Tag Archives: Sulphur Dell

Big Guy Lefty and Christmas at Sulphur Dell

Cold snow covered Monroe Street as Guy Leftowich pulled his front door tightly shut and slowly shuffled down the porch steps, being sure to hold on to the black wrought-iron rail. Christine always insisted he hold on even when it was clear as a bell outside because as he had grown older his balance was not what it used to be. He was still strong, his broad shoulders and narrow waist giving him an appearance of someone who had either been an athlete or was simply a chiseled picture of good health. At the age of 68, he was both.

He stood 6’6”, and at 225 pounds the left-hander had been an ominous presence in his Nashville uniform 20 years ago. Standing at home plate with his 40-ounce bat at his first spring training, Pete Johnson, manager of the Nashville Vols ballclub, took one look at him and said, “You’re a pretty big guy, Guy” and when other players heard that he was forever known as “Big Guy”. Teammates shortened his last name to “Lefty” after lovingly teasing him as teammates do: “Hey, which is it Big Guy? Leftowich? Rightowich? Or Which-away?” Always present was a gleaming smile on his face. He loved to play baseball, so it didn’t matter much that his buddies teased him like that.

His real name was Abner Ulysses Leftowich, but his dad had called him Guy since he was born (“Hey, look at the big guy”). Neither his father nor fellow players were going to stand for calling him Abner or Ulysses, so “Big Guy Lefty” it was.

Before venturing out of the house he checked the temperature from the gadget he and Christine had placed outside their kitchen window when they first purchased the bungalow in Germantown. A fan of the team had given it to them as a housewarming gift, a handmade contraption in the shape of a baseball bat on top of a baseball, the thermometer inserted inside the bat and a round clock face inside the baseball. It showed 12 degrees, but the clock hands were frozen at 7:11 PM and he knew that wasn’t right.

That must’ve been the time when the temperature dropped below freezing, he thought.

When he reached the sidewalk, he could see the entire neighborhood was covered in at least eight inches of pure white snowfall. The smooth surface of the road told him no one had been bold enough to drive their automobiles this morning, and since it was already 9:30 he doubted many would risk getting out at all today.

“I probably should have broken tradition and gone yesterday,” he muttered to himself. He and Christine had a ritual of going grocery shopping every Christmas Eve morning. They were alone with no children to visit them during the holidays, and both would spend the rest of their day in the kitchen. Christine had kept his mother’s recipe cards, and in the morning,  they would go through them together and pick their favorites to make for lunch on Christmas Day. They would sip eggnog spiced with rum and snack on Christmas treats in the evening.

Christine passed away nine months ago, it was a long time for one to be ill like that. She was never sick a day in her life until her energy, vitality, humor, friendship, companionship, and lastly, her breath went away. For 45 years Guy and Christine had spent every waking moment together except when he was playing ball for Gadsden, Tallahassee, Buffalo, or Nashville. They loved Nashville. It was their favorite city of the ones they had lived in, and the home where they chose to spend their golden years together was only a few blocks away from Sulphur Dell where he had roamed the outfield hills for nearly 20 years.

The grocery was not far off, only two long blocks, but he continued to waddle threw the snow, certain Ethan Fisher would have his store open at Sixth and Taylor.

“Good morning, Ethan. Merry Christmas,” he told the shopkeeper as he kicked the snow from his boots and entered. The old man with the apron was standing near the counter, his right elbow on top of the cash register and his other hand on his hip, his diminutive body wrapped in a woolen sweater that was much too big.

“The merriest of Christmas to you, too, Big Guy,” he said. “Need some help with your list?”

Guy handed him the piece of paper with things he needed scratched on it in pencil. Christine always kept a notepad by the telephone, and he had written everything down as he checked the pantry.

“Let’s see: a dozen eggs, butter, flour, sugar, cloves, ham, a quart of milk. Is this everything?” asked the proprietor.

“I think so. We still have brown sugar and powdered sugar left from last year,” he answered.

The grocery man gathered the things from the list and placed them in a brown paper sack while curiously searching his customer’s facial expressions. He was looking for sadness, or self-pity, or sense of loneliness so he could console the retired ballplayer, but Ethan did not see it. He knew it was Guy’s first Christmas alone, and the entire neighborhood had wondered among themselves how he would react.

“Here you go, that will be $3.49.”

Guy handed Ethan exact change and took the bag. He headed out of the store, turning with a high wave toward the man in the over-sized sweater who shouted, “Merry Christmas! ” to him. The shop’s screen door smacked against the door frame, and as Guy balanced the sack in both arms, he noticed the streets were still empty. Two ruts the width of a car had cut their swathe down Sixth Avenue, with a few wavy ones where the icy mix had kept the driver from navigating a straight line.

It took him about ten minutes to return home as he stopped to say hello to two neighbors who were clearing their sidewalks with shovels. Another was attempting to conquer the white powder with a broom without much progress. Two dogs came bounding through a drift near a car sitting in a pile of snow, and Guy lurched to get out of their way and nearly went tumbling, grocery sack and all. He managed to maintain his poise and his groceries, then turned the corner towards his house. He paused to see the beauty of their cottage and how it  glistened in the sun, peeking through the billowy white clouds.

Entering the house, he hung up his coat, put the grocery sack on the floor near his feet as he sat down on the bench in the foyer. He untied his boots and kicked them off, returning them to their place of rest under the bench, and made his way to the kitchen. Setting his bounty on the counter, he folded his big arms across his chest and peered at the thermometer once again. This time it said 17 degrees. The time had not changed.

For the first time in many months sadness overcame him. The walk alone, the return to the house empty of the giggles of his sweetheart, and the cold and snowy day outside cast a pall over the wonderful home he and Christine had shared.

The idea came to him to build a fire to warm the dreariness of the damp air and his sad thoughts at the same time.

He went through the door at the back of the house and gathered firewood and kindling in his arms to make the fire in the living room fireplace. Down on one knee he set the wood on the andirons, checked to be sure the flue was open, and reached for the matchbox on the mantle. Taking a match and lighting it, he moved toward the newspaper wad and lit it, watching the first plumes of smoke make their way up through the chimney opening. The little flames soon became a blaze, and he stared at the burning wood. He thought he could see Christine’s face in the glow. “But it couldn’t be,” he said softly.

And that is when she appeared to him. The word Christine immediately came to his lips.

She nodded without a word, smiled at him, and gazed directly into his eyes. He did not need for her to say anything, for he felt her words in his heart. She was telling him, “I love you, I am near you, and I care for you. Don’t be afraid, someone is coming.”

He had been afraid. The love they shared was like a rock they could stand on, something they could cling to. But without her, he had not felt that in nearly a year, and he had secretly, passionately longed for it.

Her image began to fade. Wanting her to stay, Guy began to cry. Dabbing at his tears with the sleeve of his flannel shirt, the one she gave him the Christmas before, he looked up to see she had disappeared.

Once he recognized she was no longer there, he felt the warmth from the fireplace and how the room began to lighten. The curtains, the bookcase, the ceiling fan, and the coffee table, everything in the room began to radiate their own warmth, and he felt Christine’s presence even more.

For over an hour he remembered, and prayed.

“It’s time to cook!” He surprised himself with the sound of his own voice, as if he was calling to her from downstairs to rouse her from her nap. He began to pull the bowls and cookware from their hiding places in the cupboards and spent the next four hours busy, but alone, preparing a meal fit for the king and queen who happily resided at the house on the corner of Monroe and Sixth Avenues.

In the evening after a long nap he washed and dried the dishes and tucked them back into their places in the cabinets. Taking a loaf of cranberry-banana-nut bread and cutting two slices, he placed them on the Christmas plate Christine loved, then one her grandmother passed down to her, then added some cashews and peanuts, and a few pretzels, poured a cup of eggnog spiced with rum, and settled in his chair in the living room. He had to get up twice to put another log on the fire and stoke it, but he felt peace while watching it burn, sipping on the eggnog and eating his Christmas snacks as usual on this special night.

Because Christine was there. He felt her presence, and he was happy for the first time in a long while.

The next morning, he stuck his head out the front door and saw that much of the snow had melted. The sidewalk in front of the house had patches of bare concrete, so he checked the temperature and it read 32 degrees.

He and Christine usually took a stroll through the neighborhood on Christmas morning unless the weather was too cold or snowy. Often, they would manage to visit the old ballpark where they spent so much time. Guy wanted to make that journey again today. He laced up his boots and put on his coat and headed out the door.

Only once did he have to step into the street because the sidewalk was frozen. The sun was shining, and the air was warming, so it was a pleasant walk to Jefferson Street and Fifth Avenue to Sulphur Dell’s entrance. The outside of the stadium took on a picture of an oversized bird house painted in a cheap green and white. That conception was not too far off, as pigeons roosting in the eaves of the rafters left markings on the side of the building and on the street and sidewalk below.

Sulphur Dell was famous for the peculiar configuration of the outfield, as the distance from home to right field was a short 262 feet, and if the right fielder was standing at the base of the right field wall, his feet were 22 ½ feet above the playing surface. The streets in this part of the city had been built up long ago because the area was prone to flooding, but Sulphur Dell was left as a low-lying ball field and the entire park resembled an oversized wash basin. That, and the sulphur spring nearby, helped to explain the ballpark’s name.

Most ballplayers hated to play there, but Guy handled the outfield hills like no other, traversing the rolling outfield no matter his massive frame.

The front gate was open, and he stepped inside, making his way through the concourse. When he stopped and took in the expanse of the field, a rush of energy came over him, making him feel young and excited and ready to play once again.

He barely heard the tender voice from above and behind him.

“Hey mister,” the boy said. He had been crying, and he had something around his mouth that looked like the residue of cotton candy.

“Well, hello,” he replied. The youngster appeared to be eight or nine years old, dressed in ragged jeans, a sweater, and woolen jacket. On top of his head he wore a blue baseball cap with a white “SO” on the front. Everything he wore was tinged in black soot as if he had crawled through a coal chute.

A shout rang out from a row of seats four sections over . “There you are, you rascal!” said a policeman. “I’ve been looking everywhere for you.”

The boy cuddled tightly into the stadium chair he had chosen as a hiding place and muffled his crying with his bare hands over his mouth. Guy recognized the officer, one who was security guard at the ballpark since 1927 when the grandstand was moved from one side of the block to the other.

“What’s the story on him, George?” Guy asked. At first the old policeman did not recognize him.

“Hey, aren’t you Big Guy Lefty? The one who hit a home run every Sunday game played at Sulphur Dell the entire season in 1948 and led the league with 65 homers that year? The one who was the only player to wear number 13 in the history of the Vols? The one who…”

“I suppose that’s me,” he interrupted. “It’s both an honor and a pox to be recognized sometimes. Don’t remember me?”

“I’ll just tell you, sometimes my memory lapses, Lefty. I think you are just about the best baseball player to hit this town since Roy Pomeroy,” the man in blue responded.

“Well, thank you, but I was no Roy Pomeroy,” he said. “What about the kid?”

The policeman returned to his reason for being there and told Guy that earlier in the day the Stratton Orphanage brought a group of boys to the ballpark for a Christmas outing to run the base paths and sled down the snowy inclines of the outfield. Peppermints and oranges had been given to the boys, too. When the group returned to the home, this one had been missing.

“What’s your name, son?” Guy asked.

“Hector,” the boy replied sheepishly.

Guy inquired further. “Hello, Hector, it’s nice to meet you. You can call me Lefty. How old are you?”

“Nine,” the boy answered.

“What are you doing here? Are you lost? Did you forget you were supposed to go back to the orphanage with the other boys?”

“Naw. I didn’t wanna’ go back there. I just want to live at this place.”

Guy stared into the boy’s face for a few moments, then turned to the officer. “Do you think you could wait here with Hector while I run home? I need to get something, and I’ll call the headmaster at Stratton to let him know we’ve found the boy.”

“I guess that will be okay,” said the officer.

Guys legs moved as fast as he could get them to, which was just short of a ramble. Soon he was home, opening the front door and searching through his bedroom closet without removing his coat. He found his old ball glove, one of his bats, and a couple of baseballs. He faced the front door before he realized he had not phoned the orphanage.

“May I speak to Mr. Denning, please?” he said to the person who answered. Denning immediately came to the phone.

“Mr. Denning, this is Guy Leftowich. Merry Christmas.”

“Merry Christmas to you, too. The old Nashville ballplayer?” asked Denning. “I remember you, you were terrific!”

“Yes, it’s me, and thank you. Hector has been found, safe and sound at the ballpark, and he is with George, the security guard at Sulphur Dell. Would it be all right if I stay with the boy at the park, just for a little while? I’ll be responsible for him and bring him to the orphanage in about an hour. He needs a friend, and I could use one, too, and I’d like to spend a little time with him, maybe toss a ball around for a bit. George will stay there with us, too.”

“I suppose that will be all right,” was the reply.

“Thank you,” said Guy as he hung up the phone and left his house, bounding down the steps and running down the sidewalk as fast as his 68-year-old legs would let him.

For the next 45 minutes, Guy taught Hector the orphan boy how to throw the ball, to swing the bat, and to catch fly balls and grounders. George sat in the stands and smoked his pipe, remembering how the outfielder used to smile so big that fans on the back row of the grandstand could see his wide grin from there.

Today Big Guy Lefty was smiling just like that.

© 2018 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

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1921 Negro League Team Names: Giants, Pirates, EE-lites

My friend and fellow SABR (Society for American Baseball Research) member Mark Aubrey, who resides in Seymour, Tennessee and plies various research opportunities on Knoxville baseball, presented me with a question today regarding the name of a negro league team in 1921, the Knoxville Pirates. He has often seen the team referred to as “Giants”; “Pirates” was a new reference to him.

The reference came from a clipping in the Nashville Tennessean published on August 11, 1921:

Negro League baseball earned its place in the south in 1920, when the Negro Southern League was formed. Nashville’s entry in the Negro Southern League was named the White Sox, changed to Elite (pronounced EE-lite) Giants by team owner, Tom Wilson, the next season. Many details are sketchy concerning final standings, but it is generally accepted that Nashville played .500 ball for the entire season, finishing with a record of 40 wins and 40 losses.[1]

Knoxville was also a member in the inaugural season of the NSL, finishing first in league standings according to one report which gave the east Tennessee team a record of 55 wins and 21 losses. Bill Plott, another fellow SABR member and author of The Negro Southern League, writes that without explanation, wins were forfeited by Knoxville.

“Fred Caulfield, the New Orleans manager, told the (Alabama) Journal that Knoxville was going to have to forfeit games.”[2]

The Alabama Journal printed final standings with Knoxville at 34-30 on the season.

Returning to Mark’s original question, I became curious about the team name for Knoxville, especially from this February 19 newspaper clipping:

To add to the mystery, another clipping explained that while Knoxville baseball was dead (apparently referring to “white” ball) while giving hope that a Negro team was to be formed. Booker Washington Field was the home to black baseball in Knoxville.

Today’s research offered the conclusion that “Pirates” was simply an error by the newspaper. In fact, Plott’s book does not mention the team name; Knoxville “Giants” is correct. It took a little time to return the results, but Nashville Tennessean accounts of games played between August 12 through August 15 use “Giants” and “Pirates” interchangeably. The same is done for “Sulphur Dell” and the prior name of Nashville’s ball park, “Athletic Park”. Both are one in the same.

In total, Nashville took four out of the five games played: 4-2, 11-0, 8-0, and 4-2 before losing in the second game of a double header on August 15, 4-3. Of special interest, and a piece of history that has eluded me, is Nashville’s 18-game winning streak that was halted in the loss to Knoxville. That will be a research project on the near horizon.

Thank you, Mark, for allowing me to participate in the Knoxville mystery; it pointed to new questions seeking answers. In researching baseball, that is usually the case.

Sources

Nashville Tennessean

Newspapers.com

Sabr.org

Notes

Plott, William J., (2015) The Negro Southern League. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company.

[1] William J Plott, The Negro Southern League, A Baseball History, 1920-1951, (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, 2015), 21.

[2] Ibid. 22.

© 2018 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

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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 7

So how did this “grand experiment” in team ownership turn out?

“Already more box seats have been sold for the opening game than there were people in the stands last April when Chattanooga bounced Those Vols to usher in the campaign…Only 1706 were present…Nashville’s largest crowd all last season was only 3232, which was on Sunday, July 27…The club’s smallest was 508 on Thursday night, Aug. 21.”[1]

Even with fans clamoring for tickets, and sales within $500.00 of last year’s early booking record of $32,425.00 of a year ago[22], McCarthy locked the office doors early on April 4 to get ready for an open house to the public the next day to show off improvements made to Sulphur Dell.

Sports writer Raymond Johnson shared some of his own excitement for the new season.

“…The green infield was as beautiful as any seen in Florida…There’ll be music between innings from an organ which was installed yesterday in the room built especially for it…Soft drinks will be a dime…Parking at the club’s two lots on the west side of Fifth avenue [sic] will be only 25 cents…The seats sparkled they were so clean…The men running the club this year plan to make the fans more comfortable…The campaign to “Swell the Dell” on opening day is in high gear…But for it to succeed, it will be necessary for some of the old timers to retrace their paths to Sulphur Dell…What do you say, fells! Let’s do it.”[23]

The first test for the fervor of Nashville baseball occurred on April 7 when manager Al Lopez and his Chicago White Sox paid a visit to Sulphur Dell to play the Vols. A start time of 3:30 P.M. was chosen so even school kids could attend. The major league club drubbed the home team 20-10 in front of 2,062 fans.

McCarthy closed the Vols baseball office early once again. On Thursday, April 9, advance ticket sales had bumped up to $37,798.40, and was optimistic there were more tickets to be sold.

“I expect the total to reach almost $40,000,” reported McCarthy.[24] Nearly every one of the 1,430 box seats had already been sold.

Former major leaguer and Nashville native Clydell Castleman, chairman of the opening day festivities, gave one more glowing testament to the support from area businesses, saying he had received “100 per cent support from the city’s industries.”

“I am especially indebted to many people, such as F. M. Acker at Du Pont; Bob Hoffman, Ford Glass company [sic]; Johnny DaVal, General Shoe; John Mihalic, Avco; George Hastings, Aladdin Lamp; Ben McDermott, Ferro corporation [sic]; Rufus Fort Jr., National Life; Allen Steele, Life and Casualty; and Postmaster Lewis Moore,” Castleman said.[25]

Gates opened at 5:45 P.M. with fans entering the ballpark with organist Fred Shoemake and the 101st Airborne Infantry Band welcoming them to Sulphur Dell. The Mobile Bears won a nail-biter over Nashville by a 13-12 score, with 4,916 fans showing up to cheer for the Vols even with the threat of rain.

“So for the 4876 Nashville optimists who helped save the city’s baseball franchise by purchasing stock last November and December, there came gleaming through the rain-dripping clouds yesterday cheerful knowledge that never before has there been so much interest in the game here,” wrote F. M. Williams.[26]

Would the excitement last throughout the season, and beyond?

This is Part 7 of the ongoing story. Read more about the events that led to the sale of the Nashville ball club in 1959 in the final 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.

Sources

newspapers.com

[21] Raymond Johnson, “Fans Get 1st Chance to See Their Dell; New Spirit Evident,” One Man’s Opinion Column, Nashville Tennessean, April 5, 1959, 23.

[22] Ibid.

[23] Ibid.

[24] F. M. Williams, “Vols’ Roster Within One of SA 19-Player Limit,” Nashville Tennessean, April 10, 1959, 39.

[25] Ibid.

[26] F. M. Williams, “Saturday Showcase: Busy Phone, Little Boys Soaring Interest Signs,” Nashville Tennessean, April 11, 1959, 11.

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Vols, Inc.: New Ownership to Save Nashville Baseball, Part 5

Meanwhile, the October 30 edition of the Nashville Tennessean reported that the board of governors of the Nashville Chamber of Commerce had unanimously given its stamp of approval to the new venture.

The resolution closed with “…we hereby give our hearty approval to the efforts of the civic leadership identified with the present movement to assure the continuation of professional baseball for Nashville.”[12]

Murray met with the committee on October 31 to sign documents that would allow for the organization to seek a charter with the Tennessee Secretary of State. It was necessary for the owner to appear before the committee and sign papers believed necessary by attorney Norman before the citizens could proceed with the stock selling plan.

Should the effort fail to raise the goal of $250,000, Murray would continue to own Sulphur Dell and the fixtures, and the league franchise. That it would spell doom for professional baseball in Nashville. Norman expressed that all shares of stock will be sold “within 30 days” but members of the committee thought it would take less time; some of them said less than ten.[12]

Headquarters for the stock sale was the baseball office at Sulphur Dell, with the office being staffed from 9 until 5 each day, Monday through Friday. Someone will be there from 9 until noon on Saturdays.

Six banks agreed to handle sale of the stock, Commerce Union, First American National, Nashville Bank and Trust, Third National, Citizens Savings and Trust, and Broadway National, as did six savings and loan associations, Fidelity Federal, First Federal, Home Federal, Security Federal, Southern Federal, Volunteer Federal, and five mortgage loan companies, First Mortgage, Guaranty Mortgage, Kimbrough-Phillips, Lovell and Malone, and Murphree Mortgage agreed to handle sale of stock.[13]

This is Part 5 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.

Sources

newspapers.com

[11] “C of C Praises Vols Purchase,” Nashville Tennessean, October 30, 1958, 45.

[12] Williams, 13.

[13] F. M. Williams, “Vol Owner Transfer Hinges on Stock Sale,” Nashville Tennessean, November 1, 1958, 11.

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Vols, Inc.: New Ownership to Save Nashville Baseball, Part 4

A 90-minute organizational meeting to form a new corporation was held on October 27, 1958, by eight men with an interest in securing the team from Ted Murray. Jack Norman headed the meeting, and included Joe Carr, Harold L. Shyer, Eddy Arnold, R. L. “Bob” Coarsey, Dr. Cleo Miller, Joe Sadler, and Herschel Greer. Vols general manager Bill McCarthy and manager Dick Sisler also attended.

Sisler had just completed his second season as manager of the Vols. He led the ball club to a third-place finish in 1957 with an 83-69 record but had fallen to 76-78 and fifth place in 1958, a season which had Jay Hook (13-14, 3.70 ERA) and Jim O’Toole (20-8, 2.44 ERA) on the roster.

It was not a time to make leadership changes even though attendance had fallen by 60,000 from 152,000 to 92,000. McCarthy and Sisler were well-liked in the community and could be counted on to produce ticket sales.

To help ensure that Nashville was still a viable option for Cincinnati and their minor league system, it was McCarthy and Sisler who made a trip to Cincinnati for four-day meetings with Reds management, and on September 17, 1958 McCarthy declared, “No, there is no talk about the possibility Nashville not having a baseball team next season”.[9]

It was in that meeting for thoughts on how to buy out Murray that an idea was hatched to form a new company. If fifty thousand shares of stock could be sold at $5.00 each, $250,000.00 would be raised.

“There will be no stock speculation or fees paid to anyone to sell the stock,” said Norman. “There will be no fees for lawyers or anyone. The $200,000 will be paid to Murray for the real estate and the assets of the ball club and the $50,000 will be used for operating expenses.” .[10]

“Vols, Inc.” was suggested as the name of the new corporation.

This is Part 4 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.

Sources

newspapers.com

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

[9] F. M. Williams, “Vols’ Sisler, McCarthy Encouraged After Red Talks on 1959 Prospects,” Nashville Tennessean, September 18, 1958, 23.

[10] “Baseball Corporation to Sell Shares for $5,” Nashville Tennessean, October 29, 1958, 17.

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