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Nashville was once home to successful semi-pro baseball team

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NASHVILLE – Mention to most people in or around Nashville the old semi-pro baseball team that won a state championship, and you will likely get a blank stare. But the Nashville Cubs were not only a feature of note in Nashville for more than a decade, they were part of a network of semi-professional teams spread throughout the area.
The Cubs were founded in Nashville in 1950 by Milton Massey, according to his son, Bill Massey, after organizing a team in Murfreesboro, the Red Socks, for a few years after World War II. It was common for small towns full of former GIs to have a baseball team, sometimes self supporting like the Cubs, sometimes sponsored by businesses like mechanic’s shops and gas stations, he reported.
In addition to teams founded by Massey at Murfreesboro and Nashville, there were also teams at Mineral Springs, Glenwood, Hope, Arkadelphia – and any town with a field and a few players, he explained. The players tended to be 18 and older, though some were still able to play in youth leagues and others were in as much as their mid-thirties.
Though self-supporting in terms of the team’s management and operations, their home field was built for them by the Wilson family, which still owns the local Coca-Cola bottling business. Wilson Field, which has since become the local high school’s, was situated where it is because it was an area that Milton Massey and the Wilsons were able to acquire and clear to play baseball on.
In those days, Massey reported, there were a greater variety of minor league teams, from the AAA teams like the Arkansas Travelers down to class C or D teams. After the dissolution of the Hot Springs Bathers, a class B team in the Cotton League, some of their players came down to play for the Cubs, he explained, adding that the majority of players were always locals, though.
The list of players for the Cubs includes many who went on to business success in the county: George Wilson, Francis Bell, Doug Dildy, Tom Chesshir, George Castleberry, Gene Wallace, and dozens of others. The Cubs were not classified as a professional, minor league team, and all of their players had day jobs, Massey said, noting some worked in saw woods, others as high school coaches, some as mechanics.
He also noted that the players who were in college were not supposed to receive pay, but a little something found its way to them to help with expenses. One who played for the Cubs and went to college, George Wilson, eventually ended up playing for Major League Baseball, Massey reported.
The Cubs experienced numerous early successes under coaches Milton Massey and Edgar Branch, Massey said, and talked about his first season playing for his father: the year that the Cubs took the state championship. The team had a winning record that year, 17-4 going into the tournament from their conference after big wins over Arkadelphia and then Glenwood, according to records kept by The Nashville News. In the initial rounds of the state tournament, they came up against a team from Trumann, and another sponsored by a garage from central Arkansas. In the end, they won all four games in that tournament, bringing home the state title for their classification.
George Castleberry, who was on the 1956 team as well, recalled that the pay the players received wasn’t much, and wasn’t the motivation that most had for playing. “It was fun. We played for fun, and enjoyed every second of it,” he said. Castleberry stated that his time on the Cubs was an integral part in his more than 30 years in baseball as a player and coach, and owes a lot of his later successes as a coach to the example set by Milton Massey.
“Milton Massey was a great, down to earth coach. And a great person,” he explained, saying that the unexcitable method of coaching he saw made an impression.
The team played on Tuesday or Friday nights in a season that ran from spring into September, Massey recalled, with maybe two dozen games in a year – far from the hundreds of games a year Major League teams face. Over their dozen years of operation, the team of not-quite amateurs saw successes and losses, and it was always mostly for fun. The team’s final season, in 1962, came as the country was seeing yet more changes, and the culture beginning to be aware of the counter-culture, and ended as the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Space Race and the Civil Rights movement gripped the nation. The times were changing, and baseball was going to a more professional, less local model – a model that left the Nashville Cubs to the memories of players and fans.
“Back then, people playing for minor leagues, even major leagues, couldn’t make a living at it. There were a lot of professional players, and after playing there, they would come back home. Now, players make millions of dollars, and when they are done in the major leagues, they are done,” Bill Massey noted. That is a major contrast to what he remembers from playing with the Nashville Cubs: “We were just there to play baseball. And it was good times.”