Nashville’s First Professional Team in 1884

Baseball Expands in the South

Area amateur baseball had flourished since the end of the Civil War, and the “Nashvilles” was the premier local team. But with the expansion of professional ball clubs throughout the south, it was necessary to stock a club with players who played for pay.

Paying players moved a team one step closer to winning championships, which up to that time had been mythical (such as “the champions of Tennessee”) with no bearing on anything except for proper boasting at the local tavern and in newsprint. But as professional baseball was growing, challenges to championship-caliber teams would necessitate an upgrade in the roster.

The only way was to pay. Improving the quality of play would also bring a successful club to the attention of those who were considering forming a southern league, as there were moves to organize leagues across the country.

New Team for Nashville

An article in the Nashville Daily American on October 9, 1884, described a professional baseball team for Nashville, the first for the city.

“Recently a stock company has been formed of reliable and businessmen of the city, who have decided to get a team for Nashville of professional baseball players who can meet the best clubs of the country and cope with them in a game of which the audiences would not leave the ground disappointed or disgusted.

“On Monday of this week, the stock company had a meeting, decided definitely to get such a team, and immediately sent Mr. Will C. Bryan, whose baseball record is familiar to all who know of baseball in the city, to Cincinnati to consummate arrangements with players with whom he has for some time been in correspondence. At the same meeting, the stockholders decided to call the club “The American” Base Ball nine, which bears that name in honor of the daily. Mr. Bryan was also elected manager of the new club and instructed to hire first-class material, regardless of cost.”[1]

Bryan Off to Cincinnati

Off went Will Bryan to engage the services of players and schedule a game with a top-quality club to introduce their brand of the game to Nashville’s spectators. He engaged the Cincinnati Unions to visit Nashville right away and a game scheduled for Friday, October 10.

The Unions, also known as the Outlaw Reds (their owner was Justus Thorner, who had previously owned the Red Stockings), played in the Union Association. The 12-team league included the St. Louis Maroons, Milwaukee Brewers, Kansas City Cowboys, and Wilmington Quicksteps.

Considering that Nashville held potential as a Union League member for 1885, Thorner agreed to take his club south. On October 10, the first professional game for a Nashville ball club took place at the fairgrounds.

A banner across the top of the American’s page 4 heralded to the event.

Players Introduced

Bryan secured players for the new ball club from a distance away, and the newspaper gave detail about each one.

“The “American” Club is composed of the following material: Baker, the pitcher, is from Springfield, where he has made a very fine record…Lang, the catcher, was for awhile one of the crack battery of the Atlantas, but left them for a more prominent position…Collins, who holds first base, is taken from the Louisvilles…Bryan, who is well known to Nashvillians, will play on second base…Reccius, one of the most widely known players in the country, has been engaged from the Trentons and will play third base…Meyers, of the Portsmouth Blue, will play in the position of short stop.

“Rhue, the left fielder, comes from the Springfield Club, Hungier in center from the St. Louis Club, and Hellman in right from the Terre Hautes.”[2]

First Game

Noting the local club had not practiced together beforehand, the American reported an audience of between 1,250 and 1,500 persons watched them lose to the visitors by a score of 6-3. The Unions had to score three runs in the eighth inning and two in the ninth to secure the win after falling behind 3-1. The game took 1 hour and 45 minutes to complete. Game rules included “seven balls required to give a batter his base, and fouls being out on first bounce.[3]

The next day’s game was not a close one. Nashville scored two runs in the eighth inning and lost 11-2.

Without no announcement about Nashville’s chances in the Union Association (the league folded after playing only one season), another club, the “Georgetowns” concluded the Americans’ three-game home stand by winning over the locals 4-1.

Losing three games gave reason for Nashville to reorganize its roster. Added to the lineup were new players who would become the Americans’ first team in the newly-formed Southern League for 1885. Joining Will Bryan and Norm Baker would be Charles Marr, Ollie Beard, and Billy Crowell of the Evansvilles.

Team Schedule

Potential games were announced in the American to conclude the 1884 exhibition season.

“Georgetowns, October 19; Cincinnatis, American Association, Oct. 26 and 27, Dayton, Champions of Ohio State League, Nov. 2 and 3, Kansas City Unions, Nov. 22 and 23, Louisville, Nov. 29 and 30.”[4]

The article concludes with high expectations to be met by the new professionals.

“…the Nashville public may expect some excellent baseball continues.”[5]

PostScript: Interestingly enough, one of the Cincinnati Unions players in the two games in Nashville, George Bradley, would become manager for Nashville for a short period of time during the 1887 season. Bradley had also pitched during his tenure with the Unions in 1884, winning 25 and losing 15.


Nashville Daily American


[1] Nashville Daily American, October 9, 1884, p. 5

[2] Nashville Daily American, October 10, 1884, p. 8

[3] Nashville Daily American, October 11, 1884, p. 4

[4] Nashville Daily American, October 14, 1884, p. 4

[5] Ibid.

© 2020 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved. 

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