Looking Back: What is the Origin of Nashville Baseball?

By Bill Traughber / Nashville Sounds | June 15, 2017 3:37 PM ET

  What is the origin of Nashville baseball? This is what has been documented.

   A Nashville Banner story dated October 30, 1932 gave this account of the origin of Nashville baseball and credited an individual for its beginning. The story began with the captions: "First Baseball Game Here Was In Late Sixties" and "Nashvillians Learned How to Play It From Herman Sandhouse."

   This is the entire Banner article:

   "The first baseball game ever played in Nashville was between teams composed of Northerners, mostly employees of the federal Government, who had learned the game before moving to Tennessee.

   "Uncle Tom Lusty, 84 years of age, and recently pensioned by the Guaranty Title Trust Company where he worked for many years, witnessed this first game which he says took place-shortly after the Civil War-sometime in the late sixties. According to Lusty, the affair took place near the present grounds of Fisk University.

   "With this initial contest the sport suddenly became popular. All the boys wanted to play; to be on a team was an honor. They had seen the Northerners perform, but it was from a Nashvillian that they gained their first real knowledge of how to play the game.

   "Herman Sandhouse had attended college in Philadelphia, where he learned the game. He returned to Nashville to live, and from this man the boys of the city absorbed the then-crude strategy of the future national pastime.

   "Sandhouse organized the first amateur team in Nashville known as the 'Pontiacs.' After this, amateur clubs sprang up all over town, one of the most prominent of which was the 'North Nashvilles, of which Mr. Lusty was a member. He recalls the time the Louisville team, soon after it won the national league pennant, came to Nashville to play the North Nashvilles.

   "The local team was permitted to use thirteen men to their opponents nine, and even then they were defeated easily. For several years after this, sandlot baseball flourished in Nashville. In 1884 the Nashville Americans made their appearance. It was not until the early nineties, however, that the game began to create the greatest interest.

   "In 1893, the class of the city's semipro teams were the east Nashville Deppins, the North Nashville Juniors, the Maroons, and the Nashville Athletic Club. The height of every player's ambition was to be a member of the last-mentioned team, and for a good reason. The Nashville Athletic Club had the only real baseball diamond in Nashville, old Sulphur Dell. The other nines had to be content with rough infields and bases of rock. In addition, the club furnished real uniforms, not the homemade kind worn by the other players.

   "Two outstanding players on the Nashville Athletic Club team were Chris Haury and Dick Lindsey, both outfielders and sluggers. Lindsey is now County Court Clerk.

   "'The greatest thrill of my life,' Lindsey says, 'was when Harry Everett, secretary of the Nashville Athletic Club, stopped me on the street in the spring of 1893 and asked me to play on his team of that year. He gave me an order for a uniform, stockings and cap to take to Donnigan and Weakley's sporting goods at Fourth Avenue and Church Street.'

   "At this time professional baseball was struggling for life, Nashville had a Southern league team, but the season usually ended on July 4 because of lack of interest after that time. Finally in 1901, at a gathering in Atlanta, the Southern League was formed with eight teams representing Nashville, Memphis, New Orleans, Birmingham, Shreveport, Chattanooga, Little Rock and Selma."

   A Nashville historical marker that once stood near the Sulphur Dell ballpark read with the heading SULPHUR DELL: "Nashville's first (1885) professional baseball was played in the Athletic Park which formerly occupied this block. Traditionally baseball was introduced to Nashville in 1862 by soldiers of the Union army of occupation who played the game here. This low-lying area, originally called Sulphur Spring Bottom, was first called Sulphur Dell by local sports writer Grantland Rice. In 1963 this was the oldest playing grounds still in use in professional baseball."

   The Herman Sandhouse and Union Army belief that this is where Nashville baseball originated is proven false by other documentation. There is no documentation that the Union Army taught Nashvillians to play baseball. It would be unlikely that spirited Confederates would be playing games with their northern enemy.

   A newspaper article in a July 1860 issue of the Republican Banner describes a game of baseball being observed from downtown Nashville:

   "Base Ball-This healthful and exciting exercise was generally popular last fall, especially in the Northern States, and we hope it will be introduced here as soon as the heated term passes off. We noticed the other evening a party engaged in Base Ball on the Edgefield side of the river, all apparently enjoying themselves. The early closing of the stores gives a fine opportunity to the young men engaged in mercantile pursuits.

  "No better exercise can be indulged in. The difference between Base Ball and the exercises of the gymnasium is so obvious that we need scarcely mention it. In the former, not only every muscle of the body is brought into active play, but the desire to win produces a healthy excitement of the mental facilities, without which any sort of physical exercise is not only useless but positively injurious. On the other hand, in ordinary gymnastic exercise, the mental incentive is entirely wanting, and the so-called gymnastic exercise is simply reduced to ex-labor.

   "Let us have Base Ball Clubs organized, then and the fun commenced."

   This reported game of baseball in the Edgefield community was played before the Civil War and the election of Abraham Lincoln. This debunks the Sandhouse and Union Army theories. You can go back earlier to locate documentation of more Nashville baseball. This the earliest known documentation of Nashville baseball from a November 1857 article in the Nashville Daily American with the heading "The Hickory Club:"

   "This is the name of an association recently organized in this city, having for its object the physical and mental improvement of its members. The club is comprised principally of young men, though there are also a considerable number of those riper years attached to it. It is proposed to adapt the practice of mainly athletics, out door games such as Cricket, Base Ball, etc., and to have…a debating Society, Reading Room and Library."

   There is no record that any baseball games were played by this association. It had been believed for decades that Abner Doubleday had invented the game of baseball in the North. But it has been proven that Doubleday was not the inventor of baseball. The origination of baseball is believed to have evolved without a single inventor in England with a deviation from the game of "rounders."

   So what is the origination of Nashville baseball? The answer-it is not known!

Traughber's Tidbit: On May 1, 1920 the Brooklyn Dodgers and Boston Braves hooked up for a game at Braves Field that lasted 26 innings. It was remarkable that the game was played in four hours and eventually ended as a 1-1 standoff. This is the longest major league game in history (by innings) and both pitchers, Joe Oeschger (Braves) and Leon Cadore (Dodgers), went the entire distance. It was estimated that each pitcher threw 250-300 pitches each. The game, which began at 3 P.M., was called because of darkness.

   A 25-inning game between the White Sox and Brewers in 1984 took eight hours and six minutes to complete over two days (May 8-9). The Nashville Sounds played a 24-inning game in Herschel Greer Stadium in 2006 in eight hours and seven minutes. This contest also was played in two days (May 5-6). It tied a Pacific Coast League record for most innings played with the Sounds losing to New Orleans, 5-4.

Tidbit Two: Where is the Sulphur Dell historical marker that once stood for decades near First Tennessee Park? The marker had been removed from its 800-block location on Fourth Avenue North for the construction of First Tennessee Park. An inquiry was sent to the Nashville Metro Archives of its whereabouts. The Archives refereed me to the Metro Historical Commission where I was told to check with the Tennessee Historical Commission. The THC did not have it and checked with the Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) and was told it was not in their storage garage. THC has placed the marker on their "Missing Marker List."

Tidbit Three: An excerpt from the book "Nashville Baseball History: From Sulphur Dell to the Sounds" out this week (contact local bookstores, Amazon.com and summergamebooks.com) with 224 pages, 33 chapters and 86 illustrations. On July 11, 1916, Nashville Vols pitcher Tom Rogers from Gallatin, TN tossed a perfect game in Sulphur Dell, a 2-0 win over Chattanooga. The Tennessean reported:

   "Thomas 'Shotgun' Rogers climbed yesterday to the proudest pinnacle in the baseball world. The Gallatin Gunner, in the most gallant exhibition of slab work ever unfurled in this section of the more or less United States, reported with that fondly cherished dream of every gent who makes the diamond his habitat-a perfect game. One unmarred by either a run, a hit or a hostile son of swat reaching the initial corner.

   "In a word, the climax of twirling cunning. Like the steady sweep of a giant blade, the Gallatin Gunner's superb pitching mowed down the twenty-seven hostile Lookouts as rapidly as they came to bat. In rare rotation, without exception, the Elberfeld clan were moved into the morgue in every frame of the matchless performance.

   "Nothing that remotely resembled a hit could the laboring Lookouts prize from the cunning of the Gunner's whip. Not a bobble did his mates contribute behind him. Not a free pass did he give out. Not a batter did he hit and for nine brilliant and bizarre rounds three Lookouts were retired in the order of their appearance at the plate.

   "Only twice did a Lookout bid for a safe smash. Joe Harris and Jake Pitler erupted a smash a piece that was ticketed to shatter the dream of Shotgun Rogers. The Brace of the Lookouts larrupers smote the ball with all the fervor of a pile driver. Yet Billy Lee and Gus Williams turned the wallops into deaths with two of the most astonishing catches that have ever been exhibited in any man's ball yard."

This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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