MARIETTA, Ga. -- The Southern League of Professional Baseball Clubs has announced the creation of a Southern League Hall of Fame. The three initial inductees, unanimously voted on by the Board of Directors, will be former League Presidents Billy Hitchcock, Jimmy Bragan and Don Mincher.
The Southern League Hall of Fame will recognize the achievements of the modern era of the Southern League beginning with the 1964 season. The first induction of the Southern League Hall of Fame will coincide with the 2014 season commemorating the 50th season of the modern era of the League. The mission of the Southern League Hall of Fame is to recognize individuals for their accomplishments and/or contributions to the League on the field of play or in an administrative role. This shall include but not necessarily be limited to: players, managers, coaches, umpires, league and team executives, owners, or media members.
Billy Hitchcock played all four infield positions during a nine-year American League active career. He broke in with the 1942 Detroit Tigers, spent three years in the Army Air Force in the Pacific during World War II, and resumed his major league career from 1946-53. Hitchcock spent the next several years as a manager and coach with the Detroit Tigers, Baltimore Orioles and Atlanta Braves. His career managing record was 274 wins, 261 losses (.514). Hitchcock then scouted for the Montreal Expos from 1968-71. In 1980 he was presented with the "King of Baseball" award given by Minor League Baseball. With Hitchcock as league president, the Southern League added teams, expanded the playoffs and introduced split-season play. Hitchcock led a rejuvenation of the league that included stadium refurbishments and a concerted effort to make the league more family-friendly. The league's attendance figures rose dramatically during his tenure, from 333,500 in 1971 to over 1.7 million in 1980.
Jimmy Bragan was an infielder, manager and league president in Minor League Baseball, a scout and coach at the Major League level, and a college baseball coach during a 40-plus year career in the game. He was the brother of Major League catcher, shortstop, manager and Coach Bobby Bragan. Born in Birmingham, Alabama, Jimmy Bragan attended Mississippi State University and played baseball in the Brooklyn Dodgers farm system from 1950-1957. After his playing career ended, he was a coach and manager in the Dodgers, Reds and Expos organizations. He became head baseball coach of Mississippi State University in 1975, and a coach with the Milwaukee Brewers in 1976-1977. In 1980, he succeeded Billy Hitchcock as President of the Southern League. He presided over a host of new stadiums in the league, including fields in Greenville, Huntsville, Birmingham and Charlotte. Southern League attendance steadily climbed toward two million in the 1980s. In 1994 he was presented with the "King of Baseball" award given by Minor League Baseball.
Don Mincher assumed the Interim President title in February 2000 when the league's former president (Arnold Fielkow) resigned, and was subsequently elected president later that year. Before becoming Southern League President, Don Mincher was General Manager of the Southern League's Huntsville Stars from 1984 until he assembled a group of local owners who purchased the team in 1994. He sold his interest in the club when he was elected president of the League in 2000. Mincher brought a wealth of baseball knowledge to the Stars and the Southern League as a former major leaguer, having played 13 seasons with different teams, capped off by a World Series win in 1972 as a member of the Oakland Athletics. A success on and off the field, Mincher was enshrined in the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame in 2008, as well as being presented with the Warren Giles Award for Minor League Baseball's most outstanding service as a league president that same year. In 2010, Mincher was named "King of Baseball" -- the highest honor bestowed by Minor League Baseball.
Besides the three initial inductees that will be inducted in 2014, there will also be an inductee from each of the ten Southern League clubs. After the inaugural year, there will be three inductees every year. Plans to recognize potential Hall of Fame inductees from the league's earlier years (beginning in 1885) will be made possible through a special ballot. More information will be forthcoming regarding the nomination and voting process in the months ahead. While a physical location for the Hall of Fame is not currently in the plans, a web site will be developed and a plaque will be placed in the Southern League office listing inductees from year to year.