Rickwood Field was the passionate pursuit of a young Birmingham, Alabama industrialist, Rick Woodward. While still in his 20s, Woodward bought controlling interest in the city’s professional baseball team, the Coal Barons. He then sought help from the legendary Connie Mack in designing “The Finest Minor League Ballpark Ever” in this booming iron-and-steel town, the fastest growing city in the nation at that time. Woodward’s passion was contagious. Fueled by fervent publicity, the entire city of Birmingham was closed for business in honor of the park’s opening day, August 18, 1910.
Modeled primarily after Forbes Field in Pittsburgh, Rickwood Field lived up to its owner’s wildest dreams. Over the years, this diamond dazzled with play by some of the greatest players in baseball history. The 1910s brought standing-room-only crowds and future hall of famers like Ty Cobb, Christy Mathewson, Honus “The Flying Dutchman” Wagner, and Birmingham’s hometeam sensation Burleigh Grimes, the last legal spitball pitcher in the Big Leagues.
Meanwhile, in an enterprising arrangement with Woodward, the newly formed Black Barons were also drawing overflow crowds to Rickwood Field. Alternating weekends with the Barons, the Black Barons provided a thrilling pastime for the thousands who came to watch Negro League immortals such as all-time Negro American League home run record holder George “Mule” Suttles.
The Yankees and Babe Ruth were frequent visitors here, the Bambino wooing crowds with towering home runs into the right-field stands. Other stars, such as Rogers Hornsby and “Shoeless” Joe Jackson played here. Dizzy Dean pitched here – and lost 1-0 – in one of the most famous games in Rickwood history. Squaring off against the Barons’ Ray Caldwell, a 43-year-old pitcher in the twilight of his career – the brash young phenom Dizzy Dean (who had guaranteed victory) struck out none to Caldwell’s five, with the winning hit coming from Barons’ second baseman and Alabama Hall of Famer Billy Bancroft.
The Diamond kept shining with stars like the Barons’ own Pie Traynor, a future Hall of Famer considered by many to be the best 3rd baseman ever, and Stan “The Man” Musial, long remembered for the home run he hit clear over Rickwood’s right-field bleachers. All the while, the Black Barons were also making history with legends like star pitcher Leroy “Satchell” Paige who won more games for the Black Barons than for any other professional team; playing manager Lorenzo “Piper” Davis; and future Hall of Famer Willie Mays who grew up just minutes from Rickwood Field and, as a 16-year-old high school junior, was starting centerfielder for the ’48 championship Black Barons.
Throughout those glorious early years, record-breaking crowds overflowed Rickwood’s stands. And, for everyone who walked through the gates, the experience was nothing short of magic. They experienced the innocence, the wonder, the romance of baseball–the way baseball was meant to be.