Tag Archives: Tennessee Supreme Court

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 Held a Prominent Postion in the Southern Association

Newt FisherThe Southern Association of Baseball Clubs was organized at the Morris Hotel in Birmingham, Alabama on October 20, 1900 by Abner Powell, Charley Frank and Newt Fisher. Franchises were granted to six cities: Nashville, Chattanooga, Memphis, Shreveport, New Orleans, and Birmingham. Powell would become an owner in New Orleans along with Isidore Newman, Fisher would have a stake in the Nashville club, and Frank would own Memphis, further setting in motion the importance of the main founders.

Applications were also received from Atlanta, Montgomery, Little Rock, and Mobile. Later Little Rock and Atlanta are named as the two remaining clubs for the inaugural season. Meeting in Memphis on February 28, 1901, the Southern Association franchise originally awarded to Atlanta is transferred to Selma. The league’s schedule is also finalized.

Nashville’s team was off and running in the new league, winning the first two regular season pennants in 1901 and 1902.

After attempts to form a new league fail by disgruntled owners, on September 8, 1902 an agreement is signed in Memphis that the 1903 Southern League cities will include New Orleans, Mobile, Birmingham, Montgomery, Savannah, Memphis, Atlanta, and Nashville, with Little Rock, Shreveport, and Chattanooga eliminated.

1908 Nashville Vols FB

1908 Nashville Vols

In 1908 the Volunteers won their third Southern Association crown, followed by another in 1916. On July 11th of the Vols fourth championship season, Tom Rogers pitched a perfect game against Chattanooga, striking out 4. The game time was one hour and 25 minutes.

In 1918 many of the Southern Association teams were struggling as World War I impacted commerce and fan attendance, a shortened season was played and the directors of the league considered shutting down. Nashville’s attendance that season was 24,119, down from 79,018 the previous year. Ironically, 79,014 attended Nashville games at Sulphur Dell in 1918.

Sunday games had not been allowed in Tennessee well into the second decade of the Southern Association, creating an obstacle to scheduling. On March 28, 1919 John D. Martin, president of the Southern Association, arrived in Nashville to urge the State Supreme Court to render an early decision in allowing Sunday baseball games.

The Tennessee Supreme Court announced its decision on April 12, 1919 to permit baseball to be played on Sunday. The Court held that the blue laws of 1893 did not apply to baseball, as the game was not then being played.

In 1920 league attendance passed 1 million for the first time since teams began keeping accurate records in 1915. The league drew a total of 1,215,367 fans; Nashville’s home attendance was 102,529.

In 1931 Fay L. Murray, part-owner of the American Association Minneapolis Millers, purchased the Nashville Volunteers. In November of 1938 Murray would lure New Orleans manager Larry Gilbert to Nashville to become manager and general manager. Gilbert would also become a part-owner of the Vols.

Larry Gilbert

Larry Gilbert

In 1940 Gilbert’s Nashville club won the Southern Association pennant, followed up with the top spot again in 1943and 1948, Gilbert’s final season as a manager.

Larry Gilbert had an upstanding reputation. He was often called upon to meet with major league representatives during National Association meetings and was named one of the coaches for a game in Cooperstown, New York to commemorate the 100th anniversary of baseball. He also made out the Southern Association schedule.

On August 25, 1941, Southern Association president Trammell Scott postponed Nashville’s home contest against Little Rock out of respect to the family of Larry Gilbert, Jr., son of the Vols manager. The younger Gilbert had passed away the previous day from heart failure.

Led by manager Rollie Hemsley the Vols captured another regular season league crown in 1949.

Into the 1950s, Nashville was just one of many minor league clubs experiencing poor attendance. From a club record 269,893 in 1948 down to 92,199 in 1958, without fan support the league would not survive.

The New Orleans Pelicans owners announced on March 15, 1960 that the team was folding and would not field a team in the Southern Association. A charter member of the league, New Orleans would become the largest city in the US without a professional baseball team.

On August 29, 1960, Cincinnati Reds vice-president and general manager Gabe Paul announced that the Reds six-year working agreement would not be renewed with Nashville, effective December 15.  The reason given by Paul was because the Southern Association “does not allow the use of Negro players”.

RIPThe Southern Association suspended operations on January 24, 1962 due to “a lack of enough major league working agreements”; however, during the 1961 season average attendance for all games is less than 1,000 fans.

Nashville had drawn just over 500 fans per game during the 1961 and had been unable to secure a major league affiliation. With the announcement, organized minor league baseball is reduced to only 19 leagues for the 1962 season, from a high of 59 leagues in 1949.

Nashville was without baseball in 1962. Although the Vols were resurrected in the South Atlantic League for the 1963 season, poor attendance and a deficit of almost $22,000 forced the ownership group to surrender their South Atlantic League franchise without a dissenting vote from its board of directors.

© 2014 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

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