The history of the Birmingham Barons traces back to 1885, when the Barons (originally named the Coal Barons) played in the many southern leagues that existed during the early years of baseball. In those years, the leagues came and went, but baseball in Birmingham survived. In 1901, the Southern Association 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. It would be the first of 13 titles for the Barons in their long and storied history. Irvin Wilhelm pitched the Barons first perfect game on July 6, 7-0 over Montgomery. The victory was part of the 87 he would have as a Baron - the most in club history.
A NEW HOME AND OWNER: WOODWARD AND RICKWOOD FIELD
In 1887, the Birmingham Barons were playing at the Slag Pile (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 hold approximately 600 fans. T.C.I., which owned the land, would only grant one 60-day lease at a time. A.H. (Rick) Woodward, the late Birmingham millionaire industrialist, decided to buy the team in 1910 from J. William McQueen, the Barons' owner since 1901.
After reaching the final terms 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. Rickwood was modeled after such parks as Philly's Shibe Park and Pittsburgh's Forbes Field. 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.
MOLESWORTH AND THE BARONS
An outfielder who was also the manager, Carlton Molesworth arrived in Birmingham as a player in 1906 and served longer than anyone as skipper (1908-22). "Moley" helped the Barons to two Southern Association titles while his name became synonymous with Birmingham baseball. The Barons won their first Southern Association pennant at Rickwood for Molesworth in 1912 as they held off Mobile with an 85-51 record. This was the season that Jimmy Johnston stole 81 bases for Birmingham.
The first of five Hall of Famers who played in a Barons uniform was Burleigh Grimes. The righthander pitched in Birmingham from 1914-16 and later became one of the last legal spitball pitchers in the majors. In 1914 the Barons took their third SA title with an 88-62 mark. In 1915 Grimes struck out 158 batters and won 20 games in 1916 while pitching a team-leading 276 innings.
Four pitchers threw no-hit games at Rickwood in 1917 as three Barons (Ralph Comstock, Carmen Hill and Ray Milligan) tallied one each, and one Little Rock pitcher recorded a no-no. Hill set a Barons record for wins with a 26-12 record during that season.
A tornado ripped through Rickwood Field on the morning of Saturday, April 16, 1921. The twister destroyed the wooden outfield fence and the bleachers and caused $30,000 in damage. Cleanup operations started in the afternoon and a temporary fence was constructed in record time for a series against Little Rock two days later.
Molesworth's long tenure ended when he resigned as manager during the 1922 season, but he remains one of only two Birmingham managers to win two Southern Association or Southern League titles.
THE GOLDEN AGE: THE 20s
Much of America's attention turned to sports during the 1920s. It was no different in Birmingham, where the Barons set attendance records at Rickwood. During the decade the Barons drew 160,000 fans 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 their next Southern Association title in 1928. The team posted a batting average of .331 in winning a club-record 99 games for manager Johnny Dobbs. This was the first split-season schedule in the history of the Southern Association; the Barons took the first half title, then beat Memphis in three 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, besting Texas League team Dallas 4-2.
THE LEAN YEARS: THE 30s
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. The top pitcher of the 1931 team, Ray Caldwell, was 43. Caldwell posted a 20-12 record in 1930 and was still effective the following year (19-7) as the Barons won 97 games. The Barons won the Dixie Series from Houston after Caldwell won the opener over Houston, 1-0. A total of 20,074 turned out to Rickwood Field under the lights on Sept. 16, 1931, to see Caldwell beat Dizzy Dean of Houston. The Barons came back from a 3-1 series deficit to take the title, four games to three. It would be the highlight of a decade in which the Barons finished in the SA's top three twice. The Barons also played in the 1936 Dixie Series after winning the SA playoffs (despite a third-place finish) before losing to Tulsa in four straight. The Depression and its financial crunch forced Woodward to sell his beloved ball club to Ed Norton in 1938 after three years of virtual bank ownership.
RICKWOOD'S GRAND YEARS: AFTER THE WAR
The Barons did not claim a SA pennant during the 1940s, but the resurgence of baseball across the country after World War II brought record crowds to Rickwood from 1948-50. In 1948, the Barons drew 445,926 to Rickwood while winning the Dixie Series over Fort Worth and followed up with 421,305 in 1949. Unfortunately, the Barons did not win a SA pennant until 1958, when they won 91 games and the pennant by 6 1/2 games for skipper Cal Ermer. The remainder of the 1950s and the early '60s saw the club finish first in 1959 (first half) but could not win the pennant. Then, for the first time since 1898, Birmingham did not have a professional team as the Barons moved after the 1961 season.
THE NEW SOUTHERN LEAGUE
Rickwood Field remained dark for just two 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) A's, owned by Charles O. 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 by 3 1/2 games in '67 under John McNamara. During this time (1967-75), the A's featured Hall of Famers Reggie Jackson (1967) and Rollie Fingers (1967-68), who went on to be the mainstays of Oakland's three consecutive World Series titles (1972-74). The A's moved after the 1975 season and Rickwood did not see Southern League baseball for five seasons.
THE PRESENT BARONS
The latest version of the Barons came 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 four games. It was apparent by 1986 that historic Rickwood would not host the Barons forever, though, as the team was outgrowing its facility. Clarkson made plans to move the Barons to Hoover, a Birmingham suburb, and the 10,800-seat Regions Park (then known as Hoover Metropolitan Stadium). The final game at Rickwood (Sept. 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 then taking the title in four games.
A NEW HOME - SAME CHAMPIONSHIP STORY . . .
The Barons took the field for the first time at Regions Park on April 18, 1988. Birmingham won, 8-2, over Greenville in front of 13,279 fans. Regions Park has been good to the Barons, as the club has won three titles (1989, '93, '02) since the move to Hoover. Led by future big leaguers Craig Grebeck and Robin Ventura, the 1989 team slugged its way to an 88-55 record and a first-half division title. After losing to Huntsville in the playoff opener, the team then rattled off six straight wins to dispatch Huntsville and then sweep Greenville in the championship series.
Just four years later, the squad claimed another title. The 1993 team, under Baseball America Minor League Manager of the Year Terry Francona, won the flag in four games over Knoxville. Future big-leaguers Ray Durham, James Baldwin, and Scott Ruffcorn helped anchor the team, which held claimed a 7-6, 10-inning win over Knoxville in the final game of the playoffs.
. . . AND MICHAEL JORDAN
The 1994 season was historic for the Barons simply for the attention it generated. NBA superstar Michael Jordan switched sports and, after going through spring training, was assigned to the Barons on March 31. Jordan's popularity helped shatter the club's single-season attendance record (467,867). Jordan batted just .202 with three homers and 51 RBI, but swiped 30 stolen bases as the club was covered by journalists from around the world. The Barons drew 985,185 overall (home and road) and millions of other fans watched as the club played on national or regional television four times. Jordan played his final baseball game at home before a record crowd of 16,247 on August 27, 1994.
REMEMBERING THE PAST
After the Elmore Sports Group, Ltd., purchased the Barons in late 1995, one of their new innovations with the team was to start the Rickwood Classic. Once a year, the Barons return to Rickwood Field to play a game and honor baseball's rich tradition in Birmingham with a "Turn Back the Clock" game at what is currently recognized as the oldest baseball stadium in America.
Each year's game has a different theme honoring various eras of Birmingham-area baseball history. Previous year's games have honored the Barons' affiliation with the Yankees, A's and Red Sox, among others.
STARTING WITH A BANG
The Barons got the new millenium started on a high note as the squad claimed an exciting victory in the 2002 Southern League Championship, the team's 13th league title. First-year manager Wally Backman, a former big-league infielder and 1986 World Series Champion, endered himself to fans with his gritty style of "Wally Ball". After blowing a 2-0 series lead in the division playoffs, Birmingham cruised past West Tenn in game five to set up a championship series matchup with Jacksonville. The Barons swept the three-game series with the Suns and claimed two extra-inning victories, including a dramatic, 12th-inning, walk-off win in the final contest. The championship was in the middle of a stretch (2000-05) where the Barons tied a Southern League record by reaching the playoffs six straight seasons.
NEW LOOK, SAME FUN
When the team was purchased by the Logan Family in 2006 (Birmingham Barons, LLC), immediate upgrades were made in many areas around the team. The ballpark was renovated and new stadium lights, a new entrance and facade, new box seats, new concourse lights, second levels to the baseball and football pressbox, and a new field drainage system were added. Before the 2008 campaign, a new state-of-the-art, high-resolution videoboard was added to help enhance the "fan experience".
A PROUD LEGACY
Through the years, the Barons roster has featured stars such as 1993-94 AL MVP Frank Thomas, 1993 Cy Young Award winner Jack McDowell and Gold Glove third baseman Robin Ventura. In 2005, reliever Bobby Jenks became the 39th player since 1986 to jump straight from Birmingham to Chicago, and he was the closer on the White Sox' World Series championship team that year.
After the 2008 season, the club was recognized by Baseball America as the Double-A Freitas Award winner. One of Minor League Baseball's most prestigious awards, the Freitas Award is given annually to one team from each classification for sustained excellence both on and off the field. It was the first time receiving the award for the Barons, who became the fourth Southern League club to take home the honor.
After a one-year hiatus, the Barons returned to the post season in 2011 under first-year Manager Bobby Magallanes. Bobby succeeded his brother, Ever, who managed the team from 2009-10 including the franchise-record 92-win season in '09. The younger Magallanes led the Barons to a record of 71-69, including a 40-30 mark in the first half which punched the Barons ticket to the post-season, their 9th playoff appearance in the past twelve years.
The 2012 season marks the Barons' 26th year of affiliation with the Chicago White Sox. The Barons are the only Class AA team in the country to have drawn over 250,000 fans during each of the past 24 seasons, corresponding with the club's relocation to Regions Park from historic Rickwood Field. This year marks the 25th season for the Barons in Regions Park, the 114th season of baseball in Birmingham, as well as the 129th year in existence for one of the most historic and celebrated franchises in Minor League Baseball.