Municipal Park

Home of the Jackson Generals
1950-1954

 

Even though there were existing baseball fields that could have been upgraded, the Jackson Baseball Association instead chose to convert the racetrack grandstand at the West Tennessee State Fairgrounds into the home of the Jackson Generals for the 1950 season.

Jackson had been one of the six charter members of the Kitty League in 1903 and enjoyed a successful run in the league before World War II. During the winter of 1949, the Jackson Baseball Association purchased the Clarksville Colts from former major league pitcher Horace "Hod" Lisenbee and relocated the club to Jackson.

Municipal Park was not an ideal place to watch a ballgame. It was too far out of town for the city buses and taxis to take fans to and from the games. The aforementioned grandstand was designed for watching car races and didn't configure to the shape of a baseball diamond. The temperature was chilly even on warm evenings and the nearby Forked Deer River often cast a blanket of fog over the outfield. "Even on a reasonably warm night, all that Forked Deer moisture would settle in down there and you would have to wear jackets in the summer," recalled former sportswriter John D. Graham. "It wasn't like going out in short sleeves to a ballgame." There was also a dump located beyond the right field fence and the smell of burning garbage sometimes had to be endured by the players and fans.

Members of the league press weren't treated much better than the fans. There was no press box on the roof as was customary at most ballparks. Sportswriters and radio broadcasters were confined to a small booth at ground level under the grandstand with chicken wire mesh for protection. Their vantage point made the official scorer's job much more difficult. "Baseballs being hit to short can't be seen," complained local sportswriter/scorer Jimmy Hamlin, "due to the fact that few scorers can see through a steel grinder, a catcher, and an umpire."

Graham, who took over for Hamlin in 1953, related the following incident regarding the Municipal Park press box. It was situated between the home and visiting dugouts (which were also under the grandstand), so the scorer could easily hear the complaints about his judgment. There was a rookie with the visiting team who was a bit too concerned about his batting average. Upon reading the box score the next morning, he noticed that he hadn't been credited with a single the previous evening. So that night he stormed up to the press box and demanded to know why the single didn't show up.

"Don't worry about it," Graham tried to assure him. "You got a hit. It was just a typographical error."

"Whadda ya mean, typographical error!" the rookie exploded. "Nobody every laid a hand on the ball and you know it!"

The Jackson Generals had enjoyed great success both on and off the field during its previous stint in the Kitty League from 1935 to 1942. But those games had been played at Lakeview Park, which unlike their present ballpark had been built for baseball. Now playing at the unfriendly confines of Municipal Park, attendance was a constant concern. Local youngsters were encouraged to become Junior Generals by paying $1.50 to receive admission to 16 home games, a membership card, and a baseball cap.

Between 1950 and 1952, the Baseball Association threatened to sell the club and the fans would return for a time. But with the prospects of a new park receiving only verbal support, there was no permanent solution in sight.

The Association had a deal in place to sell the franchise to a group in Dyersburg, TN in 1952, but sold it instead to local businessman Hiram Hopper, who owned a restaurant called Hiram's at 211 Main Street where the home and visiting players often ate. "He was the type of man that cared about Jackson and they were going to lose the franchise," recalled nephew and Generals batboy Jim Bailey.

Hopper tried to revitalize the franchise and Municipal Park by cleaning up the grandstand and arranging for city taxis to bring fans to the games. At the end of the 1952 season, he brought back former manager George "Mickey" O'Neil, who had led the Generals to the league championship in 1941. He also secured the franchise's only major league affiliation as a farm club for the Cincinnati Reds the following season.

Still, it wasn't enough to draw the fans to the games in great enough numbers to make a profit. The Generals' second division performances in 1952 and 1953 didn't help.  Kitty League president Shelby Peace even made an appearance at Municipal Park to plead with them to support the team at the gate.

Despite asking for much less than he had paid for the franchise, Hopper found no takers during the off-season. Yet he pushed forward to field a team in 1954 even though he had already lost $6,500 after paying $10,000 for the team. Efforts to sell tickets before the season began failed miserably. On the field, the Generals lost their first 26 games before halting the streak with a victory in the second game of a Memorial Day doubleheader on May 31. Attendance for most nights weren't enough to pay the electric bill.

The day after the Generals' first victory, Hopper gave his franchise back to the Kitty League without receiving a penny for it. The grandstand at Municipal Park was demolished in the 1980's and replaced by another for the West Tennessee State Fair.

How to Get There

The site of Municipal Park is located at the present-day grandstand of the West Tennessee State Fairgrounds in Jackson, Tennessee.

 

 

(c) 2006 Kevin D. McCann