Tag Archives: Sulphur Dell

Vols, Inc.: New Ownership to Save Nashville Baseball, Part 1

At 11:30 A.M. on January 20, 1959, in local attorney Jack Norman’s law office, Ted Murray turned over the Nashville Vols and Sulphur Dell to a newly-formed, publicly-held corporation. Murray, son of Fay Murray who first purchased the ball club along with Jimmy Hamilton in 1931, was paid $200,000.00 in exchange for his debt-free assets, including Nashville’s Southern Association franchise.[1]

Ted had acquired his stock in the team when his father died suddenly on March 4, 1941. Now the younger Murray was forced to sell for financial reasons. “I simply don’t have the money to operate the club any longer,” he told Nashville Tennessean sports writer F. M. Williams.[2]

It was an historic day in the timeline for this storied franchise. But how, and why, did it come to this? What events led to the near demise of the club? Wasn’t the city considered one of the keys to Southern Association stability? Hadn’t Sulphur Dell become an iconic ballpark, given its name by beloved sports writer Grantland Rice yet despised by visiting right-hand hitting outfielders?

In the days ahead, read more about the events that lead up to the sale of the Nashville ball club.

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.

[1] Raymond Johnson, “Vols Change Hands Today,” Nashville Tennessean, January 20, 1959, 11.

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

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Southern Baseball Moguls Prepare for 1909 Season

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

Two rule changes were considered and approved[9]:

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

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

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

© 2018 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

SOURCES

Baseball-reference.com

Newspapers.com

SABR.org

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[9] “Southern Moguls.”

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

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

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P. T. Barnum, “The Greatest Showman”, in Nashville

Many recall the Shrine Circus at Sulphur Dell; how it entertained with clown parades and performers in the three rings laid out in the ball field. The finale was usually the Human Cannonball, and spectators oohed and aahed with the explosion of the cannon shot as his body hurtled through the air to a net, erected to catch him before he landed on his head in the ballpark outfield and keep him from bouncing over the right field fence into the ice house across the street in case of a miscalculated trajectory.

A reminder of those special nights comes in the form of a 2017 movie, The Greatest Showman, based on the life of P. T. Barnum, founder of the Barnum & Bailey Circus. It has garnered a 3.5/4 review from film critic Sheila O’Malley[1] and is widely accepted as a success.

P. T. Barnum with Tom Thumb

Barnum proclaimed himself, “…a showman by profession…and all the gilding shall make nothing else of me…”[2] This king of the circus loved money so much, that he is often credited with having said, “There’s a sucker born every minute,” which meant he was happy to separate anyone from the money in one’s pockets. His fame includes bringing a dwarf, General Tom Thumb, and the “Swedish Nightingale”, Jenny Lind, to his circus. His entourage toured Europe, and many cities and towns in the United States in the middle of the 19th Century.

Nearly 40 years before it was known as Sulphur Dell, the low-lying area north of Nashville’s downtown was called Sulphur Spring Bottom. It had a natural salt lick and sulphur spring, and many years before the city was founded, the area teemed with wildlife, especially buffalo and deer who came to lick the mineral salt.

In the 1860s the area was the city’s recreational grounds. It was there that baseball found its home, evacuated it 100 years later, and then reclaimed it in 2015 when the Nashville Sounds opened their new ballpark.

But in 1872, wild animals returned in the form of one of Barnum’s excursions named his “World’s Fair.”[3]

The exposition set up tents on Tuesday, November 12 for two days of performances after traveling from nearby Columbia where Nashville’s Republican Banner said “A very large number of people attended Barnum’s show at Columbia yesterday. It is said that his mammoth tents were well filled.[4]

With a warning that “The ‘Digger Indian’ in Barnum’s circus leaped down from his stand, while on exhibition at Elizabethtown, Kentucky, the other day, and gave a negro who had insulted him a sound drubbing”[5], the same newspaper gave a glowing recommendation by reporting “Barnum’s big show is now a topic of much discussion. It is likely to be better attended than anything of the kind that has appeared for years.”[6]

The newspaper also gave another warning on November 10.

“Reliable information has been received at Police headquarters to the effect that a large troupe of thieves, burglars, pickpockets, ebony legs and every conceivable kind of dishonest men are following Barnum’s circus around and as this will exhibit at Nashville Tuesday and Wednesday next, we are requested to warn our citizens in time that they may be on the look out [sic] for the visits of such characters as above alluded to.”[7]

Everyone expected thrills for adults from Barnum’s entourage, but it was the imagination of the young that brought great expectation.

The opening was a wonderful success, and certainly made an impression on the minds of youth.

“Barnum’s big show is agitating the hearts of juveniles.”[8]

The Nashville Union and American also lavished praise on Barnum’s creation “a brilliant and elaborate exposition that attracted universal attention and admiration” and “Great is Barnum”.[9]

But there was one Republic Banner report was did not initially seem positive in the substance of the exhibits.

“The stuffed whale, and that more stupendous stuff, the Cardiff Giants, were hardly worth transportation. Those “cannibals,” sentenced to death, from which fate the generous Barnum is to rescue them by the sacrifice of the pitiful $15,000 bond he is under to return them to the irate King of the Feejees; that “beautiful” Caucassian [sic], captured from some New York harem-scarem; the “sleeping beauty” (in wax) and other absurdities, were as cheap “curiosities” (as the interpreter of the ring phrazes [sic] it) as the little wooden automatons on Barnum’s portrait gallery.”[10]

In closing, the newspaper had to acknowledge the popularity of the big show and the mastery of Barnum’s ability to promote his business.

“And yet it drew like a house on fire. It drew because it was well advertised, and good people who protest that their business, which is genuine, does not draw, while Barnum’s, which is not so legitimate, does, should consult P. T., and see “what he knows about advertising.”

Soon reviews out of Columbia did not hold the same manner of respect for Barnum; not for his exhibits, but for the crooks who followed the circus from town to town.

On the same day as the report of the Columbia newspaper, support for Nashville’s police force was made public. Perhaps Nashville’s finest had heeded the warning from the city Barnum had visited only days earlier.

Sadly Barnum’s New York museum and menagerie burned on the morning of December 24. Two elephants and a camel were the only animals to survive. Barnum was still on tour in New Orleans; his losses were estimated at over $100,000.[11]

P. T. Barnum, who was known primarily as a circus man, was an author, a newspaper publisher, politician, businessman, and certainly, a showman. He did not establish his circus until 1871, a year before it appeared in Nashville.[12]

Barnum died in 1891 at the age of 80. Perhaps in his only visit to Nashville, nearly 150 years ago he once constructed his circus on the grounds we now hallow as Nashville’s historical baseball home.

Note: My wife Sheila and I saw “The Greatest Showman” on January 3, 2018. We thoroughly enjoyed it, and though not a professional film critic, I give the movie the best review I can: it’s a home run, hit far over the fence and out of the park.

© 2018 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

[1] Sheila O’Mally, “The Greatest Showman”, RogerEbert.com, https://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/the-greatest-showman-2017, accessed January 3, 2017.

[2] Kunhardt, Philip B., Jr.; Kunhardt, Philip B., III; Kunhardt, Peter W. (1995). P.T. Barnum: America’s Greatest Showman. Alfred A. Knopf., 6.

[3] “Barnum’s Mammoth Show, Nashville Republican Banner, November 13, 1872, 4.

[4] “Sidewalk Notes.,” Nashville Republican Banner, November 9, 1872, 4.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] “Burglars, Thieves and Pickpockets,” Nashville Union and American, November 19, 1872, 4.

[8] “Sidewalk Notes.,” Nashville Republican Banner, November 13, 1872, 4.

[9] “Barnum’s Show.,” Nashville Union and American, November 14, 1872, 4.

[10] “What He Knows About Advertising.,” Nashville Republican Banner, November 14, 1872, 4.

[11] “New York. Barnum’s Menagerie Burned Again,” Nashville Union and American, December 25, 1872, 1

[12] Sarah Maslin Nir and Nate Schweber. “After 146 Years, Ringling Brothers Circus Takes Its Final Bow,” https://www.nytimes.com/2017/05/21/nyregion/ringling-brothers-circus-takes-final-bow.html, accessed January 4, 2018.

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Nashville Attendance and the Ebb, Flow of Minor League Baseball

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

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

Nashville was not alone.

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

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

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

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

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

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

During the war years, attendance remained respectable:

1941      97,282

1942      96,934

1943      76,570

1944      146,945

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Weiler tells how significant the interest was across the country.

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

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

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

© 2017 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

Sources

Newspapers.com

Paper of Record

Sabr.org

Notes

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

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

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

[4] Johnson.

[5] Weiber.

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

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

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Consecutive One-Hitters and Four Strikeouts in an Inning: Nashville’s Bernie Boland

In 2012, Nashville’s R. A. Dickey of the New York Mets finished the year with a 20-6 record, started 33 games and completed five of them, pitched in 232 innings, had 230 strikeouts, and faced 927 batters. In each of these categories, Dickey was tops, and he was named National League Cy Young Award winner as the best pitcher in the league.

He joined another elite group, too. Only 10 pitchers in Major League history have held the opposition to only one hit in consecutive games. R. A. was the last to accomplish the deed, when he held Tampa Bay and Baltimore to one hit in consecutive starts during his fantastic season.

Here’s the complete rundown of pitchers who have accomplished the feat[1]:

Hugh Daily, Chicago Browns, Union Association, July 7 & July 10, 1884

Toad Ramsey, Louisville Colonels, American Association, July 29 & July 31, 1886

Charlie Buffinton, Philadelphia Phillies, National League, August 6 & August 9, 1887

Rube Marquard, New York Giants, National League, August 28 & September 1, 1911

Lon Warneke, Chicago Cubs, National League, April 16 & April 22, 1934

Mort Cooper, St. Louis Cardinals, National League, May 31 & June 4, 1943

Whitey Ford, New York Yankees, September 2 & September 7, 1955

Sam McDowell, Cleveland Indians, American League, April 25 & May 1, 1966

Dave Stieb, Toronto Blue Jays, American League, September 24 & September 30, 1988

R. A. Dickey, New York Mets, National League, June 13 & June 18, 2012

Almost a century before Dickey did it, in 1914, another pitcher with a Nashville connection did the same thing as a member of the Vols in the Southern Association. Pitcher Bernie Boland pitched consecutive game one-hitters, joining the knuckleballing Dickey, who is currently a member of the Atlanta Braves, in making history.

Born Bernard Anthony Boland in Rochester, New York on January 21, 1892 to Patrick and Catherine Boland, Bernie honed his pitching skills in the sandlots of his hometown. Playing in a semi-pro league in Rochester in 1911, by mid-July his reputation as a fire-balling right hander was well-known. The 19-year-old had pitched 34 scoreless innings for the Orange Blossoms[2] when he faced the Lyons Cubs on July 23. The Cubs spoiled Bernie’s scoreless streak, but he struck out 12, gave up eight hits, and banged out two singles of his own[3] as his club won, 10-4.

By September, he won every game he had pitched in.[4]

Boland joined the Akron Giants (Central League, Class-B) for the 1912 season. He was a dependable starter for manager Lee Fohl, and won 10 games while losing 14 on the year. He returned to the club in 1913 and his reputation began to shine, culminating in his domination of a baseball immortal as the league began to collapse in July.

Although he began to suffer from a sore arm in early June,[5] Bernie had recovered quickly, holding Youngstown to four hits in a 12-0 whitewashing of the Steelmen.[6] On July 2, he pitched a four-hitter against Steubenville. One of the hits was by the second batter Bernie faced, Ernest Calbert, who socked a fly ball over the head of Akron centerfielder Arch Osborne. Calbert circled the bases to score. It was the lone run, as the Giants won 5-1.[7]

But three thousand fans packed the Akron ballpark on July 15 when the American League’s Cleveland Naps came to town for an exhibition game. Boland was selected to start the game, and he although he gave up 11 hits, the Naps won, 4-3. Cleveland great Joe Jackson faced Boland four times, hitting a triple in the sixth inning. Bernie struck him out twice.

“In the first inning Joe Jackson walked to the plate. The fans all had a feeling of sympathy for Bernie Boland, the youngster, who was facing the American League’s premier slugger. But Jackson failed to connect, and when he missed the third strike he hurled his bat almost to the Akron bench. Joe was an easy out again in the fourth, got the longest hit of the day in the sixth, a triple to deep center, and fanned again in the eighth.”[8]

When the Central League disbanded a few weeks later, Boland’s contract was purchased by Nashville (Southern Association, Class – AA). He decided to hold out, but when the Vols agreed to his terms, he joined the club.[9]

In his first start for the Vols on August 5 in Birmingham, Bernie lasted into the seventh. He gave up 11 hits and six runs and was removed from the game with an injured hand.[10] Nashville lost the game at Rickwood Field, 9-4. On August 10 at Sulphur Dell against Atlanta, he once again left the game, this time in the fifth inning, as he had torn the cuticle on his index finger from his curve ball. Nashville was ahead 3-1 at the time, and ended up losing 5-4 in extra innings.[11]

In six games during the year, Bernie won 2 games and lost 3, appearing in 31 innings. Only 5’8” and 168 pounds, the diminutive curve baller was expected to contribute at a greater level in 1914. Due to his speed and fielding ability, manager Bill Schwartz even considered making him an outfielder.[12]

Boland was named starter against Boston in an April 1 exhibition game at Vanderbilt’s Dudley Field (Sulphur Dell was deemed too wet to play on). After retiring lead-off batter Harry Hooper, Clyde Engel singled and future Hall of Famer Tris Speaker slapped a home run into the trees beyond right field.

Hooper returned the favor to Bernie, snagging Bolahd’s long drive in right field in the second inning. The game ended in favor of the American League team, 8-2. Boland had pitched five innings, allowing 4 runs and seven hits.[13]

Once the regular season began, Boland was joined by Heinie Berger, Floyd Kroh, Forrest More, and Erwin Renfer in the starting rotation. Tom Rogers, who would become the ace of the ball club and toss a perfect game in 1916, was in his first year with Nashville.

On July 28, Boland and pitcher Roy Walker, who was born in Lawrenceburg, Tennessee, pitched against each other in an intense duel in the Pelican’s ballpark. Nashville lost to New Orleans, 3-2 in 10 innings, as Walker struck out 11 and Bernie had 10 of his own. But Bernie accomplished a rare feat by striking out four batters in the eighth inning.

“In the eighth Tim Hendrix led off for the Pelicans and Boland fanned him. Charlie Starr (formerly with the Bisons) likewise swung and missed three successive times but was not out until Catcher Smith had thrown to first, as Smith dropped the ball after the third strike. Then Walter Barbare, the fleet Pelican shortstop, came to bat and he struck out. But Walter, for some reason, chose to swing on a wide on his third attempt and both he and Catcher Smith missed it. Result: Walter got to first in safety. Shortly afterward, too, he stole second and then third. Otto Burns was at bat and a hit would have won the game. Otto tried hard to deliver, but failed, and after three tries was out. Hence Boland’s four strike outs in one inning[14].

At the time Boland achieved his rarity, only four major league pitchers had done it:[15]

Ed Crane, New York Gothams, National League, October 4, 1888

Hooks Wiltse, New York Giants, National League, May 15, 1906

Orval Overall, Chicago Cubs, National League, October 14, 1908

Walter Johnson, Washington Senators, American League, April 15, 1911

On August 8 at Sulphur Dell against Memphis, Boland gave up a walk and only one hit as his team beat the Chicks 3-0. Through eight innings Bernie kept the opposing hitters in check, but opposing catcher George “Admiral” Schlei slapped a hit between first and second for a clean hit, spoiling a no-hit bid. It was the only hit allowed by Boland in the game, which was played in one hour and 30 minutes.

He started his next game in Atlanta on August 12, and gave up four runs to the Crackers. But after only 1 ½ innings had been played, the game was cancelled due to rain. Since the game was a washout and had not gone the minimum of 4 ½ innings to be considered a complete game, none of the hits or runs counted.[16]

His second one-hitter came on August 13 in the second game of a double header in Atlanta. After Nashville scored ten runs in the first inning of game one, 11-1, Boland held the Crackers to a single hit in 11 innings, as Nashville pushes a run across in the top of the 11th to win, 1-0.

Nashville sports writer Jack Nye explained.

“In his last two games Boland has allowed but two hits and no runs. In his one-hit affair against Memphis he gave up but one base on balls, but yesterday his control was not quite so good, five Crackers working him for passes. In the pinches, however, he had enough stuff to pull him out, fanning eight opposing batsmen.

“As far as can be learned, these two consecutive one-hit games set a new Southern league record. Bernie has now pitched twenty-three innings without a run being score on him. Though four runs were made in the first inning of Wednesday’s game at Atlanta, this does not go in the records, as the game was call in the second inning on account of rain.”[17]

The 22-year-old Boland finished the season 17-14 as Nashville finished in fifth place with a 77-72 record. The Detroit Tigers had seen something they like in Bernie, and Nashville sold his services to the American League club on August 28 for $5,000.00.[18]

He made his major league debut on April 14, 1915, relieving starter Harry Coveleski against Cleveland at Detroit’s Navin Field. He had no decision, but allowed no hits in two innings as the Tigers fell, 5-1.

He worked his way into the starting lineup and finished the year 13-7 with a 3.11 ERA. The club won 100 games, but lost the American League pennant to the Boston Red Sox, who had won 101.

In Detroit, his teammates included Ty Cobb, Sam Crawford, and Bobby Veach. Cobb set the season stolen base record of 96 in 1915 that was not broken until Maury Wills of the Los Angeles Dodgers stole 104 in 1962.

Boland stayed with the Tigers for six more years, and had his best season in 1917 when he was 16-11 and an ERA of 2.68. The next season, as World War I was raging in Europe, major league baseball played a short season, and when it ended he served in the Army until war was over.

In seven years he was 67-49 for Detroit, and finished his career as a member of the St. Louis Browns in 1921 when he was 1-4 in seven appearances. His final game was on June 17 against Washington at Griffith Stadium, when he started for one last time. After giving up nine hits and five runs in five innings, he was given his unconditional release by the Browns.

Bernie married Grace Belle Russelo on May 22, 1917 in Detroit, and together they had four children: Patrick, Mary Anne, John, and Rita. After baseball, he entered the construction business, opening Tiger Construction Company. He later became a construction foreman in Detroit’s Department of Public Works before retiring in 1957.[19] He died on September 12, 1973 in Detroit, and is buried in St. Hedwig Cemetery in Dearborn Heights, Michigan.

As a member of the Nashville Vols, his claim on the baseball record books includes a couple of near-impossible feats: striking out four in an inning, and tossing two consecutive one-hitters. As rare as those feats are, his right to assert his mark on baseball will remain in the annals of Nashville baseball history.

Sources

Baseball-reference.com

Newspapers.com

Paper of Record

Retrosheet.org

Sabr.org

Southernassociationbaseball.com

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

© 2017 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

Notes

[1] “1-Hit Games Records,” baseball-almanac.com, http://www.baseball-almanac.com/recbooks/1-hit_games_records.shtml, accessed August 8, 2017

[2] “Among The Semi-Professionals.,” Democrat and Chronicle (Rochester, New York), July 23, 1911, 25.

[3] “Orange Blossoms On Top,” Democrat and Chronicle, July 24, 1911, 15.

[4] “Game for the Orange Blossoms,” Democrat and Chronicle, September 20, 1911, 19.

[5] “Saturday’s Game,” Akron Beacon Journal, June 9, 1913, 9.

[6] “Even “Red” Ainsworth Was Unable to Check Slugging of the Giants,” Akron Beacon Journal, June 13, 1913, 16.

[7] “Slugging Giants Continue To Climb,” Akron Beacon Journal, July 3, 1913, 9.

[8] “When He Fanned.,” Akron Beacon Journal, July 16, 1913, 9.

[9] Jack Nye. “Weak Spots To Be Bolstered Up Soon,” Nashville Tennessean, July 31, 1913, 10.

[10] Nye. “Bill Prough Beats Vols And Makes It Nine Straight Wins,” Nashville Tennessean, August 6, 1913, 10.

[11] Nye. “Eleven-Inning Game Goes To Crackers,” Nashville Tennessean, August 11, 1913, 8.

[12] Nye. “New Players In Line-Up Tomorrow,” Nashville Tennessean, March 21, 1914, 10.

[13] Nye. “Speakers Hitting Helps Beat The Vols,” Nashville Tennessean, April 2, 1914, 10.

[14] “Struck Out Four In Single Inning,” Buffalo Commercial, July 30, 1014, 8.

[15] “Four Strikeouts in One Inning,” baseball-almanac.com, http://www.baseball-almanac.com/feats/feats19.shtml, accessed August 8, 2017

[16] Dick Jemison. “Rain Stopped Opening Game With Crackers Leading 4-3; Two Double-Headers Now,” Atlanta Constitution, August 13, 1914, 6.

[17] Nye. “Back In First Division; Pennant Hopes Revived,” Nashville Tennessean, August 14, 1914, 5.

[18] “Tigers Buy Boland, Nashville Pitcher; Reports Sept. 15,” Detroit Free Press, August 29, 1914, 10.

[19] Lee, Bill. (2003) The Baseball Necrology: The Post-Baseball Lives and Deaths of More Than 7 ,600 Major League Players and Others. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Co., Inc.

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Fracas at the Ballpark: Firemen and Policemen Battle at Sulphur Dell

In 1919, with the uncertainty of Nashville being able to play games on Sunday, Southern Association magnates published a schedule for the season which included games on the Sabbath[1]. Printed within the published league calendar where the words, “Southern League Will Take Chances In Playing Sunday Baseball”.

In fact, John D. Martin, president of the Southern Association, arrived in Nashville on March 27, just a few days after the schedule was approved, to urge the State Supreme Court to render an early decision in allowing Sunday baseball games[2]. He got his wish on April 12, when the Tennessee Supreme Court rendered their decision permitting Sunday baseball in the state. The court held that the blue laws of 1893, which were the basis for banning baseball on Sunday, do not apply to baseball as the game was not then being played[3].

On the day of Martin’s visit, Nashville’s spring training began at Sulphur Dell. It was going to be a long year.

By July 29 the ball club was mired in eighth and last place in the standings. With 39 wins and 52 losses, the Vols were facing a lengthy 12-day road trip beginning in Chattanooga, then New Orleans, Birmingham, and Mobile, finally returning home after a final road trip game on August 9 in Atlanta.[4]

In the meantime, Sulphur Dell did not sit idle.

Nashville’s amateur Volunteer League was comprised of eight teams: Rigo Chemical, Acorn Brand, Nashville Garage, Haury Selects (formerly known as Sparkman Bros.), L. Jonas & Co., Grandview, Postoffice [sic}, and the Orioles[5].

There was also a Commercial League: Gray & Dudley, Nashville Railway & Light Co., Telephone Company, National Casket Co., City Hall, Fourth & First National Bank, N. C. & St. L. Railway, and E. & N. Mfg. Co.[6]

The leagues mostly used Shelby Park’s two diamonds, ball fields at the Railway Company’s property, and a diamond at Centennial Park for games. But if the Vols were out of town, Sulphur Dell (often referred to as “Fifth and Jackson”) was included as a venue.

A game was played on Sunday, August 3 at Sulphur Dell between the Nashville police and fire department. Proceeds from the game were to go to their “Combined Benefit Fund” sick and death association.

The lineup for the Policemen included “Drennan, right field; Lonnie Martin centerfield; Lowe, third base; Dickie Swint, shortstop; “Give-Me” Rainey, left field; “Fourth Ward” Bracey, second base; Glennon, first base; “Tick” Robinson catcher; Cummings, pitcher. Subs for the Police: Varner and “Little Bracy [sic].”

Nashville Fire Department Team

Batting for the Firemen were “Hog Head” Goodwin right field; “Round Head” Farrell, centerfield; “Dough Boy” Dillard, third base; “Dutch” Eckhart, shortstop; “Cheese Head” Laitenburger, left field; “Red” Carter, second base’ “Gabby” Garrett, first base; “Piggy” Pegrum, catcher; “Old Head” Scruggs, pitcher. Subs were Davis and White.

As one can tell from the nicknames for many of the players, the day’s events were going to be lighthearted. Besides the game, a boxing match was to be held between Mayor Gupton and Chief of Police Alex Barthell, with Al Robinson as referee, along with a race between “Kidney Foot” Ferriss, Chris Kreig, and others following the game.

Besides the game, the highlight of the frivolities was to be a high-dive exhibition.

“Chief A. A. Rozetta of the fire department, George Drennan of the police force and “Sergeant” Tom Glenn, market house office, will attempt to excite the fans with a diving stunt. These three men, dressed in dainty bathing suits of the latest make-up, will dive headon [sic] from the top of the grandstand into a tank of water, twenty-five feet below.”[7]

With a batting assault that included 19 hits, the Police won, 13-1. Around 3,000 fans enjoyed the festivities. But the Firemen were not going to let the Policemen get away with another beating in a repeat performance, as reported in the August 4 edition of the Nashville Tennessean.

“After the game, the firemen met at headquarters and made a complete set of rules to be used in next year’s fracas. They are:

  1. All policemen must bat with their clubs
  2. The firemen must be allowed six outs to an inning
  3. Firemen must have nine runs before the game starts, and young “Boliver”  Cummins can’t pitch

To these rules the three outfielders of the Policemen’s team added:

4. Three beds must be placed in gardens for the policemen outfielders to take regular   naps on. They don’t need to be awake

  1. “Subject to change without notice.)[8]

The results of the boxing match, race, or diving are not reported.

© 2017 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

[1] “Playing Managers Favorites In Dixie,” The Sporting News, March 13, 1919, 10.

[2] “Martin Optimistic Over Sunday Games Case In Tennessee,” Atlanta Constitution, March 28, 1919, 8.

[3] “Sunday Baseball In State Allowed By Supreme Court,” Nashville Tennessean, April 13, 1919, 1

[4] “Vols Leave On Road Trip Of 12 Games,” Nashville Tennessean, July 29, 1919, 12.

[5] “Volunteer League,” Nashville Tennessean, August 28, 1919, 9.

[6] “Managers Commercial City League Meet Monday,” Nashville Tennessean, May 5, 1919, 10.

[7] “Firemen and Policemen Meet in Ball Game This Afternoon,” Nashville Tennessean, August 3, 1919, 35.

[8] “Policement Slaughter Ladder Lizards 13-1; Red Eye Cheers Firemen,” Nashville Tennessean, August 4, 1919, 11.

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Nashville’s Larry Gilbert: Baseball Honors A Legend

Metro Archives Photo

On Sunday afternoon, July 27, 1941, Larry Gilbert was honored as Sporting News “1940 Minor League Manager of the Year” before his team’s double header against Chattanooga at Sulphur Dell in Nashville.

It was the second ceremony of the year honoring Gilbert, the first having been held May 7, recognizing him for his 25 years in the Southern Association[1]. He was given various gifts, including a gold lifetime pass by league president Trammell Scott, a silver set from Vols team owner Ted Murray and treasurer Jack Flanagan, and his players presented him with a silver service.[2]

Gilbert began his career in local sandlots of his hometown of New Orleans, Louisiana, but found his way to the majors as a member of the famous “Miracle Braves” of 1914, which had a 26-40 record in July but managed to win the National League pennant by winning 68 of its next 87 games[3]. Gilbert was a seldom-used outfielder and appeared in 72 games, hitting .268. His only appearance in the World Series was as a pinch hitter,  drawing a walk from  Philadelphia Athletics ace Bill James.

As a 23-year-old the next season, Larry was used very little and batted a paltry .151. His career would resume in Toronto (International League – Class AA) and Kansas City (American Association – Class AA) before he joined New Orleans (Southern Association – Class A). He would remain there for nine years, becoming manager of the club in 1923, leading the club to the league pennant that season, and remained there through 1938 (he moved to the front office in 1932, but returned to the dugout in 1933).

When Nashville owner Fay Murray was looking for a manager after the 1938 season, he convinced Larry to become part-owner, general manager, and manager of the Vols. He remained as field leader through 1948, moving to the front office until 1955, when he sold his shares in the club.

Larry Gilbert’s rise to fame as the best manager in the minor leagues culminated in 1940, when his Nashville ball club led the Southern Association from opening day until the end of the season. His team won 101 games with a combined batting average of .311, pitcher Boots Poffenberger won 26 games, and reliever Ace Adams struck out 122 rival batters.

In the league playoffs, the Vols eliminated Chattanooga, three games to none, and won the playoff championship against Atlanta by winning four games to two for the Crackers, sending Nashville to the Dixie Playoffs to face Texas League champion. They polished off the Houston Buffaloes in five games, ending a remarkable season. That club was selected as the 47th best minor league of all time in 2001 in celebration of Minor League baseball’s 100th anniversary[4].

His two-year record at Nashville was 186-115, and included a Southern Association regular-season pennant, two playoff championships, and one Dixie Series title. He had previously led New Orleans to four pennants, two playoff championships, and two Dixie Series crowns.

On September 8, 1948, in his final game as manager, Gilbert was honored once again, this time for 25 years as a manager in the Southern Association, beginning with his first entering the league in 1923.  6,509 Nashville fans, Baseball Commissioner A. B. Chandler, George M. Trautman, president of the National Association, and Southern Association president Charlie Hurth, were there to bestow recognition to Larry Gilbert, the most successful manager in the history of the Southern Association.

With eight league championships, including six consecutive titles with Nashville between 1939-1944, his final record as manager for the Vols and New Orleans was 2,128 – 1,627. It was an impressive record for an equally impressive manager.

From the honors bestowed upon him, it was easy to tell that Baseball loved Larry Gilbert.

To view Gilbert’s entire managerial record, click here: http://www.southernassociationbaseball.com/managers/larrygilbert.php

Sources 

Baseball-reference.com

Newspapers.com

Paper of Record 

Retrosheet.org

Sabr.org

Southernassociationbaseball.com

© 2017 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

[1] Raymond Johnson. “Fourth Celebration Due,” One Man’s Opinion column, Nashville Tennessean, July 28, 1941, 8.

[2] Sporting News, May 15, 1941, 12.

[3] “1914 The Miracle Braves”, http://www.thisgreatgame.com/1914-baseball-history.html, accessed July 27, 2017.

[4] Bill Weiss & Marshall Wright, “Top 100 Teams: 47. 1940 Nashville Vols,” http://www.milb.com/milb/history/top100.jsp?idx=47, July 27, 2017

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