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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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“Volunteers” the Pick

Team nicknames are commonplace today, but in the early days of baseball it was not so. Cities claimed their teams by including the name of the leagues they played in, such as New York Americans, St. Louis Nationals, and so on.

Tongue-in-cheek references by sports writers often caught on. “Trolley Dodgers”, for one, stood for exactly what it sounds like. It was shortened to “Dodgers” for the Brooklyn team in the National League and was carried with them to Los Angeles.

Nashville’s baseball team had an early name, “Americans”, but the team did not play in any sort of league with that name. The local newspaper, The Daily American, claimed the team’s name as it gave the most thorough coverage of Nashville’s first professional team in the newly-formed Southern League.

The Southern League failed and re-organized throughout the remainder of the 19th Century and names for resurrected Nashville clubs included “Seraphs”, “Blues”, and “Tigers”.

When the Southern Association began play in 1901, nicknames were not widely used except when sports writers used references in a variety of manners. Newt Fisher became manager and local scribes would call the team the “Fishermen”. Under Johnny Dobbs tutelage the club was given the moniker the “Dobbers”. When service clubs were formed to boost local commerce, the team was often known as “Boosters” due to the support of those organizations.

One flippant remark to the quality of the team’s performance in 1907 was “Hustlers”. Apparently, there was lack of it.

As ball club ownership in other cities began to appease the fan base by adding an official team name, Nashville management did not seem to notice the importance. After all, some clubs used more than one.

If management would not approve it, at least writers and fans could settle in on one name that was unofficial. In 1908 the three local newspapers held a contest among fans to give the Nashville club an official name. Nashville’s three newspapers, American, Banner, and Tennessean, accepted mail-in votes from readers during the month of February, sent to Nashville manager Bill Bernhard, choosing from three agreed upon selections: Lime Rocks, Rocks, and Volunteers.

Grantland Rice was sports editor of the Tennessean at the time and his personal choice was “Volunteers”. The proximity of the State Capitol to the recently named ballpark, Sulphur Dell (Rice gave it that name in a January 14 column six weeks prior) and his premise that the name suggested courage, gave him reason to support the name.

On February 29, Rice announced in a Tennessean sports page headline, “Volunteers Wins Out in Fan Vote”. His column validated that 950 votes were cast for “Volunteers”, far-outdistancing the other choices.

He even states the name will stick, “…no matter who the manager or owner may be.”

The name did stick: Nashville remained a member of the Southern association from until it closed up shop after the 1961 season. For those 54 years the team was known as “Volunteers”, often shortened to “Vols”. Even the ownership group that had been formed in 1959 took on “Vols, Inc.” for the name of the new corporation. The club was revived for one additional season in 1963 as a member of the South Atlantic League.

When fans failed to support the team, the team folded; the Nashville Vols would be no more.

Tennessean 02-29-1908 Grantland Rice Names Volunteers Vols

© 2016 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

Author’s note: Much of the information included in this article comes from John A. Simpson’s excellent book, “The Greatest Game Ever Played in Dixie”: The Nashville Vols, Their 1908 Season, and the Championship Game. It is a wonderful account which provides as a resource for Nashville’s baseball history beginning in the 1800s up to an incredible season posted by the Volunteers. It is available from Amazon and other sources. You may read my review from an earlier post here: https://262downright.com/2015/04/10/from-my-bookshelf-the-greatest-game-ever-played-in-dixie/

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Bye Bye SALLY, Hello Emptiness

GoodBye.fwThe last day of professional baseball at Sulphur Dell was September 8, 1963 as the Vols faced the Lynchburg White Sox in a double header.  Nashville outfielder Charlie Teuscher belted three home runs as Nashville won by scores of 6-3 and 2-1.

A total of 971 fans attended the two games that day, innocent witnesses to what would be the beginning of the end for Sulphur Dell.

Two years prior the Southern Association disbanded. Nashville had been a stalwart member of the league since its inception in 1900, fielding a team each year from 1901-1961. The legendary league silently refrained from allowing Negro players, and with integration on due course in the majors the Southern did not take a stand on reform.

Nashville experienced rapid attendance depletion between 1947 (when organized baseball was integrated) until 1960 when the death knell began to sound for the league. The rumblings of change were heard a few years before.

On August 29, 1960 Gabe Paul, Cincinnati vice-president and general manager, announced that the Reds six-year working agreement would not be renewed with Nashville.  His reason was quite clear.

“(The Southern Association) does not allow the use of Negro players.”

Nashville’s ownership and the directors of the Southern Association must not have heard quite clearly enough, as they continued another season under the same miserable whispers of the status quo.

The Minnesota Twins agreed to replace the Reds as major league affiliate for 1961, but that failed to revive the team or fan attendance as a mere 64,460 bothered to show up for the season. Diminishing upkeep on Sulphur Dell was taking its toll, too.

At a board meeting held in Charlotte in January of 1962 the directors announced that the league would officially suspend operations on February 15. There was to be no baseball in Nashville in 1962.

A resurrection took place in 1963, however, as the up and coming South Atlantic (SALLY) League accepted Chattanooga and Nashville as new franchises. The directors of Vols, Inc., a public corporation formed in 1959 to keep the club solvent, hired a new general manager and gave the ballpark a face lift.

Formerly a general manager with the Washington Senators, Ed Doherty was brought on board to revive the franchise. His hiring seemed to be just the thing the ball club needed as he salvaged a limited working agreement with the Los Angeles Angels.

The team was integrated, which was a remarkable feat. The SALLY league had no expressed rule against integration, and on the first day of the season on April 19 in Knoxville, Eddie Crawford stepped to the plate to become the first African-American to appear in a Vols uniform. Four batters later, Henry Mitchell would join Crawford as the second in that distinction. The squad included future major leaguers Aubrey Gatewood, Duke Sims, and Marv Staehle.

Even though season ticket sales were the worst in the history of the club, Doherty predicted a crowd of 7,000 for Nashville’s opening day, and on April 25 a Sulphur Dell home crowd of 7,987 saw the Macon Peaches win over the Vols 15-4. It was the largest turnout for opening day since 1948.

Success was fleeting, as interest waned once again and by season’s end the team had drawn less than 53,000. Nearly 15% of season attendance had viewed the first game of the home season.

And the team was not very good, finishing with a record of 53-86 and in last place 27 ½ games behind the pennant-winning Macon Peaches.

With three home runs on the final day of pro ball at Sulphur Dell Charlie Teuscher may have brought visions of towering home runs by Bob Lennon, Charlie Gilbert, Chuck Workman, and Jay Partridge. But a week later and with a deficit of almost $22,000 for the season, the directors of Vols, Inc. surrendered their South Atlantic League franchise. There was no dissenting vote.

Board chairman Jack Norman assigned a committee to look into the feasibility of retaining Sulphur Dell, but it was the last hurrah for the famous park. Amateur baseball was played at Sulphur Dell in 1964, and in 1965 it became a speedway before being converted into an automobile tow-in lot for Metro Nashville.

The storied ballpark was demolished in 1969, leaving the recollections of fans and players to honor the historic hallowed grounds of Sulphur Dell.

© 2015 Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

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Nashville’s Jim Turner: Player, Coach, Manager, Fan

Born in August 6, 1903 in Antioch, Tennessee, James “Jim” Riley Turner began his journey in baseball in March of 1922. Trying out for the hometown Nashville Vols as a catcher in the presence of manager Larry Doyle, pitcher Red Lucas, outfielder Mike Burke, and third baseman Hap Morse, Turner was told “come back next year”. He spent the rest of the year playing semipro ball in the Nashville area.

Turner’s brother Bryant was usually the pitcher on their teams, and when Bryant failed to show up for a game for Nolensville, Jim pitched the game and struck out 18 Gladeville batters. He was a pitcher from that time on. One of the spectators told Little Rock manager Kid Elberfeld about Turner and on the team’s next visit to Nashville Little Rock signed him to a contract for $175 a month.

In March Little Rock sent Turner to Paris, Tennessee in the Kitty League where he played in 1923 and 1924. He won 14 games the first year and 16 games the next. Sent to Winston-Salem in 1925, for the next five seasons Turner had stops in Greensboro, Portsmouth, Norfolk, Selma, and back to Greensboro. During the winter of 1929-1930, Turner was sold to Hollywood in the Pacific Coast League where he played for three seasons. He spent four seasons in Indianapolis winning 18 games in 1936.

He had spent 14 years in the minor leagues before his break into major league ball when he was sold to the Boston Braves. As a 32-year-old rookie in 1937, Turner won 20 games, had a National League-best ERA of 2.38, led the league in shutouts with five and complete games with 24. The next season he was selected to the 1938 National League All Star team. Two years later he pitched in the 1940 World Series for the Cincinnati Reds. In 1942 he spent part of the season in Newark after having been sent to the New York Yankees where he ended his playing career at 41 years of age in 1945.

He signed to manage Beaumont in the Texas League in 1946 where his team finished fifth with a record of 70-83. In Portland the next two seasons, he finished third and fifth, winning 97 and losing 89 in 1947 and winning 89 and losing 99 in 1948. When Casey Stengel was named manager of the Yankees, Turner became pitching coach in 1949.

During his 11-year tenure with the Yankees, he developed the pitchers who led the Yanks to nine pennants and seven world championships.

Jim Turner Banner ProfileIn 1960, “Milkman Jim” (a nickname given to him because he always returned to the family farm during the off-season) returned to Nashville as general manager and field manager of the Nashville Vols. In the winter of 1958, a campaign had been initiated to organize a group to take over the financially-distressed Nashville Vols. Led by civic leaders Herschel Greer, Dr. Cleo Miller, country music star Eddie Arnold, Vols, Inc. was formed and shares in the new venture were sold at $5.00 per share. Nashville had been led on the field by manager Dick Sisler during the previous three seasons, but attendance at the gate had begun to dwindle. In 1959 the team lost only $2,300.00, but in a move that was enormously popular in Music City, Jim Turner was offered the reins of the ball club not only to improve the performance of the team on the field, but also to improve paid attendance.

The decision to attain Turner almost did not happen. “It was necessary to act quickly to get Jim Turner,” said Vols, Inc. board member Jack Norman told the Nashville Tennessean, “Jim has had several attractive offers. One particularly was pressing closely. It was therefore necessary to make an immediate decision.” Turner never divulged the offers that he had received.

With full control of the team, Turner managed the Cincinnati Reds-affiliate Vols with a roster that include catcher Johnny Edwards, utility man Rod Kanehl, and pitchers Jim Maloney and Jack Baldschun.  Turner’s 1960 Vols team finished sixth in the Southern Association, with 71 wins and 82 losses. The crowds continued to decline throughout the season, and Turner resigned at the end of the year.  He returned to the majors with assignments by the Reds that included becoming pitching coach in 1961 until his retirement in 1973.

Returning to Nashville, he continued to attend local college and amateur games, and was a season ticket holder with the Nashville Sounds with their inception in 1978 until his passing on November 29, 1998.

© 2015 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

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Greer Stadium Legacy to End

In 1959 Herschel Lynn Greer, Sr. was instrumental in forming Vols, Inc. and served as the first president of the organization, established to keep professional baseball in Nashville as support of the historic Nashville Vols club was waning.

When Nashville’s baseball stadium was built to house the Southern League Nashville Sounds in 1978, Larry Schmittou and the Sounds ownership posthumously honored Greer by naming the facility after him. An avid baseball fan, Herschel Greer, Sr. passed away in 1976.

Greer_Stadium_View_From_CenterThe ballpark has been home to the Nashville Sounds, Nashville Xpress, Belmont University, and numerous amateur and high school games.  Stadium capacity is 10,139.

The Nashville Sounds have continued the heritage begun by the Nashville Vols, Nashville Elite Giants, and Nashville Xpress, and although Greer Stadium has served baseball fans well, those fans can look forward to a convenient state-of-the-art ballpark that will give the hometown team an exciting place to play.

When the 2015 season begins Nashville will celebrate a new downtown ballpark at the old Sulphur Dell site and will be a footprint to development of Jefferson Street beginning at the Cumberland River.

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The Pride of Nashville, Jim Turner

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. The announcement caught the Nashville media and Vols fans by surprise, as Turner had nurtured a successful Yankees pitching staff between 1949 until 1959.

ImageDuring that span the Yankees won a run of nine American League pennants and seven World Series Championships.

The board of directors of Vols, Inc., the public ownership corporation formed to run the Nashville club, pulled off the hiring of Turner behind the scenes. With the announcement of Turner’s hiring it was reported that his salary would be $17,500.

Born in the Antioch community of Nashville, Jim Turner was raised on the family-owned dairy farm, earning him the nickname “Milkman Jim”. His demeanor both on and off the field also earned him another nickname: “Gentleman Jim”.

The 1960 season would not be a successful one, and even though Turner was popular in the community fans did not support the team in great numbers at the turnstiles. After his lone season he resigned and accepted the pitching coach position with the Cincinnati Reds.

The Reds won the National League pennant in 1961 with a pitching staff which included Bob Purkey, Jim O’Toole, Jim Maloney, Claude Osteen, Joey Jay, Jay Hook, and Jim Brosnan. Maloney had been one of Turner’s players in Nashville and has given credit to Turner for his success on the mound.

Born on August 6, 1903, Jim Turner passed away on November 29, 1998. Up until his death could often be seen at Nashville Sounds games at Greer Stadium where he was a season ticket holder.

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