The Beginning of a Great Tradition
Baseball's roots in Nashville go back to the 19th Century. In fact, Nashville has been a baseball town since 1860 when Union soldiers temporarily based here introduced the game to the local community. Home field was a place known as the Sulphur Springs Bottom, a half-mile north of today's state capitol.
When the Southern League was organized in 1885, Nashville was a charter city. The city fielded several entries in the league over the next ten years -- the Americans (1885-86), the Blues (1887), the Tigers (1893-94), and the Seraphs (1895) -- but was unable to claim a pennant.
When the Southern Association was formed in 1901, the field -- commonly referred to as Sulphur Dell -- became the permanent home to the Nashville Volunteers (or Vols, for short), who played there for the next 61 years. Under the guidance of manager Newt Fisher, the Volunteers won the SA's first two pennants, and the team continued to build a solid, loyal fan base. Over the years, Nashville would stake claim to several more pennants, 18 SA batting championships, and the all-time SA home run mark (Bob Lennon blasted 64 longballs in 1954).
The hitters weren't the only players experiencing success, however. Vols hurlers notched 16 SA strikeout titles -- more than any other team -- and Nashville produced several 20-game winners. But year after year, the league's ERA title eluded Nashville pitchers, mainly due to the extremely short 262-foot porch in right field that resulted in countless home runs for left-handed sluggers and caused pitchers to refer to the ballpark as "Sulphur Hell."
The Negro Leagues
Negro League baseball was also a part of the Nashville sports landscape in the early 20th century. Nashville's Thomas T. Wilson formed the semi-pro Nashville Standard Giants in 1918 and the team quickly built a regional reputation throughout the South. In 1921, the club was renamed the Elite Giants as the team's success and popularity continued to grow. By 1928, Wilson was ready to move his Elite Giants into the national arena and made several attempts to gain entry into the Negro National League and the Southern Negro League, the two pre-dominant bodies of the time.
Wilson Park, an 8,000-seat stadium, was constructed in early 1929 in the Trimble Bottom section of Nashville, near the old Meharry Medical College and Waldon College, right in the middle of Nashville's largest Negro community. His marketing strategy, however, appealed to fans of all race and the facility was used throughout the following decade by numerous community groups and promoters, both black and white.
In 1930, Wilson jumped at the chance to join the Negro National League. Unfortunately, the league disbanded the following year but Wilson kept his team alive by joining the Southern Negro League in the 1932 season. The NNL was reincarnated in 1933 and the Elite Giants rejoined the league for two additional seasons in 1933-34. Due to a declining economy, Wilson moved the club to Columbus following the 1934 campaign, ending Nashville's involvement in the Negro League scene.
The End of the Line for Sulpher Dell
At the conclusion of the 1961 season, the Southern Association disbanded and Sulphur Dell sat empty for a year. But, in 1963 the South Atlantic League came to town and Nashville had its first Double-A team. Unfortunately, the Double-A Vols had a disappointing inaugural season and the franchise folded. Sulphur Dell was razed and a parking lot was built on the site. The only sign today of its former life as a well-loved baseball diamond is a marker that designates its historic significance.
Sounds Bring Baseball Back to Nashville in 1978
After a fifteen-year hiatus, Nashville returned to baseball in 1978 as the Southern League expansion franchise team, the Nashville Sounds. Owner and general manager Larry Schmittou, who had been involved in the Nashville baseball scene for several years as the head coach of the Vanderbilt collegiate squad, was instrumental in the re-emergence of pro baseball in Nashville.
Schmittou employed the city's entertainment scene into the nickname and country & western stars such as Larry Gatlin, Jerry Reed, Conway Twitty, and Richard Sterben (bass singer of the Oak Ridge Boys) became Sounds stockholders. The club played their home games at a new facility, Herschel Greer Stadium, located south of downtown at the foot of St. Cloud Hill in Fort Negley Park. Fans responded to the return of baseball to the city by flocking to the ballpark. Nashville led the Southern League in attendance in each of their seven seasons as a member of the circuit.
As a Cincinnati Reds affiliate in the Double-A Southern League, the Sounds finished 9th during their inaugural campaign in 1978 but easily led the league in attendance, drawing 380,000 fans (more than double the second-place attendance). The club returned with a resurgence the following season, leading the nation in minor league attendance and capturing the Southern League crown behind manager George Scherger. The Sounds beat cross-state rival Memphis for the Western Division title, then defeated Columbus for the SL championship. Pitcher Scott Brown captured the one honor that had eluded Nashville pitchers for years, winning the ERA title with a 2.40 mark.
The Yankees Era (1980-1984)
In 1980, the Sounds switched affiliations, becoming a part of the famed New York Yankees organization, and remained at the top of their game.
Skippers Stump Merrill and Johnny Oates and players such as Steve Balboni, Don Mattingly, Buck Showalter, Otis Nixon, Willie McGee, Pat Tabler, Dan Pasqua, and Jamie Werly helped lead Nashville to 1st or 2nd place finishes in their division from 1980-84.
In 1982, Brian Dayett brought Music City its second Southern League championship with a dramatic 13th-inning homer on September 11th that broke a 3-3 tie against Jacksonville. Two years later, Jim Deshaies fired the club's first no-hitter.
In 1984, owner Larry Schmittou purchased the Evansville Triplets of the American Association and in 1985 moved the franchise to Nashville. Nashville's SL franchise was placed in Huntsville, but the Southern League would later make a unique reappearance at Herschel Greer Stadium.
The Tigers Era (1985-1986)
The Sounds' initial Triple-A affiliation was with the Detroit Tigers from 1985-86. Although Nashville failed to win any titles during this two-year period, there were several individual accomplishments worth mention. Scotti Madison and Bruce Fields posted back-to-back American Association batting championships, and Bryan Kelly tossed the club's second no-hitter.
Sounds alumni were well-represented at the major-league level in 1985. Don Mattingly of the Yankees (1981 Sounds) picked up the American League's Most Valuable Player Award, while the National League MVP honor went to Willie McGee of the Cardinals, a Sounds player in 1980-81.
The Reds Era, Part II (1987-1992)
In 1987, the Sounds rejoined the Cincinnati farm system, this time as the Reds' Triple-A affiliate. Over the first three seasons (1987-89), Nashville fans enjoyed the opportunity to watch players who eventually made up two-thirds of Cincinnati's 1990 World Series championship roster. The Sounds also experienced success in 1990, winning an Eastern Division championship in a one-game playoff with Buffalo after both clubs finished the regular season in a tie. The extra-inning affair was one of the most exciting games in club history and was ended by Chris Jones' two-run homer in the top of the 18th inning.
Greer Stadium was the site of a rare baseball occurrence in 1988, when Nashville and Indianapolis exchanged no-hitters on back-to-back nights in early August. Jack Armstrong fired a no-no one night after Indianapolis' Randy Johnson registered a no-hitter against the Sounds, although Nashville was able to post a 1-0 victory in the contest due to a handful of Indians errors.
The White Sox/Express Era (1993-1997)
Over the early '90s, Nashville became a solid member of the American Association and set their all-time attendance mark when 605,122 fans came out to Greer Stadium in 1990. The Sounds switched affiliations again in 1993, this time becoming the top farm club of the Chicago White Sox. In their first year with the Sox, the Sounds won an Eastern Division crown and continued to enjoy excellent attendance, drawing over 400,000 fans for the fifth consecutive year.
The 1993 season also brought two additions to the Greer Stadium landscape: the signature, guitar-shaped scoreboard, and a second professional team. Following the '92 campaign, Charlotte moved up to the Triple-A level and when a proposed transfer of the Double-A franchise to New Orleans was blocked shortly before the season began, the Southern League suddenly had a homeless club. Sounds owner Larry Schmittou offered the use of Greer Stadium for the 1993 season. The Nashville Xpress -- a Twins affiliate -- would schedule home games during Sounds road trips, offering pro ball on a daily basis to local fans.
The Double-A Xpress won the first half in the West, but fell to eventual SL champion Birmingham in the playoff opener, while the Sounds went on to the American Association championship series before falling to Iowa in extra innings in Game 7. The Xpress were back for one more season in 1994 before relocating to Wilmington, N.C. for the 1995 season. The '94 Southern League campaign brought perhaps the most famous visitor to Greer Stadium -- Birmingham outfielder Michael Jordan, who was the talk of minor league baseball during his one-year retirement from the Chicago Bulls, made several appearances in Nashville.
On the Triple-A front, the Sounds experience great success during their five-year affiliation with the White Sox, winning a pair of Eastern Division crowns and appearing in the 1994 American Association championship (lost to Indianapolis). Fans were provided the opportunity to watch future major-league stars such as Magglio Ordonez, Ray Durham, and James Baldwin, while many of the players who would go on to make up the 2000 AL West champion White Sox fine-tuned their skills at Greer Stadium.
The Pirates Era (1998-2004)
The Sounds switched affiliations again for the 1998 season, joining the Pittsburgh Pirates organization -- their fifth major league organization. Along with a new big-league affiliate came a new logo, color scheme, and uniforms. The Sounds spent seven seasons as a Bucs affiliate, making one playoff appearance over that span.
Outfielder Chad Hermansen blasted 92 home runs in his five seasons as a Sound (1998-02) to become the franchise's all-time leader in that category. Left-handed slugger Ivan Cruz (1999-00) became a crowd favorite with his jaw-dropping home runs. Catcher Craig Wilson burst onto the scene in 2000, falling one short of the club record with 33 homers. The PCL All-Star tied a Sounds record in June of that year by swatting three longballs in one game.
Former Sounds All-Star infielder Marty Brown returned to the club as the team's 25th manager in 2001, becoming the first former Nashville player to serve as the team's skipper.
Manager Trent Jewett succeeded Brown in 2003 after a two-year stint and led the 82-61 Sounds to their first division title in 10 years as well as a berth in the PCL Championship Series. Although Nashville was swept by Sacramento, the season was a huge success both on the field and at the gates as the Sounds drew their largest attendance in 10 years and gave fans a preview of what to expect at Greer Stadium in the coming years.
The team opened the 2003 campaign on a 14-1 hot spell and journeyman right-hander John Wasdin wasted no time making his presence felt, tossing the first perfect game in Nashville Sounds history in his first start of the season on April 7 against Albuquerque.
By the end of the 2004 season, Jewett became the Sounds' all-time winningest manager, earning 320 victories over his 4 1/2 seasons at the helm in Music City.
The Brewers Era (2005-2014)
Following the 2004 season, the Sounds changed affiliates once again, welcoming the Milwaukee Brewers to town as the sixth different major-league franchise to set up shop in Music City.
The Sounds' affiliation with the Brewers started off on a high note as the club captured the 2005 Pacific Coast League championship, Nashville's first professional title since the Sounds' previous league crown in 1982 -- a span of 23 years. Piloted by Frank Kremblas and featuring top-flight prospects such as Rickie Weeks, Prince Fielder, and Corey Hart, the Sounds won the PCL American Conference Northern Division on the second-to-last day of the season then went on to defeat Oklahoma (3-2) and Tacoma (3-0) during their postseason run.
Nashville repeated as division champions in 2006 and made its third playoff appearance in four seasons. The club was managed again by Kremblas and featured four PCL mid-season All-Stars: starting pitcher Ben Hendrickson, catcher Mike Rivera, and outfielders Nelson Cruz and Tony Gwynn, who shared team co-MVP honors. The Sounds were unable to defend their PCL crown, however, losing to Round Rock in the first round of the playoffs.
Two rarities occurred during the 2006 season. On July 15, three pitchers (Carlos Villanueva, Mike Meyers, and Alec Zumwalt) combined on a no-hitter against the Memphis Redbirds, the Sounds' first combined no-no in franchise history. On May 5 & 6, Nashville and the New Orleans Zephyrs tied a Pacific Coast League record by playing a 24-inning marathon, the longest game in both teams' histories.
The 2007 Sounds co-led Minor League Baseball with 89 victories as Nashville captured its third consecutive division title. The team received plenty of accolades throughout the year. Manager Frank Kremblas was voted Pacific Coast League Manager-of-the-Year while Nashville native R.A. Dickey earned league Pitcher-of-the-Year honors after posting a circuit-best 13 wins. Catcher Vinny Rottino and pitchers Steve Bray and Chris Oxspring were voted to the mid-season PCL All-Star squad, and Dickey and fellow starting pitcher Adam Pettyjohn were named to the All-PCL Team at the conclusion of the year.
The highlight of the 2007 campaign came when left-hander Manny Parra made an immediate impact on the first-place Sounds after joining the club in mid-June. The 24-year-old hurler matched Wasdin's tremendous effort by hurling the second perfect game in franchise history on June 25 at Round Rock. The achievement was later voted as the Minor League Baseball Performance Of The Year.
Despite all their regular-season success, the 2007 club was thwarted by the New Orleans Zephyrs in the first round of the PCL playoffs, dropping the best-of-five American Conference Finals three games to one.
In 2009, the Sounds again featured the Brewers' top two prospects: shortstop Alcides Escobar and third baseman Mat Gamel. Escobar was a mid-season and post-season All-Star selection and was voted as the Pacific Coast League's "Most Exciting Player" in a mid-season poll of league managers.
Sounds pitchers dominated the PCL in 2013 and 2014, leading the circuit in strikeouts both years, and a Nashville hurler took home League Pitcher of the Year honors in both campaigns (Johnny Hellweg in 2013, Jimmy Nelson in 2014).
The Sounds played their final season at Herschel Greer Stadium in 2014, the team's #LastCheerAtGreer. The final home game was played on August 27, 2014 in front of a standing room only crowd.
First Tennessee Park / The A's Era (2015-2018)
Prior to the 2015 season, two major changes occurred for the Nashville Sounds franchise: the team moved into a new playing facility -- state-of-the-art First Tennessee Park, located on the same grounds as Sulphur Dell (returning baseball to its historic home in the city) -- and the Sounds switched to a new Major League affiliate, joining forces with the Oakland Athletics.
In 2016, the Sounds, led by PCL Manager of the Year Steve Scarsone, posted the best record in the Pacific Coast League (83-59) and made their first playoff appearance in nine seasons. The team lost a heart-breaking five-game series to the Oklahoma City Dodgers in the PCL American Conference Finals.
In 2017, the Sounds were managed by Ryan Christenson and finished with a 68-71 record. Despite the losing record, fans flocked to First Tennessee Park in record numbers. 593,679 fans passed through the gates of First Tennessee Park in 67 home dates. Slugger Renato Nunez was named the team MVP and to the PCL Postseason All-Star team after hitting .249 with 32 home runs, 27 doubles and 78 RBI.
2018 would be Nashville's final season as the Triple-A affiliate of the Oakland Athletics. Manager Fran Riordan led the club to a 72-68 record despite constant roster turnover. On August 3, 2018, the Sounds notched franchise win number 3,000 with a 6-2 win over Fresno. On August 28, 2018, Nashville won its 1,500th game as a member of the Pacific Coast League. The 2018 season was highlighted by Nick Martini's incredible franchise-record, 66-game on-base streak. In four years as the A's Triple-A affiliate, the Sounds finished with a 289-276 record.
Notable players to don a Sounds uniform before going on to make their Major League debuts with Oakland include position players Matt Olson, Matt Chapman, Chad Pinder, Nick Martini, Ramon Laureano, Franklin Barreto and Joey Wendle. Notable pitchers include Sean Manaea, Daniel Mengden, Paul Blackburn, Bobby Wahl, Daniel Gossett and Lou Trivino.
The Rangers Era (2019-Present)
Following the 2018 season, a major franchise change occurred for the Sounds. On September 20, 2018, in a press conference at First Tennessee Park, the Sounds and Texas Rangers entered into a four-year Player Development Contract, making the Sounds the new Triple-A affiliate of the Texas Rangers.
Sounds Like Success
Of the 1,237 players to appear in at least one game for the Nashville Sounds since 1978, over 850 of them have played in the major leagues and 44 Sounds players have been named to their league's post-season All-Star unit.
The Sounds have retired two numbers in their history: outfielder Skeeter Barnes' #00 and first baseman Don Mattingly's #18
Jackie Robinson's #42 is also officially retired throughout professional baseball per the decree of MLB commissioner Bud Selig on April 15, 1997.