Tag Archives: Sulphur Dell

Cobb to Cubans to Limbless Wonders

The sports page of the March 19, 1910 edition of the Nashville American included a story about exhibition games the Nashville Volunteers would be playing at Sulphur Dell in the weeks to come. Most games were scheduled with major-league clubs: a three-game series each with the Chicago Cubs and Brooklyn, two games each against the Philadelphia Athletics, Cleveland and Boston of the American League, and a game against Detroit. Buffalo of the Eastern League would visit for a single game on April 9[1].

The array of baseball wonders playing on those teams included future Hall of Famers: Ty Cobb and Sam Crawford of Detroit, Eddie Collins of the Athletics, Frank Chance, Johnny Evers, and Mordecai “Three-Finger” Brown of the Cubs, and Nap Lajoie of Cleveland.

To conclude the exhibition schedule, a game against the visiting Cuban Stars would be held on April 12; the club would be comprised of players from Cuba and possibly other Latin American countries. It is unknown whether the game had been scheduled as a curiosity, or as a slow down to the quality of play afforded major-league teams before Nashville delved into the Southern Association season.

With some uncertainty, it appears this visiting Cuban club was formed in 1899 by Cuban baseball magnate Abel Linares, taking on the name “Cuban Stars” in 1905[2]. The March 1 edition of the Chicago Daily Tribune reported a letter had been received from Linares the previous day stating his club would “sail for the states right after the close of the Cuban season on April 28”[3]. However, a team of “Cuban Stars” did arrive in New Orleans on March 31.[4]

For whatever reason, the game did not take place. Sports writer Allen Johnson of the American felt the fans had their fill of the special preseason games, and chose to report a special event that would take its place: boxing, on April 11. But not just any boxing.

Matches were scheduled “among the representatives of the colored race strictly”. The main event was to include “Kid” Ditmore, and “Kid” Dilihaunty; but almost eerily, there was mentioned a bout between “two old-time black fighters, each of whom now has but one leg.”[5]

Johnson’s account, under the heading “Clever Bouts in the Dell”, stated 1,500 people attended the fight and “some good bouts were put up by the dark fight fans of this city”. In the best satire he could muster regarding the one-legged pugilists, he wrote “This fight was very amusing while it lasted, but Chambers gave out in the second round”.

To add insult to injury, Johnson describes the participants as “limbless wonders”. Even though it was a sign of the times, it could be argued that this was an example of how quality sports reporting degenerated in only a few days into a wonder of its own.

© 2017 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

[i] Nashville American, March 18, 1910, p. 5.

[2] Burgos, Adrian (2011). Cuban Star: How One Negro-League Owner Changed the Face of Baseball. New York: Hill and Wang.

[3] Chicago Daily Tribune, March 1, 1910, p. 15.

[4] Hartford Courant, April 5, 1910, p. 14.

[5] Nashville American, April 11, 1910, p. 8.

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Catch and Release: Bill Schwartz’s Gamble on a Pike

Bill Schwartz was handed the reins of the Nashville club soon after current manager, Bill Bernhard, announced on September 23, 1910 that he would not manage the team any longer. Schwartz joined the Vols earlier that year and played first base for 62 games, hitting at a .288 clip. He came from Akron, where he played for five years, managing the Champs to an 80-41 record and an Ohio-Pennsylvania League (Class C) pennant.

The 6’2”, 185-pound Schwartz had played 24 games for his hometown Cleveland Naps in 1904, his only major-league experience, on a team which included a future Vols teammate, outfielder Harry Bay. Future Hall of Fame members Addie Joss, Elmer Flick, and Nap Lajoie were on that Cleveland ball club. Those great players, along with Naps manager Bill Armour (in 1908, Cleveland announced that it would have two farm clubs: Toledo, managed by Armour, and Nashville, managed by Bill Bernhard) must have been an influence on Bill and his future managerial skills.

After two fourth-, two fifth-, and one seventh-place finish, Bill had a final shot at improving his ball club. Aging Otto Williams had been a steady second-sacker, but at the age of 36 and a weak .246 average in his only season with Nashville, Schwartz saw an opportunity to bring in new blood at the position.

nashville-tennessean-and-american-march-2-1915-pike-schwartzIn 1915, Bill thought he had caught his big fish to fill the slot. On March 2, the Nashville Tennessean and American parodied a news story that about the signing of W. P. (Bill) Pike, and compared the potential of the new player to that of Boston Braves second baseman and 1914 National League most valuable player, Johnny Evers.

Bill Pike was a no-show as pre-season practice began. On March 14, he was still a “no-show”[1], but not necessarily an unusual circumstance as only 12 players had reported at the time. Pike joined first baseman Gene Paulette, shortstop Dolly Stark, third baseman Johnny Dodge, outfielders Bert King, Tommy McCabe, and Jack Farmer, and pitchers Floyd Kroh and Heinie Berger.

Bill Ware, who would also vie for the second base position, had not shown up in Nashville as well, but the first exhibition game was not scheduled for another week when Vanderbilt would be the opponent on Saturday, March 20. The pro club won over the collegiate Commodores 6-2 in chilly Sulphur Dell, and Pike was hitless in to turns at bat. Hoping that Pike would hold down the position at second base, Schwartz inserted Ware as a pinch-hitter in the seventh inning. After the strike out, he replaced Pike at second for the last two innings.nashville-tennessean-and-american-march-24-1915-pike-schwartz

When weather delayed the next game, the teams met at Dudley Field on Tuesday, March 23, and Pike was inserted as a pinch-hitter in the last inning as the Vols won, 11-4 in seven innings. Pike was hitless in two turns at bat. Ware played right field, and Howard Baker was at second.[2]

For whatever reason, by April 11, Pike was gone[3]. Bill Ware was not to be found, either. Second base was played by three players during season: Tom Sheehan, 67 games, George Kircher, 39 games, Howard Baker, 33 games, and Ben Diamond, 15 games.

Schwartz was not successful in Nashville, as his clubs never finished higher than fourth, and his Vols record in five campaigns was 350-360. In 1916 Schwartz became head coach of the Vanderbilt University baseball team, and retired with a Schwartz coaching record in 19 seasons.[4]

Ware disappears from baseball  history, and Pike is nowhere to be found. Did Schwartz’s big catch turn out to be a throwback?

© 2017 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

[1] Nashville Tennessean and American, March 14, 1915, p. 36.

[2] Ibid., March 24, 1915, p. 12.

[3] Ibid., April 11, 1915, p. 36.

[4] Traughber, Bill. “Vandy’s Bill Schwartz remembered”, Commodore History Corner. http://www.vucommodores.com/sports/historycorner/spec-rel/042512aaa.html, accessed March 1, 2017.

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Sulphur Dell: What was in the Water?

nashville-republican-banner-short-version-june-1-1841-j-h-bransford In the late 1700s, pioneers discovered a special place on the banks of the Cumberland River where a natural sulphur spring flowed, and deer and other wildlife licked the mineral salt. Named French Lick Branch, the creek ran through “Sulphur Spring Bottom”, a low-lying section of Nashville which soon became the city park. A ball field was established where games could be played, and picnics, horse racing, and other leisurely events were held.

In 1841, the Republican Banner reported that J. H. Bransford, a partner in the dry goods business of Maulding & Bransford, found opportunity to refit the spring for bathing purposes. The city allowed Bransford to take on the project, but in return he agreed to not charge patrons for its use. Being the entrepreneur that he was, however, J. H. would certainly offer “fruit, cigars, &c.”[1] for sale.

1828-fwIn a newspaper notice of June 1 to announce his venture, Bransford noted a chemical analysis on the water at the spring had been performed by a “Professor Bowen” in 1827. The analyzer was most certainly, George T. Bowen, Professor of Chemistry at the University of Nashville. Per a November 18, 1928 death notice in the Hartford Courant, young Dr. Bowen had passed away at the age of 28[2]. Hopefully, his demise did not come about from inhaling the pungent sulphur during his assessment.

nashville-republican-banner-long-june-1-1841-j-h-bransfordNonetheless, the examination was repeated by Dr. Gerard Troost, Tennessee State Geologist, who moved to the area in 1928 from Indiana to become professor of mineralogy and chemistry at the University of Nashville. and was probably a colleague of Bowen. Undoubtedly, Troost suffered no ill health from his inspection of the sulphur spring, as he died in 1850 as a result of a cholera outbreak in Nashville.[3]

The Republican Banner article goes on to lists the results of both distinguished chemists. Dr. Troost’s results proved the close resemblance of Nashville’s sulphur spring composition to that of Harrogate Springs in England. Today, the establishment is the oldest bottler of water, dating back to the 16th century.[4] By comparing the mineral content of a world-famous sulphur spring, to one discovered only a few decades before, Bransford was establishing the quality of the resort he was to build.

Bransford, Bowen, nor Troost could have conceived, yet even imagined, the historical significance of what would become Nashville’s Sulphur Dell. The magicial springs gave way to the ballpark’s mysterious smell, flavor, and mystique for years to come.

© 2017 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

[1] Nashville Republican Banner, June 1, 1841, p. 2.

[2] Hartford Courant, November 18, 1828, p. 3.

[3] Gerard Troost (1776-1850) , Geologist. http://faculty.evansville.edu/ck6/bstud/troost.html, retrieved February 28, 2017.

[4] Harrogatespring.com. http://www.harrogatespring.com, retrieved February 28, 2017.

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When a Home Run Isn’t

Consider the plight of poor Bill Bribeck, first baseman of the 1923 Bloomington (Illinois) Bloomers of the Three-I (Illinois, Indiana, Iowa) League. He hit 11 home runs that season, but owns the odd distinction of hitting another six home runs in consecutive games with none going into the score book.

Bloomington’s ball field had a short left field fence, 275 feet from home plate, and on the day after team management erected a five-foot screen on top of it, Bribeck hit a ball near the top of the screen which fell in for a double. A day earlier, it would have been a home run.

In the first inning of the next day’s game, Bill hit a ball that cleared that same left field fence. But the game was rained out in the third inning, negating his second consecutive four-bagger.

He smacked another one out of the park in the third inning on the third day, but as he rounded third base, he missed the bag. The other team noticed, and so did the umpire, and he was called out. With a runner on base on day four he slugged one over the fence, but the runner failed to run in fear of the ball being caught. Bill passed him and was automatically called out.

In game five he hit another home run, but had batted out-of-turn, and his feat was annulled.

shes-outta-here-no-shes-not-fwThe final installment of his misfortune came on the sixth day of an extra-inning affair. It was getting dark, but in the top of the 15th the umpires thought the game would be able to finish. The visitors scored seven runs to take the lead, but with two aboard in the home half Bribick thumped a three-run homer.

His manager, fearing the Bloomers would not be able to pull the game out before complete darkness, began to stall until the umpire finally called the game. The score reverted to the previous inning, a 14-inning tie game. Hard-luck Bill lost his home run, the sixth time on six consecutive days one of his round-trippers was erased.

Similarly, only on a single occasion, one of the Nashville Vols favorite sons suffered the same fate.

Harold “Tookie” Gilbert had all the tools: a good hitter with power, a skillful left-handed first baseman, and youngest son of a baseball family. His father, Larry, played on the 1914 “Miracle” Braves, and became a legend as player-manager of the New Orleans Pelicans and co-owner and manager of the Nashville ball club. Two other sons, Charley and Larry, Jr. had successes of their own in baseball.

Playing for Nashville in 1949 with his father now general manager, Tookie batted .334 and socked 33 home runs, and the next season would find himself on the roster of the New York Giants. But on July 28, 1949 in Nashville’s famous Sulphur Dell, the ballpark that was oddly-shaped with a short right field wall that sat on a hill 22 ½ feet above the playing surface, he lost a home run due to poor judgement by the umpires.

Against Birmingham in the dimly-lit setting, Tookie’s blast off righty Jim McDonald easily cleared the right-center field wall. Center fielder Norm Koney stopped when he saw the ball go over.

But the ball came back onto the field. It had hit a city bus parked outside, rebounded back into the ballpark, and when the three umpires consulted, ruled it a triple.

Seven home runs, each with the same results: Not.

Sources

Baseball-reference.com

Newspapers.com

Author’s note: Much of Bill Bribeck’s story comes from Raymond Johnson’s “One Man’s Opinion” column in the January 22, 1943 edition of the Nashville Tennessean, in which Johnson refers to the original story from the January 1943 edition of Baseball Digest. Also, according to baseball-reference.com Bribeck’s name is “Walter J.”, with no mention of “Bill”.

©2017 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

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Vandy was a Vol

Johnny Vander Meer was born on November 2, 1914 to Dutch parents in Prospect, New Jersey, and grew up in Midland Park. Baseball became his love and he found the attention of a Cincinnati Reds scout, signing with Dayton (Class C – Mid-Atlantic League).[1] The next two seasons were spent in Scranton (Class A – NYPL) where he was 18-18.

In his first three years in the Cincinnati Reds farm system he developed arm trouble. In 1936 he was sent to Nashville to consult with Dr. Lee Jensen, a noted sports doctor who determined there was an issue with a muscle in Vander Meer’s back. After therapy and exercises, he was being counted on as a starter for the Vols.

vander-meerIn two-game exhibition series against the St. Louis Browns at Nashville’s Wilson Park, he was starting pitcher on April 7 and appeared as a reliever on April 8. In the first game, a cold and windy affair, after one out he issued walks to four consecutive batters to force in a run before being relieved by Johnny Intlekofer. The Browns won 3-1.

The next day he relieved Junie Barnes in the seventh. Only giving up one hit, Vander Meer gave up five runs in the eighth; for the game, he struck out four, walked five, and hit batter Harlond Clift before being relieved by Ray Davis. Johnny was the losing pitcher.

On April 21, he faced the Atlanta Crackers in his first start for the Vols, another cold affair that was eventually called due to darkness that ended in a 4-4 tie. Continuing to relieve for manager Lance Richbourg, on May 3 Vander Meer was given his second start, this time in Birmingham. He allowed two runs in five innings before being yanked for Red Ahearn.

In Nashville’s Sulphur Dell on May 9, Johnny started against New Orleans, but did not finish in the Vols 15-8 trouncing of the Pelicans. Having appeared in 31 innings in eight games but with no wins, he started against the Travelers in Little Rock on May 19, but did not last the inning after walking the first three batters he faced. He was the losing pitcher.

With 25 bases on balls in 32 innings, his arm control was beginning to show. By June 1 he was gone, sent to Durham (Class B, Piedmont League). Still under contract to Nashville, Vander Meer found his curve ball under the tutelage of manager Johnny Gooch, and won 19 games while losing only 6 with a 2.65 ERA.

Most impressive were his 272 strikeouts in 194 innings. He struck out 20 in one game, 19 and 18 in two others. “Vandy” was named The Sporting News Minor League Player of the Year for 1936.

Sold by the Vols to Cincinnati, he was invited to spring training and spent the season between the Reds where he was 3-4 with a 3.84 ERA, and Syracuse (Class AA – International League) where he was 5-11 with a 3.34 ERA.

He was an All Star for Cincinnati in 1938 and threw consecutive no-hitters, the only player to ever accomplish the feat. His first came against the Boston Bees on June 11 in Cincinnati and the second was accomplished against the Brooklyn Dodgers on June 15, the first night game ever played at Ebbets Field.

Four days later, on June 19 in Boston, he no-hit the Braves until one out in the fourth inning when Debs Garms hit a single. The streak ended at 21 1/3 innings, which included the batter Vander Meer retired in the game before his first no-hitter.[2]

Named The Sporting News Major League Player of the Year that season, Johnny was also named to the All Star team in 1939, 1942, and 1943.

His lifetime 119-121 record included 1,294 strikeouts, and he led the league in that category for three consecutive seasons; 1941 (202), 1942 (186), and 1943 (174).

Upon his release from the Cleveland Indians in 1951, he pitched in 24 games for Tulsa and won 11, losing 10. But on July 15, 1952, 14 years and one month after his record performance, he hurled a no-hitter in a Texas League game against Beaumont.

Oddly enough, Beaumont manager Harry Craft was centerfielder for the Reds and made the final putout in the second no-hitter by Vander Meer. The ball was hit by future Hall of Famer Leo Durocher of Brooklyn.

Upon retiring from active playing, he managed in the minors for 10 seasons where his teams won a total of 761 games and lost 719. Future major leaguers Jim Maloney, Vic Davalillo, Jack Baldschun, Lee May, Jim Wynn, Ed Kranepool, and Pete Rose played for “The Dutch Master”.

When his baseball career was over he worked for a brewing company and enjoyed fishing. Vander Meer passed away on October 6, 1997 in Tampa, Florida, and was buried with a baseball in his left hand.[3]

SOURCES

Ancestry.com

Baseball-reference.com

Nashville Tennessean

Newspapers.com

Retrosheet.org

Sabr.org

© 2016 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

 

[1] Johnson, James W. Johnny Vander Meer, SABR Baseball Biography Project. Retrieved from ww.sabr.org

[2] Goldstein, Richard. “Johnny Vander Meer, 82, No-Hit Master, Dies”, New York Times, October 7, 1997

[3] Johnson, James W. Ibid.

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Too Little, Too Late

Integration did not come to the Southern Association until a 1954 experiment by Atlanta Crackers owner Earl Mann, when Nat Peeples was inserted as a pinch hitter in the Crackers’ season opener in Mobile. A week later, he was sent down to Jacksonville after appearing in two games and coming to the plate four times.

Reportedly, Mann considered the same action the previous season with a different negro player who was playing in Jacksonville: Henry Aaron. For whatever reason, the future Hall of Famer was not selected and had an outstanding season with the South Atlantic League club.

There was no Southern Association rule that kept rosters segregated. But with teams in New Orleans (the franchise would cease to exist after 1959, replaced by Little Rock), Nashville, Memphis (replaced by Macon after 1960), Birmingham, Atlanta, Shreveport, Mobile, and Chattanooga, civil rights issues were just coming to the forefront of American culture, and integration never occurred.

However, a Birmingham city ordinance prohibited integrated games from taking place on city-owned fields, and Louisiana state law did not allow different races to participate in sporting events together.

One occurence brought attention to the situation: in August of 1960, after six years as the parent organization of the Nashville Volunteers, Cincinnati withdrew its affiliation. Without negro players, said Reds GM Gabe Paul, development of potential players could not properly take place.

In his August 30, 1960 Sports Showcase column, Nashville Tennessean sports writer F. M. Williams quotes Paul on the issue:

“Having a team in the farm system, at Double A level, where Negro players cannot perform creates a void that hinders the entire player development program, he says. Player development is expensive at best, and it becomes even more so when there is one link in the chain that does not help the best young players.”

Williams’ opening lines in his column predict a dim future for the trouble league, emphasizing a rule (unwritten or not) of segregation and acknowledging the tension in race relations:

“If Gabe Paul’s thinking is in line with that of other major league executives, time is running out on Double A baseball.

“Paul took a public stand against the Southern league’s policy of not using Negro players. This is the first time, to my knowledge, that any big league executive has used the racial issue to establish farm policy.

“Eventually it could lead to a Southern boycott.”

On August 31, the Tennessean published an Associated Press story that the American League announced plans to expand to 10 teams by 1962.[1] The National League had previously agreed to absorb up to four teams of the proposed Continental League, but followed suit with an announcement during the World Series that Houston and New York would become members of the league.[2]

nashville-tennessean-08-30-1960-gabe-paul-quote-cincinnati-reds-nashville-vols-08-29-1960If Gabe Paul knew of the plans, which certainly would change the course of developing players, it appears he did not let the directors of the Nashville club know.

Minnesota Twins* farm director Sherry Robertson offered an affiliation proposal to Vols general manager Bill Harbour on January 20, 1961. The agreement was ratified by Nashville board members on February 9.

Vice-President Lyndon Johnson was invited to throw out the first pitch at Sulphur Dell on April 8, and the Southern Association began its final season. Team owners did nothing to integrate the storied league, but waning attendance was the final culprit in its demise.

By season’s end, one of Williams’ predictions had come true, as time ran out on Double A baseball. Nashville drew only 64,450 for the entire season.

Attempts to revive the league went for naught, even though on October 31 a federal judge ruled that Birmingham, Alabama, laws against integrated playing fields were illegal, eliminating the last barrier against integration in the Southern Association.

On January 24, 1962, the Southern Association suspended operations “due to a lack of enough major league working agreements.”

*The original Washington Senators, now relocated to Minneapolis-St. Paul; a new expansion team was set in Washington as a replacement.

[1] Corrigan, Ed. Associated Press. “AL Votes to Expand to 10 Teams by ’62”. Nashville Tennessean, August 31, 1960

[2] McCue, Andy and Thompson, Eric. “Mis-Management 101: The American League Expansion for 1961”. Published in The National Pastime: Endless Seasons: Baseball in Southern California, 2011. Phoenix: Society for American Baseball Research, 42

SOURCES

baseball-reference.com

Nashville Tennessean

newspapers.com

Paper of Record

sabr.org

© 2016 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

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Early Exhibitions Led to a Working Agreement with Chicago Cubs

On October 11, 1951, when the Nashville club signs a working agreement with the New York Giants, it ends a long association with the Chicago Cubs. Upon Larry Gilbert’s arrival in the southern city, in 1939 he continued owner Fay Murray’s working agreement with the Brooklyn Dodgers through the 1942 season, and signed his club on with the Chicago. Gilbert was even considered to manage or coach the Cubs

But the relationship goes back much further than that. In 1885 Cap Anson brought his Chicago White Stockings (often called Anson’s Colts) to Nashville. On April 10, his club wins over Nashville’s professional team 4-2 before 4,000 fans.

In 1903 the Chicago baseball team would become the Cubs. As early as 1908 the National League team visited Nashville for a series of exhibition games that continued for another 10 years.

In front of 3,500 in attendance at Sulphur Dell on April 6, 1908, the Cubs are victorious over Nashville 7-0. Chick Fraser holds the Vols to two hits, both by Doc Wiseman. The next day, the Cubs beat Nashville as Chicago pitcher Carl Lundgren holds the Vols to two hits once again, this time for a 7-2 win.

The famous “Tinkers-to-Evers-to-Chance” combination has one double play in the game.

Coming off their 1908 World Series victory over the Detroit Tigers, the Cubs visited Nashville once again, this time to play a late-March three-game series. Manager Bill Bernhardt’s Vols lost all three by scores of 3-0, 3-0, and 11-2. Boston Red Sox players attended the game as both major league squads had set up camp in Nashville (the Red Sox won 9-2 on April 1 and 10-2 the following day.)

In 1910, on March 28 and 29, Nashville loses by consecutive 3-1 scores. In the third game, the Vols have 10 hits against Chicago starting pitcher and future Hall of Famer Three-Finger Brown and reliever Orval Overall but lose 9-2.

Settling in Nashville once again for two exhibition games at Sulphur Dell in 1911, the Cubs takes game over the Vols, 8-4, 8-2 on March 28 and 29.

On March 24, 1912, the Vols continue their losing streak to the Cubs, 6-3. In the second inning against Nashville-born pitcher Fred Toney, Vols catcher Rowdy Elliott socked a long home run that cleared the Sulphur Dell fence by 10 feet and is considered only the second home run off a right-handed pitcher ever hit in the fabled ballpark.

Scoring four runs in the ninth inning on March 24, 1915, the Cubs win over the Vols 4-2 even though the big leaguers committed three errors. Breaking a habit of losing to Chicago, Nashville wins 3-1 on March 25, 1913, as a fist-fight ensues between Heinie Zimmerman of the Cubs and umpire Hadley Williams. Zimmerman was peeved at the way the Vols were hitting pitcher Lew Richie.

On March 24, 1914, Nashville loses to the Cubs by a score of 2-0, and the next year lose again 7-4 on April 4 as Cy Williams has two home runs for the visitors including an inside-the-park homer.sporting-life-march-10-1917-chicago-cubs-nashville-vols-agreement

Williams has another home run on April 7, 1915, along with Cubs outfielder Frank Schulte, in a 12-1 win over Nashville at Sulphur Dell. Vols third baseman Johnny Dodger has two errors and the Cubs outhit Nashville 17-5 in Chicago’s win.

It appears the two clubs did not play each other during 1916, but a new agreement that include the Cubs was on the horizon. On February 6, 1917, having broken off talks with the St. Louis Browns, it was expected the Nashville Baseball Club will sign a working agreement with the Chicago Cubs. On March 6, a working agreement was announced with the Chicago Cubs whereby the major league club would provide an infielder, outfielder, and pitcher each season.

© 2016 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

SOURCES

baseball-reference.com

newspapers.com

Paper of Record

sabr.org

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