1885 Nashville Americans – or is it?

One evening in 2006, 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. Unexpectedly, I received an email that contained a digital image of the Nashville Americans from a person I knew vaguely.

I’d been hoping 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). A picture of the Americans team was a perfect way to lead into 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 impressive piece of history, and I quickly added it to my line up of pictures 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 emphasizing the new ball club and dubbed them the “Americans” as a way of adopting the team and probably to get a ‘leg up’ on the other newspapers in town. For example, on a Wednesday morning, March 25, 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 subtitle: “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 ballpark in 1885 and the status of several ballparks today; Biloxi, Birmingham, and yes, even Nashville comes to mind. Some cities are better at cutting it close than others.

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

But I have to tell you something from 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 saw 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 undoubtedly 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 in 1889. To have found a picture from 1885 with this detail would have been a fantastic stroke of luck. An almost impossible one.

I have also learned there are abundant sources to verify a lot of 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 was 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 handed to me one day. And here it is:

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 2 and July 29. And I’m going to find it. I’ve already seen 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.

© 2020 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

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