Just the second University of Tennessee ballplayer to ascend to the major leagues, southpaw pitcher Warren “War” Sanders became an early star for the Nashville Volunteers of the new Southern Association before spending parts of the 1903 and 1904 seasons for the second-division St. Louis Cardinals. After then toiling for parts of eight years for Omaha of the Western League and serving two years as a minor-league manager, Sanders became a lifelong railroad car steward based in Chattanooga, Tennessee.
Warren William Sanders was born on August 2, 1877, in Maynardville, Knox County, Tennessee. He was the third of seven sons1 born to Alfred McPheeters Sanders, a farmer and later timber dealer, and Martha E. Sanders (b. 1851), born in Kentucky. Toddler Warren was referred to as “Warry” on the 1880 census.
By late 1895, “War” the ballplayer was already receiving regional press from the Cincinnati Post. His local amateur club, the Morristown (Tennessee) Reds, had “a battery that is some pumpkins. ‘War’ Sanders and Ott Riggs are a pair of 18-year-olds who have done great work. Sanders has a record (game) of 20 strikeouts.”2
In the spring of 1896, Sanders first competed for the University of Tennessee baseball team in Knoxville. After the college season, the 19-year-old “lad from the verdant fields near Morristown” was discovered and signed by Frank Moffett, manager of the Knoxville Indians, a non-affiliated semipro team. Moffett quickly claimed that the youngster had “a better curve ball than Bill Hill.”3 Sanders won his Knoxville debut with a shutout on six hits, striking out eight, against the Louisville Gans.4
In April 1897, and back pitching on campus for UT, star pitcher Sanders showed “perfect control of the ball” in a three-hit shutout over Central University (Kentucky) 14-0. Future major-leaguer Charlie Moran was a Volunteer teammate of Sanders that season. On April 8, Sanders faced Zanesville (Ohio) College. The report stated, “Sanders is much stronger than last season and if his ‘wing’ holds out Manager Moffett will no doubt make an effort to secure him when school closes at the university.”5 Sanders would eventually become the second UT player to make the majors, following Sammy Strang.
After the UT season, Sanders again signed with manager Moffett and the Knoxville Indians, which had held first place of the just-disbanded Southeastern League. Wiley Davis and Davey Crockett were teammates. He also pitched for Asheville, North Carolina during the summer, but by Labor Day, the “left-handed university wonder”6 returned to Knoxville, pitching a complete game, and getting three hits in a defeat of the Hamilton (Ohio) Browns.7
For 1898, Sanders signed with the Grand Rapids (Michigan) Cabinet Makers of the Interstate League. Years later, his Grand Rapids roommate, Nick Altrock, would share a story about how he and the “high-toned” Sanders had to share a quilt from Sanders’ mother to stay warm during a spring training snowstorm in their unheated hotel.8 Young Warren won his professional debut, showing “great work” in allowing but six hits in a 10-3 victory over the Youngstown (Ohio) Puddlers.9
With the assistance of former Knoxville manager Moffett, Sanders signed with the Indianapolis Hoosiers of the Class A Western League for 1899.10 Unfortunately, the lefthander was laid up for over a month with a sore elbow.11 At the turn of the century, Sanders returned to Indianapolis, now part of the Class A American League. Hoosiers manager Bill Watkins released Sanders during the season to the Decatur (Illinois) Commodores of the unclassified Central League.12
In 1901, Sanders was invited to training camp of the Nashville Volunteers in the reorganized Class B Southern Association. The youngster, at 5-feet-10 and 160 pounds, not only made the squad but also started the second game of the season, striking out 10 thanks to a baffling curveball in a victory over the Chattanooga (Tennessee) Lookouts.13 Four days later, “Little Sanders” threw a three-hit shutout over the same Chattanooga contingent.14 Sanders surrendered a whopping 19 runs on 23 hits, however, in a June defeat to the Memphis Egyptians.15 He was “badly injured” in an August 7 game in Louisiana against the New Orleans Pelicans, staying in a local hospital for two days.16 Upon his return, he lost 1-0 to the second-place Little Rock Travelers on September 10 in opener of a doubleheader. “Sandy” then had his hand split open by a line drive in a mid-September game by Shreveport (Louisiana) Giants catcher Frank McGuire.17 Nashville hung on to win the disputed initial pennant of the reconstituted league by one game in an epic battle over Little Rock. Sanders finished second in the Southern League in 1901 with 21 wins, one behind Memphis’s Bob Rhoads. After the season, he underwent an operation on his leg for an enlarged gland.18
The Southern Association became a Class A circuit for 1902. Sanders, “one of the headiest pitchers that ever held the rubber in this city,” won the season opener 8-2 on April 26 in Georgia against a new Atlanta Firemen club, with his work “of the star order.”19 In August, an article appeared about War and his brother Thurrell, a semipro catcher.20
Sanders was sold to the St. Louis Cardinals in September 1902 for spring delivery. It was claimed that he had won 18 of his first 20 games that season for Nashville.21 Sanders slumped to finish 22-12 for the year, but Nashville still repeated as league champs, bolstered by Sanders and Hugh Hill, brother of Bill Hill, who also won 22 games on the mound. Sanders spent his second consecutive off-season working in West Nashville.22 He was employed in “the Nashville, Chattanooga, & St. Louis (railway) shops.”23
Invited to 1903 spring training with the Cardinals, Sanders was observed to have a “soft manner and quaint modulation of the Tennessee mountaineer. He is a modest youth of few words, but appears to have sand.” Manager Jimmy “Patsy” Donovan stated “that boy looks to have everything but a Joe McGinnity upshoot, and I think he’ll do.”24 In one late March training camp performance, Sanders literally did not throw one ball in three innings against the Dallas Steers of the Texas League.25
Sanders broke camp with the Cardinals. He enjoyed a solid major-league debut on April 18 in a 5-4 loss to the Chicago Cubs. It was reported that “the Southern lad had his side wheel delivery working nicely, although he went into the game with a slightly lamed arm,” and that he “was as cool as a chung of Equid air.”26 Sporting Life reported that Sanders “made his debut in fast company and did excellently.”27
Facing Cincinnati, Sanders won his second start, with another complete game, pitching “a steady, clever game.”28 Sanders, who also batted left-handed, registered his only hit in the majors, a single off Noodles Hahn. His third appearance came six days later, back in Cincinnati, and it was terrible. Sanders surrendered eight first-inning runs as the Reds “went after Sanders like ward heelers carrying a doubtful precinct.”29 Still, five days later, he got the nod again, at home against the Cubs, albeit with a much shorter leash from Donovan. After allowing three straight hits on five pitches to begin the game, he was immediately yanked, and saddled with the loss.30
Two weeks later, Sanders walked eight batters in a seven-inning relief appearance. In his final 1903 appearance, on June 9, he started, giving up three runs in one and one-third innings in a loss to the New York Giants. He was optioned to the last-place Omaha Indians of the Class A Western League in early July.31 Sanders finished his 1903 stint in the majors with a 1-6 record and a 6.08 ERA over 40 innings. Sanders appeared in 19 games for Omaha, before returning to St. Louis to pitch for the varsity in the annual intercity series against the Browns.32
Sanders returned to Cardinals camp for 1904, under new skipper Kid Nichols. Sanders shut out the “Colts,” or the Cardinal youngsters, 1-0 in a complete-game victory on April 13 in St. Louis. He showed “the few shivering fans that the Cardinals have a much better slabman in War Sanders, the diminutive southpaw, than was generally believed.”33
Sanders again made the opening day roster. In his first appearance of the regular season, on May 21, he hurled a complete-game victory, 3-2, over the Brooklyn Superbas. Despite that strong outing, he then saw no action for exactly a month, before a five-inning relief spot against the Pittsburgh Pirates. On Independence Day, he gave up five runs in the first inning on his final start, and that was it. In total, he had walked but one and struck out 11 in 19 innings.
Sanders was soon sent back to Omaha, by then called the Rangers, which went from worst in 1903 to first in the Western League in 1904.34 Sanders appeared in 20 games, but Western League pitching stats were scant for 1903 and 1904.
Sanders would spend parts of eight seasons with Omaha, which took the name Rourkes, after their skipper, Billy Rourke.. In August 1905, Sanders left the team for a spell after they didn’t pay him his salary when he was sick with stomach ailments for three weeks.35 In 1906, he won 21 games for a team that went 73-74.36 A highlight came in July, when he won a complete-game 12-inning contest 1-0 with a walk-off single against Babe Adams and Denver.37 On August 25, he shut out Des Moines on two hits in the nightcap of a doubleheader after taking a perfect game into the eighth inning.38
Omaha won the league again in 1907. After the 1907 season, he married a local Nebraska gal named Lida Brown, seven years his junior. The couple welcomed a daughter named Doris in April 1908.39 They later had sons Robert and Von.
In August 1908, The Sporting News declared that “‘War’ Sanders, of Omaha, is pitching the best ball of his career right now and it is seldom, indeed, that opposing teams garner more than five or six hits off his delivery.”40 Omaha lost the pennant race by two games to the Sioux City (Iowa) Pirates. Sanders worked in the 1909-10 off-season at a Chattanooga phone company.
Sanders shut out the Chicago White Sox over five innings in an early April 1910 exhibition for Omaha.41 However, he appeared in only 11 games for Omaha, leaving by June to essentially take the rest of the season off. In 1911, though, he wanted back in the game.42 Sanders attended training camp with Mobile in 1911, did not stick, then latched on with Charleston Sea Gulls of the Class C South Atlantic League. In August, he was battered for 20 hits in a loss against Columbus.43 He finished 10-19 for the year.
In 1912, Sanders played for the Morristown Jobbers of the Class D Appalachian League, going 3-6 in nine games for a last-place team featuring teenaged pitcher Lefty Williams.44 The next season, Sanders signed to be player-manager of the Middlesboro (Kentucky) Colonels, still in the Appy League, managing against his old Knoxville skipper Frank Moffett .45 His spring didn’t start off so well, however – his family “had a narrow escape from death” when their new home in Middlesboro was unroofed and chimneys blown down by a violent storm in March.46 As the season developed, Sanders manned one of the outfield posts. He was “hooked up with a deplorably weak team.” The last-place squad finished 34 games out of first place.47
Sanders was named player-manager of the Newnan (Georgia) Cowetas in the Class D Georgia- Alabama League for 1914.48 He and his band of youngsters finished second that year behind the more experienced Selma squad.49 His staff was anchored by 19-year-old lefthander Jakie May, who was “undoubtedly the sensation of the league.”50
Upon hanging up his cleats in 1915, Sanders became an umpire in the same Georgia-Alabama League, overseeing games including his old Newnan club on multiple occasions. After returning to Chattanooga, Sanders began a 35-year career as a railroad dining car conductor for the Southern Railway. He worked on the “Suwanee River Special” out of Chattanooga in the winter, and on the “Atlanta Special” in the summer.51
As of 1940, Sanders was still with Southern Railway and living in Chattanooga. His son Von worked as a clerk for the railway; his other son, Robert, was an issuing clerk for the Tennessee Valley Authority. Sanders would comment, “Both of my sons were big enough, but they never were much good at ball.”52
Warren W. Sanders died on August 3, 1962, at the age of 85, in Chattanooga. He had been hospitalized for over three months. He was buried in Chattanooga’s Forest Hills Cemetery. Sanders was remembered as a “widely known retired railroad man and active member of Senior Neighbors.”53 He was survived by his wife Lida Brown Sanders, his sons Robert and Von, and three brothers and five grandchildren. Shortly after his passing, Sanders was also recalled fondly by Chattanooga Daily Times sportswriter Wirt Gammon, who chronicled the one-time pitcher’s years in baseball and as a dining car steward for the railroads.54
This biography was reviewed by Bill Lamb and Rory Costello and fact-checked by Ray Danner.
In addition to the sources shown in the Notes, the author used Baseball-Reference.com, StatsCrew.com, and MyHeritage.com.
1 Warren’s siblings were Lillard, Emerson, Claude, Thurrell, Mack, and Forrest.
2 “Morristown Ball Players,” Morristown (Tennessee) Gazette, October 23, 1895: 3.
3 “Base Ball News,” (Knoxville, Tennessee) Journal and Tribune, June 15, 1896: 3 (from Cincinnati Post, October 19, 1895).
4 “War Sanders Won the Game,” Knoxville Sentinel, June 19, 1896: 5; “Moffett’s Find ‘Kid’ Sanders of Morristown, is All Right,” Journal and Tribune, June 19, 1896: 8.
5 “Today’s Game,” Journal and Tribune, April 8, 1897: 3.
6 “Sanders Pitched a Good Game for Knoxville,” Journal and Tribune, September 8, 1897: 8.
7 “Hamilton Browns Again Defeated,” Knoxville Sentinel, September 8, 1897: 6.
8 George L. Moreland, “Nick Altrock’s Baseball Career,” Washington Herald, February 23, 1920: 8.
9 “Sanders Won for Grand Rapids,” Detroit Free Press, April 28, 1898: 6.
10 Knoxville Sentinel, February 28, 1899: 7.
11 Kansas City Journal, July 23, 1899: 5.
12 “Baseball Notes,” Indianapolis Journal, May 27, 1900: 7.
13 “Nashville, With Sanders in the Box, Defeats Chattanooga,” Journal and Tribune, May 4, 1901: 8.
14 “On Nashville Diamond Won for the Capital Team by “Little” Sanders,” Journal and Tribune, May 8, 1901: 3.
15 “Nashville Tumbles,” Birmingham (Alabama) News, June 5, 1901: 3.
16 “Baseball Gossip,” Arkansas Gazette (Little Rock), August 10, 1901: 3.
17 “Weikart’s Hit Won,” Montgomery (Alabama) Advertiser, September 22, 1901: 10.
18 “Base Ball: Caught on the Fly,” The Sporting News, December 14, 1901: 5.
19 “Nashville Gets First One,” Nashville Banner, April 28, 1902: 7.
20 “Four Large Home Runs,” Journal and Tribune, August 22, 1902: 5 (from the Nashville Banner, date unknown).
21 “Newt Sells Sanders,” Birmingham News, September 5, 1902: 8; “Stolen Bases,” Nebraska State Journal (Lincoln), September 21, 1902: 20.
22 “Twelve Months in Ballplayers’ Life,” Nashville Banner, January 5, 1903: 10.
23 “Nashville Southpaw War Sanders Makes a Killing with Patsey Donovan,” Journal and Tribune, March 23, 1903: 2 (from the Nashville Banner).
24 “Blue Envelope Bogie Threatens League Park,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 12, 1903: 7.
25 Sidney Mercer, “Umpire Unable to Call Ball with Twirler Sanders in the Box,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, March 30, 1903: 3.
26 Sidney Mercer, “Lost Game but Won Applause,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 19, 1903: 21.
27 “Games Played Saturday, April 18,” Sporting Life, April 25, 1903: 6.
28 “Pirates Here to Play Cardinals,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 27, 1903: 6.
29 “Sanders Was Easy for the Cincinnatis,” St. Louis Republic, May 3, 1903: 32.
30 “Cardinals Beaten from the First Inning,” St. Louis Globe-Democrat, May 8, 1903: 15.
31 T.L. Wright, “Sanders and Miller,” The Sporting News, July 18, 1903: 4.
32 “Four Successive Games for Browns,” St. Louis Republic, October 9, 1903: 7.
33 “’War’ Sanders Shuts Out the Youngsters in Slowly Played Game,” St. Louis Republic, April 14, 1904: 8.
34 “About Ex-Southern Leaguers,” Arkansas Gazette, July 9, 1903: 6.
35 “Sanders Quits Omaha,” St. Joseph (Missouri) News-Press, August 16, 1905: 3.
36 Baseball-Reference.com states Sanders went 21-1 on the season, which is incorrect. Research by the author found at least five losses over the season. StatsCrew shows 73 staff wins but only 59 staff losses, so 15 losses weren’t accounted for. Sanders lost to Des Moines 3-2 on May 30. On July 31, he lost to Lincoln 6-0. He then lost to Lincoln again 3-1 on August 11. He lost on September 19 to George Zackert and Lincoln, 4-3. Also lost to Lincoln 2-1 on September 23.
37 “War Sanders Stars in Pitching Battle,” Omaha News, July 30, 1906: 3; “‘War’ Sanders Playing a Great Game of Ball,” Morristown Republican, August 4, 1906: 3.
38 “Sanders Pitches a Wonderful Game,” Omaha Bee, August 26, 1906: 8.
39 “War Sanders and His Family,” Omaha News, May 30, 1909: 17.
40 The Sporting News, August 15, 1908.
41 “Sanders Does Great Slab Work,” Omaha Bee, April 11, 1910: 2.
42 “War Sanders May Get Job,” Chattanooga (Tennessee) Times, January 23, 1911: 3.
43 “Sanders Hit for Twenty Safeties,” Tampa (Florida) Tribune, August 19, 1911: 4.
44 “’War’ Sanders at Middlesboro,” Knoxville Sentinel, January 20, 1913: 16 (listed only as Sanders in Baseball-Reference.com).
45 “’War’ Sanders at Middlesboro.”
46 “Home of Middlesboro Manager is Unroofed,” Knoxville Sentinel, March 28, 1913: 16.
47 “’War’ Sanders Goes to Georgia-Alabama Team,” Knoxville Sentinel, February 16, 1914: 14.
48 “’War’ Sanders Goes to Georgia-Alabama Team,” above.
49 “Selma Wins G.-A. League Pennant, ‘War’ Sanders’ Newnan Club Second,” Chattanooga Times, August 24, 1914: 8.
50 “War’s Team Takes Drop,” Chattanooga Times, July 26, 1914: 19.
51 “Fined Umpire; Incited Riot,” Chattanooga Daily News, April 25, 1922: 8.
52 “Short Shots,” above.
53 “War W. Sanders Dead at Age 85,” Chattanooga Times, August 4, 1962: 9.
54 Wirt Gammon, “Just Between Us Fans,” Chattanooga Times, September 12, 1962: 11.