Memories of Nashville’s Sulphur Dell include great plays, sell-out or small crowds, big home runs and pitching performances, and player personalities. Few could match memories of a special occasion at the historic ballpark, usually an annual event: Knot Hole Night.
An event sponsored by the Junior Chamber of Commerce, kids could purchase a membership card at a reduced price, and each game they attended the card would be punched. After so many punches, one could attend a game for free.
Members could also participate in events that took place before that night’s game. In one throwing contest to see if a kid could throw from right-field to home plate, a 12-year-old Knothole-leaguer named Ronnie Baines, threw the ball over the press box and out of the ballpark.
Those kinds of recollections are treasures, and former Knot-Holer Joe Benedict has another one, this time about those who reported on the hometown ball club.
“I enjoyed reading the notes from Bob Teitlebaum and remember him, Jimmy Davy, and George Leonard providing the excellent coverage of the Vols and sandlot baseball in Nashville.”
All three sportswriters are deceased, Jimmy Davy only recently. Teitlebaum passed in 2008, and Leonard in 2001. All three hold respect for their love of sports, but particularly for pulling their readers into their stories.
Perhaps one of the most passionate articles about Knot Hole baseball came from Leonard, published in the Banner on May 28,1958. It expresses pure and simple love for baseball, especially for the young people who participated in amateur baseball.
“On Friday night, June 6, I will pay my way into Sulphur Dell. This will come as a shock to Vol general manager Bill McCarthy. In recent years I have usually not bothered with this detail at sporting events.
“However, I am departing from custom on that occasion, although covering the doings, because I like boys and baseball and I believe the Knot Hole summer program is a wonderful thing for both.”
George Leonard was known for his excellent sports reporting for the Nashville Banner. A graduate of the University of Alabama, his career began with the Banner in 1936. Leonard also worked for the Associated Press, San Diego Tribune, and Chattanooga Times. He returned to the Banner in 1946, where he remained through 1981 while often contributing to The Sporting News and The Saturday Evening Post, too.
Recognized for coverage of the Nashville Vols and an authority on the Southern Association, which closed after the 1961 season, he co-authored Vol Feats 1901-1950: Records, History and Tales of the Nashville Baseball Club with Fred Russell, published in 1950.
“Within a few days,” he went on to say, “approximately 1,800 boys in Nashville and the county will be trying to sell at least three tickets each for the Knot Hole Night game between the Vols and Memphis, June 6. If all of these youngsters…are successful, there would be 5,400 fans at the game that night. It would great if there were twice that many.”
The Vols club was donating 50 percent of the gate to area Knot Hole baseball leagues, and the money used for uniforms, equipment, insurance, and umpires for 15-member teams. The 1958 schedule was to begin on June 7 and include a 12-game schedule through August 23 and a tournament to determine a city champion would be held at the end of the season.
“On Knot Hole Night at the Dell, every boy in the program will be in uniform to parade with his team across the field. Festivities will begin at 6:30. First and second prizes will be awarded to the fastest boys in the junior division and to the pair throwing a baseball the farthest in the senior group.”
An autographed baseball was to be presented to the boy on each team who sold the most tickets to the June 6 game, too.
Designed for boys ages nine through 12, the league had experienced rapid growth from 24 teams in 1955, 55 in 1956, and 78 in 1957. 100 teams in 1958 were expected, and a senior division added.
Not only did Leonard write about Knot Hole baseball, he lived it. He coached the Green Hills Market and Green Hills Pharmacy Juniors in Nashville’s Knot Hole leagues for 12 years.
His teams won championships all 12 seasons.
It is easy to comprehend Leonard’s passion. Boys and baseball deserve support from all levels, and he gives an impassioned plea.
“It’s an excellent undertaking and deserves your support.”
In addition to the references cited in the Notes, the author is grateful to Joe Benedict, Ronnie Douglas, Jerry Dugan, Frank Frankenbach, and Glenn Griffin for their special memories of Knot Hole Night at Sulphur Dell. Information was also taken from George Leonard’s obituary printed in the May 22, 2001 edition of the Nashville Tennessean.
 “Biggest Not Hole Program in Local History (100 Teams) Starts June 7,” Nashville Banner, May 28, 1958. 25.
 “Ex-‘Banner’ sportswriter George Leonard dies,” Nashville Tennessean, May 21, 2001, 15.
© 2020 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.