Tag Archives: Ty Cobb

Cobb to Cubans to Limbless Wonders

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© 2017 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

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

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

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

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

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

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Pete Rose and a Baseball Stain

One of my great memories as a father is having played catch with my kids. One particular day my youngest son Chris wanted to throw and went to his room to get a baseball. He was playing in Little League and was a strong, hard throwing left-hander. His throws could more aptly be called “scorchers” instead of “tosses”.

As we separated about 40 feet from each other, he hummed his first pitch to me but it took a couple of hops (“worm burners” my dad used to call them) and went under my reach. I turned and retrieved the ball and took a look at the grass stain on it. It had an autograph on it.

grass stained baseball“Pete Rose” was clearly legible as the grass stain had not perpetrated the autograph. Pete’s signature was clear as a bell.

I said, “Chris, you brought a ball that has Pete Rose’s autograph. Don’t you want to hold on to it?” He shrugged, as it was more important that we have a ball to catch than not.

I examined the ball for more autographs, and found another: “Bill Boner”. The Nashville mayor’s signature was not as legible since a green smear came over the “er”.

A decision had to be made. Do I rescue the icon of baseball lovers everywhere by stopping our backyard encounter with the National Pastime, or do I continue to play catch?

Impatient during the delay, Chris finally yelled, “C’mon dad, throw it!” Our throwing to each other continued.

In 1987 Greer Stadium hosted a two-game exhibition series between the Montreal Expos and the Cincinnati Reds, the parent club of the Nashville Sounds. As my uncle Walter Nipper was a member of the ownership group of the Nashville club, he invited my dad, me, and my children onto the field to watch batting practice and shake hands with players.

Uncle Nip gave each of my boys a baseball to collect autographs. My oldest son Doug was able to get the signatures of a couple of the Reds players, most notably Barry Larkin (who would be named to the Hall of Fame in 2012) and Chris had to settle for Pete Rose and the mayor (I specifically remember Chris asking Ron Dibble to sign his ball, but Dibble told him “no”, that Chris didn’t even know who he was).

All this leads me to yesterday’s announcement that evidence had been found that Pete Rose had gambled on baseball games (including his own team, the Cincinnati Reds) while he was a player. Since then mainstream media, radio talk shows, and social medial posts have been rampant both critically and in support of Rose’s potential reinstatement to Baseball by MLB commissioner Rob Manfred. I have bantered back and forth with Facebook friends today, and here is my take on it.

Is Rose eligible for reinstatement because he finally confessed?

No. He knew the rule. It’s Rule 21 under the heading “Misconduct”, instituted for good reason: to keep players from taking payouts to affect the outcome of a game and ruining the nature of The Game. Rose knew the rule but chose to ignore it.

Many people compare Rose’s gambling issue to the Chicago Black Sox scandal (which lead to Rule 21), but there was no such rule in 1919 when the Black Sox scandal occurred. Chicago player Joe Jackson, who was banned from baseball in 1921 by commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis, was a great player who Babe Ruth patterned his hitting stance on. Jackson often has been mentioned in the same sequences of support as for Rose.

Another contention questions whether Rose’s actions are as bad as PED users including Barry Bonds, Alex Rodriquez, Ryan Braun and others, along with questions of the character of Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth, and Mickey Mantle.

Really? Aren’t these entirely different sets of circumstances?

To put anything into one’s body to enhance athletic performance has long been considered “against the rules”. No matter that former MLB commissioner Bud Selig took so long to address the issue (remember, Sosa and McGwire were swatting long home runs, and lots of them, while “juiced”), the PED issue became a distraction and subsequent steroid use has been banned.

That banishment has left many fans with a bad taste in their mouth, including me. I see no reason to include known steroid-users from Hall of Fame selection. And the argument that other moral issues should keep outstanding players out of Cooperstown should hold no bearing, either, if there was no rule against it.

Otherwise, does Joe Jackson get tossed into the A-Rod, Ryan Braun, etc. category?

When Cobb and Ruth were playing there was no National Baseball Hall of Fame and I doubt they were too worried about what people thought of their lives beyond the ball field. When Mantle was playing, he thought he was going to die at a young age and did some things that may have been morally wrong but I don’t believe were against baseball rules.

Even if Rose were to be reinstated, which he won’t, he will never be elected to the Hall of Fame. That conversation, his appeals, and consideration for anything but being a proven liar over and over, should end.

Hall of Fame selection is an honor. A great player? Yes. Charlie Hustle? You bet. But according to the rules for voting on players by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America for Hall of Fame membership, there is one glaring rule that can never be overlooked:

5. Voting: Voting shall be based upon the player’s record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played.

I suppose three out of six ain’t bad.

Pete does not need the money that Hall of Fame membership brings. He makes plenty of money right now signing baseballs and memorabilia. Let him ponder his own flaws that will keep him from Hall of Fame selection forever.

If he can only be honest with himself.

© 2015 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

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Old/New Construction at Sulphur Dell (We’re Talking 1927)

In local baseball circles, I can attest to the fact that conversations are all about the new First Tennessee Park being built for the Nashville Sounds. Outside of those circles there is probably plenty of talk on the subject, too.

With an April 2015 opening planned, and construction at the site well on its way, there is but a smattering of talk about potential delays. But that was not the case in 1927, when old Sulphur Dell was turned around.

But why turn around a ballpark? It’s a little hard to put one’s finger on the real reason.

Some say that without lights (the first major league night game would not happen until 1935) the late afternoon sun was always in the batter’s face since the ballpark was facing the southwest. To make it easier on the home team, the park was relocated so the batter’s back was to the State Capitol. Problem eliminated.

Another reason for the reconfigured ballpark: new ownership. On October 1, 1926 four owners took over the Nashville Baseball Club and split 535 shares of stock:

Rogers Caldwell, a local horse breeder

J. H. “Jack” Whaley, co-publisher of Southern Lumberman, a regional publication

Stanley P. Horn, also co-publisher of Southern Lumberman

Jimmy Hamilton, manager of the Nashville Vols since 1923. In 1925 he had purchased the Raleigh club in the Piedmont League

With a season attendance of 178,000 in 1925, the team had generated $80,000 in profit. There is no published profit amount of 1926, but even with attendance down to 135,000 the reported amount was still “five figures” and ownership was lucrative.

The first week of December the new owners announced a new steel & concrete structure would be built – a little unusual, with two of the owners producing a publication about the wood industry in the southeast – and the new ballpark was expected to be one of the best ballpark facilities in baseball for its size.

J. B. Hanson Co. was awarded the construction contract. The architect was Marr & Holman.

Perhaps the new owners wanted to show local fans how committed they were to advancing the prestige of Nashville. They certainly allowed Jimmy Hamilton free reign on signing new players. He was a personal friend of Connie Mack, Wilbert Robinson, Ty Cobb, and other major league managers and sought their advice in bringing in a team built for the new ballpark.

While attending baseball’s winter meetings the past December, Hamilton scheduled major league squads to play in Nashville as they left their spring training locations, heading north to begin the regular season.

Then it happened, as it had happened nearly every other spring: the first week of January, rains poured and grounds were flooded under 16 feet of water, delaying progress of construction for three weeks.

In February, the contractor was offered a bonus of $5,000.00 to complete the structure for the March exhibition season. Spring exhibitions against big-league teams were important money-makers, and three construction shifts were utilized to speed the process. During this period, the Nashville Vols practiced at Vanderbilt’s baseball field and played a few games against the Commodores.

Was construction completed in time? You be the judge: the image below has a date of March 24, 1927. The first game was played on March 25 against the Minneapolis Millers of the American Association. The Millers won 5-3 and Minneapolis right-fielder Dick Loftus hit the first home run in the new park.

Tennessee State Archives Image

Tennessee State Archives Image

The following day, Toledo visited Sulphur Dell and Casey Stengel hit a triple for the Mud Hens.

Additional games took place over the next weeks. On April 2, the Milwaukee Brewers of the American Association came to town and the Cincinnati Reds played on April 3 and 4th. The team that would become known as “Murderers Row”, the New York Yankees, visited on April 7 and lost 10-8 to the 1926 World Series champion St. Louis Cardinals.

Nashville Vols fans celebrated the new ballpark on Opening Day, April 12 with an attendance of 7,536. Season attendance would finish at 176,000, a few thousand less than two years previous. For comparison’s sake, Sulphur Dell would have a record season attendance of 270,000 in 1948, manager Larry Gilbert’s final season.

With the quirky, colorful contour of Sulphur Dell’s confines, the ballpark became a storied home to the Nashville Vols and for a time, the Negro League’s Nashville Elite Giants.

© 2014 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

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