Rickwood Field: A Century in America's Oldest Ballpark
Rickwood Field – the country's oldest ballpark – is rich in baseball lore and legend.
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5 - Abe Saperstein, the white basketball impresario who founded the Harlem Globetrotters, was active in baseball, too, and helped to open doors for black players such as Satchel Paige. He once arranged for the Birmingham Black Barons to play in Yankee Stadium.Skip to next paragraph
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6 - Bear Bryant, who later became the University of Alabama’s legendary football coach, attended a game at Rickwood Field in 1948 in order to see local teen sensation, Willie Mays, who played left field for the Black Barons while still a student at Fairfield Industrial High School. Mays was also an outstanding quarterback.
7 - The last professional player to bat over .400 was Artie Wilson of the Birmingham Black Barons, who compiled a .402 average in 1948. (Ted Williams was the last major-leaguer to achieve the feat, by batting .406 in 1941.)
8 - Bobo Newsom, one of the best-traveled pitchers in major league history, ended his professional career with the Birmingham Barons in 1951. He is the only pitcher from the 20th century who won more than 200 career games but had a losing lifetime record (211-222).
9 - Hank Aaron, a native of Mobile, Ala., hit two home runs at Rickwood Field for the Atlanta Braves in 1974 during a spring training game just two weeks before he broke Babe Ruth’s career mark with his 715th lifetime home run. Twenty years earlier, as a shortstop on the Indianapolis Clowns of the Negro Leagues, he played there in an exhibition against the Brooklyn Dodgers.
10 - Charlie Finley, the flamboyant owner of the Oakland A’s during the team’s 1970s heyday, grew up in near Birmingham and became the Birmingham Barons’ batboy. After he bought the A’s in 1960, he assembled a powerhouse farm team in Birmingham that featured such stars as Reggie Jackson, Rollie Fingers, and Joe Rudi. Noted baseball statistician Bill James has called the Birmingham A’s the greatest minor league team ever.
Ross Atkin is a Monitor staff editor.