Taking A Look At The History of Tennessee Baseball

Baseball in Tennessee has a very rich history. One of the first states baseball was seen commonly as in fact in Tennessee in the year 1842 at a field named Edgefield in Nashville. Although baseball was seen played in Tennessee early on, it took the state a long time to get a professional team, about 43 years being in 1885. The very first team name that they have was “The Americans”, the Nashville American newspaper company essentially gave them that name in their detailed reports after every game eventually getting the name to stick. In 1890 the name was changed to the Tennessee Tigers

On October of 1900, the “Southern Association of Baseball Clubs” was created with Nashville’s Newt Fisher as one of the league organizers. Fisher would then go on to owning and managing Nashvilles team leading them to 2 championships in both 1901 and 1902. In 1908, a writer for the Tennessean reported that the team name was changed to the Volunteers, the name was selected at a contest for the Nashville Baseball Club. That same year the Vol’s won their third Southern Association of Baseball Clubs Championship against New Orleans 1-0. Local newspapers called it the “greatest game ever played in Dixie”. This was the last time the Vol’s won a championship in 25 years.

The Greatest Game

In the late 1930s the Vol’s got a new manager and owner, Larry Gilbert. In his first season as manger he led the team to another Southern Association Championship beating Atlanta for the title. Gilbert will then lead the team to another 3 championships throughout the 1940’s being in ’40, ’42 and ’48. During this championship run, the Vol’s had a player named Carl “Swish” Sawatski who was known for his monster home runs over the tiny wall at Sulphur Dell Stadium.

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For years the Vol’s were affiliated with two Major League Baseball teams with one being the Brooklyn Dodgers and other being Chicago Cubs. In 1952 the team ended those ties and became a farm club for the New York Giants which did not last long, only 3 years. They then became affiliates with the Cincinnati Reds until 1960. During this time their attendance started to sag because the Souther Association of Baseball Clubs refused to integrate their roster. With attendance dwindle more and more everyday and the future of the Vol’s at stake, they began to sell their stock at 5$ a share only selling 4,827 shares. The team was still 22,000$ in debt with attendance not continuing to grow the team played their final game at Sulphur Dell Stadium in September of 1963.

For 15 years, there was no professional baseball in the state of Tennessee. Vanderbilt university is located in Nashville, Tennessee and they were having an overall really well string of seasons in the late 60’s leading into the late ’70s. May of 1973, Vanderbilt was in the SEC championship against the University of Alabama. Vanderbilt was in close game tied at 7-7 until 4 players hit a string of home runs putting them in the lead 13-7 eventually winning the championship. Vanderbilt’s head coach Larry Schmittou was known to be one of the best in collegiate sports at the time, he used his success at Vanderbilt to convince a group of Nashville Investors to found the newest Nashville Professional baseball team the Nashville Sounds in the Class AA Southern League.

In 1978, Greer Stadium was opened for the first time. The family of Herschel Lynn Greer Sr. donated $50,000 for construction bills earning the name of the stadium but overall Herschel Greer Sr. was really important in the Nashville community being the Vol’s owner at one point. The Nashville Sounds were able to get another affiliate opportunity with the Cincinnati Reds in 1979. In that same year the Sounds won their first Southern League Title. 3 years later they became affiliates with the New York Yankees and went on to win yet another Southern League Championship Title.

A view from the right field line of the seating bowl at Greer. Blue seats stretch from the right field wall, behind home plate, and beyond the third base dugout.

As the team continued to win, the attendance at Greer Stadium started to increase tremendously. The franchise started to tap into outside businesses and stars to increase their popularity. The team began to tap in to the Music City roots when Jerry Reed and Conway Twitty, popular country singers, became stock holders. Reed and Twitty really increased the popularity of the team faster than they have ever seen before. It was said that it was common to see other country stars attending the games like Roy Acuff, Loretta Lynn and Barbara Mandrell. In 1990 the Sounds reached their all time record for fans attending their games at over 600 thousand. This was the same year that the team bumped up to Class AAA American Association later adding in their iconic guitar shaped scoreboard.

A black and white photograph of baseball players in uniforms and caps posed in three rows standing, sitting, and kneeing on a baseball field

The Sounds were able to produce a number of really good players that went on to the major league to have very successful careers. One player named Willie McGee who lead the team in their last championship run went on to win the MVP of the Major Leagues. Don Mattingly, another key player in that run went on to win MVP of the American League.

In the year 1997, the Nashville Sounds switched from the American Association League to the Pacific Coast League. While the team was in this league they did not have as much success as they have in their previous leagues. In the 13 years that there in this league they Nashville Sounds only made 5 playoff appearances and eventually were able to win their only championship in 2005 as an affiliate for the Milwaukee Brewers being their last one ever since.

A few years later the Nashville Sounds changed ownership yet again being led by MFP Real Estate director, Frank Ward. Once Ward took over the mantle, the teams first big plan was searching for a new location for a new stadium. In September of 2014, the Nashville Sounds played their final game in Greer Stadium as they enter into a new era and stadium named First Horizon Park which is located at the same site of their first stadium, Sulphur Dell Ballpark. The Sounds also entered into a new partnership with the Oakland A’s as well working on making it climbing back into the American Association Championship.

After the new ownership, the Nashville Sounds have changed their affiliation once again from the Milwaukee Brewers to the Oakland Athletic’s. The front office at the Sounds wanted to become a competitive team once again at the AAA level and felt like Milwaukee Brewers simply were not doing a good job. At the start of the 2015 season the Sounds were playing in their first game in their new stadium, First Horizon Park. The team was able to scratch away a victory winning 3-2 in 10 innings marking a successful stadium opener. In the second season as Oakland Athletics affiliates the team made their third appearance in the playoffs since 2007 leading the league with a 83-59 W/L record but they were unable to make it to the championship losing to the Oklahoma City Dodgers.

In 2019, the Sounds changed their affiliation once again to the Texas Rangers fully rebranding their whole entire look after previously doing it just four years ago with a whole new color scheme being navy blue, red and white. They also changed their logo to a “N” resembling the “F-hole of a violin or guitar which is styled like a baseball. In 2020, the Major League took control over the Minor league being able to increase salaries, facilities and limit travel in the minor league teams. AAA affiliates were recommended to move and form new partnerships with closer teams to help with their plan on limiting travel forcing Texas Rangers to change their affiliate back to Round Rock, Texas.

A man in a navy blue baseball jersey, gray pants, and a navy cap with hands held together in his black glove.

Currently, the Nashville sounds have formed a new 10 year partnership with the Milwaukee Brewers again for the reason of Nashvilles great job at developing players at their facilities and for travel reasons. Through 41 seasons, the Nashville Sounds have managed to put together an All-Time record of 3,059-2890 winning 4 total championships.

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