Behind the Pen, Keystroke, and Microphone at Sulphur Dell

Before the television set made its way into America’s homes, baseball fans relied on game accounts of newspaper stories and play-by-play radio broadcasts. In Nashville, fans anxiously awaited delivery of the morning and evening newspapers to find out how the Vols fared that day or the night before.

George Leonard, Raymond Johnson, Fred Russell, John Bibb, F. M. Williams, Jimmy Davy, Bill Roberts, and many others wrote vivid summaries which gave each game’s detail. If one could not be there in person, the sportswriter’s article was the closest thing.

Radio was an essential ingredient in a fan’s life, too. Time after time, I have had emails, messages, conversations, and phone calls  that told about sitting by the radio with other family members to listen to the Vols games.

Some of those recollections stand out when it comes to first-hand experiences:

Marlin Keel wrote to say, “…spent many a summer night in front of the radio listening to Dick Shively and then Larry Munson call the games for the Vols at home and on the road. It was a real treat to enjoy the simplistic pleasures and excitement that radio broadcasts brought to my life. I remember to this day hearing Munson say: ‘Sit back, relax, have a Coke and smoke and enjoy the ball game.'”

Russell Brecheen worked in various responsibilities that gave him great experiences that many of us envy: “…I worked the scoreboard out in the left-center-field and even worked for the Gilberts in the office. I would get the lineups for each game and take to Herman Gizzard and Larry Munson for the PA and radio, and took care of the Western Union ticker and passed the scores to the scoreboard.

“I would answer the phone and run any other errands that the Gilberts (Vols General Manager Larry and his son Charlie, assistant GM) needed me to take care of. I still have my first Social Security Card with The Nashville Baseball Club/5th Avenue North typed on it!”

Fred Russell’s daughter, Carolyn wrote to say, “I remember as a very little girl sitting right outside the door of the press box on that screened walkway high above the seats, looking down at the people, waiting for my father, Fred Russell, to come out when the games were over.”

For a sportswriter named George Leonard and an 8-year-old kid, every game was exciting: “I learned about scoring a game, how to run a scoreboard, and how to catch a foul ball at the Dell. For me, the stadium has many fond memories,” said Ernie Leonard. “I have a great photo of my dad in the press box, hammering out another story on an old “Royal” typewriter, as he views the field below.”

“My dad was in his element at the park, and so was I!”

George Deuel’s brother-in-law, John DuVal, was the PA announcer at Sulphur Dell for a while and, as a young boy of about ten years of age, got to sit up in the press box with him a few times. He always took a baseball glove with him. After missing foul ball hit into the booth, radio announcer Larry Munson and his assistant invited him to sit with them, and Munson shared over the radio how some freckled-faced kid had dropped a foul ball that had been hit up to the booth.

“…all in all, the good memories of that night far outweigh my error of letting the foul ball get away. That is my claim to fame that I got to sit in the radio booth with Larry Munson.””

Bill Poland recalls one night at Sulphur Dell when his father, Hugh Poland, Vols manager from 1952 to 1954, argued an umpire’s call and found himself thumbed out of the game.

“Dizzy Dean was announcing the minor league “game of the week” from the press box. My dad had known Dizzy from when they were in spring training together in the ’30s. My dad came unglued at the umpire’s call and gave the ump such a verbal chastising, was sent to the showers. Dizzy sent for my dad to come to the press box after he had dressed.

“While in the press box between innings, Dizzy asked my dad on the air what the home plate ump would think if he saw my dad in the press box with “Ole Diz”. My dad said, “I don’t think we have to worry about that because the ump can’t see that far.” About ten minutes later, the league president sent a teletype to the press box, telling my dad to get off the air, then fined him.”

In the heyday of the minor leagues, the interest was high both at the park and home.  At some point, everything changed.

“I was the last play-by-play broadcaster in the Dell in 1963”, recollects Warren Corbett. “I was a freshman at Vanderbilt, and my radio gig lasted only a few weeks before the sponsor canceled, and the games were taken off the air. That was the Vols’ only year in the Sally League, the last year they played at the Dell.

“Some nights, it seemed like there were more players than fans in the park.”

 © 2020 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.  

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