I seem to spend a lot of my time searching the internet for terms like “Cumberland Club of Nashville,” in the off-chance that somewhere, someone has already written the book I want to read. I don’t suppose this surprises anyone, but unfortunately, it often has the same effect as staring blankly at my computer screen.
Following this (occasionally successful) strategy, I recently came across a passing reference to that club in an online version of Don Cusic’s Baseball and Country Music, which credits a man named Herman Sandhouse for introducing baseball to Nashville after the Civil War. According to Cusic, Sandhouse learned the game as a college student in Philadelphia and brought it back to Tennessee. I had never heard of Sandhouse and could find no other corroboration of this story, but thankfully Cusick’s original source–the Oct. 30, 1932 Nashville Banner–is readily available. (I’ve included the original clipping below.)
Sandhouse’s claim seems to have originated from 84-year-old Tom Lusty, who recalls having attended the first Nashville baseball match after the Civil War. This game was played “near the present grounds of Fisk University,” which corresponds to location of the field used by the Cumberland and other Nashville clubs of the time. Lusty also remembers Nashville’s first ballplayers as primarily Northerners, which also seems to have been the case.
Nonetheless, Lusty’s claim of the Pontiacs as the first amateur club in Nashville is demonstrably false. Although we do have records of the Pontiac Club playing in the fall of 1866, the newspaper record makes it clear they followed the Rock City, Cumberland, and perhaps other clubs. It’s possible that Herman Sandhouse was a member of this club, but we don’t yet have any box scores for the Pontiac Club. But we do have the box score for the May 12, 1866 Cumberland/Rock City match, and Sandhouse’s name appears nowhere.
But even if Sandhouse didn’t introduce the game to Nashville, is it possible he was one of its many midwives in the city? A look at census and other Nashville records of the late 19th century tell us more about him. Herman Sandhouse (sometimes spelled “Sandhaus”) was born in 1850 to German immigrants in Nashville, and in the spring of 1866 Sandhouse would have been just 16 years old. His father was a successful tailor and owner of a retail clothing store, and as an adult Herman Sandhouse also worked in retail clothing. But by 1900 he was a farmer in Dickson County, Tennessee, and there’s no indication he received a college education, in Tennessee or elsewhere.
But even if Sandhouse wasn’t the father of Nashville baseball, he was still an urban teenage boy in 1866, and there’s no reason to think he wouldn’t have played the game. And since he died in 1940, perhaps he saw the 1932 newspaper article and replied to the Banner with his own version of events. Such a response has yet to be discovered.
As for Lusty’s claim that the Louisville club visited Nashville to face his North Nashville club, this is true. The Louisville Grays finished fifth in the league in 1876, and second in 1877 before a gambling scandal caused the club to fold. But in October of 1876 they did visit Nashville to play both the Linck club and a combined Linck/North Nashville team. Thomas Lusty was secretary of the North Nashvilles in 1876 and the Louisville club won every Nashville match handily. (See Nashville Daily American, Sept. 7, 1876; Memphis Daily Appeal, Oct. 22, 1876).