Birmingham Black Barons

Birmingham Black Barons, 1950
Courtesy Ninety Six Historical Society

The Birmingham Black Barons was a professional baseball team active in the Negro Leagues from 1920 to 1960. They played their home games at Rickwood Field in Birmingham, Alabama. The team had its greatest success in the 1940s, winning three Negro National League pennants (1943, 1944, and 1949). Unfortunately, the Black Barons lost all three Negro League World Series games to the Homestead Grays of Pennsylvania.

The Birmingham Black Barons, formed in 1920 by Birmingham businessman Frank Perdue, was one of the first eight teams invited to join the Negro National League in 1924. They were also the first southern team in the league. Most of the Barons players came from poor areas in and around Birmingham. For these players the Black Barons became a path to escape poorly paid jobs.

The Black Barons played in three different Negro Leagues throughout their 40-year baseball career, including the Negro Southern League (1920-1923, 1931-1940), the Negro National League (1924-1930, 1941-1955), and the Negro American League (1956-1960). In the 1930s, the team was bought by Tom Hayes in Memphis, Tennessee which forced the Black Barons to move back to the Negro Southern League. However, in 1940, the ownership switched again to Abraham Saperstein, who moved the Black Barons back up to the Negro National League. Under Saperstein’s ownership, the team flourished in the Negro National League, winning three Negro National League pennants. Much of the credit of the Black Barons’ success can be given to all-star pitcher Satchel Paige and rookie outfielder Willie Mays.

In the 1950s, the Negro Leagues began their decline after Jackie Robinson had broken the color barrier for baseball. Many of the great African American players who played in the Negro Leagues made the jump to play in Major League Baseball (MLB). The Black Barons continued to play in the Negro National League, but never won any pennants. Finally in 1956, the Negro American League was formed, but the attendance was down and most of the players signed Minor League contracts. The new league lasted only four seasons. The Black Barons played their final season in 1960 when the Negro Leagues disbanded.

The Birmingham Black Barons carried four players that have been inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, including Willie Mays (Outfield, 1948-1950), Satchel Paige (Pitcher, 1927-1929), Bill Foster (Pitcher, 1925), and Mule Suttles (First Base, 1923-1926).