Birmingham Black Barons

From BR Bullpen


The Birmingham Black Barons played home games in Rickwood Field for more than four decades. Two Hall of Fame outfielders, Mule Suttles and Willie Mays, played for the Barons from 1923 through 1925 and from 1948 through 1950, respectively.

The Black Barons joined the Barons at Rickwood in 1920, as a charter member of the Negro Southern League. Black baseball leagues, as opposed to what was known as barnstorming, were an idea pitching great Rube Foster had been pushing in the twilight of his career. The idea turned the corner into reality when Foster founded the Negro National League on February 13th, 1920. The NSL was formed less than a month later - March 2nd, 1920.

As was typical at the time, team timelines are not as straight as we perceive today. Just three seasons later, the Black Barons played in Foster's NNL. They would change franchises and leagues many times well into the 1930s, even playing a couple of seasons as an independent team. Finally, as segregation gradually dismantled the Negro Leagues, some of the stronger clubs went back to barnstorming - the Black Barons among them. As a result, history doesn't seem to know when they played their last game. Their last circuit, the Negro American League, folded in 1960.

Birmingham was stop #2 on the professional career path of two superstars:

Mays played his first games under professional contract with the Barons in 1948, although he had played infrequently – and, to protect his high-school eligibility, unsigned – in 1945 and 1946 with the Chattanooga Choo-Choos. The gap is accounted for by the fact that Willie's play with the Choo-Choos was during his freshman and sophomore years in high school and he graduated with his class early in the 1948 baseball season.

Satchel Paige was partway through his second professional season with the Chattanooga White Sox when they sold his contract to the Black Barons in 1927.

Both would eventually play in the Majors: Mays signed with the New York Giants in 1950 and played all but the twilight of his career with that franchise in New York and then San Francisco but finishing up with the New York Mets - a trade that led Sports Illustrated, playing off the nick-nickname "Amazing Mets" that came out of the 1969 World Series, to put Willie on its May 22nd, 1972, cover with the headline THE AMAYSING METS; Paige spent most of his career in the Negro Leagues but did play 1948 and 1949 with the Cleveland Indians and 1951 and 1952 with the St. Louis Browns. After 12 seasons out of the game, or at least the Majors, Kansas City Athletics owner Charlie Finley gave him a one-game comeback in 1965. Paige allowed one hit and no runs in three innings while striking out one and walking no one.

Further Reading[edit]

  • Frederick C. Bush and Bill Nowlin, ed.: Bittersweet Goodbye: the Black Barons, the Grays, and the 1948 Negro League World Series, SABR, Phoenix, AZ, 2017. ISBN 978-1-943816-55-2
  • John Klima: Willie's Boys: the 1948 Birmingham Black Barons, the Last Negro World Series, and the Making of a Baseball Legend, John Wiley & Sons, Hoboken, NJ, 2009.
  • William J. Plott: Black Baseball’s Last Team Standing: The Birmingham Black Barons, 1919–1962, McFarland, Jefferson, NC, 2019. ISBN 978-1-4766-7788-0
  • Larry Powell: Black Barons of Birmingham: The South's Greatest Negro League Team and Its Players, McFarland, Jefferson, NC, 2009. ISBN 978-0-7864-3806-8

Related Sites[edit]