New doc traces cultural impact of Rickwood

June 15th, 2024

This story was excerpted from Maria Guardado’s Giants Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

The baseball tradition runs deep in Birmingham, Ala., which has been a pro baseball city since 1885 and raised one of the greatest players of all time in Giants legend Willie Mays.

With the Giants set to make a special trip to historic Rickwood Field next week, the club’s in-house video production team, SFG Productions, recently headed south to shed light on the cultural significance of Birmingham, the former home of the Negro Leagues’ Black Barons, where Mays began his iconic baseball career as a teenager in 1948.

That history was brought to life in a new 20-minute documentary called, “Every Other Sunday: The Story of Rickwood Field, Willie Mays and the Birmingham Black Barons,” which traces Birmingham’s roots as the “Magic City” and the steel tradition that gave rise to industrial league teams and professional baseball clubs like the Black Barons.

Narrated by former Giants manager Dusty Baker, the short film features plenty of archival footage and interviews with Reverend Bill Greason and Charles “Coop” Willis, two of Mays’ longtime friends, as well as Birmingham mayor Randall Woodfin, Negro Leagues Baseball Museum president Bob Kendrick and Birmingham native Condoleezza Rice.

The Black Barons played at Rickwood Field for four decades from 1924-1960, with their home games developing into touchstone events for the African American community in Birmingham, which was once described as the most segregated city in America by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Rickwood Field, the oldest professional ballpark in America, has played host to more than 180 Hall of Famers since it opened its doors in 1910, though it remains a field of dreams for dozens of Negro League players who were denied the opportunity to play Major League Baseball before Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier on April 15, 1947. Their enduring legacy will be celebrated alongside Mays’ on Thursday, as all 157 living Negro Leagues players have been invited to attend the nationally televised regular-season game between the Giants and Cardinals at Rickwood Field.

“The players in the Negro Leagues built the bridge across the chasm of prejudice, which allowed other Black and brown athletes to cross over. We don’t oftentimes celebrate the bridge builders,” Kendrick says in the film. “It is going to be embedded in the consciousness of many baseball fans, so it’s another step closer to moving Negro Leagues history and giving it a mainstream voice.”