Tag Archives: Will C. Bryan

First Nashville Professional Games in 1884

Area amateur baseball had flourished since the end of the Civil War, and the “Nashvilles” were the premier local team. But with the expansion of professional ball clubs throughout the south, it was necessary to stock a club with players who played for pay.

Paying players moved a team a step closer to winning championships, which up to that time had been mythical (such as “the champions of Tennessee”) with no bearing on anything except for proper boasting at the local tavern and in newsprint. But as professional baseball was growing, challenges to championship caliber teams would necessitate an upgrade in the roster.

The only way, was to pay. Improving the quality of play would also bring a successful club to the attention to those who were considering forming a southern league, as there were moves to organize leagues across the country.

An article in the Nashville Daily American on October 9, 1884, described the formation of a professional baseball team for Nashville, the first for the city.

“Recently a stock company has been formed of reliable and business men of the city, who have decided to get a team for Nashville of professional base-ball players who can meet the best clubs of the country and cope with them in a game of which the audiences would not leave the ground disappointed or disgusted.

“On Monday of this week the stock company had a meeting, decided definitely to get such a team, and immediately sent Mr. Will C. Bryan, whose base-ball record is familiar to all who know of base-ball in the city, to Cincinnati to consummate arrangements with players with whom he has for some time been in correspondence. At the same meeting the stockholders decided to call the club “The American” Base ball nine, in honor of the daily which bears that name. Mr. Bryan was also elected Manager of the new club, and was instructed to hire first-class material, regardless of cost.”[1]

So off went Will Bryan, not only to engage the services of players, but also to schedule a game with a top-quality club to introduce their brand of the game to Nashville’s spectators. He engaged the Cincinnati Unions to visit Nashville right away, as a game was scheduled for Friday, October 10.

The Unions were also known as the Outlaw Reds (their owner was Justus Thorner who had previously owned the Red Stockings) and had played in the Union Association during the season. The 12-team league included the St. Louis Maroons, Milwaukee Brewers, Kansas City Cowboys, and Wilmington Quicksteps.

Considering that Nashville held potential as a member of the Union league for 1885, Thorner agreed to take his club south, and on October 10 the first professional game for a Nashville ball club was played at the fairgrounds.

A banner across the top of the American’s page 4 heralded to event.


Bryan secured the majority of this new ball club from a distance away, and the newspaper gave detail about each one.

“The “American” Club is composed of the following material: Baker, the pitcher, is from Springfield, where he has made a very fine record…Lang, the catcher, was for awhile one of the crack battery of the Atlantas, but left them for a more prominent position…Collins, who holds first base, is taken from the Louisvilles…Bryan, who is well known to Nashvillians, will play on second base…Reccius, one of the most widely known players in the country, has been engaged from the Trentons and will play third base…Meyers, of the Portsmouth Blue, will play in the position of short stop.

“Rhue, the left fielder, comes from the Springfield Club, Hungier in center from the St. Louis Club, and Hellman in right from the Terre Hautes.”[2]

Noting that the local club had not practiced together beforehand, the American reported an audience of between 1,250 and 1,500 persons watched them lose to the visitors by a score of 6-3. The Unions had to score three runs in the eighth inning and two in the ninth to secure the win after falling behind 3-1. The game took 1 hour and 45 minutes to complete. Game rules included “seven balls being required to give a batter his base, and fouls being out on first bounce.[3]


The next day’s game was not a close one. Nashville scored two runs in the eighth inning and lost 11-2.


Without no announcement about Nashville’s chances in the Union Association (the league, in fact, folded after playing only one season), another club, the “Georgetowns” concluded the Americans’ three-game home stand by winning over the locals 4-1.

Losing three games gave reason for Nashville to reorganize its roster. Added to the lineup were new players who would become the nucleus of the Americans first team in the newly-formed Southern League for 1885. Joining Will Bryan and Norm Baker would be Charles Marr, Ollie Beard, and Billy Crowell of the Evansvilles.

Potential games were announced in the American to conclude the 1884 exhibition season.

“Georgetowns, Oct. 19; Cincinnatis, American Association, Oct. 26 and 27, Dayton, Champions of Ohio State League, Nov. 2 and 3, Kansas City Unions, Nov. 22 and 23, Louisville, Nov. 29 and 30.”[4]

The article concludes with high expectations to be met by the new professionals.

“…the Nashville public may expect some excellent base-ball continues.”[5]

PostScript: Interestingly enough, one of the Cincinnati Unions players in the two games in Nashville, George Bradley, would become manager for Nashville for a short period of time during the 1887 season. Bradley had also pitched during his tenure with the Unions in 1884, winning 25 and losing 15.

© 2016 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.




[1] Nashville Daily American, October 9, 1884, p. 5

[2] Nashville Daily American, October 10, 1884, p. 8

[3] Nashville Daily American, October 11, 1884, p. 4

[4] Nashville Daily American, October 14, 1884, p. 4

[5] Ibid.

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The 1885 Nashville Americans. Or is it?

One evening in 2006 as I was typing away on my trusty keyboard adding captions to photographs I had collected for what would become Baseball in Nashville by Arcadia Publishing, I received an unexpected email that contained a digital image of the Nashville Americans from a person I knew vaguely.

I’d been hopeful to come across an image of the first local professional team in the newly-formed Southern League in 1885 (and would return for a second season in 1886). An image of the Americans team was really a perfect way to lead in to Nashville’s baseball history right from the beginning. I was elated when I first took a look at what I had received:


So, bingo, there it was, sent to me by Chris Catignani, who was aware of my research. He did not know that I was writing a book, but he wanted me to have it for my website www.sulphurdell.com. The image was an awesome piece of history, and I quickly added it to my line up of images for publication with Arcadia, holding off on adding it to the web site for a little while.

No matter that one guy had an “F” or an “E” on the front of his jersey. His dad probably was one of the owners and besides, he probably was the right-fielder. But into the book it went and when it came out in March of 2007, the image was published this with this caption:

NASHVILLE AMERICANS.  In 1885 the Southern League was formed, and Nashville’s entry into the new league for two seasons was the Americans.  The 1885 team was led by Charles Marr with 129 hits and a .327 batting average. The team finished in third place in the inaugural season.  (Courtesy Chris Catignani.)

Let me tell you a little bit about this historic team. It received its name from one of the local newspapers, as the Daily American took great delight in placing emphasis on the new ball club and dubbed them the “Americans” as way of adopting the team and probably to get a ‘leg up’ on the other newspapers in town. For example, in the Wednesday morning, March 25th 1885 edition of the paper, the following entry was published under the heading “THE SEASON’S SPORTS. Base-ball, Billiards and Prize Ring. Items of Local Interest”:


 “Manager Will C. Bryan yesterday signed an additional player for the American team, in the person of John J. Cullen, of last season’s Eastern League.  His special position is that of catcher, but he is considered a very fine general player. In batting, he stood last season eleventh out of 88 players, and in 49 games made 72 hits with an average of .314. In 30 games played as catcher he made 17 errors with 301 chances. He has just returned from Cuba, where he was signed, and will arrive in this city Friday morning.

“Tony Hellman, catcher, returned from Cincinnati yesterday morning and practiced with the team in the afternoon.

An extra force of workmen was put to work on the grounds of the new park yesterday, grading the field, laying off the diamond, etc. The fence will be completed by Thursday night and everything will be in good shape for the game with Indianapolis next Monday. The amphitheatre will not be fully completed by Monday, as the backs to the seats and cushions will not be arranged, but they will be in as good condition as were those at the fair grounds last season and no extra charge will be made for seats in the grand stand…

“…The new uniforms will be here in time for the team to appear in them next Monday afternoon in their game with the Indianapolis club (the uniforms were white with old gold trimmings).

“The American team is now composed of Hillery, Hellman, and Cullen, catchers and change players; Crowell and Alex Voss, pitchers; Werrick short stop; Bryan, first base; McKeon, second base; Diestel, third base; Rhue, left field, and Sowders, right field.”

The next day, the paper had this to say, once again under “THE SEASON’S SPORTS” column, with this sub-title: “The American Base-Ball Team Getting in Some Good Work”:


 “The Americans took advantage of the fine weather of yesterday to put in several hours good work in practice for the Indianapolis game here next Monday. The work at the park is being shoved as rapidly as possible. The fence will probably be up by to-night and the ground leveled and in good fix by the same time.”

With the first game scheduled for only four days away, there are similarities to the status announcement of the ball park in 1885 and the status of several ball parks today; Biloxi, Birmingham, and yes even Nashville come to mind. Some cities are better at cutting it close than others.

Are you with me, do you have some historic information about the 1885 Nashville Americans from what I have said? Good.

But I have to tell you something that should be filed under the “what’s wrong with this picture?” category. Literally. The picture was pretty historic, as no other Nashville historian had uncovered an image of the team. Or was it?

A few months after publication I was basking in my “I was once a novice journalist but now am a professional writer” mindset when I was jolted by something I hadn’t noticed before. Chris had the image because a member of his family was in it and what I failed to see was where he had typed the name and even the position of the players (left to right):

Lockhart (Pitcher), Searcy (Catcher), Sherlock (Outfield), Wall (Manager), Benning (Second Base), Glopper (First Base), Kidd (Outfield), Catignani (Shortstop), Britton (Outfield), Abernathy (Outfield)

What I found was that the image Catignani had sent to me was certainly the Nashville Americans. That part was correct, it says so on their jerseys. What I did not know at the time was the photograph was of the 1909 Nashville Americans, a local amateur team. Over the years I have learned that the process to print images in newspapers was not commonplace until celluloid photographs were invented in 1889. To have found an image from 1885 with this detail would have been an amazing stroke of luck. An almost impossible one.

I have also learned there are bountiful sources to verify information. One of the best baseball resources is the database at baseball-reference.com, and had I been aware at the time I would have confirmed each Nashville American player. Well, I did do that, but not until my book had been published. It was a disappointing moment, like from that time on I had forsaken “all that was good that could never be good again. And, oh, people will no longer trust you, Skip. People will most definitely never trust you again.”

But all is not lost: I have come across an image of the 1885 Nashville Americans, purchased at some forgotten auction house, Ebay, or simply handed to me one day. And here it is:

1885 Nashville Americans

How do I know it’s the real thing this time? Well, for a couple of reasons:

There are names placed over the front of each player. Not all can be read by the naked eye, but the names can be recognized when comparing to the 1885 Nashville Americans on http://baseball-reference.com. And it’s not the 1886 Americans as not all of the players in the image stuck around for the second season.

Even better: the back is a partial scorecard that is scored in pencil and has “1885” at the bottom. And all of the players in that day’s lineup can be confirmed:


My next quest is to locate the box score for this game. So far, I’ve narrowed it down to between May 2nd and July 29th. And I’m going to find it. I’ve already found the Nashville Americans. Not once, but twice. Theirs is a great story that needs more research, reading, and writing.

I’ll finish it by adding that box score, too.

© 2015 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

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