Tag Archives: Southern League

Opening at Home for the First Time

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It was the first of many season openers in Nashville.

© Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

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“Volunteers” the Pick

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tennessean 02-29-1908 Grantland Rice Names Volunteers Vols

© 2016 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

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

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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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Early Modifications to Sulphur Dell

Nashville’s famous ball field began as Athletic Park in an area known as Sulphur Spring Bottom, where a grandstand was built in 1885 as a home for the Nashville Americans in the professional Southern League:

1SD

The stadium layout remained the same through 1908, when the ballpark was renamed Sulphur Dell. Upgrades to the bleachers and an expanded grandstand took place (street names where changed to numbered streets in 1904):

2SD

The most radical change occurred in 1927 when the wooden grandstand was demolished and a new steel-and-concrete structure was erected. However, it had been determined that the ballpark would be turned around so that batters would no longer face the sun to the southwest:

3SD

Although the 1927 home opener was a few weeks away, on March 25th the first contest was held in the new ‘turned-around’ Sulphur Dell, an exhibition game played between the Nashville Vols and Minneapolis Millers.

Sulphur Dell remained the same configuration until 1963 when it was longer used as a ballpark, and was demolished in 1969.

Images Courtesy Tennessee State Library & Archives (Note: Images not to scale)

Reference  http://nashvillehistory.blogspot.com by Debie Oeser Cox

© 2015 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

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12th Annual Southern Association Conference at Birmingham’s Rickwood Field

Rickwood Field, Birmingham’s historic ballpark, is preserved through the efforts of the Friends of Rickwood and maintains Rickwood, built in 1910 as home to the Barons and used by the Negro League Birmingham Black Barons.

Over 200 amateur games are still played there, and each year the AA Southern League’s Barons host a regular season turn-back-the-clock contest dubbed the “Rickwood Classic”; this year’s game will be played on Wednesday, May 27th, as the Barons host the Jacksonville Suns at 12:30 PM. Former New York Mets star Darryl Strawberry will be the featured guest.

2015 ProgramA visit to Rickwood should be on every baseball fan’s list of places to visit. The ballpark hails a time when Sunday doubleheaders were played in the sweltering heat and future major leaguers hoped to move up the ranks to the majors. Each time I visit I think of what it must have been like for Nashville Vols Buster Boguskie, Lance Richbourg, Tom Rogers, Phil Weintraub, Bill Rodda, Boots Poffenberger, and Babe Barna to have played there. And how proud they’d be that it is still there.

It is such an iconic picture of baseball’s past that Rickwood has been used for commercials and movies.

The movie about Jackie Robinson, “42” utilized the ballpark during filming.

Like baseball? Like history? Like the history of southern baseball? Then you’ll need to remember this for the future: the Friends of Rickwood group sponsors an annual conference dedicated to the history of the Southern League (1885-1899) and Southern Association (1901-1961). It is a gathering of historians, writers, fans, and players who are interested in sharing their research, stories, and memorabilia.

The 12th Annual Southern Association Conference was held this past Saturday on March 7 after an informal gathering the evening before.

P1011126What took place? Well, the usual shaking of hands, pats on the backs, and hugs from friendships gained over previous conferences. But that’s not all.

The 28 attendees were treated to presentations on the birth of the Southern League (1884-1885); a perspective on Atlanta’s Henry W. Grady, an integral leader in the formation of the 19th Century league; an image of the 1885 Nashville Americans; a summary of a new book on the horizon about the Negro Southern League; and images and film about the Birmingham Barons.

P1011127Of particular interest to me was film presented by Birmingham and Memphis historian Clarence “Skip” Watkins which included color footage of a game between the Memphis Chicks and Nashville Vols. In color. Wow.

During the all-day event, we were treated to viewings of memorabilia collections and discussions about the old ballparks, teams, and what the future holds for southern professional baseball.

David Brewer, director of Friends of Rickwood, and Watkins came up with the idea in 2003, and the program has been ongoing since that time. The setting has changed from time-to-time, too: Chattanooga, Atlanta, and Nashville have hosted the conference and there may be opportunity to be in New Orleans in 2016.

P1011129Which leads me back to my original questions: if you are interested, you cannot go wrong. New Orleans or Birmingham, the Rickwood Classic or just a visit to the grand old ballpark in Birmingham. If you get your chance, take it in.

You can always ride with me.

 © 2015 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

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Nashville in the 1897 Central League

Nashville’s on-again, off-again love affair with the Southern League collapsed after the 1895 season, a year which saw George Stallings lead the Nashville Seraphs to a second place finish with a record of 69-38. Financial instability of teams from various cities, including Nashville, led to the league reorganizing once more in 1896. Six teams comprised the league but by mid-season Birmingham and Atlanta had dropped out; New Orleans, Montgomery, Mobile, and Columbus remained until August.

With the Southern in disarray as Memphis had no park in which to play and Atlanta having been accepted into the Southeastern League, only Columbus and Birmingham were committed to playing in the Southern League for a new season. It did not happen, although the league would re-organize for 1898 and 1899 but  would fail to complete the season either year.

On January 18, 1897, a new Central League was organized at the Acme Hotel in Evansville and five cities were repesented: Terre Haute, Nashville, Cairo, Evansville, and Washington (Indiana) agree to membership. It was determined to withhold the Washington membership until representatives from Memphis and Little Rock (who were expected at the meeting but failed to attend) could be contacted.

Although the complete lineup of cities was not determined, the organizers knew from experience with failed ball clubs just what they thought was needed to complete the season. For example, it was agreed that the player salary limit should be fixed at $900 and a $300 fee was assessed to clubs for membership with one-half due at the next league meeting and the remainder due one month later.

Controlling player salary limits were a driving force for organizing a new league but travel expenses were the main reason due to the proximity of all cities which had been proposed as members. Membership fees were to keep the league solvent for a complete season.

Gabe Simons of Evansville was elected President-Secretary-Treasurer of the Central League. Billy Works, manager of the Nashville team, was named Vice-President.

Works had become anxious to place a Nashville team in either of two proposed leagues, the Central or Interstate League. George Stallings and Charley Frank of Memphis assisted him in his quest. An Interstate League had been proposed by Works to have Nashville, Knoxville, Jackson, Memphis, Chattanooga and Little Rock as members. In a letter from Charley Frank to George Stallings, Little Rock, Memphis, Clarksville, Evansville, Paducah, Cairo, Henderson, Terre Haute, Fort Wayne, Springfield (Illinois) and Nashville were selected as potential cities in the Central League.

However, on February 12 representatives from Nashville, Terre Haute, Washington, Evansville, Paducah, and Cairo met in Evansville to finalize plans for the Central. Uniforms were even selected for each team: Evansville, cadet blue, white trimmings; Terre Haute, gray and blue; Paducah, old gold and maroon; Washington, brown and red; Cairo, gray and black; and Nashville, blue and maroon.

At a meeting on February 27 Washington was admitted to the Central League over Terre Haute’s opposition, claiming that Washington is too small a city to support a team. At that meeting the league adopted the Reach baseball.

On April 28 Evansville won over Nashville, named the Centennials, 3-2 in the opening game of the 1897 Central League season for both clubs. Approximately 500 fans were on hand at Athletic Park.

The financially sound (or so it seemed) Central League was up and running.

It was reported on June 1 by league president Simons that Washington (pop. 18,000) was averaging 700 at each home game, including Sunday games; Paducah (pop. 20,000) was averaging 800 patrons, while Cairo, Terre Haute, and Evansville were drawing “even more”. There was no mention of Nashville’s attendance but it should be noted that it was the only city not allowing Sunday games.

On June 3 Nashville dropped out of the league with no explanation. The team traveled to Cairo to continue its schedule in hopes that the team would be transferred to Decatur, Illinois. A week later the team was transferred to Henderson, Indiana.

The board of directors accepted the resignation of Central League president Gabe Simons on June 28th as Simons was hoping to take over management of the Evansville club and no longer wanted to shoulder the responsibility and “annoyances” of the League office. Mr. F. C. Winter of Washington was named president of the Central. By mid-July Evansville was without financial backing or a manager as Simons failed in his bid to take over the club.

CentralLeague_FB

On July 20 the Central League seasons collapses. After the disbandment of the Washington club, the other teams decide it is not worthwhile to continue as all teams are in financial arrears due to so many Sunday games having been rained out.

With another noble attempt to entrench Nashville into the world of professional baseball, it would be four years before Nashville’s Newt Fisher would be instrumental in forming the Southern Association of Baseball Clubs with his hometown as a member in 1901. That attempt would last: the Southern Association disbanded in 1961 and Nashville remained a member during the league’s entire existence.

© 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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