#Hot Corner

H.C.B.C. - Integrating the Southern League circa 1964

Did you know the Southern League expired after the 1961 season because Organized Baseball demanded that all affiliated minor leagues be integrated? I didn't, until reading Larry Colton's spanking-new book, Southern League: A True Story of Bsaeball, Civil Rights, and the Deep South's Most Compelling Pennant Race.

Among the other things I've learned: infamous segregationist Eugene "Bull" Connor first became famous broadcasting Birmingham Barons baseball games in the 1930s, and Kansas City Athletics owner Charlie Finley played a big role in reviving the Southern League when he threw his support behind the new Barons, sending a number of black prospects to the A's farm team.

Young people seeing 42 might guess that the battle to integrate the National Pastime was won in 1947, but of course that wasn't true at all. Until 1964, integrated baseball in Birmingham was actually illegal. From Southern League:

Nobody took the enforcement of this ordinance (called the Checkers Rule because it also prohibited people of different races from playing checkers) more seriously than Bull Connor. He was the primary force in enforcing the Checkers Rule, not only in professional baseball, but among kids, too. Birmingham police officers regularly drove by parks and sandlots, and if they spotted black and white kids playing games of pickup baseball, they screeched to a halt and chased after these kids, threatening them with going to jail if they didn't break it up. One of these kids was future Hall of Famer Willie Mays, a Birmingham native. The kids would scatter, wait for the cops to leave, and then resume their games...

"We cannot allow the mongrelization of the our great national pastime," said Connor.

So the Barons and the rest of the league died, only to be reborn in 1964 when the Checkers Rule was expunged and Birmingham native Finley agreed to support once-and-future Barons owner Albert Belcher.

Which is essentially the story of the book: What happens when baseball, this time with integrated teams, returns to "Bombingham," arguably the single most segregated and racist city in the Deep South. Author Larry Colton's an accomplished storyteller with bestsellers to his credit, and this is a tale well told.

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