man’s Opinion column, Nashville Tennessean, August 26, 1952, 15.

[4] Johnson.

[5] Weiber.

[6] Graham Knight. “Minor League Baseball Attendance in 2016,” Baseballpilgrimages.com, http://www.baseballpilgrimages.com/attendance/minor-leagues-2016.html, accessed August 10, 2017.

[7] “Pacific Coast League: Attendance,” milb.com, http://www.milb.com/milb/stats/stats.jsp?y=2016&t=l_att&lid=112&sid=l112, accessed August 10, 2017.

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