|League||Minor League Baseball (Southern League)|
|Active||1885-1961, 1964-65, 1967-75, 1981-present|
|Home field||Regions Field|
The Birmingham Barons are a minor league baseball team based in Birmingham. The team, which plays in the Southern League of Professional Baseball, is the Double-A affiliate of the Chicago White Sox major-league club.
The Barons play in the 8,500-seat Regions Field. From 1988 until 2012 the Barons played at the Hoover Metropolitan Stadium, which seats 10,800 fans, and was known as "Regions Park" from 2007 until the Barons moved back to Birmingham. They moved there in 1987 from historic Rickwood Field in the West End of Birmingham. They still play one "throwback" game called the Rickwood Classic each season in period uniforms at the old facility.
The Barons history can be traced back to 1885, when the Barons (originally known as the Coal Barons) played in the many Southern Leagues during the early years of baseball. It was noted by John Witherspoon Dubose that the club attempted to play games on Sundays, but were soon discouraged by local zeal for keeping the Lord's Day. In those years leagues came and went, but baseball in Birmingham survived.
The 1892 Barons, owned by attorney and state representative John McQueen, won the first pennant in the newly-reorganized Southern League. In 1901 the Southern Association was formed with teams in Birmingham, Selma, New Orleans, Shreveport, Little Rock, Memphis, Nashville and Chattanooga. The modern Barons' first Southern Association title came in 1906 as the team went 85-47 under manager Harry Vaughn. They stumbled in the following season, however, despite strong pitching from Irvin Wilhelm and Vincent Turner.
In 1887, the Birmingham Barons were playing at Slag Pile Field (officially West End Park), located on 6th Street between 1st Avenue North and the Alabama Great Southern Railroad tracks. The old Slag Pile grandstand would only grant one 60-day lease at a time. Also during this time, the Barons played in East Lake and at a field within the corporate limits of Elyton.
A. H. "Rick" Woodward, the late Birmingham millionaire industrialist, completed the purchase of the team from William McQueen, vice-president of the Sloss Iron & Steel Company, in February 1910. Woodward's first objective was to construct a ballpark. In a short time, he produced plans for the first concrete-and-steel ballpark in the minor leagues. Woodward consulted Philadelphia's legendary manager Connie Mack about building the 12.7 acre park. From parks such as Philly's Shibe Park and Pittsburgh's Forbes Field, Rickwood Field took shape. The name of the park originated from Woodward's first name and part of his last name. Construction of Rickwood was complete prior to the first game played there on August 18, 1910. The Barons won the opener 3-2 over Montgomery, after a 2-run rally in the 9th inning. A crowd in excess of 10,000 came for the contest.
Carlton Molesworth arrived in Birmingham in 1908 to serve as the Barons manager and outfielder. He ended up serving as skipper until 1922. He helped the Barons to two Southern Association titles and became synonymous with Birmingham baseball. The Barons won their first SA title for Molesworth in Rickwood in 1912. The first of 5 Baseball Hall of Famers who played in a Barons uniform was Burleigh Grimes. The right-hander pitched in Birmingham from 1914–1916 and later became one of the last legal spitball pitchers in the majors. He was not a major factor as the Barons took their third SA title with an 88-62 record, but he struck out 158 batters in 1915 and won 20 games in 1916 while pitching a team-leading 276 innings.
The Barons set attendance records during the "Roaring Twenties". During the decade the Barons drew 160,000 or more to Rickwood eight times, including a then-team-record 299,150 in 1927, a year in which the Barons played all of their games during the day and there were no Sunday games. During 1927, Hall of Famer Rube Marquard pitched for the Barons.
A total of 14 years passed before the Barons won another Southern Association title in 1928. The team posted a batting average of .331 in winning a club-record 99 games for Johnny Dobbs. This was the first split schedule in the history of the SA and the Barons took the first half title, then beat Memphis in 3 straight for the championship. The next season , the Barons made it back-to-back titles under Dobbs as 13 players hit .300 or better, a SA record. The Barons won their first Dixie Series appearance 4-2 over Dallas of the Texas League.
The 1930s, played under the shadow of the Great Depression, started well for the Barons as the team won the 1931 pennant for second year manager Clyde Milan. It would be the highlight of a decade which saw the Barons in the SA's top 3 only twice. The depression and its financial crunch forced Woodward to sell his beloved ball club, after 3 years of virtual bank ownership, to Ed Norton in 1938.
Rickwood's Grand Years
The Barons did not claim a Southern Association pennant during the 1940s, but new owner Gus Jebeles helped prime the team for a post-World War II resurgence in attendance by hiring manager Eddie Glennon.
Record crowds filled the stands at Rickwood from 1948–1950. The 1948 Birmingham Barons drew 445,926 to Rickwood winning the Dixie Series over Fort Worth and followed up with 421,305 in 1949. Unfortunately, the Barons did not win another pennant until 1958, when they won 91 games (6½ ahead) under Cal Ermer. Partners Herbert Hahn and Rufus Lackey lost money in each of the less-than ten years they owned the team.
The remainder of the 1950s and 60s saw the club finish first in 1959 (1st half) but could not win the pennant. Then, for the first time since 1898, Birmingham did not have a team as the Barons moved after the 1961 season.
The New Southern League
Rickwood Field remained dark for just 2 years before the Barons were reborn in 1964 in the newly formed Southern League, composed of members of the old Southern Association and the South Atlantic League. The Barons survived for two years, but moved again after the 1965 season.
The Kansas City (later Oakland) Athletics, owned by Charlie Finley, brought baseball back to the Magic City in 1967 with the Birmingham A's. Right out of the gate the A's took the Southern League title in 1967 by 3 1/2 games under John McNamara. During this time (1967–1975) the A's featured Hall of Famers Reggie Jackson and Rollie Fingers, who went on to be mainstays of the Oakland Athletics 3 consecutive World Series titles (1972–1974). The A's moved after the 1975 season and Rickwood did not see Southern League baseball again for 5 seasons.
The Modern Barons
The latest version of the Barons came back to Birmingham in 1981, thanks to the efforts of Art Clarkson, who engineered the move of the Montgomery Rebels to Rickwood Field. The Barons played in front of their largest opening night crowd in 31 years (9,185) on April 14, 1981 in a 6-5 win over Jacksonville. Good times followed as the Barons won the 1983 title over Jacksonville in 4 games. It was apparent by 1986 that historic Rickwood Field would not host the Barons forever. After failed negotiations for a new stadium in Birmingham, Clarkson made plans to move the team to Hoover, which constructed the new 10,800-seat Hoover Metropolitan Stadium for the team. The final game at Rickwood (September 9, 1987) was a 5-4 loss to Charlotte in the second game of the Southern League title series. The team won "one more for Rickwood" by taking the title in 4 games.
The Barons took the field for the first time at the Hoover Met on April 18, 1988. Birmingham won 8-2 over Greenville (Georgia) in front of 13,279. The Met has been good to the Barons, as the club has won three titles (1989, 1993, 2002) since the move to Hoover. The 1989 title was led by current Boston Red Sox manager Terry Francona.
The 1994 season was historic for the Barons as former NBA superstar Michael Jordan switched sports and was assigned to the club on March 31st. Jordan's popularity helped shatter the club's season attendance record (467,867). Jordan batted .202 with 3 homers and 51 RBI and stole a club-leading 30 bases as the team was covered by journalists from around the world. The Barons drew 985,185 overall and millions of others watched as the club played on national or regional television 4 times.
The club was sold to new ownership in 1995 (Elmore Sports Group Ltd.). Among the innovations under the new ownership was the Rickwood Classic. Once a year the Barons return to play a game at Rickwood Field , honoring baseball's rich history in a "turn back the clock" game. The Classic is a favorite of players and fans alike.
The Barons have been to the Southern League playoffs a record-tying six consecutive seasons (2000–2005), winning the Southern League crown in 2002 under former Major League player Wally Backman. Another former Major Leaguer, Razor Shines managed the Barons in 2004–2005. He came aboard in 2004 and made two playoff appearances.
Since resuming play in 1981, the Barons have been successful on the field, winning the Southern League title in 1983, 1987, 1989, 1993 and 2002.
In September 2005 the Birmingham Barons were sold by Elmore Sports Group Ltd. to Don Logan and his sons Jeff and Stan. They operate as Birmingham Barons, LLC. The Logans became the 11th owner in the Barons history.
In October 2007 the Barons unveiled a new identity package designed by John Hartwell of Atlanta, Georgia. Red was re-introduced as an accent color in the logos and uniforms for the first time since 1993, including an alternate solid-red jersey. A stylized "Baron" mascot drawing was also introduced with the script-style logo. The new uniforms debuted in the 2008 season.
The 2009 Birmingham Barons, managed by Ever Magallanes, went 92-47 (66.2%), setting a team record for winning percentage. Julio Vinas was named team manager in December 2012. He guided the 2013 Birmingham Barons to the Southern League championship in the inaugural season at Regions Field.
Major League Affiliations
- Boston Red Sox 1947-52
- New York Yankees 1953-56
- Detroit Tigers 1957-61
- Kansas City Athletics 1964-65
- Detroit Tigers 1981-85
- Chicago White Sox 1986-Present
- Southern Association: 1906, 1912, 1914, 1928, 1929, 1931, 1936, 1948, 1951, 1958
- Southern League: 1967, 1983, 1987, 1989, 1993, 2002, 2013
- "Our Summer with Michael." (May 23, 2004) The Birmingham News
- "Barons unveil new logo, uniforms" Birmingham Barons press release - accessed April 19, 2008
- Carlton, Bob (April 10, 2013) "Birmingham baseball through the years -- from the Slag Pile to Rickwood to Hoover Met to Regions Field." The Birmingham News