Notable Alumni: Lorenzo “Piper” Davis, Lloyd “Pepper” Bassett, Nat Rogers, Willie Mays and Ulysses Hollimon
A mainstay of Negro League baseball, the Birmingham Black Barons may have never achieved the ultimate success of a Negro World Series victory, but they still left an imprint on baseball nonetheless. Operating for an impressive 26 years, the Black Barons would take home three Negro American League titles between the years of 1943-48, but lost to the Homestead Grays in the Negro World Series each time.
Though the Black Barons did eventually find success in the back half of their history, the early years were not nearly as kind to them. The biggest issue for the Black Barons early in their existence seemed to be their inability to keep the generational talent they had found. The team had signed two young and relatively unknown players by the names of Satchel Paige and Mule Suttles, but due to financial hardships stemming from the Great Depression, it was unable to keep either for very long. Paige would play for the Black Barons for only four years, while Suttles would remain with the team for just three. Sadly for Birmingham, the two would eventually go on to build Hall of Fame careers elsewhere, while the Black Barons ultimately struggled to fill their void.
Aside from the team itself, the most iconic part of the Black Barons franchise was arguably the stadium in which it played. Modeled after Forbes Field in Pittsburgh (and used as a stand-in for Forbes Field in the movie 42), Rickwood Field was the first minor league stadium to be made of concrete and steel. Opened in 1910, it remained in use for over a century, becoming the last surviving stadium to have taken part in Negro League baseball after the demolition of old Yankee Stadium in 2008. As of 2017, however, the city of Birmingham has shut down the stadium for use, citing the need for major structural repairs.
Overall, the Black Barons were a lasting force within baseball, but perhaps the greatest impact they imparted on the game was a 17-year-old high school center fielder who suited up for the team in the final Negro World Series. Though he was young, Major League scouts would routinely find themselves in the stands at Rickwood Field as a result of his play. That young man was named Willie Mays, and like the Black Barons, he would endure in the sport for a long, long time.