Tag Archives: Sulphur Dell

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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Calling For a Ball Park?

Nashville clubs, desiring to take their game to the mythical four corners of earth to establish hierarchy in the great stadium of sport, issued challenges that were easily accepted. Hopeful for an outcome of superiority, rivals anxiously consented for an opportunity to “vanquish” the opponent.

This was 1870s “base ball”, and challenges came from every club instead of the regular scheduling of games, as who was to know who the best club was without the continual jousting between clubs for superiority:

     The Independent Chick Base Ball Club challenges any club in the city, whose members are 16 years of age, to a match game.

     The North Nashville Club has been challenged by a club, the name of which, owing to the crookedness of the chirography, no fellow can find out.

     The N. Jacobus boys vanquished the G. F. Akers by a score of 17-12, giving them three goose eggs.

     The North Nashville Base Ball Club have cleaned up and leveled their grounds for the battle soon to come off with the Lincks.

     The South Nashvilles are anxious for a chance at the H. Drexlers.[1]

meatball-sepia-fwA cleared lot or field was no longer the acceptable location for a game. “Home field advantage”, became an important draw, and that meant an adequate ball field included considerations for spectators. The safety of crowds, especially in drawing ladies to games, added to the reasoning; to draw a crowd, “cleaned up and leveled” grounds were necessary.

The North Nashville and W. T. Lincks teams were the premier clubs in 1876, and each one’s challenges were not taken lightly. Teams on either side were expected to bat and field with their best ability, but at some point appearance became an important ingredient to a team’s superior class. Whether a part of the arrogance, aristocracy, or patronizing of one club over another, soon all clubs joined in on the regalia:

     The long looked for match of base ball between the noted Lincks and the North Nashvilles will be played to-morrow on the grounds of the North Nashvilles, near Mr. Felix Cheatham’s residence. The game will be called promptly at 3:30, and a large crowd is expected to be on hand, as this game will be the event of the season. Seats will be provided for all, and everybody is cordially invited, the ladies especially. A strong and sufficient force of police will be on duty to preserve order. Both clubs will appear in their new and beautiful uniforms.[2]

Two days later an account of the game, won by the Lincks 12-6, suggested between 2,500 and 3,000 spectators were on hand; about 600 of them were ladies. Eloquent description of the contest allowed for one interjection for the decades to come:

     Never since base ball was introduced have we seen such admirable playing. What a pity we have not a Base Ball Park.[3]

Was this the first call for what would become Nashville’s Athletic Park, affectionately known as Sulphur Dell to future generations?

© 2016 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

[1] Nashville Daily American, August 23, 1876, p. 4

[2] Ibid., August 27, 1876, p. 4

[3] Ibid., August 29, 1876, p. 4

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Ghosts of Sulphur Dell

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

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

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

And it happened.

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

nashville-tennessean-09-09-1963-charlie-teuscher-final-hr-sulphur-dell-lynchburg-nashville-09-08-1963

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

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

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

nashville-tennessean-04-16-1964-sulphur-dell-bissell-ghosts

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

nashville-tennessean-04-26-1964-sulphur-dell-ghosts-letter-to-the-editor-mrs-henry-justice

Sources

Nashville Tennessean

Newspapers.com

© 2016 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

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Suffrage and Shropshire’s Baby

As voting rights for women gained steam in 1915, Nashville Vols club owner and president Clyde Shropshire supported the movement as he best knew how: he determined that the game between his ball club versus the Birmingham Barons on July 23 would be Suffrage Day at Sulphur Dell.

Sports writer Blinkey Horn made an announcement in a column “Vols and Barons Will Play on July 23 for Cause of Suffrage”:

Nashville Tennessean and Daily American 06-19-1915 Suffrage Game Vols Barons Sulphur Dell 07-23-1915

Shropshire’s generosity was to include $25 from his own funds for special prizes to players. The first player of either team to hit a home run would be awarded $10, and $5 each to the player with the first triple, run scored, and stolen base. He also announced that the movement would receive a portion of gate receipts.

Nashville Tennessean and Daily American 07-18-1915 Suffrage Game Vols Barons Sulphur Dell 07-23-1915

Mrs. George Dallas, vice-president of the Nashville Equal Suffrage League, headed up the day’s event. She had a special booth constructed outside the entrance to the ballpark for patrons to purchase tickets to the game. Grandstand box seats were decorated in suffrage colors, yellow and white, and ladies sold all sorts of concessions, “cigars, peanuts, lemonade, popcorn, and the various substances obtainable at a baseball game.” Ladies roamed the stadium to hand out flyers, explaining the reasons why the voting franchise should be extended to the fair sex. Nashville won over Birmingham 6-3, but there was no mention of the proceeds.

Perhaps as a gesture to Shropshire’s endorsements, his daughter was selected mascot of the game.

Nashville Tennessean and Daily American 07-24-1915 Suffrage Game Vols Barons Sulphur Dell 07-23-1915

The next season another game was planned in support of suffrage, once again with the full support of Shropshire. Designated as “Suffrage Day at Sulphur Dell” on August 21, 1916, yellow banners decorated the ballpark to commemorate “Votes for Women” and Nashville won over the New Orleans Pelicans 6-1. Ladies from the Equal Suffrage League sold tickets, soda pop, peanuts, and other concessions. Yellow sashes and streamers were part of the repeat celebration.

An addition to the event was the awarding of a cake to the ugliest and prettiest ball player, and one for the most popular fan. The cakes were on display in Nashville store windows in the days leading up to the game. The fund-raising endeavor was once more noted as successful.

nashville Tennessean and Daily American 08-22-1916 Nashville New OrleansSulphur Dell Suffrage Womens Voting Rights 08-21-1916

Repeated in 1917, the game was won by Nashville over New Orleans 5-3 but with no mention of the suffrage movement except for an article the previous week.

Nashville Tennessean and American 08-12-1917 Suffrage Game Nashville Sulphur Dell

Clyde Shropshire was a notable attorney in Nashville, held prominent positions on the board of several businesses, and was elected to the Tennessee State House of Representatives on November 3, 1914 as a Democrat. A staunch supporter of suffrage, prohibition, and tax equalization, he served as Speaker of the House 1917-1919.

nashville Tennessean and American 01-02-1917 Clyde Shropshire Nashville Speaker of the House

Sources

Nashville Tennessean

Nashville Tennessean and American

Newspapers.com

Paper of Record

Sabr.org

The Sporting News

Tennesseeencyclopedia.net

© 2016 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

 

 

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